February 12, 2012 2 Kings 5:1-14
Like most of the people in this room, I grew up with the understanding that there are basically two ways of getting what you want in the world without committing a crime.
One is to work hard, save your money, and buy it.
The other is to learn some skills and make it yourself.
I never was very handy…so I learned early that I had to either get a job and enter the world of paychecks…or live a life of crime! 🙂
My attitudes toward work and saving were formed by my upbringing.
My parents taught me that I can do whatever I want with my money…but first I had to earn it.
So, when I was 12 or 13, I started painting houses with my dad in the summers. He worked in the school system, so he spent his summers painting houses for a little extra income (plus I think it helped keep us kids out of trouble).
I painted enough summers that I had enough money to buy my first car for $600 when I turned 16 and got my license.
That car and my drivers license expanded my earning potential.
I got a job at a grocery store in a neighboring town, so I could earn money all year long while I was in high school, not just in the summers.
I loved the summers though, because I could work all day painting with my dad, I could work in the evenings at the store, and I could work on Saturdays, too.
I didn’t have a plan or a goal for my money… I just assumed having more was better than not having any.
It’s the story I was taught and it’s the story I still believe to some extent.
It’s the story of accumulation, and it has it’s roots planted firmly in the soil of scarcity; not abundance.
The story goes that there isn’t enough money, and that the more you have, the better off you’ll be. In this story, it’s OK if you don’t really know what you want to do with you’re money…because you will need it someday. For something.
So you accumulate it. You save it up, because you’ll never have enough.
And in that story, at least the version I grew up with, you don’t buy things that you want, because that subtracts from your bottom line. You might need something in the future, so you don’t waste your money on many toys or luxuries.
You only buy what you need in that story, and even when you need it, you find the cheapest price you can find, because you want to make your hard-earned money stretch as far as you possibly can.
Is this sounding familiar to anyone? I’m guessing I’m not alone in growing up with this particular story of scarcity and accumulation.
There are variations…maybe in your story, the point of accumulating was to buy what you wanted instead of only what you needed.
Or on the other side, maybe in your story, it’s pointless to try to save money because it’s so scarce that it’s pointless to try, or the only thing you’re accumulating is debt.
This isn’t going to turn into a financial workshop…I just think these stories of scarcity and accumulation have a lot to do with the story of Naaman as we read it in 2 Kings! 🙂
See, we share a common story with Naaman,…even though this all happened thousands of years ago in a context that couldn’t be more foreign to us.
It’s the story that if you do your job and do it well, you’ll be rewarded.
It’s the belief that the more stuff you have, the more successful you’ve been, and it’s the belief that we basically control our lives and our destiny.
This story really hasn’t changed that much over the years. It’s the story that says you need to work hard, please your masters and look out for yourself.
It was working for Naaman, and works for us, too.
Naaman had risen through the ranks until he was the commander of the army of Aram, which is modern-day Syria (May God help the people living there now).
Naaman had acquired wealth, privilege, and power because he had done his job well and used the skills that he had to accomplish great things for the king of his country.
He knew how to get ahead. He knew what it took to succeed in this world, and he was doing it.
He had just one problem; he was afflicted.
The Bible calls it leprosy. It was probably something different than what we know today as leprosy, but nevertheless it was some kind of skin disease that was causing Naaman a lot of discomfort, pain, maybe even embarrassment.
And you know, I’m not sure the Hebrew people would have had a lot of sympathy for Naaman.
We do, because we appreciate the position and the power that he had earned. He was kind of the model American, pulling himself up by his bootstraps and “getting it done”.
We have enough distance both in time and geography from the OT, that we’re not real emotional about it.
But I’d like to point out that a story about God healing the commander of an opposing army would raise a few red flags in the minds of the people who first heard about it.
It would be like us hearing a story about one of our political enemy’s military leader…the problem is we have so many enemies today that it’s hard to pick one!
So let’s just call Naaman a Terrorist. A really well-respected, highly regarded terrorist who has proven himself capable and skillful in battle…but still, a terrorist.
I realize that might be an offensive reading of this passage for some of us, but if you’ll look down in verse 2, you’ll see part of what I’m talking about. Some bands from Aram had gone out and taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel.
You don’t take captives from your friends. You take them from your enemies.
And you don’t just ask nicely for captives…you take them by force.
So it might be a stretch to call Naaman a terrorist…but at the very least he was the enemy.
And in his house there was a slave girl who served his wife.
She had been taken captive from the land of Israel, and Naaman’s family was now enjoying the fruit of her labor.
Captives end up serving their captors.
The story of scarcity turns people into possessions.
I don’t get people’s hang-up about the Old Testament being outdated or irrelevant. So much of this stuff could have been written yesterday!
We’re still acting out the same stories, and God’s grace is still breaking through, carried on the voice of the weakest and most powerless actors in history. Captive children and nameless servants point the way for rich, powerful, well-respected Naaman.
And just like the powerful in our world still do, Naaman listens, but he listens on his own terms.
He goes to the king of Israel instead of the prophet.
In Naaman’s view of how things work, the king is the one who makes things happen.
In Naaman’s world, there is no greater power than the king, and there is nothing more valuable than silver and gold and fine clothing…well, there is one thing more valuable; his physical health.
So he takes piles and piles of silver and gold and clothing; so much that he needed horses and chariots to move it. He takes it to the king of Israel, hoping to buy his health.
Have you ever wanted anything that bad–that you’re willing to pack up and part with everything that’s worth anything to you in order to seek it out?
But I’m losing the focus of my sermon…because this isn’t really a story about Naaman; it’s a story about God reaching beyond the boundaries of Israel; or in Naaman’s view, beyond the rivers of Damascus.
It’s a story about life that’s more abundant than Naaman’s silver and gold and it’s about a love that’s stronger than the bonds of slavery.
It’s a story about abundance; not scarcity…generosity; not accumulation.
Naaman’s story is about the healing that comes when you finally release your expectations about how healing happens and open yourself to it.
This is a sermon I’ve preached a hundred times if I’ve preached it once; that God’s healing touch comes in ways we can’t expect, through people we deem unworthy, in places we consider unholy. It’s an upside-down way of doing business in our minds…and yet, we do need healing!
Our healing comes not from defeating our enemies or accumulating gold and silver and lots of fine clothing. Rather, we are healed when we seek out our enemies, and open ourselves to receive from them what we cannot do on our own.
Naaman got it wrong two or three times in this story. He goes to the king instead of the prophet.
Then he’s offended when Elisha himself doesn’t come do the healing in person.
Finally, he gets mad and wants to storm off when he hears he’ll have to dip in the Jordan; but the voices of his nameless servants intervene.
The lesson is clear…Hear the voice of the weak! Listen to the nameless among you.
Naaman gets it wrong time after time…but in the end, he’s healed, his flesh is restored like a young boy.
He’s transformed into a new, fresh kind of person; that’s what happens when you’re touched by God.
And you know, the religious establishment doesn’t generally get that.
And before we get too smug…let me say that I think we are the religious establishment. Not just Christine and I…but everyone in this room is the religious establishment.
Jesus points to this story in Luke chapter 4. It’s towards the beginning of his ministry, he’s tested in the wilderness, then he goes into the temple, takes the scroll and reads the verses that will define his ministry; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He sits down after that, and begins to talk, and it says the people are all for him. It says they spoke well of him, and they were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.
Then he references two stories about God’s abundance reaching beyond Israel, even though there was plenty of need in Israel itself.
One of those stories is the story of Naaman here in 2 Kings.
When he does that, the formerly pleasant and supportive crowd gets ready to throw him off a cliff!!
These aren’t just children’s bedtime stories! We need healing from something far deeper than leprosy. We need cleaned up and restored in a way that only God can do.
I’m in the process of finding my way out of that scarcity story I was talking about earlier.
I’ve been finding my way out for about 16 years; I don’t think I’ll ever get there, not without help.
I want to live in God’s wholeness and abundance; but I’m often drug towards it kicking and screaming, you know?
God loves us; so much that He sent his son to us; all of us!
Our enemies and our friends!