Ecclesiastes Sermon Series: A Time For Healing
June 18, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan
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“A time for healing”
Rev. Melanie Homan
June 18, 2017
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3a
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to kill, and a time to heal…
2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
There is a time for killing and a time for healing. I struggle with this idea – that there can ever be a right time for killing. I shared this at our staff meeting on Wednesday – that I didn’t like the idea that there was ever a time for killing. But then Chris reflected on the shooting in Virginia, and how the two security personnel killed the person who was trying to kill as many people as possible and I was thinking, “Well, you have a good point.” I don’t like it, but you have a good point. So maybe there are times when killing is the best of multiple terrible options, but I don’t like it. Because for the small number of times when it might be the time to kill, I can think of so many times when it’s NOT time to kill. Like at a traffic stop. Or when there are children around. Or when you’re holding a weapon and are reacting out of fear.
Another reflection that was shared in our meeting was that this passage from Ecclesiastes sets up a polarization, that there is either one or the other thing happening. A time to laugh or a time to cry, a time to dance or a time to mourn – when most often our experience is a combination of all those things happening at once! Maybe, it’s not that there is ever a “right” time for any of these things, but rather, the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying that in ALL times, THERE IS living and dying, THERE IS planting and uprooting, THERE IS killing and healing. It just IS. And we are trying to figure out how to live in the midst of all that IS. The harsh reality is that all that IS, is different depending on the color of your skin.
My mind has been weighed down with heavy thoughts this week. With anger and disappointment and deep grief about what IS. And I struggled with figuring out how to talk about these heavy, hard things. So I’m going to tell you a story. And you may think it has nothing to do with anything, but it does. So stick with me. You’ll eventually see where I’m going.
I would like to start by saying thank you to Brennon, who – whenever I’ve shared a story about our family, has read and approved it first, for letting me share his story to illustrate my point. He always has veto power and he’s the best editor I could have. I also promised him steak on the grill this afternoon.
A few years ago, Brennon was caught up in a battle. And I kept telling him it was pointless. That his resistance was futile. That he was wasting his time. And let me tell you – saying all those things – it REALLY helped. I don’t know why I thought he’d say, “You’re right, Melanie! I should just stop.” Never.
Brennon had declared war on all of the squirrels in our backyard. And we happened to have a lot of them. See, we had all of these bird feeders and we loved watching the birds from our kitchen window. But more often than not, there were no birds at the bird feeders. Instead, there were squirrels. It’s a common problem. Happens all the time. Whereas I would say, “Look at that cute squirrel!” Brennon would swear under his breath, or yell at them through the window to try to get them to leave. Which never worked. They would just stop eating bird feed for a few moments, turn their heads towards the kitchen window, and then go back to their lunch.
Maybe some of you have gone down the same path as Brennon. First he started to strategically place the bird feeders in places that he thought would be impossible for the squirrels to get to. But squirrels can jump. Far. And we had a house, trees, electric lines, and fences for them all to use as jumping off points.
Then Brennon started purchasing every squirrel deterrent item you can buy at the hardware store. I think there’s a huge market for this sort of thing, because everyone wants to find the one thing that will work, and NONE of them work. But hope springs eternal, and the battle was on, so one after another, we tried every squirrel deterrent on the market.
We also had a black walnut tree in the back yard, which made our squirrel problem worse. Not only was our backyard filled with bird seed, but it was also filled with a massive amount of black walnuts. So the squirrels would sit up in the tree, and bite off the outside layer of the walnuts, which would inevitably drop down from the sky and fall on Brennon’s head while he was mowing. Sometimes the entire walnut dropped on his head, and it was easy to think the squirrels were actively engaged in this battle and were after him, too.
One day, Brennon was working on the computer and I looked over his shoulder and said,
“What in the world are you looking at? And he said, “BB guns”. “What for?” “The squirrels.” “So now you’re going to shoot every squirrel who crosses over the fence and into our yard? Tell me how this is going to work. Really. Besides. NO GUNS.
You know what I think about guns.
I don’t care if it’s only a BB gun. If you buy it, I will get rid of it.”
For weeks we argued about the BB gun.
I said, “You can’t kill something just because you don’t like it.”
“Melanie. It’s a squirrel. Come on.”
NOW the battle was not only between the squirrels and Brennon, but Brennon and me!
He gave up on the BB gun idea.
But he did not give up on the idea of getting rid of all the squirrels on our property.
Next thing I know, he is researching live traps.
“So let me get this straight.
You’re going to trap the squirrels alive and then what –
drive them over the river to Minneapolis to free them?”
“Yup. I’m getting them out of our yard.”
“Ok. Good luck with that.
Because I’m sure the squirrels will honor the boundary of our fence.
I wonder how many squirrels reside in St. Paul.
I wonder how long it will take you to get rid of every squirrel in the city,
because you know they are all going to eventually end up in our black walnut tree.”
Brennon finally accepted defeat.
He never did get around to BEFRIENDING the squirrels,
but he at least accepted that he wasn’t going to get rid of them.
It came as no surprise when I learned that my mom was actively feeding the squirrels
in her backyard because they were so cute,
and that my dad was embarking on his own squirrel eradication plan.
It’s a good thing my dad and my husband have each other for support!
You might be thinking that I’m exaggerating the extent to which these squirrels consumed our time and energy.
And I might be, a little. But not a lot.
My friend Jen, who I’ve shared stories with you before, is a chaplain in the Navy. When she was deployed on a ship in the middle of the ocean, she participated in this program created by Target, where soldiers pick out books, are then video recorded reading the books, and then the videos and books are mailed to kids. So Jen picked out a book and sent it to our kids. But it was really for Brennon. It was called “Those Darn Squirrels!”
In the middle of the ocean, far away from all of our squirrel drama, Jen saw this book and immediately thought of us. It could have been written about us.
Here are the squirrels eating all of the birds food.
Here is Old Man Fookwire and the birds – shaking their fists! .
Old Man Fookwire goes about all sorts of creative ways to keep the squirrels away
And the squirrels find all sorts of creative ways to get the food.
But in the end – and this is where I hope that one day we also land –
the squirrels and Old Man Fookwire become friends,
and he invites them into his house for a party.
Brennon has put me on notice that this will NEVER be the ending of our own story.
From her place on a military ship, Jen was trying to facilitate a peaceful resolution to our battle with the squirrels.
We moved last summer, and we don’t have many squirrels in our backyard,
which is quite remarkable.
But we have something even better.
And they are eating everything we’ve planted.
It remains to be seen if Brennon will go to battle with them.
Our drama with the squirrels – it reminded me of the book,
“Finding Beauty in a Broken World” by Terry Tempest Williams.
In the book, she starts by visiting all of these beautiful mosaics
that can be found in churches all over Italy.
The mosaics are made up of broken pieces of glass to create something of beauty.
She shifts, then,
to writing in great detail about the colonies of Prairie Dogs in the Southwestern part of the U.S. These prairie dogs are seen as a nuisance by farmers and ranchers
and they are on the brink of extinction due to the efforts of humans to get rid of them.
And yet – they are a crucial part of the grassland ecosystem in Utah.
She writes about the many creative, successful, and horrific ways
that we humans have found to get rid of them.
And then she make another abrupt shift from talking about prairie dogs,
or, as she calls them, “prayer dogs”
for the way they hold their hands together and look out at the sun as it sets.
She shifts from talking about prayer dogs to the genocide in Rwanda.
The killing of prayer dogs, to the efforts to kill off an entire group of people.
As the reader, you begin to see that the same rationale
used to justify the killing of a nuisance animal
can be used to justify the killing of an entire group of people.
Which is scary and disturbing.
And is probably why I made it all the way through the prairie dog section of her book,
but couldn’t bear to read through all of the atrocities of Rwanda.
Ultimately, she says, “Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision.”
Like a mosaic, out of our brokenness we can create something of beauty –
when we take what is broken and create something new and whole out of it.
Even in the midst of the most horrific killing –
people in Rwanda chose healing.
It boggles my mind because I don’t know how to do that.
But instead of choosing to kill more, the people of Rwanda chose healing.
They created new life out of the broken shards they were left with.
I grieve that we live in a time of killing.
When anyone can pick up a gun and eliminate people or animals they don’t like,
for whatever reason.
But it’s our reality.
The question for us is what we will do with the shards of glass
that come from all of our brokenness.
Will we cut and wound?
Or will we seek healing, using those shards to create something new?
I chose the story of Namaan to go along with our scripture for today,
because it is a story of healing.
It is a story of a military leader,
whose job description could be described as
“organize and lead a group of people in killing and conquering other groups of people”,
and how he had all the physical strength and power in the world.
He had power and esteem – he was on top of the world.
And yet he was brought down by his illness and need for healing.
Leprosy brought him down and alienated him from all others.
And what brought about his healing?
That’s what pulls at my heart.
It was a young Israelite girl, enslaved by Namaan’s army.
Presumably, at some earlier point,
Namaan’s army had gone in, killed a bunch of people, and taken the rest as slaves.
This enslaved young woman sought healing
for someone she had every reason to despise and want dead.
She had ten times the power and internal strength of Namaan,
and she used her power to bring healing.
It would have been so much more understandable if she had just said,
“Let him die. Let him suffer for all the suffering he has caused my people.”
And yet she chose healing.
Like it says in Ecclesiastes, we live in a time of killing and we live in a time of healing.
We get to decide which we are going to give our energy and efforts to.
There are plenty of people, with a lot of power,
giving their energy to annihilation.
We have gotten to an awful place of treating human beings like squirrels and prayer dogs.
May we, the church, do better.
God help us remain true to our calling through Christ Jesus,
to bring about the healing and transformation of the world. Amen.