First Reading 2 Kings 5:1-14
Second Reading Galatians 6:1-16
Gospel Reading Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Sermon “Where Is Power and Security Found?”
The story of Naaman is fascinating from several perspectives. It tells us a story rich in Irony, that also teaches us important lessons about where true power lies and where real security may be found. On this independence weekend, we rightfully celebrate the wonderful freedoms that we enjoy in this great country where we live. But there are some things here in this Old Testament story that we need to hear in our current day and age. Here we find abundant reminders that the affairs of nations are quite secondary to the things of God. Here we learn that all the trappings of wealth and power and impressive ritual are all quite worthless from God’s perspective. Those who receive God’s blessing must acknowledge the gift and where they come from. We also see two other things that are surprising: First, Knowledge of God and truth about our own circumstance can come from unexpected sources. Secondly God’s providence will seldom match our assumptions.
Lets begin with some background. First the time in history: You may recall that last week, we heard of the great prophet Elijah being taken up into heaven in the whirlwind, accompanied by the fiery chariot. Experiencing this moment with him was his young apprentice Elisha. In the pages between that story and this, Elisha has done a series of wondrous miracles including helping a destitute window by means of the single oil pitcher that miraculously filled a houseful of borrowed jars. Later, he raised a young boy back to life after he because ill and died. Truly God had already worked many wonders through this faithful prophet.
But it was not a happy time in the this northern kingdom of Israel. Their King was named Joram, the second son of Ahab to rule after his death. The earlier peace with the Aramean’s after Ahab’s death is slowly coming unraveled. Border skirmishes were common. We are told that Jorum wasn’t as bad as his father, but he still had little use for Elisha, even though the prophet would help him out many times. There were numerous confrontations with their dangerous neighbor to the north east – the Arameans – their King was the fearsome Ben-Hadad, Their capital was at Damascus. Over the years, they had captured many slaves from Israel. Naaman’s young servant girl was one of them. So this then is the situation in which our story is set.
Naaman was The commander of Ben-Hadad’s mighty army – he was successful in battle and highly valued by his king. But he had a terrible skin disease and all of his wealth and power couldn’t cure it. His little slave girl had a suggestion which she told to Naaman’s wife: “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” His wife tells Naaman of this hope and Naaman goes to his King, Ben Hadad. The king sends him to King Jorum with a letter of introduction, but also sends a fabulous sum of treasure in gold and silver along with him – worth millions of dollars in todays terms!
Just imagine the scene that follows as Naaman arrives, with his entire entourage, at Joram’s palace in Samaria. Naaman formally hands over the letter which says (2 Kings 5:6-7 NIV) “…With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”  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 leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”  When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he 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.”  So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Do you notice how helpless and inept the two kings are in our story? They can’t even seem to communicate a simple thing like – Here’s a guy I would really appreciate you trying to help! Ben-Hadad seemingly thought that Elisha worked for Joram, not understanding the role of Prophet. Joram is just plain scared and jumps at the offer from Elisha.
So here is the critical moment. Naaman’s wife’s slave girl has promised that the prophet could cure him and here he is with his letter and attendants and treasure caravan and all. He is a man of wealth and power and he has certain expectations! Imagine his chagrin when Elisha doesn’t even come out. He just sends a servant to tell him to go wash in the muddy little Jordan River. No ceremony, no special words or gestures, he only hears the message from the prophet, not even in person. Not surprisingly, he gets upset and is about to storm off in a huff muttering about the superiority of the river around Damascus when once again his servants step in. He is asked a simple, logical question which allows him to look at the situation from the perspective of one who needs help, not from his accustomed vantage of power and command. His servant says: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
Have you noticed: Three times now, life altering words have come to him from the most humble sources imaginable – mere servants. Person of no status, no power, almost non-persons in that society. Salvation can come from humble sources indeed, and only the humble will likely hear them. Naaman decides its worth a try. He goes as instructed and the results were beyond his dreams. Scripture says not only was his disease healed but that his skin was like that of a young boy. He was remade and renewed by the word of God.
Notice one other thing. Elisha demanded nothing from Naaman before showing him how to be healed – no confession of faith, no promises to turn aside the Aramean threat. Afterwards, Elisha would accept nothing in return. Nothing – just go, wash and be healed. That’s grace folks. As a result, in the story continues after our reading stops, We get to hear the confession of faith from Naaman and his request to take merely some dirt back home to worship the one true God on. He is not only healed but changed as well.
How might we apply this story to our own lives and the life of this congregation? Do we have stereotypes about others that are different from ourselves? Perhaps we should be willing to listen. They might understand things we do not. We dismiss them at our peril. If you are used to being ignored, this message may sound liberating. If you are used to calling the shots, you might feel uncomfortable. Both might be appropriate reactions. The wonderful irony of this story is that wisdom and insight might come from unexpected sources. The servant girl and the Jordan river were special because God chose to work through them, not because they had any intrinsic virtue other than that wonderful fact.
We might have expected God to punish Naaman for his arrogant temper fit by at least withholding healing, but God does heal this Syrian enemy in spite of it. Our expectations of how God can or should work might get it the way of us seeing how God is already working in unexpected places and ways quite apart from the stained glass and sanctified language we expect. Do we for instance expect the unchurched to come to us on our terms? What if we reached out without precondition with the grace of God? Might that allow the gospel to be more plainly seen? Naaman’s experience might suggest that we should enable others to experience God’s love and power first. Ironically that experience may well bring about their own confession of faith.
Finally, as I was thinking about this story this week, it occurred to me that ol’ Naaman had quite a story to tell after this incident. Everyone knew him as a leper and now he was well, with new skin like a boy! What a Witness he had and what a story to tell. I imagine he told and retold that for the rest of his life. He had received grace in a foreign land, from a God he hadn’t known before. Yes, Naaman had quite a story, and so do I and so do you. God has given me great gifts and the sure promise of salvation and I don’t brag on him nearly enough!
It is our privilege now to approach the table of grace where these everyday things – fashioned from grain and the fruit of the vine become for us powerful symbols of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is his gift, like the Jordan was for Naaman that day, it is not magic or Holy in and of itself, but because God chooses to work in and through these things as Jesus has promised us. All who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior are welcome here whether you are members of this church or any church. It is the gift of God where truth and eternal security are found.