Abana and Pharpar, the Great Rivers

Monday, September 19, 2011 — Week of Proper 20, Year One

Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, 690

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 984)

Psalms 80 (morning) 77, [79] (evening)

2 Kings 5:1-19

1 Corinthians 4:8-21

Matthew 5:21-26

In his Anglican Theological Review memorial tribute to the late theologian Richard Norris, historian Richard Corney recalled a sermon that Dick Norris preached using as his text a verse from today’s first reading. The Syrian general Naaman has approached the home of the prophet of Israel, Elisha, expecting the prophet to perform a great miracle to cure his leprosy. The prophet merely sends a messenger to tell the general to go wash in the River Jordan seven times and he will be cured. Naaman is underwhelmed and insulted.

Dick Norris introduced his sermon with this quote from Naaman (2 Kings 5:12a): “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” “Doubtless they are,” spoke Norris, opening his sermon.

Norris continued, making his point — when God calls you to something, you do not waste time suggesting that God might find a better way to do the task. You just go ahead and do it.

Naaman — a Syrian general — must wrestle with his pride and expectations in order to accept such a nondescript and humble command sent to him second-hand through a messenger of the prophet Elisha. It is not the way things are done in the Syrian court.

Paul is wrestling with the pride of his Corinthian church as he writes them from a distance. They have become arrogant, boasting of their spiritual wealth, and probably their material wealth as well. Yet Paul, their founder and father in the faith, lives a life on the edge. The apostle who has become “a spectacle to the world, to angels and mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” (1 Cor. 4:9f) Paul wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s having a great time.

Paul knows that he is doing what he was born to do. When he was confronted and called on the Damascus Road, despite his pride and expectations, he didn’t waste time suggesting that God might find a better way; he launched boldly into his mission to the Gentiles. Now he’s on fire.

I have a friend who models something for me. She lives with a concentrated intuitive attention to what it is that God is calling her to, moment by moment. She is simply convinced that God is intimately interested, involved and concerned with her every action. Each situation is a potential call from God. She lives expecting God to care for whatever may be catching her attention. She expects God to lead her, show her, prod her. She expects that God will use her continuously, and she is certain that God is doing important things around her, with her, and through her. And, what do you know? God does.

I’m too proud for all of that. I tend to think God has other, more significant things on the divine Mind. God has the more serious business of the great rivers Abana and Pharpar to attend to. Are the thoughts and attentions of God intimately concerned with my little River Jordan affairs? Doubtless they are.

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