First preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on the 17th Sunday after Trinity. The readings were 2 Kings 5.1-3,7-15c (the healing of Naaman) and Luke 17.11-19 (the healing of the ten lepers)
It’s all so simple and yet so deep.
Receiving the healing love of God is simple: God’s unconditional capacity to heal, when it is sought, is simply there.
Receiving the healing love of God is also deep: God’s healing brings us close to God’s overwhelming grace, mercy and love; it is a deep healing.
Receiving the healing love of God is the Holy Spirit’s gift - given in the name of Jesus - pouring out the creative, healing of our loving heavenly Father.
That simplicity and that depth, heals, anoints and soothes the deepest and darkest parts of our nature so that we are freed and released to be the people God made us to be in God’s image and likeness; the deep identity we find in Christ.
This story of the ten lepers is simple and deep, as is the account of the healing of Naaman. Healing for Naaman is as simple as going to that particular river right here, and not a grand river faraway: just a simple Israelite river with no magical properties; a river that is deep and healing.
The gospel story of the ten lepers sounds like a bit of a morality tale to encourage us (or make us feel guilty) to say ‘thank you’. And indeed saying ‘thank you’ and showing gratitude is really important in human society; it soothes and eases relationships and creates a culture of gratitude. And when one person starts saying ‘thank you’ the other nine are more likely to as well.
That’s the simple lesson of this encounter with Jesus: say thank you, make that a habit in your life.
But also the gospel the story of the ten lepers is a meditation on deep healing, glorifying God and finding the place of true worship.
Let’s look at each of those three features.
Deep healing. Deep healing touches every part of us, throughout our bodies and minds to the end of each tiny nerve. What does that mean? When we pray for healing for ourselves or others what are we praying for?
Deep healing is the healing of body, mind and spirit; not just of the outer person, but in their depths, at their very core. Indeed some of the most ‘healed’ people can be those who bodies or minds are wracked with pain.
And that is hard to say, because we don’t want to live with pain or discomfort. It is the mystery of the words that say of the Crucified Lord, ‘by his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2.24). The healed leper prostrated himself, literally laid down his own body before Jesus: what a joyful posture of gratitude that is in response to deep healing.
Glorifying God. The joyful posture of gratitude that the healed man showed was his glorification of God in Jesus Christ: praise of God and the response of gratitude were intertwined and inseparable as water mixed with wine, as Christ’s humanity and divinity.
The pagan Naaman and the Samaritan leper both praised God, Naaman declaring, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel’ (2 Kings 5.15b). That God is the God and Father or our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finding the place of true worship. The young girl in the story of Naaman directed this great military commander to the prophet of God in the backwater of Israel and there he found the God of all Creation.
In Jesus’ day lepers lived in quarantine at a distance from society, ritually unclean, unholy, outcasts from the people of God. This group of ten were all sent back to the Temple, to the priests to signify that they were no longer excluded from worship. The man who was healed had been excluded on two grounds – he was a leper and a Samaritan. And on being healed he turned around: this is where God’s presence is to be found: found in Jesus Christ the true Priest; the true Temple of God; the Great Physician. Jesus told all ten to go to and show themselves to the priests and effectively only one did!
So we see the simplicity of the healing and depth of what it means. We see that healing, glorifying God and gratitude go hand in hand: that’s why there is close proximity between healing and holiness. The truly holy person, the saint, knows themselves still to be human and still flawed and also to be healed.
All this prompts us to consider our grateful response to the love of God. Like Naaman we have been bathed in simple yet deep waters; the waters of baptism. We are in receipt of the healing and deliverance of God. Do we adopt a posture of gratitude? Do we offer back tokens of gratitude through the church in our giving of time, giving of our talents, giving of money?
A tenth of the group turned back to give thanks. It is the Biblical principle of the tithe; the offering of a tenth of who we are and what we have back to God who gave the gift of life in the first place.
To paraphrase the prayer of David at the consecration of the Temple (1 Chronicles 29.10-14): all things come from you, O Lord, and we’re simply offering back what you have given us: our sacrifice in response to your sacrifice; our healing in response to your holiness; our love in response to your love. Amen.