Sunday, October 10, 2010

Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 28
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him: if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself.

The famed photojournalist Harry Benson visited Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas last night and shared a slide show of his photos. He has had an amazing career, invited into the inner sanctums of some of the most private and famous people. He has photographed every president since Eisenhower, and was with them at some of the most important moments of their lives. He was just a few feet away from Robert Kennedy the night he was killed. He has photographed the powerful and famous in the intimate settings of their homes as well as at official functions.

A cover photograph of Ronald and Nancy Reagan saved Vanity Fair magazine, which was slated for closure the month before it was published. An editor convinced the owner to try one more month because she was certain the cover would make it a bestseller. It did, and the magazine was saved. He was invited to photograph personal moments like Caroline Kennedy's wedding and Elizabeth Taylor's recovery after brain surgery. After sixty very successful years in the business, it is no wonder that photojournalists and photographers would want to know his secrets.

After the speech, Mr. Benson took questions from the audience. He was asked about his favorite camera, whether he'd gone digital, who was his favorite subject? There were questions very specific to some of the photographs, such as the most frightening experiences of his career or if the subject knew what he was doing.

Several would-be photographers asked for advice. The first young man asked, "What advice would you give to someone who wants a successful career?" His answer, "Buy a guitar." Another student asked if it was necessary to have a college education to be successful. I'm not sure the college officials appreciated his answer. "No." He did not even bother to continue his answer with the expected qualifier, "But it can never hurt to have a degree."

Several students asked related questions about how to follow in Mr. Benson's footsteps. They saw his as one worthy to emulate and wanted a piece of his action. He was honest with them, not because he saw their ambition as a threat to his own career, but because he knew the reality. His joke, "Buy a guitar" was based on the truth that things are different today than they were sixty years ago. Today, with the advent of digital cameras and the development of high quality images through those cameras, anyone can take a good photo. Why pay a photojournalist when a hundred people in a crowd can take the same photo with their cell phone?

The best advice he gave the crowd was "Take photos of what you see." Then the next best was, "Get paid for your photos." I suppose that the second advice would have been far more helpful if he had given some ways to get paid for those photos. As a photographer, and a pretty good one if you ask me, I've often wondered whether I could make a career out of it. Yet, I see the writing on the wall, just like Mr. Benson. He was lucky because he got his start long before technology has made it possible for everyone to take, or make, a great picture. He said, "Unfortunately, there is no longer a magazine like 'Life.'" He seemed melancholy about the idea that an age has past. I think he's right.

Despite the authority of Harry Benson, I'm sure most of those photography students in the audience still have stars in their eyes. I can hear them thinking, "If he did it, why can't I?" They won't go buy the guitar (not that a guitar can get you very far in this world, either) and they'll pursue a career that might not exist in a few years. They won't heed the advice of the professional, and they'll probably end up working in a photo studio taking pictures of high school seniors.

Will anyone in their life be like Naaman's servant? "If the professional says… perhaps you should heed the word?" And will they listen? Or will they be like Naaman, thinking that they know better?

Naaman was a man of power and authority, but he suffered from a skin disease. It appears that the disease did not physically hinder Naaman, because his army was victorious. He was respected by the king for his victory. It seems that the leprosy was not a problem until a young Israelite girl came into the household. She came from a world where leprosy sent the sufferer into isolation. She may have been concerned about her own health and cleanliness when she made the suggestion, but it appears that she was concerned about her master. She approached Naaman's wife and suggested that he could be healed by a prophet of Israel.

Naaman went to Elisha and didn't like his answer. Elisha told him to wash in the River Jordan. This did not seem like a proper cure. I am sure that Naaman kept clean, that his disease was not from filthy living. He was a powerful and high ranking leader. He would have had access to the best care, the finest clothes, and the most expensive perfumes. He never thought that he would be sent to a dirty river to wash. He expected that the prophet would touch him or say prayers over him. He expected that the prophet would provide medicinal herbs or offer sacrifices to the gods for his sake. Elisha did not even meet him. He sent word that he should go wash in the Jordan and he would be healed.

Naaman’s world view demanded a different response and he wanted to reject the cure. However, his servants made him think about it again. “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” When Naaman went to the river to wash, his leprosy disappeared and he was made clean. Naaman went back to Elisha and presented himself to the prophet. “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.” God's grace achieved what it was meant to achieve: God was glorified to the world.

Naaman was ready to ignore the advice of the prophet, but recognized the reality and suggested that Naaman at least try. Naaman took the advice and found it to be right.

Last week we heard Paul encourage Timothy to believe the word he spoke and to continue to follow it. Paul had to justify himself over and over again, first as a converted Pharisee, then as a man who was constantly persecuted for his work for the Gospel of Christ. He was in prison when he wrote this letter, and it would have been natural for his adversaries to use his suffering as proof that he was not a reliable apostle of Christ. In today's passage, Paul takes his encouragement a step further, reminding Timothy that suffering does not mean that God's Word is not true. Though Paul suffers, God's salvation is real. So, Paul charges Timothy to take the message to the people, the message that Christ is faithful even when we are faithless.

We see unfaithfulness in the Gospel lesson, at least from nine of the lepers. All ten lepers approached Jesus when he was passing through their village. They asked Jesus for mercy. Obviously, all ten recognized Jesus as a healer because they went to Him for help. The difference in their faith, however, is seen in the way they respond to the gift. Jesus told the ten lepers to go show themselves to the priest. They weren't healed when they left Jesus' presence. They were healed along the way. The nine did exactly what Jesus told them to do: they went to the priests and showed themselves. The one, the Samaritan, turned to give thanks and praise to God at the foot of Jesus. Ten obeyed the Law, and one recognized the Lawgiver.

We are quick to dismiss the nine because they didn't go back and say "Thank you" to Jesus, but they did what they thought they were supposed to do. In being obedient to the word, they missed the reality of God. I wonder how many of us do the same. We stick so literally to the words on the page that we miss the intent by which they were spoken. We miss seeing God's grace in the midst of the stories, trying to understand things that just don't fit our world view. How many times do we get caught up in the bible stories, wondering how a loving God could possibly allow those things to happen? I think this is probably truer in the Old Testament. But we see it also in the New Testament. How could God allow His servant Paul to be beaten and put in prison? Where is the grace in that?

This story is not give for us to reject the ten that did not say "Thank you" but to remind us that there is more to living the faith than to follow all the rules. They did what was right, but did they do enough? Was it enough to show the priests that they'd been healed, or does God expect more? The nine took their praise to the temple, to the place they knew to go, but they missed seeing the Temple that stood before them, the Savior that had been sent by God for their sake. Naaman confessed the reality of God, but did he believe? The nine believed in God, but they did not have faith in Christ. It isn't enough to confess that there is a God if one denies Jesus.

The one leper who returned to Jesus received far more from Him than just healing. He was made well. His faith was life-changing. The lessons Paul wanted Timothy to teach to the people of Ephesus were life-changing. The healing of Naaman was life-changing. But were they changed? Have you been changed by the Gospel? Do you continue after your own personal desires or do you listen to the Word of the Master?

Harry Benson had the credentials to offer the right advice to those students seeking his wisdom. He told them to carry their camera everywhere and to photograph what they see. He might be right that there is no future in the business because it has become so easy for everyone to take a picture, but it can't hurt to do the thing you love. Perhaps it will pay off in the end, especially if they work at becoming the best photographer they can be. He has proven himself and is trustworthy.

God is trustworthy. His Word is true and He is faithful. He is worthy of our praise. Do we live lives that have been changed by His Word? Do we confess that He is God or do we go beyond that and have faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ? How do we live that faith? Do we believe His Word or do we chase after our own ideas.

Are we like Naaman, confessing God but not being changed by His Word? Are we like the nine lepers who did their duty at the Temple or do we live as if we've seen the Savior? Do we just receive God’s grace or do we make it our own? Do we respond to God’s grace with a word of thanksgiving before going on to our normal lives or are we changed forever by what God has done? That was the difference between the nine lepers and the Samaritan. He was changed. He was made new. He believed not only that God had the power to heal, but that the power was found in Jesus Christ. He turned to Christ and was made well forever.

Paul writes to Timothy, "Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him: if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself." The life God calls us to live is not necessarily the life we want for ourselves. We might have to suffer. We might even be put in prison like Paul. But we are called to live the best life we can live, unashamed of the troubles that come from speaking the truth of Christ to the world. When we do, when live in awestruck faith in the God who has done great works, we will endure and receive the salvation of Jesus Christ that leads to eternal glory with Him.

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