Monday, July 08, 2013

Naaman's Road (and ours)

Preached on July 7 in the Throop and Dunmore churches.

(Naaman's Road is a major road in Northern Delaware, near where I have a lot of hometown ties.  This has nothing to do with that street!)

It’s an interesting story to think about, when you put it into our context.  Essentially, a foreign and sometimes enemy official is advised by a captured prisoner of war to travel to the prisoners’ native land to be healed of a disease that the officials' own country cannot cure.

We hear of world leaders going to their allies for medical care, like Chavez to Cuba before he died, but not often their enemies.  But that is what this official does.  And this official isn’t just going to a healer.  He is going to a religious leader, and the cure involves the God of his enemy. 

When you put it into our context, it becomes a little hard to believe, doesn’t it?

To take it a step further, how would you feel if the country was the United States, and the foreign dignitary was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the recent president of Iran?

Wouldn’t we be seeing this on the news for days?  Wouldn’t there be debates between those who would want to bar him entry, and those who wanted to extend grace?

I have no doubt that, as a nation, we would ultimately do what was necessary, do the right thing, but you would probably agree that there would be a fair amount of fuss.

What I think is also true, unfortunately, is that Ahmedinejad has talked himself into such a corner with regard to the US that he could never accept the invitation to be healed here.

There are two things going on in our story.  Yes, it is true that Israel offers an enemy healing, but it is also that Naaman must accept that Israel (or at least, Israel’s God) can heal him.  It means that his Gods couldn’t.  What makes it worse is that, as we’ll see, the program that Elisha puts him on is so easy, he reacts by saying he could have done it at home. 

But apparently not.  Apparently he needed to make the journey.

What is true is that there is something about Israel and Israel’s God.  Something that even their enemies knew about. 

The King of Israel doesn’t seem to be in this loop.  He receives the letter from the King of Aram, and somehow he has forgotten about Israel’s God, and it’s prophets, because his first thought is that the letter is pretext for war-Naaman, this great Aramean general comes, cannot be healed, perhaps he accuses Israel of damaging him further, and off to war they go. 

Naaman knows Israel’s power.  Naaman knows that Israel fights, as the boxers say, “far above it’s weight.”  He knows that Israel’s God is powerful.  But what he is about to learn is that Israel’s God is also compassionate and merciful.  And this God has such a hold on the people who worship that this slave girl, this prisoner, still believes even though she is far away from home. 

So, based on the slave girl’s word, Naaman asks his king if he can go check it out.  The King assents, and sends along gifts and an introductory letter-doing the diplomatic thing, you know?

Naaman goes to the King.  Then he’s told to go to this prophet out in the sticks, and then, when Naaman presents himself outside the house, Elisha doesn’t even come out.  A bit of a blow to Naaman’s stature and ego, wouldn’t you think?  That’s certainly the impression he gives in the text.

I would imagine Elisha’s take is something along the lines of “piece of cake.  This is hardly any trouble for our God, I can even do this one by messenger.”

Naaman’s a little angry, wanting incantations, fire, fireworks, and it takes Naaman’s own servants to calm him down, and say to him “what’s the harm?  Easily done, taking seven baths in the river.  Why not try it out?”

So he does, and it works.  It doesn’t say how the Arameans and the Israelites’ diplomatic relationship improve after this, we don’t know.  But we know that there was an Aramean general who had a soft spot for the small adjoining country after this. 

You may not be aware of it, but we live in a world with many Gods just like Elisha and Naaman.  If you are of a certain age, you may not be aware because your social circle is probably filled with people who are similar to you, in belief and education and economic class. 

But when you go younger, into the 20’s and teens, you can’t take someone’s faith for granted.  There are people in these younger age groups who have never been to church, or synagogue, or mosque.  And it’s not a big deal, they’ve never been to France, either.  And maybe the trips seem equally daunting.  But there is no God as church people know God, so they are replaced with other Gods. 

Maybe there has never been divine experience at all, and they may call themselves atheists, but they are really agnostics. They’re people from Missouri’ they say ‘show me” when it comes to God. 

But we who are here this morning, and everyone in other churches, we all profess to believe in a God.  When you hear the Naaman story, and there is talk about “our God” and “their God”, it makes me wonder; Are we presenting our God properly?  If we

How do we talk about God in our everyday lives?  I’d be willing to bet (if Methodists bet, which they don’t) that we talk about God and our faith little to none.  It’s not polite.  It’s not seemly.  We don’t want to be known as Jesus freaks.  There are people that we can have a high level of trust with, and we may share our faith with them, but in general, we don’t talk about our faith.   You know, that’s ok, sometimes.  In our world, people do not do it well, and often, being asked about your faith is usually a pretext for that person to tell you about theirs.  I’d rather keep to myself, too.

But our God is relational.  Our God has a relationship with us.  Our best sharing of God is in a relationship with others.  The best relationships in our lives are ones of give and take.    

Let your lives be evidence of your belief.  Let your life be a witness.  Let your lives be lived in such a way that people want to know what that inner light is.  Live your lives in such a way that people have to ask why you do what you do.  Why do you go down to that place where the people are weird and smell funny?  Why do you give to that charity?  Why do you take a week of vacation to go to Mississippi to rebuild houses?  It’s your vacation!  Tell me at least there was one drink with an umbrella in it!

It’s just not what we do.  Vacations are not a bad thing, but our actions show our beliefs. 

Let your light shine.

That is who we are.  Let our lives be such that foreign dignitaries come to us for help and healing.     

Let our lives attract our enemies to our grace. 



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