A Sermon for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN
by The Rev. Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, October 9, 2022 – Creation Care Sunday: Year C, Proper 23, Track 2

In the name of God who heals us within ecosystems of love and belonging. Amen.

Thank God the Prophet Elisha turns up today in the Holy Scriptures! Many of you know that I love the Prophet Elisha; not just because he and I have the same hair style! I love Elisha because he is a Healer. And let’s face it: today people are not well. People are struggling with mental illness. Hearts are broken. Bodies are in pain. We need Healing Prophets like Elisha. After being mentored and taught by the Prophet Elijah (with a “j”), Elisha (with an “s-h”) inherits a double portion of his teacher’s spirit when Elijah is taken up into heaven and passes on his prophetic mantle to Elisha. Then Elisha crosses the River Jordan and goes on to serve for six decades as Israel’s Prophet, performing twice as many healing miracles as Elijah. God works miracles through Elisha to provide food for a starving widow, to resurrect the Shunamite woman’s son, to purify a poisonous stew, to feed one hundred hungry people with 20 pieces of bread, and to save several kings from making disastrous decisions. Since today is Creation Care Sunday, we remember that Elisha’s first healing miracle was to purify the contaminated spring in Jerichoso that all of its inhabitants could drink clean water. Today’s lesson about Naaman immersing himself seven times in the healing and liberating waters of the River Jordan invites us to contemplate the ways God works through healing prophets who are always located in scandalous places like Samaria where Elisha and Jesus are found. It is in those unexpected places society teaches us to fear, hate, or ignore that God works through unlikely prophets to lovingly restore us to healthy relationships with ourselves, our neighbors, and all of Creation. 

Our bodies are 60% water, our flesh is clay, our lungs breathe air, we eat fruits from the plants of the earth, and we share this planet with fellow creatures, great and small. So, today’s sermon is about how to find healing prophets in places that make us uncomfortable; places where we have to let go of our self-importance, our anger, and our ego’s shadow projections, to humbly immerse ourselves, sometimes seven times, in tender ecosystems of love and belonging where kinship with all of Creation heals us in body, mind, and spirit.  

Over the last five years, St. John’s Thursday Book Group has voted on a vast array of magnificent books we study and discuss together that challenge, affirm, and stretch our practice of the Christian faith. We have encountered healing prophets in these books who have broadened our worldview and revealed how limited and limiting our western modes of thinking and being can be. In particular Robin Wall Kimmerer’s masterpiece Braiding Sweetgrass and currently Diane Wilson’s novel The Seed Keeper have gently, lovingly, and with a fierce tenderness showed us how the Native Peoples of this land have lived since time immemorial in deep kinship, reverence, love, and belonging within all of Creation. How First Nations Peoples’ modes of being that the colonizers worked liked demons to exterminate can actually help all of us to heal from western addictions to exploitative work, greed, and selfishness that leave us in chronic states of illness, loneliness, depression, and anxiety, while our planet burns and precious ecosystems die. Thank God healing prophets like Robin Wall Kimmerer and Diane Wilson turn up with healing wisdom from the Indigenous Peoples who are sequestered on Reservations in their own land still battling the colonizers’ evils of poverty, addiction, and violence. We need healing prophets today because people are not well. Our planet is dying. We all need healing.

Just as the Prophet Elisha instructs Naaman to immerse himself seven times in the River Jordan, we too might feel as angry as Naaman when we realize that healing actually requires us to go to inconvenient places to participate in sacred rituals we might not feel like practicing. And yet, when we immerse ourselves, sometimes seven times, in healing work, we not only find ourselves becoming well, we also become agents of God’s healing for others and for our world. Those waters of the River Jordan that Naaman is healed in are the same waters that the ancient Israelites crossed over into freedom; the same waters Elisha crossed over into sixty years of healing ministry; the same waters Jesus was baptized in; and the same waters you and I are baptized in to be living members of the Body of Christ who strive for justice, peace, and respect for the dignity of every living being.

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus in one of those despised places – between Samaria and Galilea. And it is the Samaritan Leper – that despised, hated foreigner from that place people were taught to fear – who returns to Jesus praising God with a loud voice who prostrates himself at the feet of Jesus to give thanks to God. As Brother David Steindle-Rast writes, “When [we] admit that something is a gift, [we] admit [our] dependence on the giver. Gift giving is a celebration of the bond that unites giver and receiver. That bond is gratefulness. Interdependence joins us with others through the bond of a joyful give-and-take, a bond of belonging.” Just as Naaman, healed from leprosy, returns to Elisha with gifts and praise and thanks to God; just as the healed Samaritan Leper returns to Jesus praising and thanking God; we, too, must immerse ourselves, sometimes seven times, in healing work and then return with others to those unlikely people, uncomfortable places, and sacred practices that heal us, to give thanks to God for the sacred interdependent bond we share with all peoples within this tender web of God’s Creation. This deep trust that we practice is our faith. May we all hear Jesus say to us again: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19).


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