July 4th: Proper 9 -- Year C
II Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11,16-20
What I gleaned from this Old Testament story of the healing of Naaman is something I believe is very important for all of us to hear. I think we usually tend to either sit around waiting for God to call us to do something dramatic, something out of the ordinary…or we’re so afraid that He might call us to do something that’s going to disrupt our lives, that we don’t listen for His call.
What the story of Naaman is telling us is that God usually calls us to do something simple, something that’s easy. What God most particularly asks most of us to do is a gentle healing of our lives and the lives of others through a simple change of attitude, a change of heart. These are both of the Old Testament lessons today. Rejoice, for God is with us and loves us, and…open your minds and hearts to be ready to do the little things, in simplicity.
Our Epistle reading from Galatians is about “Karma” – that Hindu and Buddhist word for the idea that, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” If you are selfish, you’ll get selfish people surrounding you. Ignore the presence of God around you, don’t pay attention to spreading His love around, and your life will pretty well be overgrown with weeds, with problems that are difficult to clean out of your life. But if you let God’s love grow in you and you share that caring love with those you encounter in your daily life, your life will bloom. Bear one another’s burdens and the burdens will be lighter for all of us.
Paul tells us to plant things of the Spirit within ourselves, and in those we meet, and what we will reap will be the joys of heaven. He writes that we are to do whatever we can for the good of everyone whenever we have the opportunity. And he reminds us of what our attitude should be when he says, “May I never boast of anything, except the cross of Christ.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. He goes on to tell his followers (and that’s us as well as those people he spoke to so long ago). He goes on to say that we don’t need any special preparation for doing his will. Simply go your way, and when you are with others, share God’s peace, help them however you can, tell them that God is near them, and your name will be written in heaven. Sometimes, God calls people to make dramatic changes in their lives, and to undergo huge sacrifices for the faith, but most of the time, God wants us to do His will right where we are, in the little things of life. Sometimes we don’t even realize that it is God’s urging that is moving us in new directions.
I have a story about some new friends that Lewis and I made on our trip. Timir Banerjee and his wife Elaine happened to sit with us at dinner the first night of the tour. They live in Louisville, Kentucky, where they are both active in their faith. Elaine is a nurse who is doing additional graduate work, and is interested in integrating spiritual aspects of life into the healing process. Timir is a retired neurosurgeon who has in the last few years begun teaching 5th grade three mornings a week. He came to the United States several decades ago from India to practice medicine and improve his life: he is a naturalized American citizen. This story is one that Dr. Banerjee told us over dinner.
He started out by saying what an amazing country the United States is, how in this country things can happen that would never happen anywhere else. And he shared with us the story of Dennis.
The year was 1978, and Dennis was a 32-year old patient of Timir’s. Dennis had a debilitating lung condition that kept him from living on his own, or providing for himself. He spent lots of time in the hospital to undergo oxygen intubations for his condition. In consultation with Dennis’s mother, Timir found out that it didn’t matter to her whether Dennis was in the hospital or at home, she couldn’t rest. She never got a good night’s sleep due to her worry that Dennis would become unable to breathe, and would die with no one to help him.
When Dr. Banerjee discovered how distraught Dennis’s mother was, he couldn’t let the problem continue. He picked up the phone and called the headquarters of AT&T and asked to speak with the president of the company. He didn’t even know the man’s name, but he did know that at that time, AT&T owned Bell Laboratories, and he thought maybe they could help in some way. Timir actually got through to the top man, and he explained the problem. (You see, at this time there were some monitors built for pediatric use to alert nurses if a child had difficulties, but no monitors that alerted someone if an adult patient’s breath stopped.)
The President of AT&T told Dr. Banerjee that he didn’t believe he’d ever had a more important problem to solve, and he would be in touch as soon as he could. Just a day or two later, Timir received a call telling him that two engineers from Boeing were flying in from Seattle and they’d be in KY in a few days to get to work. These men came in and developed the medical monitor that results in an alarm if a patient stops breathing.
Dr. Banerjee, the hospital, Dennis, nor any of their insurance companies, were ever charged even a penny for the work that went into the development of the monitor. These men did what needed to be done because they wanted to help someone they didn’t even know. Timir told us that this type of thing is what makes us different, and why he wanted to be a citizen of this country. Timir explained that he wanted to be a part of a place where a relative nobody could ask for help from a powerful person just by picking up the phone.
Timir grew up in the Brahmin caste, the highest and most powerful level of India’s caste system. Here there is no caste system: each person is equally valued, be they a major corporate executive, or someone without a job or home. We have been taught from early childhood that all people have value, each person in the world has equal value with every other person: there are no untouchables here. Our forefathers founded this country on this basic principle that Christ teaches.
Timir has done some other dramatic and unusual interventions to help people since he became an American citizen. Shortly after the shootings in Columbine, CO, he formed a non-profit organization named SPAVA, an acronym for the Society for the Prevention of Aggressiveness and Violence among Adolescents. Their mission statement says they exist to produce a nonviolent society by being mentors and role models for our youth. Last year, as a fundraising and public relations effort for the charity, Timir walked all the way across the country.
The message I got from all that Timir told us is that he believes what our forefathers wrote about equality and liberty, and he believes what he’s read in his Bible about caring for one another. These gave him the courage, or maybe simply the belief that we are all able and called to make a difference, so he does it. All it took to prevent Dennis’s death, and his Mom’s sleepless nights, was a phone call, and Timir made it. God calls all of us to take those steps: to make that phone call. Timir thought he came to the U.S. to practice medicine and have a better life. But because he saw a need and took the brief minutes necessary to make the call, thousands of lives have been saved, and will continue to be saved.
God calls us all to be open to love and to care for all of those we encounter. May each and every one of us, this day and every day, give thanks that we have been put in this place where we have the freedom to be conduits for God’s love flowing into the world. May we remain aware that no matter how young or how old, rich or poor, educated or not, we are able and capable of making a difference in the world around us, and this is what God calls all of us to do. Amen.