Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sermon: July 21, 2013 The Healing of Naaman and Ours

2 Kings 5:1-14

            We live in a world that assumes any disease can be cured and any problem can be solved: from TB to putting an astronaut on the moon. At the same time, the world seems to reserve such accomplishments
·       for people who find just the right doctor or the right medical center,
·       for people who find the one helping person who will stay with my problem until it is solved,
·       OR for people who notice something that everyone else missed.
We have been taught to treat every problem as a technical problem. The message is: When you figure it out, your problem can be solved and your hurt can be healed.
            What is missing is the assurance that someone walks with us through the technical. What too often is missing is the hand on our shoulders AND the eyes that watch to see how we are doing. We can even wonder if God is lost in religious technicalities and only found at church surrounded by perfectly stained glass windows and announced by carefully robed events. Does God walk with us through the halls of hospitals and healing places of technical skill? We fear that God might not. Thus, we come to pray for healing. Healing our brokenness; healing our diseases; walking with us down those antiseptic corridors.
            Today, we are going to talk about healing – God’s healing. At the end of each worship service today, you will be invited to come to the altar to pray alone or with one of the pastors for the healing you want to see.

            Have you ever heard about someone else’s good fortune and reacted with disbelief? Why that guy? How did those people get in on that? What right did she have to get away with that? “The Healing of Naaman,” as this story is called, is one of those stories.

[I. Act 1: Naaman]
            The first fact you need to know is that Naaman was a General in the service of the King of Syria. He was a great general. In particular, God had given him victory over Israel. Naaman invaded Israel, defeated its army, destroyed its cities, and installed a puppet government. Even though the story makes no mention of it, all Israel had reason to hate this man. Among his atrocities, he has kidnaped a young, Israelite girl, as the spoils of war and presented her to his wife as a servant.
            The second fact you need to know about Naaman is that he suffers from leprosy. Now, leprosy was the AIDS of that day. There was no cure; the social stigma was immense. Lepers were sent out to leper colonies, living in graveyards so that they would not infect others. They were considered the walking dead – the zombies of their day. The result is that Naaman, the great General of Syria, is about to be sent away to live among the dead. Thus, he will not be able to enjoy the fruit of his accomplishments.
            It happens that the young Israelite slave girl, whom he gave to his wife, mentions a prophet in Israel who can cure his leprosy. Naaman is desperate enough that he asks his king for permission to go back to Israel to find him. The king immediately gives his blessing.
            Soon enough, Naaman arrives at the palace in Israel with a letter of introduction, a small army, chariots, and all the trappings of a victorious general. He marches up to the King of Israel. There he announces, “I have leprosy, and I’m here for the cure. Do it.”
            The King of Israel is terrified; he rightly exclaims, “Am I God to give life or death, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?”
            Meanwhile the Prophet Elisha, out on the edge of town, gets word that the King has a visitor demanding a cure for his leprosy. And Elisha sends him a message: “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”
            This is one of the places where the story of the Healing of Naaman causes a stir. I’m going to guess that there were lepers in Israel who would have been happy to receive healing for themselves. You see, if Elisha had already cleansed every leper in Israel, the king would have known about it. While I love the fact that God speaks to one particular person about their hurt, their disease, and their need for healing, I am also curious that such healing was not available to others. Why only one? Why this enemy? Where is the explanation about why one is chosen and others are not? No doubt, when the great Naaman came to Israel as a celebrity, he got everyone’s attention. But, does celebrity status give the Naamans of the world access to God’s grace and healing that the rest of us will never know? It does not seem quite fair.
            So, the question we must set aside for the moment is the question of God’s particularity: why does one get chosen and another does not? Why is one prayer answered while another is not? These questions about God’s ways are as old as time.

[II. Act 2: Elisha sends for Naaman the General]
            Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house with all the trappings of power and prestige. He has more than enough soldiers; he has the horses of a warrior. He travels to Elisha’s house; there he sends someone to the gate to announce his arrival.
            Unfortunately, Elisha sees no need to come out and appreciate the signs of power that Naaman brings with him. Instead, Elisha sends word to Naaman to go to the River Jordan to wash 7-times. If he will humble himself to do all this, he can be healed of his leprosy. Naaman is insulted and stomps off in a rage. The prophet has not treated him with required respect. The River Jordan is about the size of our Abrams Creek that drains Cades Cove. He will not lower himself to what this prophet requires.
            Luckily, cooler heads prevail. “If the prophet had asked you to do something hard, you would have done it. So why not do something easy?” Naaman finally agrees. He goes to the River Jordan; he washes himself as instructed. Suddenly, Naaman discovers that his skin is cured – like that of a young child.
            [APPLIC:] What do we make of Naaman’s healing? We can rejoice that his disease is removed, but many questions remain. How does washing in the Jordan cure? Does God prefer that water over all others? Does this mean that anyone who washes in the Jordan will be healed? We are still trying to figure out the trick to this. God, you see, is so far not visible.

[III. Act 3: Naaman, now cured goes back to Elisha.]
            Now, we come to the centerpiece of the story. Naaman returns to Elisha’s house. The whole entourage that we saw earlier in the story is still tagging along. Now healed, he rushes up to Elisha’s house with all the breathless enthusiasm of a young child.
            Naaman is a pretty good theologian. He has traveled far; he has met kings and prophets; he has washed himself in Abrams Creek. After all this, he looks around and confesses his faith that Israel’s God has done this. It was the God of Israel who healed him. “Now, I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” Suddenly, he has all the evidence of God that he will ever need.
            But, just as quickly, he starts to compromise with his new faith. “Please let me two mule-loads of earth from Israel be given to me, so that I can worship God back home in Syria.” Naaman can confess the greatness of God, but he is afraid that Israel’s God only works where Israel is located. Thus, he needs some dirt, so he can stand in Israel wherever he is.
            Further, when the King of Syria wants me to go into worship Syria’s god, Rimmon, could you excuse me for going along? My life and the life of my family depend on me going along on this. Elisha replies to Naaman, “Go in peace.”
            In other words, Naaman has no sooner confessed his faith in the God of Israel, than he begins to compromise on the very confession he has just made.
+      Your God is the God over all the earth, but what if God doesn’t reach as far as Syria?
+      Your God commands that no other gods stand before Him, but I need to pretend to worship that other god to save my job.
+      Would that be OK?
Naaman is the story of faith that is not quite sure. When Naaman confessed his faith the Lord, his theology was simplistic, his understanding of God’s reach inadequate, his allegiance to God not without distractions. We laugh at his naiveté and we laugh at his quickness to compromise on God. Well, we should. We compromise, too.
            [APPLIC:] The lesson of Naaman’s healing is that we are just as unsure of God’s reach as he was some 2800 years ago. We read in the Bible that Jesus had the power to heal the sick, and we want to believe He still does. But where and when does that happen? We compromise away lest it embarrass us in front of the crowd at work/school/office.
            Let me remind you some places where God’s healing still happens. It happens:
+      When men and women are called to the work of medicine, everyday healing becomes commonplace. Think about it: Naaman was one who got the miracle; in our nation, effective medical care is reachable by almost everyone. This is no small thing.
+      When friends and families divided by old grudges and hatreds find reconciliation and forgiveness at the altar, healing is effective.
+      When memories of long-ago abuse or traumas are healed by the assurance of God’s watchful goodness, healing sets us free to live again.
God’s miracle of healing still happens – not to just a few, not limited to celebrities. It can arrive for all who come in trust.

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