Feb. 15, 2009
Sixth Sunday After Epiphany (B)
What is your wildest dream for your church? As you ponder that question, you may have a dream of a place where there is joy and excitement. You dream of a place where lost sinners are found, broken homes are restored, and those who are adrift find new purpose in living. That may be happening in your church or, sadly, it may not.
This may be an unusual place to begin a sermon about Naaman. We’re familiar with the story of Naaman. A heroic military figure is afflicted with
leprosy and is appalled when he is told that in order to effect his cleansing, all he need do is dip seven times in the Jordan River. He refuses to do what the prophet Elisha says to do until he is chided by his servant, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it?” (NIV).
Many of us would like to do some “great thing” to serve God. We dream of missionary crusades to the deepest, most remote parts of the jungle. We fantasize about preaching to stadia full of people who hang on our every word. We’d like to be the Christian philanthropist who is
able to fund worthy causes out of our abundance. Most of us, though, don’t get to serve God in such “great” ways.
The story of Naaman is rife with irony. At first, we read that he is a heroic figure. He was influential in bringing victory to his king. The Norman Schwarzkopf of his day, he was one who was greatly admired and highly sought after. Yet, there was one sad circumstance in his life-he
It is ironic, isn’t it, that fame and success and prestige don’t preclude tragedy and illness from invading our lives. Think of famous people you can name who have cancer, or family strife or tragedy that hits close to home. Naaman had access to the finest of medical care; but, alas, there was no cure for leprosy.
Another bit of irony is that the one who shows the most spiritual discernment is a servant girl in his household. An Israelite, she knew of a prophet in Samaria who could cleanse Naaman if only he could see him. How many times does God use the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise?
As one with political connections, Naaman attempts to go through channels to set up a meeting with Elisha. He has his king draft a letter to Elisha’s king. When Elisha’s king receives the letter, he thinks Naaman’s king is trying to pick a fight with him and asks, “Why does [he] send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy?” Isn’t it ironic that Elisha’s king-and the king of God’s covenant people-doesn’t have enough sensitivity and discernment to know that there is a man of God in his midst?
Elisha heard of the king’s quandary and said, “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Do people in your church community know that there is a prophet in your town? Is there a place where the lost are found, the broken are restored and those who are adrift are given direction? I ponder, Is my church known for doing that? Do people know that when they come through the doors of this church, they will meet God and be changed?
Naaman goes to see Elisha and is underwhelmed. He deals with one of Elisha’s lieutenants rather than “the man” himself. Elisha wanted to communicate that the healing came from God and not him. Elisha’s mode of cleansing is to have Naaman dip seven times in the Jordan River.
At first, Naaman is outraged. “If dipping in a river would cleanse leprosy, there are far superior rivers in Syria,” Naaman basically thought. His servant asked a question so powerful that it rings through the ages, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it?”
Many of us would be willing to do “some great thing” in order to be right with God, but what God really wants is simple trust and obedience.
What “great thing” brought Naaman’s cleansing? His obedience.
What “great thing” brings us salvation? Simple trust in the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ.
What “great thing” builds a great church? Simple obedience.