2 Kings 5:1-14
On What We Want, How and When
July 3, 2022
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 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.
Galatians 6:1-2: My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Today’s sermon is titled On What We Want, How and When.
When we renovated our house, we decided to take out the dishwasher to gain more cabinet space. We had never had a dishwasher before, so it didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice. I have
come to regret that decision, over and over again. Can you imagine how many dishes and pots and pans a household of eight uses each day? I can tell you it’s about four sink fulls, on average. I estimate that people in my household spend about 45 minutes each day washing dishes. I am not one of the regular dishwashers. Up until this week, I would only do one load of dishes, begrudgingly, sometime over the weekend. I’m on bathroom duty, as a rule. The only reason I do one load is so I can wash the dish drainer trays once a week. If the dishwashers would properly wash and thoroughly rinse the dishes, the dish drainer trays would not need to be washed so often. It’s not easy living with so many people that hold a wide variety of standards for cleanliness.
I had a breakthrough this week. Like most breakthroughs, it came after a period of despair. I realized on Monday morning that, for years now, I have been making myself miserable trying, quite unsuccessfully, to rally my family to keep the house the way I want it kept. I expect it to be neat and (mostly) clean all the time and since I’m the only one working full time, I want them to do it and I want it done right (not their version of right, my version of right). I have high expectations; I know that about myself. Monday morning, I decided to take matters into my own hands and commit to spending an hour a day taking care of the things around the house that were bothering me the most. I am surprised to be able to tell you that I have really enjoyed it.
In my twenties, my friend Paige (also in her twenties then), said three words to me that I have always remembered. She said, “Expectations inhibit joy.” In hindsight, I can see how my disappointment about unmet expectations made it impossible to see what other people were doing to help around the house. I see how expectations can inhibit joy; expectations can inhibit other things, too. We see the truth of this unfold in the story we heard today, the story of Naaman. Naaman almost misses out on the healing he so desperately needs because he is holding on so tightly to his expectations of how he thinks things should be.
Naaman lived in Syria 800 years before the birth of Jesus. Naaman is the commander of the Syrian army and he is described as a very large man. I can not help but to picture our own Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, when I imagine Naaman. Naaman does not worship the Hebrew God; he worships Hadad, the thunder god, and since Naaman recently defeated the Hebrews in battle, we can safely assume that he thinks very little of their God.
The scriptures describe Naaman as a large, victorious, powerful male figure who, on the outside, is lacking nothing. On the inside, he is suffering from a debilitating disease. There is someone who will forever change the commander’s life and she could not be more different. She is described as a small, Hebrew slave girl taken from her homeland after Naaman’s army defeated her people. She was brought back as a gift to Naaman’s wife. It would be easy to imagine that the girl might be resentful and even view Naaman’s disease as his just deserts. It would be easy to imagine that she might find some degree of solace in his suffering, but instead, through a generosity of spirit, she tells of a Hebrew prophet that can cure him.
Naaman can not get there fast enough. With a letter from his own king, what would today be
80,000 dollars in cash, and a pile of new clothes, he leaves his home in search of help in the land he recently captured, from a prophet who serves an unknown God.
Naaman brings an invisible load of his expectations with him, too. He expects to be treated with all the respect he has grown accustomed to, he expects the King of Israel’s assistance, he expects to be granted an audience with the prophet, and perhaps he expects the “cure” to measure up to the complexity of his disease. What Naaman does not expect is the no-show prophet sending second-hand instructions to dip seven times into the river Jordan. Naaman is accustomed to bathing in the beautiful rivers of Damascus; how could the muddy-banked Jordan possibly hold something more? Enraged, he turns around to leave and it’s his own servants that coax him to reconsider.
What Naaman does not know is that the healing he is longing for is not in the water itself. Naaman’s healing comes first from a small, Hebrew girl held captive under his own roof. Then healing comes from Naaman’s willingness to turn to the knowledge of a culture he has deemed beneath him. Further healing comes from Naaman’s own servants who care enough to urge him to follow-through with the prophet’s instructions. Finally, Naaman let go of the last of his expectations and acted in trust; then his healing was complete, complete enough to be visible. Theologian William Sloane Coffin writes, “Faith is not believing without proof; faith is trusting without reservation.” Trust is not an easy feat for someone so accustomed to being in control.
In my opinion, the most striking part of Naaman’s story is this: Naaman was not required to profess his allegiance to God in order to restore his health. God’s grace does not discriminate. And to the extent we are able, I think we should be indiscriminate in extending our goodwill to
others. We should not be thinking in terms of who is worthy of what and how much. That is stingy and judgemental and a well-worn path to misery and discontent. That is a limiting, crippling and withering way to live. I know because I slip down that slippery slope all too often. That’s what happens when our expectations are unfulfilled and we begin to keep score. How easy it is then to draw lines that we refuse to cross. How easy it is then to draw lines to keep others at a distance, too. This is not the way of God.
The words from Paul in his letter to the Galatians offer us another, better alternative. He writes, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
In closing, I celebrate that God’s grace is available to each and every one of us. It may not come in the way we want it; it may not come how and when we expect it. Our work is to trust that we deserve it and that there is no one who is undeserving of God’s grace. May we be quick to set aside any expectations that may be robbing us of joy and healing and receiving. So be it. Amen.
Infinite Spirit we call God, I thank you for our pasts and all the experiences that have made us who we are, in this moment. May our lives be a testament to all we have learned along our life journey and may we be ever mindful to respect the chosen paths of our brothers and sisters, so that we not stand in judgment, but rather uphold each other in kindness and encouragement.
Help us, Lord, to be kind and encouraging with ourselves, as well, and remember that all change begins with us. May we radiate your love in all we think, say and do. May we all be ministers to those who are in need, giving of ourselves however we can. I pray for our nation this morning, Lord. May we grow ever more deeply into our democratic ideals and become a beacon of light for the world. I pray this in the name of Jesus, who gave us this prayer…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you now with the following preamble from our Declaration of Independence, signed on
July 2nd and ratified 240 years ago today, in the year 1776: “We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”