28th Sunday: Thank you, Lord
One of my favorite comedians is Bill Cosby. I grew up laughing at his standup routines. He hit the big time with his description of Noah building the ark. He built on that with a lot of great routines, my favorite was his playing football for Temple University against dreaded Hofstra. Of course, the Cosby show not only kept Americans laughing but helped them see each other as people, not as members of this or that race.
Have you ever heard Bill Cosby’s routine about having children at home? In one part he talks about his daughter who was three at the time. Everything she sees becomes, “Mine!” in a shrill voice that leads him to yell at his eleven year old, “let her have it. She already has half of my stuff.”
All of you who have had or who have little ones at home, children or siblings, know what he is talking about. Mine is one of the first words that babies learn to say consistently. Everything a toddler sees becomes Mine. That might be OK for a three year old, but some people go through life seeing themselves as the center of the universe. To some people, everything is Mine. Life for them is “all about me, my feelings, my needs, my success, my happiness.” Some people never grow up.
Growing up is really about learning new words: Yes, Ours, Yours, Please, and perhaps the hardest phrase to learn and to mean, Thank you. “Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for worrying about me. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for loving me, despite myself.”
When we say Thank you we realize that we are not the center of the universe. When we say “thank you” we realize that what we are and what we have are the result of a goodness and beauty beyond ourselves.
Naaman of Syria said, “Thank you.” General Naaman, the leper of the first reading from Second Kings 5, traveled to the Kingdom of Judah because his servant girl, a Hebrew, had said that there was a prophet there who could heal him. Naaman was too important to speak to some peasant prophet, so he went right to Jerusalem. He carried a letter from the King of Syria to the King of Judah asking him to heal the general. That King thought Naaman was looking for a reason to start a war. He couldn’t heal him. Naaman thought he had healing coming to him. He would have returned to Syria irate, but his servants encouraged him to seek out the prophet Elisha. So Naaman showed up with his royal retinue at the prophets humble cottage. Elisha didn’t even come out of his house. He just sent word that Naaman should go jump in the lake, or at least the Jordan River, and do it seven times. How humbling. The great man who expected everyone to respond to his demands, was told in a message that he should go jump into the river. It was bad enough that he thought he would have to do something extraordinary, like climb a mountain in his bare feet and eat find some rare berries to eat. But he was asked to do something very simple. He refused to do it, until the Hebrew servant reasoned with him to recognize a power greater than his. This healing was not to be about him. It would be about the God of the Hebrews who would heal him. So Naaman jumped into the Jordan River seven times and his skin became that of a new born child. That’s where today’s reading picks up. Naaman returns to Elisha to say “thank you.” He wants to give gifts to Elisha, but Elisha wouldn’t accept gifts. It was the Lord who Elisha served. It was the Lord who healed Naaman. So Naaman takes two cart loads of soil from Israel and returns to Syria where he would spend the rest of his life giving thanks to God on the soil of the Holy Land.
We pray to God every day because we realize that we have received gift after gift from God. We realize that life is not about us. Life, at least life worth living, is about God. So we thank God. We thank Him for love that is so deep that we cannot begin to fathom it. We look at the cross, and we are shocked at the extent of God’s love for each of us, no matter what we may have done in our lives. We thank God that he has given us people all around us who reflect His Love to the world. We thank God for our children, even when they are little and still at the “Mine” stage of life. We thank God for our Teens who are taking steps from mine to yours, from egocentricity to Christian love. We thank God for our college people and young adults who are filling us with so much hope for the future of our world. We thank God for our Christian adults, single and married, who are convinced that they can be holy, set apart for the Lord. We thank God that he has set each of us in one of the most beautiful states in a country of loving, generous and free people. The sacrifice of other Americans have made this a great country.
We thank God that He became one of us to save us from sin, from the selfishness that deceives us into thinking we are each the center of the world. We thank God that through the sorrows and sufferings of each of our lives, His Love, His Presence, Our Divine Lover, Jesus Christ, has sustained us and even helped us to grow through the pain. And what really is our pain? How difficult has life really been? Have we lost a loved one? Perhaps, but would we rather not have loved? Of course not! Do we have physical pain? Perhaps. But hasn’t that pain made us more aware of how others might be hurting? Of course. Do we really have serious problems? Perhaps. But don’t we also have the Infinite Solution to all problems loving us, and caring for us?
God loves us. He loves us not for what we do, but for whom we are. He loves us, and He care for us. Each of us, individually and eternally. The only fitting response that we can make for God’s unexplainable and unmerited love for us, is to come before Him in humble gratitude. Like Naaman, the Syrian, we pray on holy ground. We go to Church, and we thank God for His Presence in our lives.