Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Sermon for February 5, 2023: Sometimes You've Just Got to Listen based upon 2 Kings 5:1-4, 9-14
2 Kings 5:1-4, 9-14
The Healing of Naaman
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 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. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.
So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 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.’ 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! 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. 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”?’ 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.
Our story today is not very long but has eight characters, two kingdoms, and one river. First, of course, the kings: There is the king of Syria. Whenever I mention the King of Syria, I need someone to knock these two sticks together.
Let’s practice: King of Syria *knock sticks*
And there is the King of Israel – a much smaller country, so other kings might think their king is less powerful, but he’s still a king. I need a person to beat a drum when you hear The King of Israel.
Let’s practice: King of Israel- bang a drum
And there is Naaman the general of the army of the King of Syria – another very important man. I need someone to jingle a bell when you hear the name Naaman.
Let’s practice: Naaman- jingle a bell
Naaman has a wife. The Bible doesn’t tell us her name. When I mention her, I need someone to knock on this block. And Naaman and his wife have enslaved a girl who Naaman captured during battle. She is one of the most important characters in this story. But we don’t know her name either. Let’s have someone shake maracas when I mention her. I need 2 people to shake maracas.
Naaman also has another slave, sort of his right-hand man. Let’s clang a triangle when you hear me mention him.
That is the cast in Syria. Over in Israel, there is also a prophet named Elisha. The prophet also has a servant. When I mention them, I want someone to knock on this hollow piece of wood.
There are several large, beautiful rivers in Syria, but for our story the important river is the muddy little Jordan River in Israel. When I mention the river, I want you to make river movements with your hand, like this: (wavey movement with hand)
Oh, our story involves a disease called leprosy. In her commentary on this passage, Dr. Wil Gafney says that the disease that is called leprosy here might not be exactly the same one that we call leprosy today. That one, which we can treat with modern medicine, was very scary when there was no medicine for it. It could give you sores and make it so you couldn’t feel parts of your body, which made it easier to get hurt.
Even if this disease wasn’t the same one that we call leprosy, people were still afraid of getting it and Naaman (jingle bell) would have been worried about having it. He would be afraid to be around his family and his soldiers. We have to remember that one feeling that is driving Naaman’s actions is fear. But that won’t be the only feeling.
Now that we have assigned sounds and explained who the people are and where they live, we are ready for our story. The begins with Naaman at home in Syria.
Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria, because the king felt that God had helped Naaman win important battles.
He was a respected soldier and he also suffered from a skin disease people were afraid of.
In one of their raids against Israel, the Syrians had carried off a little Israelite girl, who became a slave of Naaman’s wife. It was not right for them to take people and enslave them. But, this girl would end up helping Naaman, even though it would have been fair for her to not want to.
One day, the girl who had been enslaved said to her Naaman’s wife, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would take his skin disease away.” At that time, Samaria and Judah were the two parts of Israel. Samaria was the part in the North.
When Naaman heard of this, he went to his boss, the king of Syria and told him what the girl had said. The king said, “Go to the king of Israel and take this letter to him.”
So Naaman set out, taking 30,000 pieces of silver, 6,000 pieces of gold, and ten changes of fine clothes. His king had given him all of that stuff for the King of Israel, hoping that the gift would make it more likely that the King of Israel would help Naaman. The letter is supposed to help, too. It said something like: “This letter will introduce my officer Naaman. I want you to cure him of his disease.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he got scared. He worried that he wouldn’t be able to help Naaman and then the King of Syria would come attack his country. He said, “How can the king of Syria expect me to cure this man? Does he think that I am God, with the power of life and death? It’s plain that he is trying to start a quarrel with me!”
But, someone else was paying attention, a prophet named Elisha. God would inspire prophets who would then tell people, especially kings, how they were messing up and how they could stop messing up and do the right thing again. Elisha heard what had happened and sent word to the king of Israel: “Why are you so upset? Send the man to me, and I’ll show him that there is a prophet in Israel!” Remember how the girl who was capture talked about a prophet who could help Naaman... Well, who do you think that prophet is? Elisha. That’s right.
So Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and stopped at the entrance to Elisha’s house.
Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the River Jordan, and he would be completely cured of his disease. Elisha didn’t even go talk to the general himself.
Instead of being happy to hear that there was a cure, Naaman got really mad! Naaman said, “I thought that he would at least come out to me, pray to the Lord his God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and cure me! Besides, aren’t the rivers Abana and Pharpar, back in Damascus, better than any river in Israel? I could have washed in them and been cured!”
Naaman’s slaves went up to him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. Now why can’t you just wash yourself, as he said, and be cured?” See, these slaves are smart, too. Like the girl at the beginning of the story.
So Naaman went down to the Jordan (do you think he grumbled while he did it? I do). He dipped himself in it seven times, as Elisha had instructed, and he was completely cured. His fkin became healthy again He returned to Elisha with all his men and said, “Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel…”.
Now that all of the instruments helped us to listen closely to the story, I have some questions.
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.