Posted: Feb 10
Preaching - Epiphany 6, Year B
Refrain for Epiphany 6:
You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
The readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany are 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; and Mark 1:40-45.
At first glance at our readings for this Sunday we probably wouldn't think they were linked to contemporary materialism. But as we dive into the social-cultural-religious issues of the primary contexts of these readings we begin to understand the connection through the desire to be accepted, if not included in the community.
Many commentators believe that Naaman was afflicted with vitiligo, a disease that causes loss of pigmentation in areas of the skin affected. While this would not have been painful, it is highly visible. As it seems Naaman was concerned with keeping up appearances, he even wanted some big ceremony to make him clean. As a strong military leader he was afforded a chain-of-command community at least, but his affliction communicated a weakness and most likely a reluctance of others to be in his company. Acceptance and inclusion are at the heart of his desire to be healed from his "leprosy". His inclusion in our readings, even in our scripture, helps us to understand this is a universal human desire. Maslow had something to say about that.
While the leper in the Gospel lesson may have been stricken with the physically painful Hansen's Disease, given the religious and civic laws concerning the quarantine of lepers, this person also must have sought acceptance and inclusion as part of his healing. Jesus' sending him to the priest is an indication of this, for the priest was the one who would declare the person clean and restore him or her to the community.
Materialism is fueled by our need to be accepted and included in our society. At its core it is about keeping up appearances and fitting-in to what is accepted, our need to be "restored to the community". ?All of this flows from a deficient understanding that we are already loved, that we are the beloved as God's children (along with the rest of humanity in and outside the faith.)
This is the healing that Jesus offers us and that the Church is called to offer the world - love and acceptance - a community to which to belong. Cultural Materialism counters this message by saying we do not have enough to really be loved and accepted, always urging us to amass more. This tears at the stewardship of our blessings for God's kingdom by stealing it for empty unfulfilling promises of the next big material good to change our lives and make us whole.
Paul urges us to put our whole being into the "race" for God's kingdom proclamation winning the prize of discovering that we already are the beloved and shedding the consumer dissonance of chasing idols. Running the race of God's kingdom reveals to us that Jesus has given us meaning, purpose, value and a community, while also instilling within us that we are worthy of God's love through Christ.
In this, we are made whole. And like the leper in the Gospel is discovering this we can't help but express our gratitude to God! Gratitude flows from an understanding of being beloved and sharing these blessings with others with the whole of our lives as Paul suggests is stewardship.
In our Gospel reading the leper confronts Jesus with, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Jesus responds with, "I do choose. Be made clean."
Can we be so bold to accept Jesus' same offer to us?
The Rev. Canon Lance Ousley
Canon for Stewardship and Development
The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia
1551 10th Ave E.
Seattle, WA 98102
(206) 325-4200 office
(360) 499-6070 cell