Thursday, October 17, 2013

Small Steps, Real Gratitude

October 14, 2013, 4:21 PM

Small Steps, Real Gratitude

October 13, 2013       
2 Kings 5:1-15c
Luke 17:11-21
For several weeks we have been on the road with Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem for the last time. All along the way he has been relocating the Kingdom of God. It’s not in the temple, it’s not in pious micromanaging of the law—no, Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is like a shepherd leaving 99 sheep grazing to look for the one that wandered away. It’s like a woman who sweeps the whole house looking for a missing silver coin even though she has nine in her purse. It’s like a father throwing a barbeque for his son who squanders his inheritance. The Kingdom of God happens when an unscrupulous manager forgives his master’s debtors so that they will welcome him when he loses his job—because you can’t serve God and money. In the Kingdom of God, poor, wretched, starving Lazarus finally finds comfort in heaven, while the rich man with no name is trying to use his influence to get room service in hell. Where is the Kingdom of God? It’s been relocated: outside the fold, in the dust in a corner, among the pigs in a far country, where dishonest wealth is redistributed, and across the chasm of self-interest.
In the gospel story, ten lepers saw Jesus approaching. Lepers were the ultimate outsiders in the ancient world. Because their disease was so contagious, the Levitical law required that they live on the outskirts of towns and villages, that they wear torn clothing, leave their hair uncut, and cover their mouths while crying, “Unclean, unclean,” to warn others to keep their distance. Theirs was a lonely, painful existence. When these ten lepers saw Jesus, they kept their distance, and called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The job of diagnosing skin diseases had been given to the priests and so Jesus sent them to the temple to be examined. On the way all ten were made clean. But one, when he saw that he was healed, came back to find Jesus. Praising God in a loud voice, he threw himself at Jesus’ feet, face down in the dust of the road and made a spectacle of himself. And he was a Samaritan. An outcast among outcasts throwing himself at the feet of the street preacher. We can imagine the other nine sitting in the synagogue or worshiping in the temple, happy to have been healed. But the Kingdom of God is out on the street where the outcast sees God in the face of another man, one his people might even consider an enemy, and he cannot keep silent.
The story of the prophet Elisha and Naaman holds much of the same cross cultural and political tension. The Israeli king felt threatened and was afraid of attempting a task he couldn’t imagine. Naaman felt dimissed because Elisha didn’t come out to meet him, didn’t wave his hands or speak healing words. Naaman wouldn’t even have been there if his wife hadn’t listened to a young girl. He wouldn’t have been healed if he hadn’t listened to the wisdom of his servants who encouraged him to do the simple thing he was being asked to do.
How often do our fears, resentments, or prejudices get in the way of our taking small steps toward our own healing, or healing relationships, or healing systemic problems?  What are the things we say to ourselves?  Here’s my list: That can’t possibly make a difference. Too little, too late. What if it doesn’t work?  I don’t trust that person. If we don’t take the small steps, we shut down the possibility of healing. Perhaps it’s easier to hear in ancient wisdom from the East: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” or “why curse the darkness, when you can light a candle?”
Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard all this before. I wouldn’t be inspired by it, except for the miracle I witnessed this last Friday. I was invited to hear the stories of Palestinian and Israeli families who had last children in the horrible conflict that continues in their divided land. An Israeli mother, who lost her young adult son to a Palestinian suicide bomber, and a Palestinian man whose 10 year old daughter was shot by an Israeli soldier on her way home from school, travel together as representatives of the Parent’s Circle—Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost their children to the violence who work side by side for peace. They started by telling their stories to each other and then expanded their circle to tell their stories to others all around the world.  Robi, the Israeli mother, asked us to pray for peace. Bassan, the Palestinian father, asked us to not take sides, but to be on the side of peace. They acknowledged that their governments’ posture prevents peace, busy trying to promote their own interests. Robi asked us not to be “pro” either side, because it prevents peace. “Be on the side of peace and only on the side of peace,” she said.  Bassan, who served in the Palestinian army and was an Israeli prisoner for 7 years, told us how terrifying it was for former combatants to sit together in the same room and tell their stories so that they could begin to work together for peace.  Robi and Bassan call their work together a miracle, and it is. But it began with unbelievable difficult small steps. The real gratitude that they have for one another is only a foretaste of the gratitude that their people will experience when the scale for justice finally tips towards peace in their land. The accumulation of small actions does tip the scale.
Inspirational stories may help to give us courage to take a small step toward healing. But they are of no use if we do not act in our own lives; if we don’t take the small step that we need to take in our own lives. It may be something very personal with your health or personal well-being. It may be in mending a broken relationship or finding a healthy resolution. It may be in addressing a broken system, in your family, or in our community, or nation. Miracles happen because we take one courageous small step after another. For Naaman the small step was taking the advice of a young girl and listening to his servants, then dipping himself seven times in a foreign river. Ten lepers were told to show themselves to the priest, hoping that along the way they might be healed. Palestinian and Israeli families choose compassion over revenge by telling their stories and sharing their pain. None of these small steps seem reasonable, but each small step led to a miracle of healing. And miracles large and small lead to real gratitude, face in the dust, shout it from the mountaintops gratitude. May it be so for you.

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