Don't Be Afraid of the Easier Path
2 Kings 5:1, 9-14 | Luke 10:1-6, 19-20
A reading from the Sufi tradition: Love whispers in my ear, “Better to be prey than hunter. Make yourself my fool. Stop trying to be the sun and become a speck! Dwell at my door and be homeless. Don’t pretend to be a candle, be a moth, so you may taste the savor of Life and know the power hidden in serving. Mathnawi V, 411-14
Eventually, it is likely that the number of times I will talk about working with AIDS Lifecycle will go back down to a conversational level. Unfortunately for everyone tonight, we aren’t quite at that point yet.
When Carol Barriger talked me into attempting AIDS Lifecycle back in 2014… okay, she pulled some guilting into it as well, when I complained about my physical ability to do the ride… anyhow, when I was first starting that, I was looking at something that simply seemed impossibly hard. I was never athletic, didn’t do sports other than I learned racquetball in college, and couldn’t wrap my head around how to do the effort, work, and training to be able to do a task like the ride would be. It was asking me to take a very difficult road that I couldn’t see or imagine, and somehow trust I could come out the other side of it. Luckily, Carol was trustworthy in talking me into it, though I had my doubts many times training for that first ride, and that’s a finish line I have crossed, on my bike or walking with my roadie team 6 times now. Each time it is different, but it is a completion I have managed. Sometimes injured, sometimes ecstatic, but done, and carrying with me those for whom I do the ride, to bring them across a finish line that they haven’t gotten a chance to cross in the struggle with HIV and AIDS.
In our society around us, the “moral” lesson is most often that the hardest way in the right way. That it’s only in doing it using the hardest path that you are doing the “correct” thing. Salvation, accomplishment, success only comes if you do the hard work. And while this CAN be true, it can also be misleading. Something I learned, in many ways “the hard way”, in recovery was that I really didn’t need to go out of my way to do things in the most difficult manner or unnecessarily test myself. I wasn’t proving anything, or making it “go right” by trying to make things difficult. There really isn’t anything morally questionable about doing it the easy way, and getting matters done. You don’t have to prove you are big enough, strong enough; it’s okay to do things in ways that aren’t quite so difficult. It’s about learning you don’t have anything prove by doing something, but accepting who you are and then doing it.
It may seem like the ride and what I just said conflict, but they don’t really. Sometimes there is hard work necessary to find out who you really are; and once that work is done, the rest is actually a lot easier. Once I got my body used to doing things, I discovered I could actually enjoy riding long distances and climbing hills. In the end, it wasn’t about proving something to anyone, but discovering what I was actually capable of, and choosing a path that I could work with.
In our reading from the second book of Kings this evening, we have the story of Naaman. Now, in the verses I abridged from the bulletin, you learn Naaman has proven himself mighty, commander of armies, and successful in battle. He has worked his way up, then suddenly has leprosy. A servant girl he had picked up on a campaign makes a statement of how sad it is there isn’t a prophet in Samaria to heal him, and Naaman sends to the king of Israel, and then Elisha gets involved.
And when Naaman was given Elisha’s answer, he has a temper tantrum. Elisha isn’t bringing up the feats of power and display that he is expecting, and Naaman leaves in a huff. But, then the servant speaks to him, and points out the absurdity. If it was hard, there wouldn’t have been a question. Why doubt something that is easier?
There is an echo of this in the passage from Rumi that we read from the Mathnawi. Common sense, or so many of us are taught, is that of course we should be the hunter, pursuing and achieving, claiming our prey and our conquest, and so accomplishing what we need. But this suggestion, to be the prey, to that which is caught, is unsettling to that cultural perspective. Foreign for a world of Type A personalities and needing to “Lean-In”. But Rumi is reminding us, in a special way, about humility, and that we serve the divine who whirled order out of Chaos, and who is the one doing the hard work; we don’t have to do it all, can’t do it all. That we need to find the wisdom, and the savor of life, that comes in serving.
This frission between approaches is something this congregation is grappling with as it is examining its future paths in how it serves the world about us, and also serves the world within the community. Multiple bodies circling the gravimetric pull of the Holy, who is whirling us in new directions. It is there as we examine the possible roads around us, and try to find who we are and being able to do the tasks before us. However, we also need the nudge that going out of our way to make it more difficult isn’t going to help. Sometimes it isn’t spectacular events, or monumental legacies, that are the way ahead that is successfully following the nudgings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, simply walking the path before us is all that is required. We may have to train, and train hard, to walk that path; but we don’t have to choose the most difficult path for us to make a difference.
In the Gospel reading for this evening, this is one of the “Sending Forth” of the followers of Jesus into the world. We sometimes miss, in our focus on the Jesus story, that a lot of work was done when Jesus wasn’t present in the Gospels. And when they were sent forth, having been aided in learning who they were and what they believe, trusting in this Jesus person, they weren’t asked to do the impossible. They were enabled to do miraculous things, but the path wasn’t about that. It was about simply following the way ahead and being true to this message of love, and giving forth the peace of Spirit. All the rest, the miracles, the healing, all this happens simply because they walked the path in trust of the one who sent them.
Do we trust that much, that we don’t have to create a miraculous structure, become one of the wonders of the world in our design, but that we can walk ahead into what we have been gifted and make the difference available, and accept we are succeeding in following the way of Christ? Being willing to reach into the well of love available, the savor of Life, and share that savor with others? To put ambition to the side, and make it about the journey and not the destination? I believe that our readings tonight are encouraging us to pursue the right road, not the hardest road, not the one that makes the ”biggest splash”, but the right one. All the other stuff may happen, but our first steps are to try and find the right road, for ourselves, our friend and family units, and us as a community.
And to close, I want to share something from my great grandfather, Enoch Frank Reed, Sr. Papa Reed was born in 1892 and grew as a carpenter in a family of loggers. That entire line of the family was in the portion of Arkansas where I was born since the early 1800s, before Arkansas was a state. In later life, he was a poet laureate for the Order of the Eastern Star, and this poem was in a collection of his published just shortly before I was born:
Love in Action
Sometimes actions speak louder than words;
This fact, one seldom denies.
Whispers of love may be found in a look
From a pair of love filled eyes.
A thrill may be found in a loving embrace,
Or maybe, the clasp of a hand.
There’s so many ways affection is shown
In actions that all understand.
The bell hangs in the old church tower,
Where it’s been since long years ago.
Though its tone is sweet, no sound is heard
Unless it receives a blow.
Sometimes our heart is much like the bell,
When the world roll smoothly along;
We’re not aware of the power that’s there
‘Till something goes dead wrong.
When we see a fellow that’s down,
Who seems to be out of luck;
Let’s give him a hand, a pat on the back
And maybe a much needed buck.
Maybe a friend is feeling real low,
He’s weary and feeling real blue;
Very few things will lift him up more
Than three words, “I love you”
Love is a thing that we give away,
We have an endless supply;
Let us dip deep in our pool of love,
For it can never run dry.
So, let us keep giving our love,
And never be snobbish or cold;
For all the love the we give away
Returns to us, several fold.
Let us pray.