Sermon preached at the installation of Maggie Geller as Deacon at St. John’s Franklin
Sunday, October 13, 2019.
Good morning St. John’s!! Please be seated !!
How are you ….? A wise person this week taught me there is an alternative answer to this question we get asked so many times a day, which we answer with a simple ‘Fine, and you?’ When I first came to this country, and people asked me how I was, I would attempt to answer the question in great detail .This was not appreciated.
But this wise person told me to answer the question of : ‘How are you ?’with the response ‘I am grateful’. Grateful!! What a wonderful answer!!! A powerful teacher of the church from Germany, Meister Eckhart, taught back in the thirteenth century that if the only prayer we say each day is ‘thank you’ then that’s enough.
So it’s the theme of gratitude that binds these two readings today together.
I am particularly fond of the story of the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Maggie, I have used this story in classes with nursing students trying to facilitate a discussion about healing. Namaan’s healing is a story full of humor- never think there is no humor in the Bible- and with lots of unexpected outcomes and double meanings. It’s a wonderful story of healing and gratitude, but I am a little bit put out with the Lectionary this week, because it only gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of this marvelous story, and leaves out some of the funny and juicy parts.
This Naaman the commander of a unit of the Syrian army is suffering from leprosy. And not only is leprosy a nasty skin affliction, it is also what you what you might call a social disease, because the contamination puts you out outside of the boundaries of polite society. By contracting leprosy, one became a reject , an outsider. Fortunately, Naaman’s wife has an Israeli servant girl who knows a guy, who has a good referral for Naaman. The guy in question is Elisha, the prophet of God in Israel. Elisha, incidentally, is the prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures whose stories are most like the Jesus stories in the Gospel.
So Namaan rattles of a letter to the king of Israel who thinks it’s a trap (funny moment # 1 ) but then learns that in fact Elisha, who is the student of the now departed prophet Elijah, is the guy who can heal him.
When Naaman learns from Elisha what the prescription is- to bathe in the river Jordan , he flies into a rage. ‘We have the best rivers in the world’ – he says –Abana and Phaphar- why could I not have bathed there ?’ When he does, however, he is cleaned and healed instantly, and Naaman is well, grateful. He offers payment for this medical treatment which once again allows him entrance to Syrian society, but the prophet of God refuses.
The Lectionary leaves out funny moment # 3 where Elisha’s evil servant, Gehazi, goes after the departing Naaman to say: ‘oh, by the way, there is a charge for all this ’ and tries to pocket the reward himself. But the Lectionary also leaves out the crux of the story.
Being denied the possibility of payment by the man of God, Naaman has a strange request as he departs. Namaan wants to be allowed by bring two cartfuls of dirt back to his home in Syria. Funny moment # 4. Why this bizarre
request ? It is because Namaan still believes that the power of God is limited to the land. He believes that the power that has healed him is restricted to the land of Israel, so if he can take a little bit of Israel home with him, perhaps the power will work there too. Naaman has not caught on to the loving, healing power of God that transcends all human and political boundaries, the healing love of God that exists here and everywhere, now and for all times.
The Gospel story of the 10 lepers is also a story of healing and gratitude, and in it Jesus makes specific reference to the healing of Naaman the Syrian.
In doing my research this week, I came across a moving work of art by the artist Brian Kershisnik, a contemporary Mormon painer ,called Ten Lepers Healed. In this painting, nine healed lepers dance and run across a beautiful field that has the color the trees in New England have in the Fall. Their skins glow and shine from the newfound healing they experienced.
Yet one man has turned away from this group of nine. His skin also is unblemished, and shines, but this man is walking the other way, towards Jesus who waits at the edge of the field. This man wants to show Jesus his gratitude.
The Gospel story shares the delicious detail that this grateful man was a Samaritan, a son of a forgotten people who were trampled in the North Kingdom after the Babylonians came and destroyed the First Temple. A forgotten people who eked out a marginal existence in the North even after the other tribes had returned from the Babylonia exile. A despised people, who insisted on worshipping God on a mountain called Gerezim, today outside of Nablus in the West bank, while everybody knows that decent people worship God on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.
It is this despised and forgotten man alone who shows Jesus gratitude after his healing.
Healing and gratitude. How appropriate it is that we talk about healing and gratitude on the day we install the Rev. Maggie Geller as the new Deacon here at St. John’s in Franklin. We are grateful for Maggie accepting this call precisely because she is a healer. Through 42 years of ministry of caring for the vulnerable and immune-compromised, suffering and sometimes dying children as a nurse at the ICU at Children’s Hospital, through her adventures in a whole slew of African countries she has brought healing to others.
You are receiving in Maggie one of our longest ordained and most faithful Deacons, and we are so grateful to Maggie that she has accepted her call to ministry here in Franklin.
We are so grateful that, at her ordination to be a Deacon in God’s Church, Maggie promised in the name of Jesus Christ, to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.
We are grateful that Maggie promised as a Deacon in God’s Church, to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model her life upon them. She promised to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by her word and example, to those among whom she lives , and work, and worship.
We are grateful that Maggie promised to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. She promised to assist the bishop and priests in public
worship and in the ministration of God's Word and
Sacraments, and to carry out other duties assigned to
her from time to time. She committed that at all times,
her life and teaching were to show Christ's people that in serving the helpless she is serving Christ himself.
We are so grateful that Maggie is called to be a Deacon here in Franklin in the long and wonderful tradition of the Christian diaconate that begins with Christ, who was among us as one who serves, continues with Steven and the Seven, with Phoebe and Priscilla, with Stephen, Vincent, Laurence, Alcuin, Francis of Assisi and Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding.
God has called this healer, this Deacon to be among you, and we are grateful.
So St. Johns’, how are you ? We are grateful.