I have a confession to make: I am in the top 10% of the whiniest people when I am sick. The top thirty to forty percent is probably filled with men, as women seem to be more capable of getting the job done while not feeling at their best. Seriously, have you ever considered what a pregnant woman accomplishes during her time carrying a second soul around? Pregnant women with children and husbands should be nominated for some sort of civil medal!
When I’m sick, I am notoriously bad about looking up solutions on the internet. WebMD is probably one of my favorites. I’ll check out the pictures, and the symptoms, and ask if any of those sound like anything close to what I’m actually dealing with. It’s incredible how many times I’ve suffered from appendicitis based on the online surveys they provide!
But when the time comes to actually visit a real, live doctor, I tend to dutifully follow their instructions… for awhile. And suddenly, upon starting to feel better, I’m off to behaving however I did before. Will you admit to that, or are you still holding onto the fallacy that you actually follow directions??
In our story today, a very powerful man is sick. Naaman is a non-Jew, someone who doesn’t believe in God but he is someone that God has used to bring victory to another nation, Aram. God wants to get his people’s attention, but he’s using this time to get the attention of some other, non-Jewish people. In this case, it’s Naaman.
Naaman has leprosy, a disease that is uncomfortable and irritating at its simplest, and deadly at its worst. Some people lose significant amounts of skin, others have lost whole limbs. We’re assuming that Naaman’s is diagnosed early, before he’s suffered too much, but we know that it’s of great concern to him. And while he’s in the midst of checking with physicians and getting second opinions, he encounters a Jewish girl who has been captured, who tells Naaman’s wife that he should go to Elisha the prophet to get cured.
Naaman gets permission from his king and goes to Israel with a treasure trove to pay for the cure. The king actually writes a letter to the king of Israel, who is terrified! He knows he can’t cure Naaman, and he thinks, as a captured, subjected people, that the king of Aram will destroy him if Naaman comes back and he’s still sick. He thinks Naaman is there as part of a cruel joke. So he has a hissy fit, tears his clothes, and mopes.
Apparently it’s such a big deal, that word gets to Elisha. Notice, the king didn’t know who to turn to, he was so tuned out about what God could do that Elisha wasn’t even on his rolodex. So Elisha sends word that the king of Israel should send Naaman to him.
Naaman arrives with his entourage at Elisha’s house. I don’t imagine much. He’s not living in splendor, and here’s this conquering general riding up with his treasures, and half of his army, stopped outside his house. Elisha doesn’t even come out of his house! He sends a messenger to tell Naaman to go wash seven times in the Jordan, and he’ll be healed.
Imagine if you came to me with a problem, or went to your doctor for that matter, and the advice you received was, “Go to the James River, up by the Canal Walk, and jump in and out seven times.”
Wait, you ask, do you mean the area where they pulled out a few dead bodies last year? Or the part that overflows into the sewage lines? Or the part where people dump their trash and dogs go to the bathroom?
I don’t know about you, but none of those options sounds top-notch. And they weren’t received well by Naaman. Naaman basically rebuffs the advice, because he thought he deserved a face-to-face with the prophet. He thought Elisha would just wave his hand, and Naaman would be well. The fact that he calls the leprosy “a spot,” minimalized as being pretty trivial, makes me wonder if it wasn’t like when your spouse hounds you to go “get that checked out.” Naaman expected to be treated like he was all that and a bag of chips, and he’s certainly not getting into the Jordan river. In fact, he says if he wanted to wash in a river like that, he could’ve just used the ones by his house!
Naaman’s servants must’ve really liked him. Or his wife. Or something. Because his servants argue with him, this great foreign general! “If Elisha had told you do some great thing, like the challenges of Hercules, wouldn’t you have done it? He told you to wash, so you should go!”
So Naaman relents and goes down and washes in the river seven times, and his skin is restored. Naaman obeys and he’s healed, even as he accepts that what God wanted for him wasn’t what he expected, but it was best. And it says in II Kings 5:15 that he acknowledged that Yahweh God was the one and only God, an unbeliever converted.
Let me put that out there again, with a twist: God’s plan was what was best for Naaman, and what he actually wanted, even though how Naaman got there wasn’t what he expected and seemed pointless to him at first.
Are there any examples of that in your own life? (I’ll wait, while you think.) Are you expecting God like this, when God shows up like that?
Consider a couple of the takeaways here:
1- Naaman has a problem, but he finds a solution thanks to people who care about him enough to go out of their comfort zone.
2- Naaman’s plan isn’t what God has planned for him, and given that Naaman’s other outlets weren’t working, he had to try something else.
3- Naaman’s desire (long view) is achieved when he does what God wants.
Are you surrounding yourself with people who fear God who are willing to tell you when you’re wrong? Who love you enough to risk your anger or your frustration because they want what is best for you?
Are you opening yourself to the possibility that God has something in mind for you that is better than what you could’ve expected but will take you down a road where you have to rely on God?
Are you being obedient to the call of God on your life in a way that you recognize your obedience puts you in the path of God’s plan?
I see life as a current. It’s up to you whether that’s the ebb-and-flow of the ocean or a river. But I don’t think of it as a pond or a lake with edges and finite definition. I think that we make the decisions to go where God wants us to go, to recognize that there are tides that are God’s best for us, and there are pulls and pushes that are from other, less savory influences. We can bob along, never wrestling, never putting ourselves in position to swim in the flow but be thrown wherever and by whatever, or we can enjoy the journey, and recognize that sometimes, God’s current is going in the opposite direction than everyone else’s. That sometimes, we have to flow upstream.
It’s true, the Jordan River isn’t the cleanest river around. But it’s where Jesus was baptized. And if the plan was good enough for Jesus…
This sermon is for the 11 a.m. worship service on September 15 at Blandford United Methodist Church in Prince George, VA.