21st Sunday after Pentecost—Lectionary 28C—October 13, 2013
Preached at Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Until this week, I had never really thought about of the story of the healing of Armenian leper, Naaman as a Stewardship text, but it really does have some important things to say about stewardship.
First of all, we see during his search Namman treat the healing process as a complex transaction. He goes to the king of Israel, the center of power, first. Namman is a general in the army of Aram, so he is no stranger to power and hierarchy, so he expects that the power to heal to reside at the top in Israel. But we know that such is not the case. The ability to make someone whole resides with a lowly prophet.
And think about where the knowledge of the prophet’s ability to heal came from in the first place—from a young, unnamed, slave girl. Both the use of the young Israelite girl captured by the Aram army and the prophet Elisha over the king as the mechanism for healing is a reminder that we all have something to contribute. We all have gifts, talents, and knowledge that can be used in service to others.
So Namman goes to the king, expecting to be healed, with a load of gifts. If you think about the cultural context, the gifts played a number of purposes. Aram and Israel were political enemies, so Namman took the gifts with him for the king to ensure his safety. They also would have been normally, during any visit, to build relationships. This is why the king is upset by the presents. Namman gives the king gives and expects healing, if the kind cannot deliver, which he knows himself unable, he will be responsible for breaking the relationship which could result in military action between the two powers.
So although, the gifts were necessary and somewhat expected, Namman does in a sense try to buy his healing. Nowadays, gifts can play a role in relationship building, but they are not necessary. Think about hostess gifts, birthday presents, and mementos we buy along our way during road trips. We still use gifts to build relationships, but it is not the only way. And it is definitely not necessary to build a relationship with God. God gives us gifts, but that is a result of our relationship, not the cause. And likewise, when thinking about stewardship, we give gifts—our time, talents, and treasures—back to God in service to the church and in service to the world, not in order to build a relationship with God, but because of the relationship we already have. Our giving is a way to say thank you.
Our worship and stewardship is the equivalent of the one in ten Leper in Luke turning back to praise Jesus for his gift of healing.
Although, Namman treats it as such, healing is not a complex transaction that needs to be correctly navigated in order to gain wholeness. It is a free gift, from God through Elisha to Namman, from Jesus to the lepers, and from God to each of us…temporal healing through medicine and doctors and eternal healing—salvation—full healing—wholeness.
Namman thinks that the easy sounding answer that Elisha provides cannot possibly be effective because of its simplicity. We do the same thing at times—complicate our being healed and whole/our relationship with God—by thinking we have to do more. Thinking that we have to do something in order to earn or facilitate God’s gift of love and mercy to us, but as it says in the second letter of Timothy, “the word of God is not chained.” Wholeness is a gift, from the one true God, not the end of a complex transaction we participate in.
Our participation comes after the gift of wholeness and new life has been bestowed on us. We can participate in the use of that freedom and the tangible gifts of time, talents, and treasures we have also been given.
First there is (like the Lukan leper) the recognition, praise, and thanksgiving result from the receiving of gifts from God. But neither is this an obligation, but an opportunity for a second blessing that comes from saying thank you. Therefore, our tithing and service in God name, our offerings are not only for God’s sake, or even for the church’s sake, but for our own sake. Again, we are the ones that are blessed. There is something in each of us that changes when we express gratitude—it is a scientific fact. From speaking the truth that we have been blessed, we are blessed again. Therefore, I invite you not to think of stewardship as just an obligation that follows receiving a gift, but an action that results in even more blessing.
It is when we approach life with this mind set—one of opportunity for blessing instead of a list of obligations as part of a complex transaction—that we are more likely to recognize God at work all over—in the last places we might expect: the unnamed slave girl, a prophet who does not live in a castle but does not even come out to greet a military officer, in a Samaritan leper, in our neighbors, and in ourselves. And it will exponentially multiply—the more you see God at work all over, the more you can name seeing God in unexpected places and giving thanks for that, the more you will recognize work done in the name of God…
God’s gifts to us and our stewardship of them, is not primarily an obligation or part of a complex business transaction. Suggestions of how to be better stewards are simply secret sharing of how to encounter God more and more in your daily lives—not just at church, but every where, because God is not limited by the expected or even the rational—God loves you, claims you, saves you, and equips you to be a good steward in the world—spreading the good news in word and deed. Amen.
 2 Timothy 2:9, NRSV.