2 Kings 5:1-14 * February 12, 2012 * Epiphany 6 * Pastor Leyrer
Dear Friends in Christ,
In his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter ten to be specific) the Apostle Paul refers to certain events from Old Testament history. He urges the Christians of his day to first examine and then learn lessons from those who have gone before us.
In his letter to the Romans (15:4) Paul says something similar when he writes: “Everything that was written in the past (again, he is referring to the Old Testament) was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
In the Gospel of Luke we read of the time Jesus taught in his hometown of Nazareth. Part of his message to people who were pretty proud of their spiritual pedigree was that true faith is not the automatic birthright of one nation or bloodline, but extends to those of any nation who put their trust in the one true God. He used “Naaman the Syrian” as an example.
Add all that up and we come to our text for today. You heard it as our first reading.
As Paul reminded us just a moment ago, it’s more than just an interesting Bible story. It’s an account God has seen fit to preserve in order to “teach us.” So whether you heard this account for the first time or it’s one of those cherished and memorable Bible stories you can remember being told as a child, there’s a lot we can learn from it.
What we have before us might be described as
THREE TEACHERS; MULTIPLE LESSONS
And that is the way we’re going to approach it. For the next several minutes we’ll spend our time focusing on the three main characters in this account – and some important spiritual lessons we can glean from each of them.
Our first teacher has no personal name but is referred to only as a young girl from Israel. She was a servant for the wife of powerful military man named Naaman. He’s another one our teachers for today.
This all took place in the land of Aram, which is north of Israel in the area we call Syria today. The young girl from Israel found herself in this foreign country as a result of being taken captive by an Aramean raiding party. So she wasn’t there by choice. Nevertheless it appears she was a dutiful servant and developed a genuine love and concern for the people she served.
Naaman may have been a skilled soldier, but he was no match for the leprosy that had attacked him. Actually the Hebrew word for leprosy is pretty broad and can refer to many different variations of skin disease, so it might not have been the full blown kind of leprosy we normally think of. And it also wasn’t to the point where he was ostracized by society. But whatever it was, it was bad enough.
The young girl from Israel showed compassion toward her master and indicated she felt sure Naaman could be cured of his disease if he got in touch with the right person – and she knew who the right person was: “the prophet who was in Samaria.” His name was Elisha, and he is our third and final teacher.
If you listened closely, you know how the story goes from here. Most importantly, you know how it ended up. Through a series of twists and turns and subplots Naaman relinquished his natural and professional tendency to be in control, followed directions – and was miraculously cured of his disease. The final verse of our text tells us “his flesh was restored and he became clean like that of a young boy.”
Perhaps the most significant verse of this whole story is the one that comes right after our text ends. We’re told that Naaman went back to Elisha, stood before him, and proclaimed: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” In a land and a culture that embraced many gods, this was a bonafide confession of faith in the One True God. In other words, Naaman had been healed both physically and spiritually.
Let’s turn to the lessons available to us, first from the young girl. Actually there are three things she can teach us.
First is the importance of maintaining faith in a non-Christian culture. How did she do it? It’s highly unlikely she had the then-equivalent of a Bible with her, and it’s entirely possible she didn’t even know how to read; but undoubtedly she constantly remembered the Bible truths she had learned as a child (which is another lesson in itself – the importance of Christian education for our children). And even though she was in a setting that was not conducive to nurturing her faith, she obviously maintained and cultivated it on her own.
Let’s apply this to ourselves. There are those who say we have been living for some time in a post-Christian culture. Who can argue that Christian values and influence no longer carry the day as they did say a generation or two ago? Probably not to the extent this girl experienced, but certainly there are echoes for us today of what she went through.
Where is Aram for you? Where is that place you feel outnumbered as a believer? Maybe it’s the workplace. For our young people, maybe Aram is the secular school or college they attend. Maybe there’s even a part of Aram within our own extended or immediate family. Wherever the case, sometimes we can feel pretty isolated as Christians.
The lesson from the girl is to maintain our spiritual lives, hold fast to our faith, be strong and stay connected to Word and sacrament. That leads us to the second lesson we can learn from her, which is: the fearlessness of knowing who she was and the naturalness with which she lived her faith.
She didn’t shy away from speaking what was on her mind and heart and she was obviously comfortable in speaking openly about spiritual matters when the opportunity presented itself. The bottom line is that Naaman would not have been healed physically and spiritually if this little girl had not opened her mouth.
So she teaches us to not be afraid to be who we are as believers. Because by fearlessly being and verbalizing who she was and whose she was, she teaches us a third lesson: the power of a simple witness.
In literature prepared for Sunday school and Lutheran school teachers this young girl is sometimes referred to as a “little missionary.” That’s certainly an appropriate description. But maybe it would be more accurate to describe her as being a witness to her faith. And we saw how God used that simple witness and where it led.
She’s a reminder that God can also use our simple witness and our natural expressions of faith to touch the hearts of others. The art of Christian witnessing is not mastering certain truths, but rather letting the truth of God master us. Then just being ourselves. Like she was.
Let’s move to what we can learn from Elisha. We’ll limit ourselves to just one lesson from him.
It’s all about having confidence in God. Did you note the dramatic difference between Elisha and the king of Israel when the King of Aram said Naaman was on his way to be healed? The King thought this was impossible, that it was just an excuse for the kingdom of Aram to swoop down and ransack his country. He got visibly upset and angry. In other words, he didn’t show a lot of confidence in God’s ability and/or power to help.
But Elisha did. So he told the king to send Naaman over to him. And again, we know what happened and how the story ended.
The lesson for us is to exhibit the same confidence in God that Elisha exemplified. With God nothing is impossible. He is no less God today than he was back then.
This doesn’t mean we should expect God to miraculously intervene in our lives on command. God is not our personal errand boy who immediately runs to carry out our requests as soon as we give him the order. When we treat God that way (and, unfortunately, we all have) we only end up (amazing as it sounds) being disappointed in God.
The fact is God loves us way too much and is way too interested in both our earthly and eternal lives to let us treat him like a short order cook serving up miracles on demand. What he does do for us is help us grow spiritually and mature in our faith – often using as his instrument the very difficulties we ask him to get rid of for us.
Nevertheless, nothing is impossible with God. So whether the Lord chooses to intervene directly in our lives as he did for Naaman or whether he chooses to meet our needs in a less spectacular fashion, this we know for sure and of this we are confident: God is active in the lives of his people. And that confidence translates into comfort and patience.
Finally, there are a couple of lessons from Naaman. One is negative, the other positive.
First the negative: Naaman starts out as a prime example of the natural and initial tendency to “do something” to fix a problem; to be in control.
We can all see ourselves in him, can’t we? When it comes to the things we consider to be problems or “issues” we have a dogged determination to be in control. To fix what’s wrong. To do something. And that’s not necessarily all bad.
What’s bad is when we fixate on ourselves and not God for solutions. That’s where Naaman started. But it’s not where he ended. That’s the positive lesson from him.
Through a series of humbling experiences God led him to a proper understanding. When Naaman learned that his own efforts and actions were futile and that he was to be on the receiving end of a God who deals in doling out undeserved grace and goodness – or to use words you’ve perhaps heard in another context, when Naaman “let go and let God” – the result was peace and healing, both physical and spiritual.
And we are reminded of how everything that happens in our lives is orchestrated by a good and gracious God.
And we are reminded that certainly God expects us to use our talents and abilities and brains to figure things out and deal with life and he often works through them, but we don’t rely on our efforts. We rely on His limitless grace, which he distributes to us richly and daily.
And when it comes to the great subject of salvation and that from which we need to be cleansed – our sin – but which we cannot eradicate on our own any more than Naaman could get rid of his leprosy, this is our comfort and our confidence: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” The blood of Jesus Christ is our Jordan washing away the leprosy of our sin and making us clean.
“Everything written in the past was written to teach us” says Paul. May it be that today we have been taught; that we are and will be the life-long beneficiaries of multiple lessons learned from Elisha, Naaman, and a little girl whose name we do not even know. Amen.