Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Humble Heroes

Here's an old sermon that I could have preached last week! Don't sue me for plagarism if this sounds familiar. I took the idea from an issue of "Pulpit Resource" at the time.

Humble Heroes
2 Kings 5:1-15
July 8, 2007

2 Kings 5
Naaman Healed of Leprosy
1 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. [
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 "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 [
b] of silver, six thousand shekels [c] of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 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."
7 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!"
8 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." 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. 10 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."
11 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. 12 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.
13 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'!" 14 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.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant."

In contrast to Namaan’s military might, his wealth, his bluster, and his miraculous healing, there are humble heroes in this story.

She was just a girl, a long way from home. A great army, lead by the man she called “Master,” destroyed her town. Her house, the merchant’s shops, the synagogue, all gone. She, and many other young, healthy Israelites were bound and marched across the desert to a foreign land. Torn away from mother, father, and family, this young girl was thrust into the life of a servant.

I wonder when she first noticed that her master, the great and powerful commander also a powerless victim of leprosy, a life-threatening and contagious disease. After all she’s gone through, who could blame her for reacting:
  • “Serves him right, the sorry dog! I hope his death is slow and painful.
  • “What kind of people are these Arameans, don’t they know that lepers should be cast out of the village? I’m not going near him!"

Maybe she had those reactions at first, who knows? Maybe it took a while for her to develop a sense of compassion for her master. Then, one day, alone with the mistress of the house, brushing her hair or helping her dress, this little girl, the most powerless person in the home of the most powerful, utters life-changing words, “You know, if the master could only visit Elisha, he could be healed.”

If anyone deserved the hatred, the ire, of this little servant girl, it was Namaan. He was the man that lead the army that destroyed her home. Most of us would let him die! This young girl held a flicker of hope, fueled by love, and pointed her master toward salvation.

The heroes of this story are humble ones, those whose egos are not “puffed up” by power. Take Elisha, for example. He doesn’t really do anything in this story. His presence is known only through the messages he sends – to the king and to Namaan. When it is time to heal, at the climactic moment of this drama, he sends a messenger out to hand the great and powerful commander a prescription. A humble prescription at that! Wash seven times in the small, muddy trickle they called the Jordan River.

It’s the humble heroes of this story who have the faith! Namaan is offended at Elisha’s lack of deference, ready to take his 900 lbs of silver and gold and 10 sets of garments, and go home, forever a leper. It’s the ones who carried the 900 lbs. of silver and gold and 10 sets of garments who say, “What have you got to lose?”

We can also imagine these same men, shouting from the bank, “One more time, Master, that’s only six! The prophet said seven!” The same flicker of hope that lived in the servant girl lived in these men.

That’s the way God’s power works sometimes, through the most humble means. Paul put it best, “God has chosen what is foolish to shame the wise.” We “Namaans” of this world can become too reliant on our wealth, our reputations, our power. When we do, God sneaks up on us from surprising sources. God uses the humble servant girls of this world to remind that faith is more powerful than ego, and obedience more important than honor.

I once took a youth group on a mission trip to the hills of Tennessee. Most of the group came from the more privileged homes of our town. Most of them were the “Namaans” of their worlds – comfortable homes, cars, “spending money” in their pocket – they had it all! One was a boy named “Andy.” Not only did he have it all, he had two of them! Divorced parents competed for his affections with gifts: two homes, two bedrooms, each equipped with the stuff a teenage boy needed in 1993, stereos, video games, televisions.

One night, Andy and I sat by the campfire cooking supper, watching foil-wrapped potatoes bake in the coals (this trip was even more rustic than I expected). Andy finally spoke, “You know, these people up here don’t have anything! No malls, no TV’s, no nothing!”

“Yep,” I agreed.

“But the weird part is,” he went on, “they’re happy!” He shrugged, poked the fire with his stick and resumed his silence.

That night, he got his first taste of God reaching the powerful through the humble heroes of faith. That night, this young “Namaan” took his first dip in the Jordan River.

That’s just the way God works sometimes. We powerful folks get comfortable, thinking we are protected by our position in society, safe behind walls of wealth. Then, God sends us a message so simple that we almost miss it:

  • “Love one another . . .”
  • “Turn the other cheek . . .”
  • “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me . . .”

As we sit here in worship, most of us have lugged our “900 lbs. of stuff” in with us, expecting it to save us, or at least make salvation a little easier to attain. To us, God has a simple message – “Come to church. Say this creed. Sing this hymn. Hear this scripture” – simple tasks chosen to shame our reliance on human wisdom. Sometimes, we have to try them “seven times,” but these simple tasks are the humble ways that God still reaches us.

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