Separate summer sermons, mostly from Lectionary, preached July 3, 2022, at the 930am worship
Have you heard the story of Naaman? Okay, great, something new for us to study together! To set the stage…
Because of Kings David and Solomon, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah are now split from one another in two, a southern kingdom Judah with the capital Jerusalem, and a northern Kingdom Israel with the capital Samaria. Both have their own kings, militarys, and versions of their religion. There’s also a large country northeast of Israel called Aram with the capital Damascus.
Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…
Scripture and Sermon 2 Kings 5:1-19
5:1 Now, Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his King and highly regarded, because through Naaman the Lord had given victory to Aram.
(Let’s pause there. Did you catch that? The writers of this scripture imagined the Lord of Israel giving victory in battle to a military leader of another country, an enemy even. This story shows us the God we worship is not always on our side against our supposed enemies but might sometimes work through our enemies against us when warranted. Okay, back to the text…)
Naaman was a valiant soldier, but he had a skin disease. 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master (Naaman) would (go) see the prophet who is in Israel, Samaria, the prophet would cure him of his skin disease.”
(Let’s pause there… This unnamed girl stuck in a foreign land still believes in the power of her God. We might think she would abandon God, assume God had abandoned her. We might think she would assume Naaman’s god must be more powerful than hers since Naaman wins and abducts her as a slave. But, she stays faithful, and she is willing to share the benefits of her God with her captor. This story is telling us not to let our faith depend on the outcomes in our personal lives, but to trust God is God no matter what happens. This story is also telling us not to hold this God as a personal benefit, but to share this God with anyone in need, even if we think of them as enemies. Okay, back to the story…)
4 (So,) Naaman went to his King and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter, I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his skin condition.”
(Let’s pause… Usually, we only take advice from people who are equal to us, older than us, or over us in status and power. Their success is a sign their advice is worthy. But Naaman takes the advice of his slave girl. There is no one lower in the culture of that day than a female, a child, a slave, and yet Naaman takes her advice. This story is telling us to listen for God not just in the powerful and successful, but in the little, small, unlikely people. Back to the text…)
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his skin disease? See how he is trying to pick a fight with me!”
(Let’s pause… Naaman cannot waltz into Israel. They might perceive him as on another raid. This visit will require diplomacy. So he asks his King for permission. The King of Aram seizes the opportunity. Send a big gift with a big expectation, heal Naaman. If the King of Israel can do it, fine, they are all square, gifts for healing. If the King of Israel cannot, he looks like he is withholding healing from Naaman his enemy. Both kings view this situation through their personal political benefit or risk. This story shows us God does work in or through political hallways. This God is not separate from or above politics. But this God doesn’t do things for political reasons. This God isn’t interested in one king or the other saving face or winning. This God is interested in holy, just, and loving acts of healing and reconciliation. Back to the text…)
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, Elisha sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my skin issue. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
(Let’s pause… Naaman is full of bad assumptions. He assumes healing from God is done a certain way, wave a hand over the place, say big powerful words. He also assumes the rivers of his land are more precious and blessed than the river of his enemy. He is offended that this prophet is not honoring his assumptions. This story is showing us the dangers of our own assumptions about God or country. Stay open-minded about how and through whom this God might be at work. Stay open-minded about which peoples or nations are beloved instruments of God. Back to the text…)
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some difficult thing, wouldn’t you have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So Naaman went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
(Let’s pause… Naaman wanted healing, which he had worked so hard for, for so long. If Elisha had given him something costly and difficult to do, he would have understood and done it. But then, he would have felt like he earned it, or bought. This story is reminding us healing from God cannot be bought or earned. It’s a gift. Again, it’s the simple servants who show Naaman this. And again, for some reason, Naaman listens to their advice and is healed. Back to the text…)
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. Naaman stood before Elisha and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, Elisha refused.
17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much dirt from (this land) as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord (of Israel). 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my King enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
(Our last little pause. Naaman still wants to pay for the gift, but the prophet of God will not allow it. So many churches around our country teach a gospel of prosperity, give generously to the church and you will be blessed. If you have been blessed in your life, give back generously. Those churches are not honoring the example of Elisha, the slave girl, the servant.
So many churches around our country teach, “believe, and you will be blessed.” But Naaman, the immigrant foreigner was blessed, and thus came to believe. Those churches who teach belief is required are not honoring the example of this story…
And sweet Naaman, new in his belief, assumes gods are attached to countries, and so asks to take some of the dirt from this country back with him, and asks for forgiveness when he kneels on other dirt to support his king. Elisha does not condemn him for this simplistic misguided theology but sends him home in peace. Perhaps Naaman will one day realize this God isn’t the God of certain lands or peoples or nations. This God does not recognize our war-fought or hand-drawn boundaries and doesn’t honor our various flags and symbols. This God has no preferred lands or rivers, no preferred peoples or nations. This God has no boundaries, no immigrants, no enemies.)
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.
On this holiday weekend, when we celebrate the beauty and freedoms of our country, let’s remember…
the God we worship is not always on our side
not to hold this God as a benefit, but to share this God with everyone
to listen for God in the little, small, unlikely people
This God is not separate from or above politics. But this God doesn’t do things for political reasons.
Stay open-minded about how and through whom this God might be at work, and which peoples or nations are beloved instruments of God.
The grace of God cannot be bought or earned, not through works and not even through belief. Grace is a gift. It comes first, and points us toward belief.
And this God isn’t the God of certain lands or peoples or nations, but this God is already the God of ALL the nations and every people.
Now, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night this moment and forever more. Amen.