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Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Mark 1:40-45; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We don’t read from 2 Kings that often but this story of the healing of Naaman does come up in our lectionary and is one of those stories that is somewhat familiar. Naaman, afflicted with leprosy, expects a grandiose production by Elisha to heal him and is disappointed, even doubtful, when Elisha tells him simply to wash seven times in the Jordan. Sometimes we expect things to be more complicated than they are. We ask God in our prayers for miraculous healings, to change the hearts of those who have made our lives miserable, to do something big–but in reality, what God often does is work in us to change us. Naaman wanted something big and miraculous, but once his servants reasoned with him, he changes his mind and washes in the Jordan, and finds he is made clean, healed.
Psalm 30 is also a song of healing and rejoicing. The psalmist cries out to God for healing and deliverance. The psalmist sings of God’s favor, but in verses 9 and 10, the psalmist declares that his own will to live has been renewed, and he calls upon God to be his helper–not to do everything for him, but to be his helper.
In Mark 1:40-45, a man with leprosy comes to Jesus and tells Jesus that, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus replies “I do choose” and the man is made clean. Jesus, in typical fashion of the Gospels, tells the man not to tell anyone about him, just to go show himself to the priest to be declared clean, so that he can reenter society. When Jesus performs a healing miracle, he often tells people not to tell anyone–Jesus didn’t come to be a miracle worker to make people believe–Jesus came to end suffering and bring healing and restoration to those who needed it, in the name of God the Creator, God the Father. But this man does go out and proclaim it freely. The word gets out and Jesus has to remain out in the country for people to come to him instead of in the city. It isn’t clear whether Jesus is threatened in the synagogues, or whether it simply is just overwhelming for the people to come into the city and find him, but the act of this man and others in sharing the name of Jesus and what Jesus had done for them changed the way Jesus had to do ministry.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 speaks of the endurance we must have in the faith, such as runners have for finishing a race. It takes discipline and self-control to have the endurance to win, and it takes the same discipline and self-control for enduring in the faith, for there are many temptations in the world that drag us away, that hold us back. There are times we may want to give up and give in, but how we live out the faith is what helps lead others to Christ, for we witness to others through our ups and downs, through our struggles and challenges.
In all of these passages, what we need to remember is that when we pray, we also have a response to God. We can pray, sit back and wait, or we can do our part to help “answer” our prayers. If we pray for healing, then we have our part to eat healthier, listen to medical advice and weigh our options, do what we can to make our bodies stronger. Naaman expects a grand show by Elisha to heal him, instead of following the instructions of Elisha and participating in his own healing. The psalmist calls upon God to be his helper–which implies that God is helping the psalmist in his own healing and deliverance, not just performing a miracle, and that the psalmist comes to a point of rejoicing before God even before he has been fully healed, knowing that God will come through. The man who came to Jesus did not wait for Jesus, but sought him out, knowing that Jesus had the power to heal him. And Paul reminds us that we must endure, that we must do our part in living out our faith. We rely on Christ, but we also know that we have been given the resources and the power in our own lives to do our part to help in responding to our own prayers, participating in God’s “answer.”
I put “answer” in quotation marks because I think too often Christians use the word “answer” to mean a clear response to our exact request. I don’t think God works that way most of the time. I think God requires us to participate in our own prayers, to do our part to live out faithful lives in response to God.
Call to Worship:
Leader: Come, the door is opened, the light is shining through.
People: We are afraid, for the unknown lies on the other side.
Leader: Come, step through the door into endless possibilities of life!
People: We are afraid, we pray, but we have not heard the answer.
Leader: Come, do not be afraid, for Christ is taking your hand.
People: Christ is our companion, we shall not be afraid, we shall walk boldly into the light.
All: Come, let us fling open the doors, reach out to each other, and worship our God!
Prayer of Confession:
Wondrous God, we confess that we often pray and wait for answers. We want a clear yes from You, we want assurance of our requests, we want answers and we want them now. We confess that we fail to walk through doors out of fear or reach out to those who have hurt us out of anger. We confess that we lack patience and understanding, and that we forget to participate in Your response, being passive instead of active. Forgive us and remind us of the empowering grace You have given us in our lives. Remind us that You are always with us, that You never leave us or forsake us. In the name of Jesus the Christ, who walks with us on this journey of faith, we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
God turns our mourning into dancing, and brings our silence into song. God restores us when we feel we have fallen short. God brings healing and hope and renewal to our lives. May we go forth, participating in the reign of Christ here on earth. Amen.
Sovereign God, we know You are ever-present with us. You have come before us, You walk with us and You will come again. When we pray, we no longer seek Your presence, but we at times need assurance. Remind us of Your companionship when we feel lost, and grant us the courage to step out in response to Your grace to bring healing and hope in our world. Remind us that the greatest commandments are to love You and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that when we follow Your commandments, we are participating in Your answering of prayers to each other and the world. In the name of Christ, our Savior, Redeemer and Friend, we pray. Amen.