Narrative Lectionary Reflection for November 2, 2014 (Year 1)
So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 2 Kings 5:9-11
We all want to be healthy, right? Then why is it that in the United States only seven states have obesity rates of less than 60%? Why does only one in five adults meet federal guidelines for both aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercise? The Centers for Disease Control report these statistics along with the fact that one in three adults was completely inactive when it came to any leisure-time aerobic activity. One in three American adults has high cholesterol and one out of three has high blood pressure. The estimated dollar cost of our poor health is somewhere around $300 billion per year, or one out of every six health care dollars spent. Contrast these facts with the shocking amount of money we spend on trying to find shortcuts to health and fitness: Americans spend more than $60 billion annually on everything from gym memberships to diet soda consumption. It’s our human nature to seek quick, easy, and attractive fixes to our maladies and malaises.
The reality is that it doesn’t take rocket science or a high-priced gym membership for most people to improve their level of physical fitness and overall health. Making healthier dietary choices and simple aerobic exercise like walking for 30 minutes per day is the best move one can make toward better overall health. Considering the average American watches five hours of television per day, 30 minutes is not a substantial investment.
Of course, Naaman was also looking for a quick and flashy fix to his skin condition. As a man of power and privilege he expected a flashy treatment worthy of his station in life rather than a simple instruction to dunk himself seven times in a dirty river. In fact, he got angry over the suggested path to health and wholeness until his servants convinced him that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by following Elisha’s strange remedy. When he yielded to the simple instruction he was healed.
It’s not just physical wellness either. We also seek quick and flashy fixes to our societal problems, too. We want good schools for our children, but we don’t want higher property taxes. We want people to have an opportunity to rest and be with their families, but we prefer to have 24/7 access to goods and services. Heck, we even want to shop on Thanksgiving after filling our faces with all manner of delicious and unhealthy foods. Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy sounds more like a quaint idea for olden days than a satisfactory solution to the stress of a modern world that never really rests.
Oh, and then there’s the modern religious landscape. We worry about declining numbers and shrinking coffers and irrelevance, but more folks than not are reluctant to embrace Jesus’ model of discipleship and a 100% commitment to the life of faith. One of my colleagues is fond of pointing out that only 15% of Lutherans (my denomination) can imagine a future for the church that looks different from the past. No wonder God’s prescription for real life resembles such a bitter pill for so many folks.
What will it take, I wonder, for us to be pursuaded–as Naaman–to wash in the waters of baptism daily, to die to sin regularly, and to rise to newness of life clean and whole? Can we listen to the voices of the saints who have gone before us and who have lived lives of faith in specific times and contexts? Can we hear and live into the old, old story in a new time? The answer is, of course, yes with God’s help. Yes, by the Spirit’s leading, and yes, through Jesus’ witness and saving grace. In Christian community and fellowship we can hold one another accountable and lift each other up when we fail. With God all things are possible.
No matter where you go with this lesson, do something to remind your people that the solution is not a complex one. We’ve already been to the water; we simply need to keep coming back, to remain focused on the One in whom we live and breathe, and to trust that by God’s grace we will be healed and made whole. Blessings, friends, on your preaching and teaching.
How is seeking good health an act of stewardship? If you have a parish nurse or health team, invite them to share simple steps anyone can take to better physical health. Consider using empty pill bottles that you fill with 30 scripture references about health and wellness. Put a label on each bottle that refers to God’s Rx for Health and Wholeness. Give them out with instructions to take one scripture per day and meditate on it for 30 minutes while walking or doing some form of physical exercise.
Washing our hands is one way to prevent germs and stay healthy. Even Naaman was instructed to wash in order to be made well. A public health nurse once told me that if you sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” while you wash your hands, you will have washed them long enough. If you provide hand sanitizer in your worship space, you can talk with the children about how good hygiene helps keep us all healthy during the months when colds and flu spread quickly. End with a simple prayer for clean hands and good health.
Photos: J>ro, Crossfitpaleodietfitnessclasses, and wetwebwork, Creative Commons License. Thanks!