Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sermon, Epiphany 6B, 2 Kings 5:1-14

What are you searching for? Health and happiness? Wealth and security? The answer to life, the universe and everything? On some level, we are all searching for something. Maybe you know what you are searching for, or maybe you don't. I happen to think that most people are searching for God; or, if not God, their idea of some higher spiritual power.

That search can take a person to a variety of places. It can take you to the monks in Nepal or the solitaries in the desert. It can lead you to explore the holistic spirituality of the pagans or to participate in Native religions. It might even lead you into the mountains of our own area to simply be with God.

But wherever that search takes you, I would argue that it is based on a deep need and desire to find wholeness. I think overall health comes from three areas: physical, material and spiritual. Are we healthy physically? Do we take good care of our bodies? Are we healthy materially? Do we have the basics of shelter, clothing and some sense of financial safety? Are we healthy spiritually?

I think it is that last one that causes us to wander and search the most. Maybe you've heard the saying that we have a God-shaped hole in our lives; so we work to fill that hole in a variety of ways, some of which I've already mentioned. In short, we are looking to be healed and made complete.

This is Naaman. He was searching for something that would heal him. Being a leper, he was a social outcast and he wanted more than anything to be seen as normal, healthy and whole. This could have been why he was such a successful military commander, because he overcompensated for his physical deformity.

Into this story steps a captured Israelite slave girl who basically says, "You need to go see the prophet in Israel."

So Naaman, the great warrior, the supreme commander of the Aramean army, goes to Israel taking a boatload of money and gifts, eventually making his way to Elisha. Upon arriving at Elisha's house, a servant is dispatched telling Naaman what Elisha wants him to do: Go and wash in the Jordan seven times. After hearing the message, Naaman goes away angry. Why?

Well, there are several things at work here. The first is that Naaman was prepared to buy the services of Elisha, or maybe to bribe him. He was prepared to say, "I will give you all this silver and gold if you heal me."

Modern day examples of this include, "I will give $X to the church, hospital, school, symphony . . . if you only do what I ask you to do." One of my case studies in ethics had a scenario where a family was going to donate something like $1 million to a new cancer research facility as long as it was named after a family member who had died of cancer. The only problem was that the donating family had very large, and very public, ties to the mafia.

What Naaman and many other people need to learn is that God's favor, grace and love can't be bought. We do not give to organizations, the church in particular, in order to gain God's favor or to secure a place in heaven. We give as a sign of our thanks to God. We give back to God the first and best we have to offer because God gave us his first and best in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.

Second, Naaman was caught up in his own self-importance. He was a successful warrior. He was the supreme commander of the Aramean army. He was SOMEBODY. And yet, when he arrives at Elisha's house, Elisha doesn't even bother to come out to greet him. Instead, he sends a servant to give him a message.

What might this look like today? Let's suppose that I have a stroke of genius and write a treatise on how to solve the economic downturn. And let's suppose this treatise not only makes sense, but ends up on the President's desk. And let's suppose the President wants to meet me and discuss the situation, so he shows up at my door one day. What do I do? I hand the paper to my daughter and say, "Here, give this to the man and tell him to read it and do what it says."

Not likely, but the point is that Naaman felt he was not being given the honor due his name. He was not being shown the respect he deserved. But guess what? In God's eyes we are all equal. In God's eyes, there is no puffed up, artificial honor because of your title. Instead, God honors us and respects us because he created us and because we long to be near him.

And finally, Naaman was disappointed in the simplicity of it all. He expected a big show. He expected Elisha to come out, call on God, maybe speak in tongues, and wave his hands over the infection and have the leprosy disappear before his very eyes. He expected something dramatic. Or maybe, as his servant suggested, he expected to have to perform some difficult task.

What he got instead was a command to wash in the Jordan seven times. "That's IT?? That's all I have to do?? The Jordan isn't all that great a river. It's dirty and muddy. It's small. It's not even pretty. How can a simple thing like washing in that dirty, little river make me clean?" But he did. He took the simple step of getting into the water and he was made clean.

It's this last and most important point I want you to remember; because if you take nothing else from today's sermon, take this. We are all searching for something, you, me and Naaman. We all desire to be healthy, whole and complete. There are things we can do physically to make that happen. There are things we can do materially to make that happen (yes, even in this economy). And there are things we can do spiritually to make that happen.

Like Naaman, who was told to simply go wash in the River Jordan, our answer is just as simple. The answer to the beginning of spiritual well-being, health and wholeness is simply this: come to church. That's it. It doesn't require a big show. It doesn't require dramatic theatrics. It doesn't require mountain climbing, days of fasting or wandering through the desert. All it requires is your attendance on Sunday morning.

But know this: stepping into the river and coming to church is the easy part. Once in, you will have to deal with an ever-changing current. You will have to step in and struggle through the mud. You will have to be willing to get dirty. You will have to contend with temperature changes that both warm you and shock you. You might even have to be willing to step in over your head.

When you talk about God to other people, tell them that sometimes the beginning of the answer is as simple as wading in the water of the church every Sunday. Yes, the water may be cold, it may threaten to sweep you off your feet, it may be dirty; but it is also full of other people who don't want to see anyone drown.

So let's take that first, easy step and wade in the water of the church; and then together we can deal with the current, the mud, the dirt and everything else that makes that first step the easy one.


First time comments will be moderated.