A Sermon by Rev Peter Coley
Trinity 20 9 October 2016
Readings 2 Kings 5:1-14 and Luke 17:11-19
AIM: to see from the story of Naaman what it means to be a servant of God.
If there is one thing that seems to sum up the nature of our society it is the selfie stick! Now you can take photos of anything or anyone you like and put yourself slap bang in the middle. “Oh this is me and can you see the Taj Mahal behind. Oh here I am with Boris Johnston and yes that is me with …….”
I want, I need, I will, I will not could summarise our environment. If I’m going to serve anyone, its going to be me! That’s true at work, in our homes, in our communities and sadly often in our church.
It reflects the kind of God that we like – the accommodating God…
The place where God should be is where we find ourselves. We prefer to worship the accommodating God, the God who tends to agree with me, the God who’s not too bothered about my personal life, who is generous to a fault, who wants me to have success and even abundance, friends and good times. Who will put up with my inconveniences and irregular patterns of worship
Yet God expects, indeed demands that we behave the complete opposite. We are to die to ourselves and serve others. God did not put us on this earth to serve ourselves but to serve others.
Our Old Testament reading today –the story of Naaman – gives us a wonderful story of this.
In today’s reading we have entered into the middle of this period. Horeb one of the sons of Ahab is still on the throne during a period of comparative peace and we get this beautiful story of the healing of Naaman, the commander of Hazael’s victorious army – the enemies of Israel. Here again we see the God of the big picture moving things on among the nations but at the same time a God of the individual coming to a foreigner – someone outside the covenant of God’s people in his need. It highlights for us some principles about the kingdom of God as well as serving to remind us that indeed ‘God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.’
We have four characters in the story: Naaman, a victorious commander of his people, who had ransacked Israel; Horam a weak fearful and evil king of Israel; Elisha, mighty prophet of God taking over where Elijah had let off; and an unnamed Jewish girl taken captive by Israel’s enemies and acting as a servant to Naaman’s wife.
Naaman had all that this world could offer. He was commander of his country’s army, he had the respect of his King, he had property, servants and to cap it all the very latest line in chariots, the great status symbol of the day.
Yet despite all this there was one major blight on his life – he had leprosy, he was a leper. It is interesting that such a man would be considered cursed in Israel but not amongst the people of Aram.
In his household was a young Israelite servant girl. Despite the fact she had been taken captive and was under foreign influence, unlike so many of her fellow Jews she remained faithful to the living God. She knew of his power through Elisha the true prophet in the land. She carried great sway with her mistress who eventually persuades Naaman to visit the prophet.
He gets a letter from his king and presents himself to Horam king of Israel with gifts of gold. King Horam in his fear and paranoia thinks he is being provoked for war and rents his clothes in anger and frustration as one did in those days.
Elisha hears of the incident and the king’s rage and rather than seeing this as an act of provocation sees it as an opportunity for his God to reveal himself and tells the king to send Naaman to him.
Eventually the flash Naaman goes with his outriders to the home of the prophet who doesn’t even bother to answer the door, but simply sends a messenger, telling him to go and wash in the River Jordan seven times.
The commander was outraged by this lack of common courtesy and lack of power demonstration. Hadn’t this God burnt up the offering on Carmel? Hadn’t this God brought back a child from death? Why couldn’t he just zap away the leprosy with a wave of his hand? Washing in a foreign dirty river when he had much cleaner rivers at home, he must be joking.
But Naaman for all his pride was not too proud to listen to his men who beseeched him to at least to give it a go. So reluctantly he made his way to the Jordan and without much hope dipped himself in the river with ever growing scepticism every time he went in – until that is the seventh time, when just as the prophet had said he became a new man. And perhaps a man of faith. ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel, – well you would wouldn’t you for a while!
His response like any rich man is to pay for his blessing and offers the prophet a gift- which he flatly refuses (even if his side kick Gehazi tries to make a profit from the prophet further down the line – but that’s another story!) but he is allowed to take a little of the land that will ever be for him Israel back to his homeland – a bit touristy don’t you think? Oh and for one indulgence – when he gets back home and goes to the temple of Rimmon with his king may he be forgiven for bending the knee to their God. – and the very accommodating Elisha tells him to go in peace.
Well what are we to make of this? Why is it in the biblical account?
Israel is in a weak position brought about by her idolatry – her worship of Baal.
They had given up faith in the living God and put their faith in idols and as a consequence God was allowing her to be punished by the neighbouring Aram.
God longed for them to come back to him as he always does but what he requires is faith in him and only him. Exactly what our Lord Jesus expected from his disciples.
And so, God looks for faith and where does he find it? Not amongst the military leaders not amongst the kings of the nations but in a young girl. A young girl who despite the trauma of being captured, taken away from her home country and put to work as a servant in a foreign land had enormous faith in her God. She had every reason to be bitter and hateful towards her captors but only sort their welfare. Why we may ask? Because she had faith in the living God and remained true to the living God, even in a foreign land. Whilst her fellow Jews took no notice of God’s prophet Elisha, in fact wanted him to be silenced, she knew God’s power rested on him. Not unlike the men who lowered their friend through the roof knowing that if they got him to Jesus he would be healed, so she knew if Naaman was to go to the prophet he would find healing.
Now look at Naaman. Did he show faith? Well yes, he did. He actually showed remarkable faith though he wouldn’t through his crusty pride admit it. He was desperate – not unlike the woman who reached out to touch Jesus garment. He listened to his wife who in turn had listened to her maid – how easily he could have dismissed it out of court!! But he doesn’t, he goes to his king and asks for permission to go into enemy territory for help! On arrival, he is told to go to the house of the prophet – notice the prophet is not taken to him as he might have expected. Does he go? Yes, he goes. When he’s snubbed by the prophet and told to wash himself in the Jordan, does he give up in anger? Well he does very nearly, but he humbly listens to his servants and in the end does what God is telling him to do through the prophet and of course after seven dippings in the Jordan – and he might have given up at any point- eventually sees the hand of the living God at work in his life.
His faith has led this foreigner – outside the covenant community- to believe in the living God and give up on his idolatry – well except when the king was around!
Doesn’t this have distinct echoes with the experience of Jesus in dealing with his fellow Jews. Didn’t he find more faith on occasions with those outside the faith. Wasn’t he shocked by the lack of faith of his own people?
This story is surely a metaphor of Israel. They were plagued by the leprosy of idolatry. They were a privileged people whom God had chosen and blessed. Yet they had put themselves outside the blessing of God by putting their faith in the wrong things. Idolatry in God’s eyes is the worst thing that can befall a people for it leads to every other kind of sin. That is why of course the ten commandments set love for God alone at the very top. All else leads to distortion.
The way back for Israel was a complete washing of their sins -7 times in fact – and a turning back to God in faith that even a foreigner away from the covenant could demonstrate. In the words of God to Solomon in the Temple
‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’
‘So he 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.’
Jesus once said ‘when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
The question that is begged of us through this story is surely the same.
I think we who have been in the faith for a long time can lose that simple trust in God – that many outsiders who never darken the door of the church can exhibit. There are so many things that can become our idols and cut off the blessing of God. Often when we are most comfortable.
Do we still look to the living God for our needs and sustenance as did the servant girl?
Do we look to the living God for our healing as did the foreigner Naaman, albeit reluctantly?
Each day of our lives is a new opportunity to walk by faith with the living God – each day an opportunity to be healed and restored.
Praise my soul the king of heaven, to his feet thy tribute bring, ransomed healed restored forgiven who like me his praise should sing? Who indeed.