This Week’s Sermon – Being Made Clean

Hi everyone! Here is this Sunday’s sermon. I’ll be on vacation for two weeks, so I’ll continuing posting when I return. I pray God continues to bless you in unexpected ways!

SCRIPTURE – 2 Kings 5:1-14

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

 SERMON

Being Made Clean
2 Kings 5:1-14
July 8, 2007

As some of you may know, back in the fall I was struck with a case of vertigo. If you’re not familiar with it, vertigo is an affliction of the inner ear which causes extreme dizziness, sweating, and nausea, which also describes how I felt on my first date.. I had never experienced vertigo before, and after that episode, I never wanted to again. But it continued to linger. Anytime I would lay straight back, or lay on my back and turn to one side, the symptoms would hit. So I went to see an ENT doctor about it.

He told me I had Benign Postural Positional Vertigo. There was medicine to treat the symptoms, but the only way to completely get rid of it was a type of physical therapy called desensitization therapy. That basically means that you create the symptoms over and over again until your body is desensitized, or gets used to it. That would be like saying you should hit yourself in the head with a hammer over and over again until your skull thickens up enough to not feel it. I was not happy with the doctor’s orders, and had no intention of following them.

That must have been how Naaman felt when he heard Elisha’s prescription to cure his leprosy. Naaman was a high-ranking general in the Aram army. He was known for his great prowess on the battlefield, and had been instrumental in many of Aram’s victories. Naaman was very valuable to the king; he had everything going for him.

Except one thing. He came home from his latest battle with a small patch of discolored skin, and this patch threatened everything Naaman valued. It reminds me of the scene at the beginning of the movie “Philadelphia,” when a co-worker in Tom Hanks’ law firm notices that Hanks has a small lesion on his forehead. Hanks tried to shrug it off, but the co-worker recognized it for what it was: the first signs of the HIV virus. Hanks ends up losing his job because of it.

Naaman must have felt the same way. He knew how lepers were treated. They were outcasts in society, no one wanted to touch them or be around them. That had no status or rights in society. This patch of skin threatened to take Naaman from the very top to the very bottom.

That may explain why Naaman, the five-star general, is willing to listen to someone as insignificant as a Hebrew slave girl, who tells Naaman’s wife that healing can be found back in the enemy territory of Israel. I love it when God chooses to work through people like the Hebrew girl. A shepherd named Moses takes on Pharaoh, an unmarried virgin girl bears the Messiah, 12 blue-collar workers become disciples. God does some of His best work through ordinary people.

Naaman is so desperate for a cure – after all, he doesn’t want to lose his status! –that he listens to the girl and petitions his king to send him to Israel. Naaman goes, and after being snubbed by the king, is sent to the house of Elisha, a famous prophet and successor of Elijah. Now, I’m guessing that Elisha didn’t live in some big mansion. Prophets were known more for their meagerness than their lavishness. So imagine the scene the Bible describes to us when it says, “so Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’ house.” It would be like the presidential motorcade making a stop at some out-of-the-way dilapidated country shack to visit the man who claimed to be abducted by aliens. This is a case of power and prestige meeting head-on with the local loony.

Imagine Naaman’s mindset as his full military entourage arrives. “This will be the pinnacle of Elisha’s career. Imagine, he gets to heal me! He must be so excited that I’m coming. He’s probably already updating his resume. I better get my autograph-signing hand loosened up.”

But he doesn’t quite get the fall-at-his-feet greeting he expected. First, Elisha sends out a messenger to talk to Naaman. The commander of an army shows up at your doorstep and you send out the intern? Not only that, but the intern delivers these instructions: go wash yourself in the Jordan seven times and you will be clean.

This is not what Naaman expected. Don’t they know who he is? He stomps off in a huff and says, “I thought for sure Elisha himself would come out, call upon the name of his god, wave his hand a few times, and heal me. I’ve got rivers back home that are a lot cleaner than the Jordan. I could have just stayed there.” If he doesn’t follow these instructions he’s going to die of this hideous disease, but hey, at least his pride is intact.

Naaman is suffering from an affliction even more destructive than leprosy; he is suffering from immediacy. It’s a disease that runs rampant today, and is only made worse by our increasingly technological society. Do you remember your first microwave? I do. We got it in 1978. I think it weighed about 800 pounds and took up half the kitchen. But it worked! And what precedent did it set? That we no longer had to wait a whole 30 minutes for our food to be cooked.

The disease of immediacy has run rampant since then. ATMs, drive-thru windows, self-service checkout lanes at the grocery. We design everything to save time. You’re probably thinking right now that this sermon should be shorter! Instant mashed potatoes, instant delivery, instant credit, instant messaging. Leonard Sweet said the only thing we’re missing is an instant God!

That’s what Naaman was looking for. He didn’t want to go through the hassle of following Elisha’s instructions. He wanted an instant healing. Come out, wave your hand a few times, and – poof! – the leprosy is gone and he can be on his way back to his cushy life in Aram.

I believe what Elisha did by giving Naaman a more time-consuming cure was to heal him of his immediacy while he was healing him of his leprosy. He’s showing Naaman that, no matter how big and power and wealthy Naaman gets, the world still revolves on God’s time, not his.

God’s time. That’s a phrase we heard a lot on our mission trip to New Orleans a couple weeks ago. When we arrived there and saw the work that needed to be done, we had a clear sense and an ambitious goal of what we wanted to accomplish. On Monday we devised our plan and set out to complete it. Yet it became very clear to us that we weren’t going to get done what we wanted to get done. The work was slower. We had to correct mistakes made by previous groups. The angles of the wood trim didn’t fit together like we thought they would. And this was very frustrating for us.

And then the lesson smacked us upside the head. We’re not working on our time; we’re working on God’s time. And God has good reasons for why we won’t accomplish what we want to accomplish. Maybe the group that follows us needs to be the ones to finish the work. Or, as I suspect, maybe God was trying to slow us down for another reason.

Jesus was a carpenter, so he might have known the saying, “You can build it the quick way, or you can build it the right way.” I spent most of the week in New Orleans working on building plywood boxes to cover up exposed beams in the church sanctuary. There were a number of beams to cover, so I started out the week in high gear, quickly taking measurements and making cuts and constructing the boxes.

And they didn’t fit. Inevitably one side came up too long, or another board was too short. It wasn’t until the third box, when Laura Fisher took over the measuring, that we got it right. But she took forever! I stood beside her gunning the saw. “C’mon! We got boxes to build!” But she methodically measured and re-measured, and the box she measured is the only one in the sanctuary that is perfect.

We’ve constructed a world around us where time is saved and instant is the norm, especially for those of us who live in Naaman’s well-to-do neighborhood. We may shave minutes and seconds off our daily lives by taking shortcuts or using instant somethings, but none of that changes God’s time, or the length of our days here on earth, or how God chooses to use us and respond to us.

Naaman learned what we all learn at some point. True healing never comes easily. I’ve yet to meet someone who said a person waved her hands a few times and healed him of his deepest wounds. That would be the spectacular way to do it, wouldn’t it? But God more often chooses to work through the ordinary, and that can take time and effort and mundane repetition. How many counseling sessions? How many chemo treatments? How many times do I wash in the Jordan?

We have the luxury of enjoying a lot of instants in our lives, but we do not have access to an instant God. Sometimes our healing comes in a muddy little creek, at the urging of some ordinary servant, in some mundane way. Does that make it any less of a healing? We are on God’s time. It may not happen when we want it to happen, how we want it to happen, in the way we want it to happen. But it will happen. In God’s time.

QUESTIONS
1 – What time-saving device in your life (microwave, GPS navigational system, cell phone, etc.) do you believe is the most beneficial?

2 – Have you ever been frustrated by God’s timing?

3 – When has being patient with God paid off for you?

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