Preached by Terrell Carter on July 7, 2013
Have any of you ever been faced with a problem that caused you to go round and round in circles trying to figure out a solution. You may have tried several things to try to fix the situation, but nothing seemed to work. You bought things that you later found out were unnecessary. You paid a lot of money to find out that certain options wouldn’t work in the first place. You racked your brain and stretched your patience level over the situation only to find out that the best solution, the solution that would have worked the very first time, was one that turned out to be very simple.
Last year, during the hottest part of the summer, the central air conditioning unit at our home would not work. Now, I’m not necessarily a whiz when it comes to electrical equipment, but I do know my way around an electrical panel, so I figured I could call a friend who is a HVAC certified repair technician and he could walk me through the process of fixing the problem.
After his first trip to my home, he thought it was a faulty set of breakers in the electrical panel. I replaced the breakers, and….the problem wasn’t fixed. After a second trip to my home, he thought it was a breaker outside of the house, at the actual central air unit. I replaced that breaker, and….the problem wasn’t fixed. After a third trip to my home, he thought it was a set of wires inside the central air unit. I replaced those wires, and….the problem wasn’t fixed.
After the two more attempts at fixing the unit, I told him not to worry about it anymore, and I just hired a real A/C repair company. What they found out was that the problem was a small relay, which should have been the first thing that was checked. The part cost all of $10 and took literally two minutes to replace. Needless to say, I never asked that friend for advice on how to fix an air conditioner again. Instead, we have a home warranty and call out specialists.
Have any of you gone through anything like that before? You spend a lot of time, energy, and potentially a lot of money trying to fix something. You do what you think is best, and when that doesn’t work you spend time doing what someone else thinks will work, only to find out that you were both wrong? What you eventually find out is that the solution was actually something very small and simple, and something you overlooked in the very beginning.
As a young adult, I had a relative whose car stopped on him on the highway. This relative called me to come help him fix the car. When I arrived at where he was stopped, he was frustrated and angry. “Why won’t this stupid car start?” was his question. We checked under the hood. We jiggled several wires. We checked fluid levels. We checked various gauges. We even kicked the tires, but nothing worked.
We spent over an hour trying to figure something out. Eventually, he had the vehicle towed to an auto repair shop where the problem was diagnosed. The problem was that the vehicle was out of gas. Such a simple solution to the problem, but we were too goofy to figure it out.
I again ask the question, can any of you remember a time when something like that happened to you? If we were all willing to be truthful, we all could acknowledge that something like that has happened to us. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we simply overlook something. Sometimes we are too busy to see the obvious. And, sometimes we are just too frustrated to think clearly, even though the solution is waiving at us, right under our noses.
This problem is not unique to the 21st Century, or to me, or to my relative who ran out of gas. This problem of overlooking the obvious and operating out of frustration is found in the Bible. In particular, it is found in the passage that is printed in our bulletins today. The passage of II Kings 5:1-14.
By a show of hands, how many of you have read this passage from II Kings 5 before or have heard it preached before? Preachers usually approach this passage from the standpoint of the healing that occurs. If you have ever heard a sermon preached from this passage, that sermon probably dealt the idea of faith being the catalyst for healing, or some aspect of God’s power to heal a person, whether they are righteous or unrighteous.
Today, I would like to take a look at the passage from a different angle. Instead of focusing on God’s healing power specifically, which is a very legitimate and very biblical way of exploring the passage, I would like to take a look at the attitudes of the people that are involved in the story and how that affected their responses to what God wanted to do.
The passage starts out by introducing us to Naaman. He is the commander of the armies of Aram. Aram was a city located near what is modern day Syria. Naaman is a powerful man who has had great success as a military leader. And the kingdom of Aram was very familiar with the kingdom of Israel through multiple military conflicts that occurred in II Sam 8 and 10, as well as I Kings 15 and 20.
As a military leader, Naaman expected and received obedience from the people that he commanded. He was the top dog. He held the fate of thousands of people in his hands. Although Naaman was a military boss, he had one problem. He had been stricken by a form of leprosy.
In the Old Testament, leprosy could refer to several types of skin diseases which affected a person in mild or severe ways. Some forms of leprosy were incurable and led to horrible consequences, such as a person losing feeling in limbs due to the deterioration of nerve endings. It also could lead to patches of skin dying and deteriorating, causing disfigurement. This type of leprosy brought with it separation and alienation for the person that suffered from it. If you had this kind of leprosy, you were deemed unclean and you were not allowed to live among people who had not contracted it.
But there also was another form of leprosy, which was not as severe. It caused irritation and discoloring of the skin and made the person look sick, but its long-term effects were not as severe as the other form of leprosy. It seems as if Naaman has this milder form of the disease. Even though he has the disease, he still remains in a position of power, privilege, and prestige. That being said, neither version of leprosy is pleasant and Naaman wants to be healed and made whole.
During one of their previous raids against the nation of Israel, the Arameans had taken a young girl captive and she became the servant to Naaman’s wife. Apparently the girl hears Naaman, or his wife, discussing the predicament that he finds himself in and she suggests that a prophet in Samaria, the prophet Elisha, could heal him of his disease.
This little slave girl that had been taken from her home and family, offers advice to this great military leader in order for him to be healed. There’s a great amount of irony in that. This girl had no rights, no home, and technically didn’t even have the right to an opinion. Yet, she has the answer to her master’s greatest dilemma. And that answer will be found in the land of her master’s enemies.
The surprising thing about her suggestion is that he listens to her. This may be an indication of how desperate he was to receive help with his condition.
Naaman goes to the king of Aram and tells him that he wants to go seek the help of this prophet from the nation of Israel. This had to be more than a shock to the king. As I mentioned earlier, Aram and Israel were not friends. They were enemies. They had attacked one another on multiple occasions. Much blood had been shed between the two nations.
The fact that the king was entertaining this idea from Naaman was an indication that they were both desperate for Naaman to be healed and that there was no viable option available within the king’s own court of healers or gods. Because of this, they were willing to go to one of their greatest enemies for help. This was not a very masculine thing to do.
The king buys in to Naaman’s idea and sends him to the enemy in search of the prophet Elisha. But he doesn’t send Naaman alone or empty handed. He sends him with a royal delegation and royal gifts that express the power that the king of Aram holds and his high expectations for the healing of his general. The king sends silver and gold, as well as clothing as a peace offering. He also sends the king of Israel a letter telling him what he expects.
The letter essentially says, “I am the king of Aram. This is my servant Naaman. I expect him to be healed of his leprosy.” Wow. That sounds pretty presumptuous to me. “I am your greatest enemy, but let’s let bygones be bygones. Go ahead and heal my boy, and everything will be good between us.””
We read that “When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” “If we haven’t fought enough, now he’s setting us up for another scuffle. I am a king, not a healer.”
This could be a political trap. If the king of Israel lets this general go back in the same condition that he arrived, you can bet that the army of Aram will come marching over the hill to attack them within a day. Or it could simply be a mistake by the Aram king. He may not know that the king is not the one who is able to heal. Either way, the king of Israel is shaking in his boots. This way of negotiating was not how he was used to operating.
Roger Nam says that, “Ancient Israel was a socially embedded society. Goods and services were exchanged not out of money. Instead, goods and services were exchanged out of social relationships. Value, honor, and loyalty regulated and maintained society more than profit and legal jurisprudence. Therefore, it is completely sensible that Naaman traveled down to Israel with an enormous cargo of gifts to present to the king of Israel. The gifts were not for trade, but the foreigner Naaman was trying to create a social bond with the Israelite king. By creating a social bond through gifts, it obligated the Israelite king to give hospitality, and in this case to find a cure for the general’s leprosy. But these gifts put the Israelite King in a bind. He could not refuse the gift, as it would be like a new bride and groom refusing a wedding gift from a guest. By accepting the gift yet not curing the leprosy, the king would violate the required social responsibility. He could sense an impending confrontation with the Aramaeans.”
The king of Israel panicked. He tore his clothes as a sign of frustration and mourning over what he anticipated was a coming conflict. The king’s court would mourn as well. Eventually, the king’s actions, and the story surrounding it, got back to Elisha. Elisha told the king to have Naaman come to his home so he could heal him and so that he would know that “there is a prophet in Israel.”
So, Naaman is sent to Elisha’s home. He arrives with all of his regalia and his entourage. He waits at the gates for Elisha to come and greet him with the respect that he is due. And he waits. And he waits. And he waits. Eventually, someone comes to the gate, but it’s not Elisha. It’s someone with a message from Elisha.
Can you imagine how Naaman feels? “I am Naaman. I am the leader of the armies that have fought your people before. Don’t you realize how powerful I am? I am here with gifts and garments as tribute for you to heal me. The least you can do is come greet me personally and show me the respect that I deserve.”
But that’s not what Elisha does. He sends a messenger that tells Naaman to go wash himself in the Jordan River seven times. “What? First this so-called prophet disrespects me by sending a messenger out instead of talking to me face-to-face. Then he has the nerve to tell me to wash in the nasty Jordan River in order for me to be healed. The Jordan River is trash compared to the bodies of water that we have at home. I was better off not wasting my time with this man.”
But cooler heads prevailed and Naaman’s servants talk sense into him. “Just go do what he asked you to do. If he would have told you to do something grandiose, you would have willingly complied and expected a miracle. But since he asked you to do something simple, that wasn’t befitting a general, you think it won’t work. Give it a chance.”
And so, Naaman listens and heeds the instructions. He goes to the Jordan River and washes himself seven times and is healed. He is made whole. His skin becomes like a young child’s. He even proclaims personal faith in the Jehovah, God of his mortal enemies, the Israelites. And international war is averted, even if only temporarily.
I told you in the beginning that I wanted to look at this passage not from the lens of seeing God’s healing powers, although that is one of the main principles within it. Instead, I want to look at the attitudes that were present among the characters that we learned about, and, truthfully, see if any of those attitudes are present within our lives.
There is one attitude in particular that I want to explore. The attitude exhibited by Naaman. The general that knows he is important and expects to be treated that way. But he’s desperate because, although he commands armies, he can’t heal himself. He’s at the end of his rope and will do anything to become free of this disease.
He hears a word of encouragement from his servant girl about a person that is capable of giving him what he needs. And, in faith, whether it is strong faith or not, goes seeking healing from Elisha the prophet. The problem with Naaman is that he goes with the wrong attitude. He goes seeking Elisha from a position of power. He goes seeking Elisha from a position of ego. He goes seeking Elisha from a position of unrighteous indignation.
He goes as the general of an army, not as a man that is sick and needs help. That is why he is offended when Elisha doesn’t greet him face-to-face when he arrives at Elisha’s home. That is why he scoffs at the suggestion of bathing himself in the Jordan River. That is why he is so unhappy with this turn of events.
It was not until after he set his ego aside that he received healing. It was not until he literally got off his high horse and went into a low place that he was changed for the better. It was not until after he listened to those who cared for him and fully committed to heading the words of the one whom he sought out that he did what would restore him to a place of health. He had to change his attitude and his actions in order to experience the blessing of what God wanted to give to him.
So what, Terrell? What is the point? This is one of those sermons where I think that the point is pretty obvious, and all of you can imagine the questions that I will ask and the suggestions that I will make as I conclude this morning.
The most obvious question is the most simple. Are any of us like Naaman? We know that we have a need, but instead of humbly seeking God’s face to fulfill that need, we have an attitude of entitlement. Instead of seeking God’s help from a position of being powerless, we instead approach God as if God owes us something. Instead of seeking a solution first through the simplicity of prayer and trusting God, we hurry up chasing solutions that lead us away from God and further away from the fulfillment of our need. Naaman almost missed out on what he wanted and needed from because it didn’t take the form that he expected.
The most obvious suggestion to counter this is also simple. Stop. Seek God first. Seek God first from a position of powerlessness, acknowledging that God is all powerful and is aware of your need. Second, seek the support of those with kindred hearts, sharing your needs and concerns with the children of God.
Well, Terrell, are you saying that if something happens to me that I shouldn’t first go to a doctor, or go to the police, or go to some other professional. No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is to seek God’s guidance, protection, and providence as part of any solution for what life throws at you. I am suggesting that you seek God’s participation in any situation that you may find yourself in, and that you ask God to be present as a part of the solution, as well.
I am also suggesting that you recognize and never overlook the small blessings that God sends as solutions to the predicaments that we find ourselves in. God does not always speak in the thunderstorm or in loud crashing waves. Sometimes, like Naaman, we want a grand light and sound show that unequivocally proves God’s presence in a situation. Sometimes this can cause us to miss God’s presence in the cool gentle waters that restore our skin and our souls.
But, Terrell, how does this apply to WGBC as a whole? We have asked God to bless this church. As God sends new opportunities our way and provides new pathways for us to serve and be brought into relationship with new people, will we scoff at those opportunities because they don’t look like the pathways that we expected? Will we refuse to move forward because we’ve never done things that way? Or will we hesitate because something does not fit our personal tastes, or isn’t grand enough or isn’t our particular flavor? Or, will we trust God to move in strange and mysterious ways that bring God glory and introduces our neighborhood and community to the love and power of the Holy One?
Will you pray with me?