If you’ve ever combined households with anyone – college roommates or a new marriage or even vacation with friends and family – you’ve probably run up against the things that seem obvious from your own point of view that seems differently obvious to the other person involved. The classic newlywed story is about orange juice. “My mom always bought the kind without pulp!” “But I like the pulp!” Stop right there before it becomes an argument about the mother-in-law. Luckily, we don’t usually buy orange juice at our house, and when we bought it for Peter’s visit, he of course chose the right kind – without the pulp.
These should be, from a higher perspective, mundane trivialities, but somehow we manage to freight them with all sorts of emotional luggage. Is my point of view respected? Are they saying my family did it wrong? Can they possibly mean what I think they mean?
It turns out there are very few things in life that are actually straightforward and simple, even if it seems so clear –from *my* perspective – they should be. We make life more complicated by bringing our habits, our experiences and our prejudices into every interaction in life. It takes a very philosophical person to keep from doing this. Most of us are not that philosophical in the crucial moment.
We have trouble keeping it simple when we hold on hard to opinions.
Naaman is a well-known and respected military leader, trusted and revered in his community. He also has an illness so visible that others will always use it to identify him. He is a person of high degree in his community, but he suffers nevertheless. A servant girl, a slave captured in a fight against Israel, offers up a hope. In her homeland, there is a prophet who could heal him. Naaman goes straight to his king, who honors him by offering up a letter to the king of Israel – not a friend! – after which Naaman makes the trek to meet the king, carrying with him a train of servants and supporters, enough outfits for any occasion that might arise, and gifts appropriate for a king.
He comes in peace. He comes for healing. It’s simple.
But it seems extraordinarily complicated to the King of Israel, who concludes he is being set up to fail, set up for more war, more disaster, more kidnapping of girls who will become slaves in other Aramean households. No one can cure this skin disease! Why is this *his* responsibility? He tears his clothes. He despairs.
He doesn’t even contact the prophet in question, Elisha.
It’s Elisha who reaches out to the King, saying, “Send that man to me. I’ll show him there is a prophet in Israel.”
Naaman travels with expectations, just like anybody else. He has come in his dignity, and this next step of the journey may well sound right to him. He is being sent from king to prophet, to the one who can do the healing. But when he doesn’t receive the welcome and the instant, dramatic healing he expects, he gets angry. Why doesn’t Elisha come out of the house and do the job himself, in front of his one God and everybody else?!?!?!!
Again, it’s the servants who intervene.
Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.’” (2 Kings 5:13, CEB)
Wash and become clean, said Elisha. Keep it simple.
We have trouble keeping it simple when we want to be right.
Maybe it’s human nature. I imagine the disciples, much like the first sheep in the cartoon on our bulletin cover, trying to put what Jesus tells them into an instruction manual for the journey and getting tripped up by the metaphors.
- There’s a great harvest out there, but not many people will want to work for it.
- You are like lambs, and I am sending you out among wolves.
- Travel light, and don’t get distracted by the sights along the way.
- Give your peace to those who will accept it, but don’t worry, you’ll get it back from those who don’t.
- Take the hospitality of the first place you are welcomed, and let them feed you.
Finally, a rule we can understand! It sounds like the least complicated one on the list. But for faithful, observant Jews like the disciples, it posed a problem. We don’t have a record that they questioned Jesus, but they must have wondered. They lived with rules about food that were specific and, in their own faith community, easy to obey because everyone did. Once they went further afield, who knew what might happen? What if the first house they went to should actually accept their peace, invite them in and offer them food they were not supposed to eat?
Keep it simple, Jesus says. Go in where they welcome you, and eat what’s put in front of you.
We have trouble keeping it simple when we’re worried we’re breaking the rules.
I’ve broken some kind of rule in every church I’ve served. Most of them have been unwritten. In my first call, the very first Sunday was a first Sunday of the month. I conferred with a Deacon on Friday, my first day on the job. She gave a very thorough description of the accustomed practices in that congregation. I asked as many questions as I could think to ask. I thought it all went well that Sunday, until the same Deacon came through the line to shake my hand and said, “Oh, I should have told you, the pastor distributes the trays from right to left, not left to right.” She assumed I would know that part. After all, don’t all pastors start at the center outward or the outward edge in or …
I am the bread of life, said Jesus. Please, keep it simple.
Communion, nevertheless, had been served. And even if I do something “wrong” today, I promise it will be served and celebrated here, too.
When we gather around the table, we share in a meal that offers both nourishment and healing. We serve each other. Where we’re from, who we love and whether we like our orange juice with or without pulp does not matter at all. We break the bread. We drink the cup. It’s simple.
(A sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11)