Take A Bath – November 2, 2014 – 2 Kings 5: 1 – 19

I am having so much fun preaching these stories from the Old Testament. It can get difficult for a preacher to preach the same Gospel texts year after year. I hope you enjoy hearing these stories as much I am enjoy preaching them. Today, we come to the story of Naaman and the prophet Elisha.

This story takes place in the 9th century BC in the kingdom of Israel. Following King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam succeeded him as king. Rehoboam imposed heavy taxes on the people and they rebelled against him. Rehoboam refused to reduce taxes and instead raised taxes.

The Lord tore apart the kingdom as punishment for King Solomon and King Rehoboam’s greed. Rehoboam remained the king of Judah, which was the southern most part of Israel, where Jerusalem was. The tribe of Judah remained under the control of David’s lineage for the sake of King David’s legacy. The remaining 11 tribes of Israel split off under the reign of King Jeroboam becoming the new kingdom of Israel.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram which is the modern Syria, north of Israel. Naaman was a great man in Syria and a highly regarded commander of the army. He was a valiant soldier. Naaman’s wins, the Bible tells us, were given by the Lord God of Israel. It may seem odd that God was fighting with the Syrians, but they were counting victories thanks to the Lord. In ways we won’t know until much later in the Bible, the Syrians will become players in God’s plan for Israel and Judah. So, God is giving victory to Naaman and the Syrians.

In one of the raids of the Syrian army, a young Jewish girl is captured and taken to serve in Naaman’s house as a servant of his wife. This young Jewish girl learns of Naaman’s leprosy and suggests he go to see the prophet in Samaria. Samaria was in the northern kingdom of Israel. The young girl knew Naaman could be cured by the prophet. This young slave girl believed in God and understood God to be a God of healing and restoration who might extend His healing to even those outside of the covenant with Israel.

In the face of his leprosy, all Naaman’s skill as a warrior and man of valor are nothing against his disease. Naaman had the means to visit the greatest shamans and healers anywhere in the world. As the commander of the army of Syria, he was most likely a rich man, but he hadn’t found healing by any of the means he sought. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Naaman sought out healers, but we can assume that he fought his leprosy as fiercely as he fought neighboring countries for the crown of Syria.

Naaman asked the king for permission to go to Israel to see the prophet and the king consents. Naaman goes to Israel with the recommendation of the king of Syria with riches to give to the prophet. Naaman goes before the king of Israel, Jeroboam. Jeroboam thinks it is a trick to provoke him to war. Jeroboam tears his clothes as a sign of grief and worry wondering what he can do to help the situation.

Elisha hears of the king’s distress and asks for Naaman to be sent to his house. So, Naaman and his entourage go to Elisha’s house. Elisha sends a servant out to the party with the message that Naaman should “Go, wash…seven times in the Jordan, and [his] flesh will be restored and [he] will be cleansed.”

This is unacceptable to Naaman. He expected something extraordinary. He anticipated a miracle worthy of his status as grand as he was. Naaman is ticked off and stomps off in a rage. He, at the very least, expected Elisha to come out to meet him. But, Elisha didn’t need to see him. Elisha simply sent the message, “Take a walk down the hill and take a bath. All you need is a little water to make you clean.” Because Elisha didn’t lay his hands or eyes on Naaman for him to be healed, Elisha can’t be mistaken for the one who heals.

Naaman’s servants remind him that if he had been asked to make some grand overture or something great he would have done it so if he was asked to do something so simple he should probably do it. So, Naaman gets undressed and wades into the water immersing himself seven times as Elisha had told him. Naaman’s flesh was restored to health and became as young and pure as a boy’s.

Naaman came to understand that the grace of God often comes in ordinary ways. In his healing, Naaman learns that God comes to the aid of the humble. Naaman must humble himself to go down to the river and very simply bathe. God didn’t work in the great rivers of Syria, the Abana and the Pharpar. Naaman needed to humble himself to wade into a muddy little river in Israel. We often think of the Jordan as a great and mighty river, but it is nothing special to look at. The water smells foul and is dirty, but that is where God worked a miracle.

As Naaman comes up from the Jordan water and sees his leprosy has been healed he becomes a believer in the Lord God. He goes to Elisha to give him a gift for his part in the miracle. The prophet Elisha was more honorable than the great King Solomon. King Solomon accepted gifts for dispensing the wisdom of God, but not the prophet Elisha. Elisha refuses Naaman’s gift.

Naaman asks for a cart full of dirt and vows to never again offer burnt offerings to the gods of Syria. In Naaman’s world, gods were local gods. Gods were the god of a specific nation or land. So, Naaman thought he had to worship the One True Living God, the God of Israel, on soil from Israel. Naaman wishes to take a piece of Israel with him as if taking God with him.

But, Naaman also knows that he has duties at home to pay homage to the local god of Syria, Rimmon. He will have to go with his king to the temple of Rimmon, because it will be expected of him. Naaman asks for God’s forgiveness for fulfilling these ceremonial duties. Naaman was both healed and cured. Naaman received a miraculous cure for his leprosy. He also received healing as he humbled himself before the Lord and came to believe in God as he washed in the river.

The loved ones we remember today were ill. They didn’t receive a cure for their ailments in this life. However, they were healed in the life giving waters of baptism. Their souls were cleansed as they were humbly immersed in the healing waters of baptism. They no longer had sin sick souls though their bodies would become ill as they aged. Because of their faith in Christ, they had the strength to face their illness, the will to live with illness, and the courage to face death for their eternal future was secure.

Our loved ones may not have had a miracle cure in this life, but they, we, hoped for one. Hope in miracles sustains our faith. I know one of our saints endured treatments and ‘til the very end remained hopeful that he would experience a miraculous cure. That is faith, sustaining hope in a miracle ‘til the very last day. And, on that last day, he received his miracle. Peggy, Sam, Bob, Louise, and Gwen all received miraculous cure of their disease when they entered the kingdom of Heaven where the Bible tells us there is an end to mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21: 4).

As we remember our loved ones and continue to grieve their loss, may we be comforted by the knowledge that they watch over us as the great cloud of witnesses cured of their physical ailments. Their faith has been fulfilled entering the kingdom of Heaven to live eternally in the glory of God. Amen.

Sources of inspiration and research:
http://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=551
http://revgalblogpals.org/2014/10/28/narrative-lectionary-take-a-bath-2-kings-51-14/

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