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Come Clean With Me

Date: 07/07/2013/Speaker: Chong Lip Koh

Good morning everyone. I am Chong Lip and I am really humbled to be given this opportunity share my first sermon on this pulpit. I can tell you it’s extremely terrifying yet terribly exciting at the same time. I would like to take the chance to Aurora, John and Jonas for their intimate sharing, Ezekiel for the prayer and Cynthia for leading us in the communion.

Let us know enter into a time of prayer.

God, you know us. You know the struggles, the triumphs, the sorrows and the mundane that we face everyday. Grant us a still spirit that yearns to listen to you. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Sermon Title: Come Clean With Me

I draw heavily from this week’s lectionary passage on Naaman. Let’s read 2 Kings 5:1-14.

5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

5:2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.

5:3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

5:4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.

5:5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.

5:6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

5:7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

5:8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.

5:10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

5:11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.

5:13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

I am not sure what first came to your mind/struck your mind when you hear this story. Was it the Naaman’s twist of faith, was it God’s mysterious miracle or the young girl’s audacity? That is the beauty and danger of the Bible- God can speak to us in so many ways, in the same passage- and all of us want to have a stake in what we think the Bible says.

Before I share what struck me in this passage, let me give a little background of who the different characters of this passage are and what leprosy is for those who aren’t sure what is. Naaman was the general of the King’s army, probably the most powerful man after the king, despite his leprosy. Leprosy was an infectious skin condition in that era. Anyone suffering from leprosy would automatically be excluded in community life and be considered unclean, especially to the Israelites. The nation of Aram was more forgiving, inclusive as perhaps it didn’t have the strict purity laws Israel had. Maybe Naaman had an illustrious track record and was tolerated and respected because of that. Though we know that he will never be truly accepted (people will talk behind his back etc) Ultimately he was healed after a series of actions and conversations with people and now worships God.

Before coming out

What struck me was how similar I saw Naaman’s situation is to mine. His leprosy was to my homosexuality. He was desperate enough to take even the advice by a young girl in captivity who had every reason to detest him for raiding and destroy her tribe. I was desperate enough to turn to a  God, whom I barely knew about, just for a little hope that I can be set free. I could identify with his intense desire to rid himself of his leprosy, it was with as much gusto, sincerest faith, numerous altar calls that I wanted God to heal away my gay self. It is ironic now that I am grateful God didn’t answer my very prayer-the one that catalysed my faith in God in the first place! In retrospect, God does know what’s the best for us.

The only difference was that Naaman the general and myself was that he could not hide his leprosy as well as I could hide my sexual orientation then. Unless Naaman covered himself head to toe in fine garments, any casual observer could tell he had leprosy. I blended in very well in society. Trust me, Jared/SK and those who knew me when I first joined Younique always like to remark how much more fabulous I’ve become! I always joke that I am a living example of how the old has gone, the new has come. The realization of all this led to my regret- how I have squandered my past away, living a life of half truths, of insincerity, and not being a true witness to who and what God has called me to. I have spent so much time embroiled in online imaginary worlds and attending church services. These were my comfort closets and escape from reality. I believe this has been most of our experiences as queer people-seen in the lives of Jonas, Aurora and John Teo who shared earlier. One thing is certain, it comes at a cost-, be it emotionally, spiritually, physically. My Organisational Behaviour Professor will call this Emotional Labour, which is not healthy in the long run.

The problem with not coming out

I would like to posit that in modern day terms, the leprosy that afflicts Naaman is the leprosy that we carry everyday -the “façade of who we are not”. The shame of who we are, who I am, that has to be veiled up with an artificial veneer. This is the thing that makes us unclean and unacceptable to God, not our God-given sexuality or gender identity or facial feature, race or background. I will go so far as to say that every time we deny or suppress who we are, we are committing an act of violence against ourselves(sacred worth and identity of ourselves). God grieves with us each time it happens.

How we can learn from Jesus coming out

How can we observe in the life of Jesus? For one, Hiding was the anti-thesis of Jesus’ life, and I do not mean mean ‘hide’ in the sense where he hid from the crowds to pray in the mountainside. In fact that could mean that Jesus knew when to take a break and not be unduely overburnt by his very demanding ministry. He was brutally honest before his opponents when they challenged him and to his closest disciples when they misunderstood or disappointed him. He did not even attempt to mask himself when he interacted with the socially contemptible Samaritan adulteress by the well, in broad daylight. He did not shy away from being with the greedy tax collectors or unclean people suffering with leprosy. He did not hold back his tears when he was sad. And lastly, he did not deny that he was the son of God, but proclaimed it.

Risks of Coming out

There are so many reasons why he could and should have kept silent about his identity. Firstly declaring yourself the son of Yahweh/God wasn’t the best way of keeping your life. (personal safety) Even saying the word Yahweh was considered highly contentious and idolatrous- what more the admission of being Yahweh’s son! Next, he had to give up on his stable job security as a carpenter and go from town to town as he shared the good news. He now had to think about his next meal, often depending on the goodwill of others to have his physical needs met.(personal security) What more, when Jesus came out as the son of God, his childhood friends, people from his hometown despised and spurned him, and his mum even had moments of doubt about Jesus in his adolescent, never mind that an angel has personally visited her. Some of his personal relationships were forgone because of him coming out.

Jesus life was an open book to others, meant to draw the people around him as to who and how God is. And as Christians, I believe that is what God has called us to be- to be like Christ. Yet how are we supposed to do that if we are an open book with missing pages, isn’t it very jarring for people trying to read us. I cannot imagine how the world would be like if Jesus kept silent about his real identity for fear of death by crucifixion, judgment by others as a madman or liar or people mistaking his entire gospel of hope and inclusive love and twisting it into a “prosperity gospel” so common today.

It takes much courage and vulnerability to be authentic to oneself, and that is why so many of us choose not to, so fear of risking our personal security, safety and relationships. That is why I accord deep respect to those who have come to know and love themselves as they are, and not be apologetic about it. My Simon took 45 years to tell someone he cared about deeply, his sister , the simple fact that he was gay. 45 years, that’s almost twice of my age and half his life. I was much more fortunate to be living in a more tolerant climate than him and I’m fairly comfortable with people knowing who I am. I know that by trying to live as honestly and as abundantly as what I know Jesus has called me to be, I am worshipping and honouring God. Look, I’m not telling everyone here to come out and declare to the world no matter what, but to know that being authentic is possible, but not without its risks.

How then do we come out?

So how do we be authentic, how do we come out to ourselves, each other and to God? Let’s look back to Naaman’s story for some inspiration.

Now all of us have our own way of rationalizing how we can reach God, to be clean again, to be restored to, to come out to God, remember earlier I mentioned that I was living as honestly and as abundantly as I know what Jesus has called. It could even be taking drugs and alcohol that I connect with the divine right? I sincerely believed that Naaman was being as honest and true to himself by coming to Elisha for his healing in his horses and chariots. (in verse 9) For a man of war like him, this is his most basic response. Yet he was an exemplar of what NOT to do.

Imagine going to see the doctors in your finest clothes and your sports medals signifying your wealth and great athletic ability. For some of us we approach God in the same way we do Naaman, thinking we can make make ourselves whole with God by attending church more regularly and on time, tithing more etc. This is all good, but it’s a bit missing the point like Naaman, who wanted to be healed in a certain way contrary to what God intended.

I wonder how many of us have read or seen the Chronicles of Narnia where the spoilt brat, Eustace Scrubb turned into a scaly dragon. His condition got worse as he tried scratching his scales off. Aslan the lion didn’t come immediately and roared off his scaly bits. His personal healing wasn’t a one off miracle that came easy, but a long process of self discovery with its fair share of doubt and danger as well. We too will question God, be angry at God, doubt in God as we face discomfort, misunderstandings or even opposition by others in our attempt to live authentic lives. Naaman simply just turned and went away in a rage (verse 12). He gave up his entire’s life preoccupation just like that, the healing that he has sought abandoned in a whiff.

We help each other to come out

Thank God that is not the end of the story. Naaman is fortunate to have the young Israelite girl in captivity as his war trophy from a recent raid. She may be unnamed, but she sure deserves a prize of having a heart as big as God. We do not know whether she initially felt anger or hate against the captor who destroyed her village, but we know that she, in compassion saw Naaman as a fellow human being in need of healing despite his influence, might and power and offer. She, along with Naaman’s servants were instrumental in encouraging him to seek healing, and ultimately finding God in this story. We, both you and I all play varying roles at one point of our lives to be that beacon of hope, listening ear, word of advice to another person. We are the Lucy’s, who saw Eustace behind the frightening, imposing dragon; We are the young Israelite girl in captivity.

That is why I believe God puts us in community- I wholeheartedly agree with John Donne that no man is an island. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for the many people in FCC, who taught me love and welcomed me into this home even as they struggled with God, allowing me to grow into who I am today; the people I’ve met outside, who first exposed me to the un’straight’ world, my friends in SMU who are my support in an otherwise competitive yet lonely school and my partner who reminds me on the things that matters (like tidying things up). In so many ways unknown to you, everyone here have somehow pointed out God to me.

Step out

I would like to take this moment for us to pause and reflect.

Have you encountered such people in your lives who draws you a little closer to God.

Will you be these people to others, so that they draw a little closer to God.

Round up

IIt was with the laying down of his pride, his horses and chariots, the gold, silver and fine garments, that Naaman obeyed God and found complete healing in the Jordan river. Despite the muddy waters running through his body, it must sure feel refreshing and rejuvenating. In the same way, I invite all of us to take small steps, towards the goal of healing and restoration, truly immersed in the love of God and where living waters overflow from within us.

I ask: Will you come clean with me?
And I believe God too is saying will you come clean with Me?

Will you please join me in prayer.

God we are reminded of Psalms 139. We praise you because we are all fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. We thank you that you have made each one of us unique, with the capacity to love. Teach us daily to love ourselves, for in doing so we learn to love our neighbours and you.