Monday, July 8, 2013
2nd Kings 5: 1-14, OT page 336 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and he halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. Sermon People will try all kinds of things to be healed. I took a fly ball to the nose when I was on the high school baseball team – one of my more embarrassing experiences – and ever since this injury I have been particularly susceptible to sinus infections and I will do almost anything to get rid of them. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one before – maybe you’ve never heard of it – but one of the things I’ve used to try and get rid of a sinus infection is called a neti-pot. There’s not much to it, it’s pretty much a clay pot with a long nozzle that you use to shoot salt water up your nose. Ideally the salt water goes up one nostril and out the other, taking with it any pollen, dust, or bacteria that’s causing the problem, but the first time I ever tried it the salt water went up one nostril and never came out. After that I took up the habit of trusting a doctor with this sort of thing, and I’m thankful for Dr. Corbin who has taken care of a number of my sinus infections, though the last time I went to see him I was a little disappointed. He was kind enough to see me in his office, looked up my nose to see whether or not my sinuses were swollen, and then broke the news to me – that in fact I didn’t have a bacterial sinus infection this time, it was viral, and the thing about a virus is that a lot of the time you just have to wait it out. This was disappointing, because what I wanted was some medicine to fix it. He told me that he would not prescribe me an anti-biotic because it wouldn’t do any good against a virus, and I guess that makes sense, but there’s something about a prescription, going to the drug store, picking up your medicine that ensures me that everything is going to be better soon. I tried to trust his professional opinion. I tried to wait out that virus. But two days later I called him back because I was sure my sinus infection had gotten worse and I was sure that I needed some medicine. In the back of my mind I was also sure that he was sorry he had me as a patient, but Dr. Corbin remained gracious and he told me he’d call a prescription in at the pharmacy, so about an hour later I picked up an orange pill bottle that was probably filled up with tick-tacs – and even if it was I don’t really care because it’s hard for me to believe that getting healed is as easy as just waiting a few days. No – getting healed must be complicated. It must take work. Surely being healed can’t be as easy as just waiting, drinking plenty of fluids, getting a little more rest than usual, or taking a bath in a river. When Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and “he halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house, Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” Naaman heard this simple piece of medical advice and he automatically believed that the prophet wasn’t taking his illness seriously. Then he considered the messenger who delivered the prescription and assumed that the prophet wasn’t taking him seriously either, and storming off angry he cried out, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” He did not, and to make matters worse, Naaman is offended by the whole idea that the brown waters of Israel would heal him when the waters of his home land could not. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” he asks, “Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” Of course Naaman is not the prophet and I’m not a doctor, but that didn’t keep either one of us from our preconceptions about what would make us well. A preconception is a funny thing. Some people would look at our new friend Dakota Hill and assume that because of his youth he’d never be interested in something as old fashioned as a pipe organ. Some people look at me and assume I’m the son of the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church. And maybe not most people, but certainly a lot of people, drive or walk by this church with its columns and its windows and assume that this place must be full of the stogy and the wellborn, the self-righteous and the self-important. They’d be wrong, but a preconception is a funny thing because it can’t replace the truth but it sure will get in the way of finding it. There are plenty of people who can’t let go of their preconceptions about young people, old people, church people, what it takes to be healed, what it takes to be happy, and certainly people have preconceptions about what it will take to be forgiven. Naaman’s preconceptions were so strong he nearly walks off without being healed because he is so sure of the form his healing will take. The prophet will emerge from his tent, kiss his feet, thank him for coming all the way out to the back country of Israel – then he’ll wave his hand over the spot and will vacuum the leprosy right off his body in a burst of flame and smoke – surely it will take something magical to rid this man of a disease that has marked him for so long. Surely it can’t be as simple as getting into a river. A river is just water. There’s nothing to it. He could have also looked down his nose at the slave girl who urged him to seek out help in the prophet of Israel, this girl captured in a raid who claimed that Naaman could be healed. It’s easy to assume that if the great doctors of his homeland, if the powerful and prestigious of Aram didn’t know where to go than why would a slave girl have any answers? And so we go to the top – for advice we seek out the successful, the ones who have made it; who can help me lead a life worth living – surely the banker or the counselor can help, but does not the homeless man on the corner, also have something to teach you and me about what it takes to make it in this world? Maybe? But I have a feeling that for you, and by you I really mean me – I assume that for me the assumption is most often that real answers, real solutions must be paid for, must be sought out, must be worked for – that healing must at least require a plane trip to another city and forgiveness must at least require a little bit of pain. That’s what I assumed when I was a child. In a game of baseball I got a hit, and instead of dropping the bat behind me I slung it back to hit the catcher, who wasn’t wearing a mask, squarely in the teeth. I was completely prepared to never play baseball again. I was also prepared to never again leave my room to avoid the risk of seeing that teammate of mine. I don’t know what I thought would happen when I would face him – would he want to sling a baseball bat into my teeth? I had no idea, but surely he wouldn’t want to be friends again. However, for some reason my father got the idea that I was being a little overly dramatic and so he forced me to pick up the phone to call him. What would I say I wondered? My father said, “You’ll tell him that you’re sorry and I bet he’ll forgive you.” “It can’t be that simple,” says my preconception. But my father told me that it could be and who do you think was right. Just this morning, the Rev. Jennie Barber told you all that having confessed your sins you are now forgiven, but I’m confident that many of you don’t believe her because you have preconceptions about forgiveness too. That somehow the punishment should fit the crime, that the magnitude of what you did wrong should be matched by the magnitude of what it will take to make it right again, that having fallen from grace you’ll have to climb back up for the rest of your life if you ever stand the chance of reaching forgiveness at all, but that just isn’t how God works and you can’t let your preconception about God replace the truth about God. Elisha sent out a messenger to give Naaman some simple instructions – and you must let me give you some simple instructions as well. Forgiveness is for you. If it is for the general of a foreign army surely it is for you. And if the waters of the river could wash off that man’s leprosy who is to say what the waters that you were baptized by can or can’t do. Surely your preconceptions will get in the way, just as preconceptions always do. Surely you will find yourself feeling as though you can never be forgiven and so the best option will be to rejoice in other’s mistakes feeling as though if you can’t be made right at least they can’t either, but before you walk away from this place settling for something so shallow - remember that had the prophet commanded Naaman to do something difficult he would have done it – how much more should you believe when all it takes is to wash and be clean? Amen.