“Great Expectations” – Sermon July 2


“Great Expectations” 

Rev. Allan Bash

II Kings 5: 1-14

Here it is, the 4th of July weekend and our scripture is about another military officer, not unlike the one we talked about on Memorial Day weekend when Karen and I started as your sabbatical interim pastors.

We are talking about Naaman this morning.  He was a great general not only because scripture says so, but also because he is one of a select few military people named in scripture.

William James in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, says that all religions have two things in common:  first that all religions describe the human condition; second that all religions describe the solution for that condition.  And this is where we meet Naaman today.  He was a great general.  He was well thought of by others.  He was in high favor with his king.  BUT, HE HAD LEPROSY.

Most of us, if we are honest, have our exceptions.  I enjoy singing in the choir.  BUT LINDA WISHES I’D LEARN TO COUNT.

On one of his raids into Israel, Naaman captured some people and brought them back to Syria (where have we heard that name before!)  One of the captives was a young girl Naaman gave to his wife as a servant.  There is no mention in the Bible about the anxiety and trauma that the girl’s parents experienced.  Then one day the little girl mentions to her mistress:  “If only your husband knew of the prophet in Samaria, he could be healed of his leprosy.”

Could this foreign captive be trusted?  Was the little girl lying?  Was this a trap?  Was this an ambush?

Finally the wife said to Naaman, thus and so said the little girl from Israel.  This was not an easy decision to make.  It would mean that there was a God in Israel more powerful that all the gods and goddesses in Assyria.  It is not easy to give up old gods.

But Naaman decides to tell his King, who encourages him to make the journey, gives him gold and silver, gives him fancy robes, and even writes a letter of introduction to the king of Israel.  But when the king of Israel reads the letter, he is convinced that Naaman is picking a fight, as the king cannot cure leprosy.  It is an honest mistake.  Even the Magi looking for the newborn king, went not to Bethlehem, but to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.  Looking to the powers that be, we often look to city hall, Santa Fe, or Washington D.C.

So the king is very upset, tears his clothes, only to have the prophet Elisha’s servant come and straighten every things out and redirect Naaman to the prophet.   Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, but Elisha stays inside.  He sends his servant out with the message to was in the Jordan River.

Now Naaman has brought all this gold and silver to impress this God that might heal him.  And in return, he expected something impressive from the God or at least from God’s prophet.  We sometimes get caught in this magical thinking.  If our worship is filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance, then God will be impressed.  If we dress well, if we give a lot of money, if we say the right words at communion, if…, if….

Naaman was angry that Elisha didn’t come out himself.  He was even more angry at the idea that he should wash in a dirty river like the Jordan.  He was headed back to Syria when his servant stopped him and convinced him to try what the prophet had said.  So Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan River seven times and on the last time, he came out clean.

This story teaches us several times.  First, it is important to give up old gods.  It’s not easy.  We lose old friends and have to make new ones.  Second, it is important to give up our pre-conceived ideas of how God operates and what to expect.  Third, and probably most important, pay attention to those small voices in our lives: a spouse, a child, a stranger, even the gentle silence of our own minds.