St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, July 7, 2019

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
July 7, 2019
2 Kings 5:1-14
Proper 9 C
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     I really like the story of Naaman, a commander in the Aramean army, who we read about in our Old Testament lesson from the Books of Second Kings. I think I like the story because its easy for us to relate to his thoughts and emotions because they are so human.
     Naaman has leprosy, a disease of the skin that can often deform parts of the body. We can imagine that he has had leprosy for most of his life, but he has managed to climb the ranks in the Aramean army and become a well-respected commander. Still, the affliction of leprosy bothers him. He wants to be healed, to be free of the leprosy, though his leprosy is not contagous..
     It just so happens that there is a slave girl in his household who was captured during a raid in Israel. The young girl works for Naaman's wife and she knows about his leprosy and his desire to be healed. She also knows of a prophet in the Samaria region of Israel who could cure him. Naaman's wife takes this information to Naaman.
 So Naaman goes to his boss, the king of Aram, and tells him about this prophet in Israel who could cure him of his leprosy. We all know its easier to get in the front door if you have a letter of recommendation from your boss. So the king of Aram writes a letter to the king of Israel about Naaman who wants to be healed of his leprosy. But the king of Israel thinks he is being asked to heal Naaman, which he cannot do, and that when he refuses, the Aramean army will have an excuse to wage war on Israel. He rips his clothes as an expression of his distress. His distress at this incident seems to get around town pretty fast and is heard by the prophet Elisha. So Elisha contacts the king to send Naaman to him so he will know there is a prophet in Israel.
     Now we might be puzzled for a moment as to why Naaman goes to a prophet for healing. Prophets usually talked about God and what future events might unfold if the people continued down a certain path.
     But Naaman has come this far so he might as well continue the journey. He finds Elisha's house and stands outside, wondering what the next step in the protocol is. Should he knock on the door and announce his presence? Should he wait for Elisha to come out to greet him? As he stands there in the courtyard of Elisha's home, pondering his next steps, the door opens and a messenger comes out. A messenger! Not the prophet Elisha, but a messenger! Naaman is furious. Here he is, a high ranking and well-respected member of the Aramean army and not only does Elisha not come out and greet him, but he sends a messenger. He is humiliated.
     The messenger tells him to go and wash seven times in the Jordan River and he will be healed of his leprosy. Sounds pretty simple, but Naaman wants a miraculous healing right then and there, something that people would be talking about for a long time. And why should he have to go to the Jordan River? There are perfectly good rivers in Aram that he could use. Naaman walks away in a rage, as things are not going the way he had planned.
     Fortunately, one of his servants is able to calm him down and talk some sense into him. If he was told to do something difficult in order to be healed, wouldn't he do it? So why not give this a try. Go down to the Jordan River and wash seven times.
     We can just imagine Naaman swallowing his pride and shuffling down to the river bank. He wants to be healed, but he wanted a much more dramatic way in front of lots of people, not washing in the Jordan River.
     When he comes up out of the river after the seventh time, Naaman realizes that he is healed. His leprosy is gone. He no longer has to hide his disfigured hands and feet. He can stand tall and be proud of how he looks.
     Naaman's healing does not come in a dramatic way. His healing did not come about because of who he was or the position he held. Naaman was healed by God through Elisha and the actions of a slave girl, who knew about Elisha from her time in Israel, as well as Naaman's servants, who convinced him to follow Elisha's instructions. Without the intervention of ordinary people who were considered to be low on the social ladder, Naaman might not have been healed.
     Naaman was completely emptied out. His royal connections had gotten him nowhere. His reputation had gotten him nowhere. His bags full of money had gotten him nowhere. Elisha wouldn't even come out of the house to greet him. And now he was told to do this stupid, simple thing - to wash in the Jordan and be healed. Only God could heal him. No one and nothing else could.
     God uses us, too, in small ways to make great things happen. We might not even know sometimes how God is using us. It was not Naaman's wealth or his position in the army that enabled him to be healed. It was God's grace alone. By God's grace, the healing of Naaman showed all people that God's grace is not limited to the Israelites, that his love is not limited to a certain group of people, that God can and will work in and through those who might be on the lowest rung of the social ladder.
     We cannot dictate how God works in this world. But our job is to be open to God's presence all around us, working in us and through us, if we allow God to do that. Our openness to the spirit of God is what allows or does not allow God to work in this world.
     Like Naaman, we sometimes assume that our expectations of how God will act will get in the way of really seeing God at work. We want God to do something for us, in the way we want it done, and on the schedule we want. When God doesn't act in that way, we think God has abandoned us. But perhaps God is working in a different way, with a different outcome for us.
     Our job is to be open to the working of God, to see God at work all around us, to spread God's love to all, including those who we might think don't deserve it. May God continue to open our hearts as we spread God's love to others. Amen.
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