Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Look at People

In last week’s Gospel Reading we heard about Jesus watching some people. He watched the rich as they put their gifts into the offering box. And then He watched the poor widow put in her two little coins. And from what He saw He drew some lessons for His disciples. There is much to learn by simply watching people.

This morning we’re going to watch some people. We’re going to see how they responded to a situation. And we’re going to draw some lessons from that.

The situation has to do with Naaman. Listen as I read what happened.


Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that 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, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 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?” So, he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” He said to him, “Go in peace.” 2 Kings 5.1-19

So, here’s Naaman, a great man in Syria. But he has a problem. He is diseased with leprosy. Let’s follow what happens as it unfolds.

The first person that I want you to consider is that little Israelite girl. Though an Israelite, she’s not living in Israel. She lives in Syria. And why? Because she was stolen away in one of the Syrian raids. She was either taken by Naaman or he bought her from whoever took her from her home. Once that happened, the life she had been expecting, getting married to some nice Jewish guy, having lots of babies and all the rest - that life died. She had become a slave. But did you notice what she said about Naaman’s problem?

Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.

What is this? She wishes that Naaman would be cured by the prophet. I find that quite striking. It’s not what we’d expect. What we’d expect is resentment, bitterness. ‘You ruined my life! Instead of being happy back home, I’m a slave here. I hope your leprosy kills you.’ But there was no bitterness. And because of that, she could do good to this man. Naaman’s life was dramatically changed because this little girl chose not to be bitter.

Next, we have the two kings. The Syrian king sends Naaman to the king of Israel with a note, which basically says, ‘Fix Naaman’s problem’. Upon receiving the note, the king of Israel gets all stressed out. Why? Stressing like this happens when a difficult situation is mixed with a person’s fear. The king of Israel is afraid. He fears that the Syrian king was looking for an excuse for war. Remember how he said,

Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.

There was another Israelite king in a worse situation who responded better. Hezekiah also received a letter. This one was from a powerful king who demanded he surrender his nation or die. But Hezekiah didn’t fall apart, all stressed out. He did something else, instead. He prayed. Instead of giving in to his fear, he trusted his God. As a result, he didn’t get all stressed out.

Next, there’s the prophet, Elisha. He sends a message to the Israelite king. ‘Send Naaman to me.’ Why? Is he branching out to include becoming a physician to the nations? No. Listen to what he said.

Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.

And why is it important that Naaman have this bit of information? It’s because a prophet in Israel is a prophet of the one true God. Elisha acts in order to make a point to Naaman. There is but one true God, and His name isn’t Rimmon. It’s Yahweh.

So, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s front door. I find it interesting that Elisha doesn’t come out to meet this great general. He sends a messenger. Picture it. Here is the great Naaman with all his horses and chariots which are filled with the gold and silver and exquisite clothing, standing in front of what I’m sure was a rather humble dwelling. Quite the contrast. But I think Elisha acted in this way to make a point. He was preparing to deal with Naaman’s pride.

The message was delivered.

Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.

Ah, now it’s time for Naaman to choose. And how does he respond? He gets angry. In fact, the text says that he left in a rage. Now, whenever anger shows up it’s always good to find out why. Anger is a great barometer of the soul. This applies to just anger as well as unjust. So, what was going on with Naaman? Why the anger? It was his pride. First, he expected Elisha to come out and to make a show of it, to stand before him, and call on his God while he did a presto-chango wave of the hand over the leprosy. After all, he was the great Naaman. And that sense of superiority also showed in his comment about the rivers back home. They were so much better than these stinking, little Jewish creeks. Naaman was proud. His anger was the result. Anger reveals the heart.

This is where Naaman’s servants come to the rescue. This is where they showed that they cared about Naaman. If they were simply there because it was a job, they would have said nothing. After all, they get paid regardless. But no; they were his friends. So, they spoke to Naaman and urged him to do what the prophet said. And there was enough of a good relationship with these men, there was enough trust that had been built up over the years, that Naaman listened to them. And he was cured.

This is where it gets really interesting. He returned to Elisha. Gratitude demanded no less. But he doesn’t say, ‘Thanks for the cure’. What does he say?

Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.

Wait a minute! What’s going on here? Where did this come from? Evidently, the Spirit of God had been busy. The Spirit opened his eyes to see reality. Remember Elisha’s comment about knowing there is a prophet in Israel. Naaman was converted. All because a kidnapped little girl didn’t become bitter.

Then, Naaman offers a gift. But Elisha adamantly refuses. Why? There’s no sin in receiving charity. And I’m pretty sure that he could have used the money. So, why the refusal? Naaman is ready to pay for the blessing that he has received. But Elisha, knowing what’s going on in Naaman, will have no part of it. Salvation is a gift. Naaman needs to understand that.

Naaman then says something that none of us would have guessed.

… please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.

He wants some dirt? Sure. It’s dirt from Israel, the land of the one true God. This is a pledge about worship. Naaman gets it. In a day when each nation had its own god, it’s a big deal for Naaman to acknowledge that there is only one God over all the nations.

That leaves this last thing in this situation: Naaman’s return home.

When my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.

Naaman understands that he really shouldn’t do any bowing in the temple of a false god. It’s an act of worship. He asks forgiveness ahead of time. And Elisha doesn’t lecture him about rigorous obedience to Yahweh. Instead, he sends him on his way with a blessing.

Go in peace.
Sometimes - but only sometimes - you need to break a rule.

So, what did we do this morning? We took a look at some people as they responded to a situation. There were the things that we could see and hear - words and actions. But we also noticed the things we couldn’t see and hear, at least not directly - the dynamics of the heart that produced those words and actions. And why did we do this? Part of wisdom is understanding people.

All right, once again, why is this important? It’s important because the quality of our relationships with each other as believers - or to use church words, our fellowship with each other - is determined by things like understanding each other. As we interact in terms of things that we can see and hear in each other, we need to be noticing the things that we can’t see and hear. What’s going on in the heart? In understanding each other better - a gift the Spirit gives - we will become better friends. And while we will benefit from this, something else will also be going on. This is how we show what Jesus can do in making people whole. We live in a dying culture, filled with broken people. We need to show them the power of the Gospel so that they will join us in becoming whole once again.

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