Filed under: Sermons | Tags: celebrity, epic, epic movie, leprosy, movie, prophet
2 Kings 5:1-15a
Luke 17: 11-19
I really like the story we read from 2 Kings. It has this dramatic quality to it. I can see the movie trailer- a grand opening scene of battle, spears on armor clashing, horses neighing, Naaman triumphantly victorious. Then the scene changes and the music mellows. Now soft strings playing a heart wrenching melody. Naaman the husband, ashamed of his disfiguring skin condition, his wife trying to assure him of her love. Then we hear a note of hope- their young Jewish slave girl speaks of healing in the land of Israel- a prophet with the power of the Jewish God. Perhaps it would go on to show the Aramean king frantically gathering his wealth to send to the Israelite king, in an attempt to use his influence to have his favorite military commander healed. Or the Israelite king tearing apart his clothes in fear and despair, knowing he cannot heal and fearing this to be an Aramean plot to have a reason to wage war.
Love, war, miracles, kings— these are the things of which epic movies are made!
And Naaman would have loved to know that there might be an epic movie about him. He is the great warrior of Aram, the land we now call Syria. His armies have been victorious! They have defeated Israel in battle. But like any epic hero, he is not perfect. He is marred by leprosy. What a twist of fate that now Naaman’s hope for healing comes from the witness of a young slave girl.
Naaman shows himself to be every bit the proud and well-recognized warrior. He must be used to people bending over backwards to serve him. Picture him, accompanied by great wealth, seeking to be healed, already humbled by needing to go to Israel for healing. He waits for this great prophet, this Elisha, who will be able to heal him. Perhaps he’s heard of Elisha’s predecessor Elijah and some of the great miracles he performed. Maybe he remembers how Elijah challenged the priests of the god Baal and in a grandly dramatic style called fire to a soaked stack of wood, proving that Israel’s god is the God with power. Did Naaman hope for some great show?
He was quite disappointed! The prophet doesn’t even come out to meet this great and powerful warrior. Elisha sends a message, with simple instructions- “go and wash in the river Jordan”. I can see Naaman pouting like a little boy. What happened to the extraordinary healing ceremony he had been picturing? What about how important a person he is? Where’s the recognition of his fame? What’s the deal with this prophet’s apparent scorn? And why should he go wash in Israel’s puny river when he could more easily bathe in the great rivers of his homeland?
Naaman loses sight of what he wants, and of the miracle he has been promised. It’s a good thing his servants act as friends and tell him to get over himself and receive his healing. Then he is able to recognize that there is a real God in Israel.
I want Naaman to be the star of the next epic movie. I want to watch him out on the silver screen because I don’t want his story right in front of me, as a silver mirror- showing me my own faults as I pick out Naaman’s. His story comes to me as Scripture, not cinema. One thing Scripture does is act like a mirror, showing us as we really are. What am I shown about my true sinful self? That I think I’m worth something. That when God speaks through the humble words of another- I’m not always ready to listen. That I still think my way is better than what anyone else has to offer.
When have we valued our own importance so much that we lose sight of what is freely offered to us? Our central belief is that God loves and claims us based on God’s own mercy and not on our merit. Our Lutheran focus on grace can be so difficult for us to grasp. We celebrate when a child is baptized with the simple element of water. And yet sometimes we falter when someone gets up in our face and asks- when were you saved?
When were you healed? Naaman wanted a big show or a daunting quest to be a part of his healing story. But God heals because God is a healing God, not because of a five-star performance.
As far as I know, Naaman hasn’t gotten a movie devoted to him yet. But he does get mentioned again in our Bible. As Jesus begins his ministry, speaking in the synagogue, he reminds the Jews that God’s prophets fed and healed those outside the Jewish circle. A foreign widow rather than the many starving Jewish widows received bread from Elijah, and a foreign warrior rather than the lepers of Israel received healing from Elisha.
Our reading from Luke highlights that the one leper who recognized Jesus as God there with him was a Samaritan, an outsider, a foreigner. Now, the other nine lepers did just as Jesus told them. They went off to the priests and they were healed. Their skin condition had made them outcasts in society, but they still knew society’s rules. They knew that only the priests could declare them healed and clean, able to join society once again.
But one returned to Jesus and praised him as God. This outsider might not have known all the Jerusalem Temple rules, but he recognized a miracle of God when he experienced it! He was not so entrenched in society’s hierarchy as the other lepers. His eyes were open to accepting God’s power being revealed in this teacher, this Jesus.
Naaman, the Samaritan leper, and God. What a cast! Surprising plot twists occur when God is found to be healing those outside the Jewish “in-group”. The expected thunder and lights of a miraculous healing are not to be found. The underdog becomes the celebrated model of thankfulness and praise. What a story!
But I’ll let you in on a little secret from the director. The credits aren’t ready to roll. The story’s not finished. Now we are the characters. God is still among us, healing, working miracles. God will continue to be true to God’s character- revealing Godself to and through the outcasts and foreigners. Will we celebrate God’s presence in the other? God is reaching out to us, to heal and to love, in the quiet and the simple.
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