Sermon, July 3, 2022

A Sermon


The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton

Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

July 3, 2022

“Being Open to the Healing we Seek”

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.            2 Kings 5:12[i]

            Naaman wasn’t just any Syrian.  He was a renowned warrior.  A general who stood in good standing with the king of Syria.  And Syria?  An enemy to the state of Israel, an imposing threat on Israel’s northern border.

            But there is more.  He was a leper.  A social outcast.  Respected for his feats on the battlefield, he nevertheless would seldom been invited to dinner.  People would have kept their distance.

            And now as we come to the celebration of our nation’s birthday, America seems afflicted with its own case of leprosy.  This is a sermon meant for me as much as it is meant for you and a wider American audience.  I have come to see some of my fellow Americans as leapers, as those I would seek to avoid rather than embrace.  In today’s New York Times there is an article with this headline, “’Spurred by the Supreme Court, a Nation Divides Along a Red-Blue Axis’.  On abortion, climate change, guns and much more, two Americas — one liberal, one conservative — are moving in opposite directions.”[1]
            Naaman had the good sense to seek a cure.  He went to the shamans and gods of his native land.  They proved impotent, unable to provide the cure Naaman so desperately sought.  But he was seeking the cure in the wrong places.  Could it be his cure resided in a foreign land.?  Could his healing await him amongst the enemies of Syria? 

He would have never known had it not been for a slave girl captured by the Syrians in a battle with Israel.  She knew where the healing powers of God resided.  She knew who could unleash the healing of the one true God of the universe.  It was a prophet living in her native land.  She told her mistress, Naaman’s wife, of Elisha and where he might be found.  From the lips of a nobody came the answer — an answer that led Naaman to the enemy of his people.

            How we wait for the answer to the disease that afflicts our nation by looking to the powerful to lead us out of our demise.  We turn to the movers and shakers of our nation — to politicians, artisans, political pundits, those we deem wise.  But they too often have the leprosy of their ideology.  They, too, are lost souls in need of healing.

            We are not alone in this miscalculation.  Naaman and his patron, the king of Syria, decide to heed the advice of a captured slave, but only in part.  They are men of power, the ruler of a nation, and a man in charge of his nation’s army.  A mere prophet?  He is the one who will unleash the cure?  No.  It cannot be.  Such power resides with the powerful.  So they assemble a vast tribute of gold and garments and an entourage of 50 soldiers and set off to see the king of Israel.  But Israel’s king believes this is a set up, a pretext for armed aggression; for Naaman has come with a letter from a Syrian king informing the king of Israel to heal his servant, Naaman.  These men of power who deal daily in the art of intimidation and cunning, are not the ones who can cure the leprosy of Naaman.  They are not the ones who can cure the leprosy of America.

            Elisha hears of the Israeli king’s torment.  He tells the king to send Naaman to him.  He will cure the man through the power of God.  The first sign of wisdom is the King of Israel knowing that does not have the power to heal Naaman.  When you are a person of power, it becomes difficult to admit the limits of the power you yield.

             Naaman goes to Elisha, but again, like a man of power, he does not go as a supplicant but with 50 men of war and a caravan of treasure.  Naaman halts at the entrance to Elisha’s house, his power clearly on display.  And how does the prophet respond?  He does not even greet this great man but sends a messenger instead.  It is the messenger who tells Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river.  Simple, right?  No voice from heaven, no thunderous storm on the horizon, no quaking of the earth.

            Naaman, the leaper, the one in need of being cured, is now in a rage.  The prophet did not even greet him personally.  Is his cure so mundane that a messenger delivers the means for the cure?  In front of his men, he is told to do what anyone could do.  Take a bath.

            Naaman and our nation may have something in common.  Filled with pride and assured of our own convictions, we refuse the healing that God’s grace can bring.  I am a proud American who finds himself ashamed of what we have become.  Given over to violence in the name of our convictions, unable to see the humanity in those we oppose, sacrificing truth on the altar of our ideology.  We are falling further away from the promise of democracy and embracing autocracy.  We, like Naaman, may fail to see that in the simple act of humility rests our cure.

            Naaman finally sees, finally obeys, finally baths in the Jordan, finally confesses the power of Yahweh to heal what others could not.  Will we?  Let us pray….

[1] New York Times, July 3, 2022

[i] 2 Kings 5:1-14

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. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5And 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. 6He 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.” 7When 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.”8But 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.”

9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11But 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! 12Are 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. 13But 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’?” 14So 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.