“’tis the Gift to be Simple”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
2 Kings 5: 1-14
July 7, 2019
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! 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. – 2 Kings 5:11-12i
I don’t know how many of you are professional basketball fans. Probably not many. I am and having lived in the Boston area for a total of 27 years, I root for the Boston Celtics. One day I was watching a NBA game. Can’t remember who the Antonio Spurs were playing at the time, but at halftime, the game was far too close to call. In case you don’t know, Gregg Popovich is the head coach of the Spurs and he shows an open disdain for being interviewed. When they put a microphone up to his face, you can see that all Popovich wants is for this to be over. Well, the job of the halftime reporters is to get some sort of insight from the opposing coaches, to learn of any adjustments they made during halftime to insure victory. So our intrepid reporter asks Popovich what his team would have to do to win. Popovich replied, “Score more points than the other team.” Hoping for something a little more insightful, the reporter asked how his team planned on improving their shooting percentage. “Score more baskets,” Popovich responded. That was the end of the interview. Now Popovich could have gone into far more detail: get Tim Duncan the ball closer to the basket; run pick and rolls; set up a screen at the elbow for Tony Parker to come off of and watch him run the lane. All of that would have been insightful and far more complex than, “Score more points than the other team.” But Popovich would not be goaded into making the game any more complex than it needed to be. He kept his answers simple. So simple that most folks thought they lacked any real value.
Naaman, by any human measure was a great man. He commanded an army that had proven itself victorious on the battlefield and had gained the favor of Aram, the king of Syria, Israel’s sworn enemy. One might expect a victorious general to be a king’s favorite, but Naaman was different. He had leprosy. Remember AIDS back in the 1980’s? I do. My brother died in 1988 of an AIDS related illness. I remember our deep desire to go and visit him at his home in Alaska before he died. Ellen had just given birth to our second son and most of the world was ignorant about the risk people with AIDS posed to those who were around them. We asked our pediatrician if we should go. I mention this because leprosy in the time of Naaman had the same effect. Lepers were socially isolated, denied access to religious services and were avoided at all costs. Naaman was one of them. For him to have risen in importance and prestige made him unique.
But note who had befriended him. None other than the king of Syria. He traveled in the air of privilege and royalty. When he goes off with the king’s blessing to seek a cure from some prophet in Israel, he does what any billionaire would do. He assumes that he can buy his healing by bribing the healer and by demonstrating that he was a man to be reckoned with. And note where he goes. The first stop he makes is not to Elisha, the prophet, but to the king of Israel. He assumed that men of power were those with power. He was mistaken. The Israelite king was scared to death. Aram had written the Israeli king a letter. It asked the king to heal Naaman! The Israelite king cannot and he feared what failure might mean. Elisha, learning of the king’s distress, tells the king to send Naaman to him and the king sees that as a splendid idea. So Naaman comes to Elisha’s home, not a palace, and he shows up with a treasure and with chariots, engines of war. No one could miss how important Naaman was and that’s exactly what Naaman desired. He did not come as Naaman the leper but as Naaman the Conqueror.
Elisha appears unimpressed. He doesn’t even go out to greet Naaman. Elisha sends a messenger. The great Naaman in front of his formidable entourage, has to suffer the indignity of unimportance. Instead of some big show of healing, the waving of hands, the touch of a magic wand, the concocting of an exotic elixir, Elisha sends a messenger and tells Naaman to dip himself seven time in the Jordan river. It can be likened to some doctor telling you to take two aspirin and call in the morning! Like Gregg Popovich, the answer was so simple it seemed ridiculous.
Sometimes we make the Christian faith so complicated it becomes incomprehensible –doctrines some think you have to believe, actions you are called upon to take that most humans either will not or cannot achieve. Christianity can become so esoteric that its power is lost in our effort to make it complicated.
I was told by a Nigerian member of the church in Acton, Massachusetts, that our communion service surprised her. “Why?” I asked. Because we had made it like a funeral service. In Nigeria, they make it into a party. The resurrection, it seems, is not something that calls for mourning, but for joy. For her, every Sunday morning was a celebration, a party, a joy.
In South Africa, they had to live through the anguish and shame of Apartheid. Whites suppressed the majority in the name of a claimed superiority. One might expect the subjugated people to write songs of despair or blatant anger. Instead, they sang a song of joyous hope.
We march in the same joyous light of God. Come today, then, to this table not simply in reverence but with an unfettered joy fuelled by the incomprehensible love of God. Today, we need not dip ourselves seven times in the Jordan. We are called to live knowing we are loved. It is as simple as that. Let us pray….
i2 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.[a] 2 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. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”[b] 4 So Naaman[c] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 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. 6 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.”[d] 7 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?[e] Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8 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.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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![f] 12 Are not Abana[g] 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. 13 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’?” 14 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.