Act and Being

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Guest speaker: Peter Reynen

There’s a lot here, and we’ll get to it in a moment. First I should explain a couple of things. My family is in the midst of a move, and that move came about because of some very unfortunate circumstances in my family, and one of the things that … there’s a lot of lessons in that.

But we’re moving, is the bottom line. So you may not be getting me at my best today – which is OK I’ve learned in my experience that some of the times that just really didn’t feel like I was really on my mark were when the people in the congregation said, “That was really good.”

Which is reminding me that it’s not about what we’re bringing. It’s what God is bringing to you today in the Word, and we’re going to focus on that.

We spent the morning sending off our youngest who, yes, I wish she was here too. We’re trying to encourage her to make faith a little bit more of a priority than getting back to school in time for play practice, but I was nineteen once myself.

Our oldest one got married this summer, and she and her husband left this morning after spending a few weeks with us. They’re going to Texas and we’ve had this whole thing, a scattering and moving truck’s showing up at my house tomorrow.

So it’s been a wild weekend. My poor wife has been a trooper on that, and we’ve got a lot of things going on. And yet at the same time that thing, I think, what are my troubles?

The story that we’re reading about, from Naaman, who was a commander of the army of Aram, which is Aleppo. The events of our world going on right now, and the things that you read about in the bombings in Aleppo, are taking place in the home of Naaman, this commander that we’re reading about in our Scriptures this morning.

There’s a lot of different angles on this. As I look through the lectionary – it’s easy when you’re the guest speaker. You really only have two jobs. One, don’t show up the regular pastor, so that people are really happy when they come back; and two, bring something.

When I was in the seminary, one of my classmates asked our New Testament professor Dr Morris how many points a sermon should have, and I remember that he started chuckling. He said, “Well, at least one.” So I’m hoping today you’re going to find at least one point in this sermon.

There are a lot of characters, and if we dip into it a little bit and we wade into the waters of the Scriptures, we have a lot of perspectives. What was skipped over in the portions from 2 Kings is that when the king of Aram, Naaman’s boss, heard that there was this option for him, he sent a letter with Naaman to the king of Israel, saying, “Here’s my best commander. Fix him.”

The king of Israel thought, “Oh heavens, here is a trap, because when I can’t fix this guy, that’s going to give them an excuse to attack us.” These were enemies. They were neighbors, and there were little raids going back and forth, just like the one that capture this servant girl working for Naaman’s wife.

This is an enemy, so from the Israelites’ perspective, you’ve got this enemy commander coming to you to ask for something. But from Naaman’s perspective – I mean, he’s a homeboy, right? Hometown proud, he has his own military, his army.

To have to humble himself and go to another country. It even says in the Scriptures, aren’t the rivers of Damascus better than the rivers of Israel? To have to humble himself and go do that and then not even have Elisha the prophet come out to see him?

All these different slights that were involved, and there’s a whole series of bits in there. Then in the new Testament passage – and yes, they are very similar, in the sense that we have a healing that’s taking place in both instances.

We have the foreigner doing the right thing, which is this recurrent theme over and over in the Scriptures, that the foreigner is the one who comes back, the enemy is the one who gets it straight. Jesus encounters this in many other ways and places.

The one who comes back, and there are ten people who were cured but only one received the blessing, and it was the one who returned to the Lord, the Samaritan, who were hated people in Israel. So if you were the Israelite here in this story that Jesus was telling, you would be offended on every level by that, that is was this hated person who showed up all the Israelites.

I actually worked on this passage thirty-seven years ago when I was in seminary. I thought, what did happen to those other nine? I can think of all of these other ideas that would come out. If you were a leper, or had whatever skin condition, you were set apart. You were quarantined from everybody.

You didn’t have contact with your family. You lost all of your business and all of your business interests. You didn’t have contact with society. You weren’t allowed to go to market, you weren’t allowed to go to church, you weren’t allowed to do anything.

People would bring in food, usually family members, leave it, and you had to go pick up the food to feed yourself. These ten people, who were all because of their condition together in one party or one pool, is curious to me too, because the Samaritan wasn’t allowed to hang out with the Jews.

But now they all had leprosy, and nobody is allowed to hang out. Now suddenly they are banding together, and that says something else to me about human nature. Go back to the Scriptures and read through these, and take yourself through each of those characters and see what speaks to you about that. There is something that speaks to me in this, that I want to bring out.

I titled this “Act and Being.” I stole it from Dietrich Bonhoeffer – it was the title of one of his dissertations, the second one actually. And if you read, it’s really boring and really dry. He’s a German theologian, and you have to read over and over and over before it even starts to need sense, because – I don’t even think it made sense in German.

But reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, what he was trying to talk about in Act and Being is, how do we understand the revelation of God, and how does God come to us, and he was using philosophical principles of whether we have God’s part revealed to us, or God is made known to us in our experience and our existential dealings with the world, and the act versus being, that’s where the title comes from.

What I really wanted to title this sermon, and I wrote it in there, but I don’t think it got it into the bulletin, was “Fake It until You Make it.” Which doesn’t sound very Christian. But it’s part of act and being in the Scriptures.

Because for these healings to take place, both of these individuals were called to do something before they saw the result of what they were hoping for accomplished. You have desperate, desperate people.

You have one man, Naaman, who is the commander of an army, but because of his skin condition that would have taken him out of everything he would have known, away from the privilege of his life, and from leading the troops, and from his world.

And on the other side, in this New Testament story that Jesus is telling, you have ten people who have been removed from everything that they’ve known and loved. And that’s right that these other nine went. I’m sure one of them probably went to the priest, because that’s what they were told to do, right?

You had to do what you’re told to do. If you’re being healed as you go – and they weren’t healed and then went. The healing occurred after they took the action to start moving on faith.

Moving on faith. Not seeing it, being it, and then doing it, but acting on it, and then seeing the results as they acted on it. There’s a story in the Mishna, which has a lot of Jewish stories that surround the scriptures. This story is about Nahshon, who was the brother-in-law of Aaron.

The story goes very briefly, when they’re at the Dead Sea, and the Egyptian army is bearing down on them, and Moses says, “Go! We’re going to part the waters.” The waters didn’t part, but Nahshon, who was the commander of the tribe of Judah, waded into the waters.

When he was up to his ankles, the waters didn’t part. When it got to his knees, the waters didn’t part. He continued to walk forward in faith. The waters didn’t part until it was up to his nose. Then the waters parted. Because he acted on faith first, before he saw the results of what he was hoping for so desperately, which would be the salvation of his people.

These desperate lepers, who were calling from a distance, because they weren’t allowed to be near anyone, they were calling from a distance together, “Have mercy on us.” And out of that desperation, when Jesus says, “Go show yourself of the priest,” I think, did they just immediately go, or did they sit around in a little huddle and say to one another, “What do we have to lose? I mean, with nothing to lose by doing this, they were so desperate that they acted on that.

And I’m sure that one went to the priest, because he was told to do that, and one probably went to his family, because he hadn’t seen his family in years, and one went to see the business accounts, and one probably went to sell his story to CNN. And one of them, you know, went to go vote because they were afraid they wouldn’t get to vote with leprosy…

There’s all kinds of powerful stories, I’m sure, that are behind that. Only one of them – only one of them – had the heart to come back to God, the source of their healing, and give thanks.

Where that story goes for me is, Dietrich Bonhoeffer can write a story about Act and Being and we can roll these things around in our heads, but maybe in my life, in my world, the way that God shows Himself to me is when I first begin with thanks.

There are things in my life, and honestly I can’t think of too many things that I’m really desperate for, and that’s a wonderful blessing. But maybe it’s a problem, because I have everything.

What kinds of things would make me so desperate that I would leave everything behind and bring that to the Lord. Sometimes in our world, those things happen – physical illness, or sometimes what we’re most desperate for inside of us is companionship, or what we’re most desperate for is a sense of peace, or what we’re most desperate for it the TV to shut off.

We’re desperate for certain things and God has a cure for all of those things, but the way that they come to us is not in waiting for God to fix it. It comes to us, faking it until we make it. Acting on faith, before the way is necessarily clear.

In presbytery meetings, if you’ve been to very many, there’s always somebody who thinks he’s a part of the old church and has the Scottish tradition of “if the way be clear.” Which is what the old Scottish church would say when they were thinking that they had perhaps an idea of what God was calling them to do, and one of the tests for that is “if the way be clear.” (Imagine that in the Scottish brogue.)

If the way be clear, God opens up the doors and things are right when things are right, and that’s one of the ways that we can test and see whether we’re following God’s will or not, because those doors open.

Part of this Scripture says to me, I think that that’s true, but part of it also says, we act on faith even if the way is not clear. We act as if we’re being healed, even if we don’t necessarily see that healing.

Only you and you alone know inside of you, what are those things that need to be healed. What are the things inside of me that really need to be healed?

Only by acting on that, and returning with gratitude for every step of the way, those things become clear, those things become known to us. What is it this church needs? What is it you talk about that this church has a desperate desire for? What is God calling this church to be and do?

Are you going to wait until all of the pieces fall into place on that, or if you have this vision, you have this dream, maybe what God is calling us to do is starting to wade into the water.

And not quitting when the water is up to our waist. And not quitting when the water is up to our shoulders. And not quitting when the water is up to our nose. I have never ever anywhere heard of a church that’s died for trying something. I have heard of a lot that died for not trying anything.

Or in my own personal life. What is it that I’m so desperate for that I would trade anything for, and want to see, and am I acting on that, that God in faith has given that to me already? Because that is the promise. Or am I waiting for God to fix the thing for me and then I’m move forward?

Healing is not a transaction. Healing is a gift, and there are a lot of ways that we’re healed. When we pray, and we will pray for Michelle to be healed, but there’s also healing that appears in our hearts. There’s financial healing and there is relationship healing. There is community healing.

And it’s just distressing to me, sometimes, a lot of times, listening to the news or reading the paper and thinking how much healing that we need as a people.

It’s hard not to wade into politics, but I couldn’t help notice when I look from my angle, up at your light, that you have a blue light, and you have a red light, and above both of those, there’s a white light. And that’s says something to me too.

Who we’re going to be as a people and how we’re going to act isn’t dependent upon something happening first. It’s me choosing to act in faith, believing that God wants to heal us. God wants to heal you.

God wants to heal me. God wants to heal us. God wants to heal our community. God wants to heal our nation. God wants to heal this world. But that happens when we act first and accept it as a gift, in faith, and come back with gratitude for every step of the way.

Not hoping or planning to keep my toes dry, or clean, or free from scrapes and bruises along the way, but acting in faith. And coming back with gratitude.

What is God asking us of? And how does faith move us forward, that, in the example of Naaman, the example of the ten lepers – all ten left, only one received the blessing. How does God act in us in the tradition of Nahshon, wading into the waters? How does God act in us, and how do we act back in gratitude to God?

That’s the first step of a long journey, and it doesn’t end until the day things are clear to us, and every tear is wiped dry, but in the middle of it all, we have one another, that we are grateful for and we act for and we act together with and we move forward, not necessarily always seeing where we’re going, but trusting in faith that we’re moving in the direction of healing.

This is God’s plan for Wapello. This is God’s plan for our state. This is God’s plan for our nation and our world, and thanks be to God, this is God’s plan for you.

This is the word of the Lord.

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