Date: March 12, 2017
Title: “Fasting From Complexity, Feasting on Simplicity”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-14
The choir had it right this morning when they sang:
It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free. It’s a gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
If only it were that simple. Last week we read the story of Elisha, running for his life from Queen Jezebel, who had put a price on his head. You remember Elisha’s story – how he waited in a cave for a word from God about what he should do, how he should live, and whether he would even survive. In front of him came all sorts of huge and overpowering, complex things – a great wind, an earthquake, a fire. But God’s voice was absent. It didn’t come until the silence came.
“It’s too good to be true”… How often is that our response when we are expecting complexity and instead receive simplicity? We put out these mixed messages all the time. We say we want an easy, uncomplicated life, and then we insist that life is not easy. If something feels too simple, we perpetually wait for the other shoe to drop. We may be drawn to the easy fix, the easy cure, and the easy answer, but we rarely trust them. So we do to faith what we do to life, adding layers of complication to make us feel more secure. Just like Naaman.
Poor Naaman’s got a problem. He’s sick; everybody can see that much is true. And he’s tried every known cure, gone to every doctor in his hometown; he’s listened to every self-help guru on television, he’s even ordered snake-oil off the internet. And nothing has worked.
So here he is, in his desperation, visiting the prophet Elisha in some backwater town. It seems like a crazy thing to do. His friends are shaking their heads and wagging their tongues thinking old Naaman’s really gone round the bend on this one! But why not give it a go? Nothing else has worked.
And yet, it is too good to be true, what the prophet says. In fact, it is so easy – it is such a simple prescription – that Naaman is outraged. He expected something complex and difficult to understand. He thought it would be an elaborate healing ritual, with hard to follow hand motions and complicated liturgical wording. But instead, Elisha simply tells Naaman to go and wash himself in the Jordan River.
Instead of something confusing and secret and hard to imagine, Elisha offers Naaman an easy way out of his predicament, and a simple solution. This is worse than “take two aspirin and call me in the morning”! Doesn’t the prophet know what a VIP is standing at his door? How could a thing as simple as a bath bring about the kind of healing and offer the kind of hope that Naaman so desperately needs?
Naaman’s got a problem, all right. And it has nothing at all to do with leprosy. Naaman is like the man in the old joke who is caught in a flood, and goes up on his roof, where he prays to God to rescue him. Person after person comes by in a rowboat, offering to take the man to safety. “No thanks”, he says each time… “I know God is going to save me.” Finally, the flood rises over him and he drowns. When the man gets to heaven, he bitterly complains, “I prayed and I prayed, God, but you didn’t save me!” And God sighs a bit, then answers, “I sent four rowboats and you didn’t get into any of them.”
Naaman’s got a problem like the man in the flood. And maybe like you and me. For how often do we experience God’s grace and think “this can’t be it… it’s too simple; there must be something more to it than this. Maybe I just need to wait a little longer, pray a little harder, ask a little louder. This is too good to be true!” How often do we watch rowboat after rowboat drift on by without us?
Someone else put it this way:
We don’t claim the grace that comes to us. Instead, we set the evidentiary
bar so high for evidence of God’s presence, that we do not notice God at
all. For us, grace has to be magic, full of special effects, before we pay
But most of the miracles of God’s grace – the grace that transforms our thinking, the grace that heals our spirits, and the grace that saves our dignity or liberates our potential – are like the rowboats, coming along regularly, sometimes even in response to our prayers. And the thing is, you have to get into them to get the full effect.
And that can be difficult, I know. We are so busy. We have so many things distracting us, it is no wonder we find it hard to fast from complexity and feast on simplicity. But we’re all fine… right?
Recently I got to thinking about two things I love to do – painting silk, and practicing improvisational theater. At first glance, the two may seem like dissimilar, disconnected activities. And yet, I believe I am drawn to them because each practice pushes me in a particular way, and each teaches me some valuable lessons about grace.
In order to do well in Improv, or in silk painting, you have to learn these lessons:
- You have to learn to be present in the present moment, to pay attention to what is going on right now.
- You have to learn to listen deeply to your craft
- You have to learn to let go of your own agenda. You can no more control the flow of paint on silk than you can control the flow of story in Improv.
- And, you have to learn to keep moving the process forward.
Isn’t that also the way it is in the life of faith? To fast from complexity and feast on simplicity requires a spirituality of presence. It needs a lifetime of listening, it implies a practice of letting go, and it means endeavoring – always – to move our story forward in the direction of God’s light and Christ’s love. Even if it means trusting a healing or risking a relationship that seems too simple to work, that seems almost too good to be true. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach put it this way:
Full experiences of God can never be planned or achieved.
They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental.
And one of his students then asked:
Rabbi, if God-realization is just accidental, why do we work so hard
doing all these spiritual practices?
And the Rabbi replied: In order to be as accident-prone as possible!
To be as accident-prone as possible – to be present, to listen, to let go of our agendas, to move forward – that is why we are here. Poor Naaman almost blew his chance. He was ready to do anything in order to be healed. Anything, that is, except for the one simple thing God asked. And it took a servant suggesting “Why not?” for Naaman to get into the rowboat being offered, to pay attention to the now, to listen, let go and move forward.
We can be like that servant for each other, today. Because we are all in the process of becoming as accident-prone as possible. Hey! The waters are rising, from complexity to simplicity. Don’t miss the boat! Amen.