Have you ever found yourself in an “in between” place in life? Maybe you were “between” jobs … or in “transition” from one relationship to another … or stuck between that proverbial “rock and a hard place.” Maybe your “in between-ness” is due to a dependency upon drugs or alcohol or prescription medicines. Maybe it is caused by personal or inter-personal behaviors that alienate and separate you from those whom you love. Whatever the specific cause … finding yourself “in between” … creates in your world a place where you can’t really go back to where you started, but where you cannot at the moment figure out what choices will lead you forward into the future. Today … you could call our set of lessons that we read in worship … “A Primer on Being “In Between.”
If we start with our first lesson from the Second Book of Kings, we find ourselves in the presence of Namaan, commander of the armies of Ben Hadad II, the king of Aram-Damascus. Namaan finds himself in an “in between” place. He has been victorious on the field of battle … but he also finds that he has leprosy. We are given no clues as to how he contracted his leprosy … all we know is that he has the disease, and he also has the opportunity to receive healing from the disease through the person and ministry of Elisha. But Namaan is caught … he is caught between his pride and his common sense. He wants to be healed, but he is not thrilled that a simple word from the prophet Elisha will bring about his healing. He seems to think that he deserves some fireworks around this healing, or at the very least, the prophet himself addressing Namaan directly and in person. But that does not happen … Namaan eventually heeds the counsel of a common servant girl, and does as the prophet Elisha instructs him … and he is healed. The story ends with Namaan escaping that “in between” place in which his pride and his common sense are in battle with each other. And he immerses himself in water of the Jordan River, is healed of his disease, and returns to Elisha to acknowledge the power of the God of Israel that has healed him of his disease. Thanks to Elijah … and this insignificant servant girl … Namaan is pulled from the no-man’s land of “in-between-ness” and is healed of his leprosy by the God of Israel.
Our Second Lesson places us in the company of St. Paul, the apostle. While most scholars conclude that Paul did not write the two Timothy epistles, the setting of the epistles does accurately speak to the reality of St. Paul finding himself at an “in between” time of imprisonment … while in Rome, in the early 60’s of the first century of the Christian era. By definition, I suppose, you can call a time of imprisonment, time “in between.” Truth be told, for most of St. Paul’s life, he finds himself in a time “in between.” “In between” visits to churches that he had founded, or existing churches with which he developed a relationship. “In between” partnerships with various other evangelists, with whom he traveled. In between opposing sides of theological arguments in the churches to whom he ministered, as they looked to Paul for advice and counsel and guidance.
But the context of this letter presents a far more concrete situation of being “in between” … jail. We know that Paul spent some time in jail in Rome, during the early 60’s of the first century of the Christian era. Many believe these were the last years of his life, and that he most likely spent those final years in a jail cell in Rome on his final missionary journey. Most historical timelines proposed for St. Paul’s life, place him in Rome in the early 60’s, right in the middle of reign of the whack job, Emperor Nero. It is quite easy to conclude that Paul died by execution at the hands of Nero. And thus Paul faced the ultimate period of “in between-ness” as he literally stood on the threshold between life as he knew it and death by martyrdom. Our words from the Second Epistle to Timothy which are attributed to St. Paul, contain what was probably a fragment from an early Christian hymn. If you have ever walked around the house singing a verse of Amazing Grace or Beautiful Savior, then you know what Paul is portrayed as doing here … recalling and reciting a familiar song that helps boost your spirits. Hear again the words of this hymn found in our epistle lesson … “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” That is always the answer to surviving the “in between” moments of life. Recognizing the big picture in your life … focusing on what the ultimate goal is … and using that reality to give you strength to endure those moments when we are caught in the middle … and where possible … to slowly journey through them to more stable places.
While all of this can land you on stable ground, and move you through those anxious moments in life, there is one final response to being “in-between” that is an essential part of a healthy life. It is the response we see in our Gospel Lesson – and it is again modeled in the actions of a person that first century Judaism would have seen as the least likely candidate to do anything of value – the Samaritan man in the group of ten lepers. That response the Samaritan models is gratitude. The Samaritan has the simple grace to say thank you to Jesus. Admittedly, it is a bit of a strange healing. Jesus never lays a hand on any of the lepers, nor does he pronounce a word of healing. Instead, he … somewhat prematurely … sends them to the priest in town, who is the religious leader who has the power to restore a former leper back into the community once that person has been healed. The fact that these lepers have not been healed yet, does not appear to be an issue for Jesus. As he seems to know that they will be healed without touch or medicine … without washing or prayer or pronouncement … while they are on their journey to the priests. But once they are all healed, the other nine simply follow directions and continue on to the priests. Only the Samaritan come back to thank Jesus for what he presumes Jesus has done for him. And Jesus adds to the blessing of physical health and restoration to community with a final gift – the gift of being made well. We can only presume that this gift matches the physical restoration of the leper with an equally powerful physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Not only has the Samaritan’s body been restored, but his spirit has been restored and renewed, also.
That is always the goal of wellness, isn’t it? Restoration and renewal? And is not gratitude an essential part of restoring our lives to wholeness, and renewing our spirit to engage the world with hope and optimism?
If you are not sure about the answer to that question, I would invite you make sure you are in church during the month of November when we celebrate the ministry of stewardship, and remind ourselves how the expression of gratitude in our lives can be a transformative power for finding meaning and focus in the world. Gratitude can help you find your way out of those in-between periods in your life. Gratitude can fill your heart with the love and blessings poured into your life by a generous God. Gratitude can help you find a purpose in your life … a purpose that provides you with satisfaction and the joy that comes from being a cheerful giver and a joyful servant of God.
The primary curse of leprosy, like that found in our Gospel Lesson, is isolation. Isolation from friends and family … isolation from the general community around you … isolation from self … as you wonder how you will serve and contribute to a society that will have nothing to do with you. It is a wilderness … it is a shadow-land … a place in which you are neither here nor there … it is a place … “in between.”
What our Gospel Lesson suggests to us today … Is that choosing to see life as blessed and abundant. … Choosing to see God as the source of all goodness in your life … Choosing to live as if the gifts with which God has blessed you are too numerous to manage on your own … and require of you that you share them with others … Is a choice that leads you out of those “in-between” wildernesses in which we sometimes find ourselves. And offers you a much broader perspective of the world around you, that invites you … no … that demands of you … that you prostrate yourself at the feet of Jesus … and praise God with a loud voice … and offer thanks to the God who has made you whole … and made you well. Amen.