2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20
I’d like to thank you for your care for the Rystrom family this past week.
I’d also like to thank you for welcoming Pr. Martha Myers last Sunday.
I was away for continuing education these past two weeks. Last Sunday I was able to worship with my family. Unlike you, I don’t get the chance very often to visit other churches on Sunday morning so I was grateful for the opportunity.
This Sunday, of course, happens to fall on Independence Day. July 4th doesn’t fall on a Sunday every year—in fact, only every seven years or so. But when it does, it gives us a wonderful opportunity to prayerfully ponder what it means to be Christian.
Why do you come to worship on Sunday morning? Among the reasons you might list: to receive the forgiveness of sins, to be reassured of God’s love, to hear hope & encouragement. Some might even list, to be challenged in order to grow. But probably few if any of us would say, “I come to worship in order to learn about how to use power.”
And yet, power is central to the Christian message. God’s power, to be sure. But more than that, we ask: What power has God given me? What is God’s will for that power? And, How will I use that power to the glory of God?
You may not think of yourself as a powerful person. In fact, much of the fear & anxiety we experience in life arises out of a feeling of powerlessness, or, a fear of losing the power we enjoy.
Which brings us to the story of Naaman. Naaman is a powerful man, a general in the Syrian king’s army. But even Naaman doesn’t have it all; he has leprosy, & is powerless to do anything about it.
His master, the king of Syria, is sympathetic. Naaman the general is a great asset to the nation. His health really is a matter of national security.
We find in this story that the king & the general have great limits to their power. Along comes someone with far less power. She’s a) a girl, b) a foreigner, & c) a slave. And yet, this powerless girl serves the wife of Naaman the general. And she speaks up. Although a slave in a foreign household, she remembers a man of God named Elisha back in her homeland who has special powers.
And then, a miracle happens. The king & the general—the most powerful men in the land—with the support of the general’s wife, listen to this girl’s advice. Now think about that—if you were these powerful people, would you be taking advice from a slave girl? But they do! The king of Syria sends a letter with Naaman to the king of Israel, asking him to cure Naaman of his leprosy. When the king of Israel reads the letter he’s beside himself! He, too, is a powerful man, but he thinks the king of Syria is trying to pick a fight: 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!
But the prophet Elisha, hearing about all this, says to his king: Why all the fuss? It’s me they want. Send the general to me.
The long & the short of it is that Naaman, after throwing a tantrum, once again listens to his servants. He takes the advice of powerless people. In the end, he is healed.
But as always in the Bible, physical healing is not the main point of the story. The healing that Naaman experienced was a changed heart.
The key to Naaman’s healing was his willingness to set aside his own ideas & beliefs & expectations about how his world should work. At least for awhile, he allowed himself to be influenced in unlikely ways by unlikely people.
I wonder what we might learn from Naaman. We Americans are powerful people. And, like Naaman the Syrian, unlikely to listen to the ideas of people beyond the borders of our empire. Who, for example, has expressed interest in the stories of those who are crossing our borders illegally? Kings & generals & privileged people are not usually interested in the stories of powerless people–& certainly not “foreigners.” Instead, we build walls & make laws that protect & defend our privilege & power. But that path, as history teaches always, eventually fails.
And yet, the story of Naaman is a story not of despair but of hope. Against all odds, the king of Syria & his general Naaman listened to people they would normally ignore. Out of self-interest? Of course! Naaman was no saint. But none of us has pure motives. Like the rest of us, Naaman was a sinner. Still, we don’t always have to have the right motives to do the right thing.
You & I—even in a democracy–have little chance of changing the minds of our kings & generals. And yet, we are powerful people. Daily we have opportunities to allow God to shape us, & use us to shape our world. We ask, What power do I have? What is God’s will for that power? How will I use my power to the glory of God?
Naaman was a man accustomed to the ways of worldly power, such as the power represented by our national flag. It competes with the cross–& often wins over– the hearts & minds of God’s people. For the cross represents one who associated with the castoffs & rejects of society, the invisible, the powerless, the foreigner. And not only associated with them, but like Naaman, listened to them, learned from them & ultimately was blessed by them. Jesus did this, not so that we wouldn’t have to, but as an example for us to follow.
Naaman acted out of self-interest. But he also acted out of desperation. I wonder if there’s something in that story a little church like ours might learn from. Unlike Naaman, we don’t have leprosy, but like Naaman, we are afraid of dying. Desperation & self-interest are not necessarily a bad thing if they lead us to ask this question: How might God be speaking to us & waiting to bless us through those we might be tempted to avoid or ignore? How might God bless us through unlikely & in many ways powerless people in our neighborhoods & right under our very noses: the poor, the homeless, those whose sexual orientation might be different from our own; young people, people of different races, people who worship in our building, whose culture & language are different from our own?
We may feel awkward & even powerless to follow Naaman’s example. We may be resistant to following Jesus’ example of listening for God’s voice speaking to us through unlikely people. But God’s power through us can accomplish what we can’t, & maybe even what we don’t even want to, accomplish on our own. God’s grace, mercy, & power be with us all as we discern how to follow Jesus.