Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, October 17, 2021

Text: 2 Kings 5:14-27

Watch Service Video

What would you wish for if you were given three wishes for whatever you want? That’s the premise of a number of movies – most notably Disney’s Aladdin. What would you wish for if granted three wishes for whatever you want? Maybe thinking as a kid you’d want a fun family trip, or that pet you’ve always wanted, or a new toy. Later on in life, maybe your list would include more athletic talent, smoother social skills, or the respect of your peers. Maybe it would be things with a more lasting impact on life. A better salary package. Greater satisfaction and fulfillment from your career. More time with family and friends. Relief from physical or mental health struggles. And of course, no matter what you use the first two wishes on, everyone knows that the third one should be for more wishes so you can keep on going!

At its root level, that discussion is a light-hearted way of asking a deeper and far more challenging question: what do you think you need to be content? What do you think you need to be at peace with your life and circumstances? After all, if we actually expected to have our wishes granted, those are probably the kinds of things we’d want to spend them on anyway! In today’s scripture reading, we see God perform a miracle that gave one man the thing that had to be at the top of his list. As we look at this man’s reaction to God’s blessing, and the reaction of others watching, we have the chance to think about our own reactions to God’s blessings in our life and observe the challenges that threaten to pull us off of The Road to Contentment and the blessings available there.

Two Ditches: Naaman’s Ditch

The man for whom God performed this miracle was the military commander of the nation of Aram – a very powerful and important man, but a man who had a terrible problem. The verses before this section recount how Naaman had been afflicted with the most dreaded disease of Bible times – leprosy. A diagnosis of highly contagious leprosy meant that a person afflicted with it quarantined not just for a few weeks but for the rest of their lives, waiting until the terrible disease eventually brought them to a rather gruesome end. If a leper ever went out in public, they had to warn others to stay away from them by shouting “unclean, unclean!” It’s not hard to guess what Naaman’s first wish would be – a cure from this incurable disease! Thankfully, God had seen to it that after searching high and low for any kind of cure or treatment, Naaman finally arrived in the only place where help was available – the doorstep of God’s prophet Elisha. Elisha instructed Naaman on what to do and promised that God would provide healing. “[Naaman] 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.” (2 Kings 5:14 – NIV84).

Exactly what Naaman was wishing for – a complete cure! But take a look at Naaman’s reaction. “Then Naaman and his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.” The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.” (2 Kings 5:15-16 – NIV84). The verbs in the Hebrew emphasize the determination on both sides of this interaction – Naaman was determined to give a gift and Elisha was equally steadfast in his refusal to accept anything. Why? Some

understanding of the pagan religion Naaman likely grew up with provides useful context. All the gods of the ancient near eastern pagan pantheon were said to work in about the same way. They were in charge of different geographical areas and aspects of life, and they were supposed to be paid for their services and blessings. Make the right sacrifices and the rains will come. Perform the correct rituals and you’ll be blessed with health and success. The same thing was true in reverse too. If one was supposedly blessed by one of these gods and failed to give adequate thanks it was a sure and certain recipe for falling under the wrath of that god. Naaman may have assumed that Elisha’s God, the God of the Israelites, would work in the same way. The miracle had taken place, but until payment was made, how could Naaman begin to enjoy the blessings? The debt still needed to be paid.

Have you found yourself thinking about your relationship with God’s blessings in a similar way? We might not put it in quite those terms, but I think the same thinking is still around. God has blessed us with a lot. Honestly, for many of us we’ve been blessed with a lot more than we can even claim that we need to live comfortably. And for all that we can only give credit to God. Think about a few examples. Very few of us here today did anything ourselves that caused us to live in the United States and enjoying all the blessings of a wealthy society – most of us were just born here. In a similar way, we didn’t seek out the families we grew up in, the parents who taught us how to work hard, or the pastors and teachers we were instructed by. All this came from God – we didn’t earn it. That presents an obstacle to contentment. Not necessarily because we want more, but because we are bothered by the nagging truth that as sinful, flawed people we don’t deserve such a life. There must be a debt somewhere that needs to be paid, and until that debt has been satisfied, how can we fully relax and enjoy all these blessings?

Such thinking drags us off The Road to Contentment and into the ditch, preventing us from fully using and fully enjoying the blessings God has poured freely into our lives for no other reason than his undeserved love for us! That’s why Elisha wouldn’t take anything from Naaman – he didn’t want anyone to be under the mistaken impression that the good will of God could be purchased for the right price!

Two Ditches: Gehazi’s Ditch

Now, Naaman wasn’t the only one struggling with his relationship to God’s gifts. We also meet Gehazi, the servant of Elisha who had watched all these things happen. He wasn’t content with the situation either. “After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” So Gehazi hurried after Naaman.” (2 Kings 5:19-21a – NIV84). One can imagine his thinking pretty easily. How could a foreigner lay claim to the blessings of the God of Israel? If God was willing to grant Naaman the miracle of healing, then surely the least he could do is allow his own children to see some profit from this sequence of events! “When Naaman saw [Gehazi] running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, “Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.” “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi.” (2 Kings 5:21-23 – NIV84). From his ditch on one side, Naaman was all too eager to pay the debt he thought he owed, and from his ditch on the other side, Gehazi looked to profit handsomely from these events as he got what he thought he rightly deserved! Contentment was nowhere to be seen.

How did both Naaman and Elisha’s faithful servant end up in such a bad place? A hint can be found in a little word that Elisha, Naaman, and Gehazi all use. The English translation we have today doesn’t emphasize it as much as the original Hebrew, but it’s the word “peace,” a common greeting which in Bible times carried a little more meaning than just an absence of conflict and fighting. You might think of “peace” as the Old Testament people understood it as a state of personal well-being, a state of human flourishing. In other words, a state of contentment with one’s place in life! When Elisha bid Naaman farewell, he said, “peace be with you,” encouraging Naaman to stop thinking about possible payment and instead to be content in the beautiful truth that a God he didn’t know until this day nevertheless loved him and blessed him without any demand of repayment, because that’s the kind of God he is. When Naaman saw Gehazi approaching, he was still wrestling with this. Literally his words are: “Is there peace?” In other words, is everything all right? Or did I misunderstand something and a debt of some kind needs to be paid? And then Gehazi replied, “There is peace” …but he premised that peace on a payment of material goods, because for Gehazi, this peace, this contentment, was inexorably connected to the material blessings of life.

One Road

So, what are we to make of all this? The key to the whole thing is in the blessing Elisha speaks as he sends Naaman on his way. He said, “Go in peace.” Naaman, go in the peace of knowing that the God of Israel loves you even though you don’t deserve it and even though you can’t repay him. That’s the same blessing God wants us to leave with today. “Go in peace.” Go in the peace of knowing that your God loves you even though you don’t deserve it and even though you can’t repay him. Go in the peace of knowing how he demonstrated that love by providing healing even more miraculous than the removal of Naaman’s leprosy – he’s removed our sins. He took the debt we owed and transferred it to Jesus instead. Jesus paid it off by laying down his life, and God demonstrated his acceptance of that payment by raising Jesus from the dead. There’s nothing more that needs to be done; nothing more that can be done. The blessings of God are yours.

So, go in peace! If you find yourself sliding into Naaman’s ditch, realize what God’s peace means for you. God invites you to take the gifts he has given you and enjoy them! You don’t deserve them, but God knows that full well and he gave them to you anyway. He put you in this country, he put you in your family, and he equipped you with all the blessings he’s poured out into your life because he loves you and he has specific opportunities planned for you to show his love to other people. He didn’t make a mistake and give you too much and will eventually demand it back – he gave it to you for a reason. So don’t feel bad about enjoying it and putting it to use! Go in peace!

The same thing is true in the other direction. God didn’t make a mistake and give you too little, as if the almighty God who created the world couldn’t possibly get you through life without a certain minimum level of material blessing. When you find yourself sliding toward Gehazi’s ditch, then too God says, “Go in peace!” When you aren’t sure how you will make ends meet, when health fails you or loved ones disappoint you, when the appearance of life in some other way makes contentment seem impossible, even then you can go in peace. You know your relationship with God is good because Jesus paid the debt, and you know where God is leading you – to eternal life in heaven! Go in peace!

Go in peace! That’s The Road to Contentment. No matter how much or how little you or I might have, we have been blessed by God with the spiritual blessings we need and more than enough physical blessings to carry out his good and gracious purpose in life. May God open our eyes to his activity and blessing in our lives, and may he continue to walk with us every step of the way, because it’s only when we walk with God that we can stay on The Road to Contentment and all the blessings found there. Amen.