At the Water's Edge: General Naaman's Bath
July 16, 2017
2 Kings 5:1-14
Once upon a time there was a brave general…a commander of the Army no less…a great man!
He had orchestrated victories and was in high favor of the King. He was received with honor wherever he went. He was accompanied by servants who always listened to his cunning and wise advice.
Every goal he set was achieved. Every problem he had was solved. Every smolder he gave was swooned over.
They called him Yaaman.
Now, the story of Yaaman is somewhat obscure. You may, perhaps, have confused him with his alter ego Naaman.
“The Adventures of Yaaman” volumes 1, 2, and 3 were actually WRITTEN by Naaman…
And they were meant to be semi-autobiographical.
He wanted to tell the story of a man much like him…a soldier, acclaimed in battle, a great man. A man who also shared the same skin condition, after all, no one is perfect.
But there was one BIG diﬀerence between the author and his subject.
In the story of Yaaman…everything goes right. Everything goes according to plan.
The king of Israel is honored at his presence. Elisha the prophet runs out to help him…he chants a bit, invokes his God for good measure…throws some smoke in there just to heighten the drama…and poof!
Yaaman is healed and he can once again return to saving the world.
And everyone lives happily ever after.
This is the story of Yaaman.
Now of course there are two reasons you've never heard of Yaaman. First of all, it was a self-published work that didn't get great reviews on Amazon.
And the second reason is, of course, that I completely made him up. None of it is true.
Yaa-man is a complete fabrication…born in my twisted imagination.
Among his many titles, Naaman probably would not have included ‘author’ as one of them. He didn’t write the adventures of Yaa-man, parts 1, 2 or 3.
At least not knowingly.
But after reading this passage from 2 Kings 5…you get the feeling that Naaman had a story circling in his mind as he traveled over to see the King of Israel. That he had lots of time to think about how this next chapter would go…
He knew he had to go…he knew he had to do something…
This silly illness was getting him down…it was effecting his soldier mojo… he had an image to uphold…a reputation to live up to.
And ‘skin condition’ did not fit well with ‘war hero.’
And so an unlikely character spoke up…a slave girl from Israel, who attended Naaman’s wife. She was the one who pointed him to Israel.
With the blessing of the King…Naaman set off.
But this was not a solo journey…you get the feeling Naaman was a little high maintenance…and he did not come empty handed…
The passage says he brought silver, gold, 10 sets of garments, and finally…a letter with a simple ask, ”Please cure him of his leprosy.”
With hope in his heart and a battalion of stuff at either side, Naaman set out for Israel. And that’s when Naaman started wondering and writing how about what would happen when he reached Israel…
I wonder how I’ll get cured…when I’ll get cured…I wonder if this prophet will be scared of me…honored to be in my presence.
This is what happens when you don’t have the radio as a distraction…all we have is our thoughts.
And thoughts can turn to hopes…and hopes can turn to expectations…and expectations can turn to entitlements.
Naaman had written the next chapter of Yaa-man the skin condition conquerer…without even knowing it.
And the chapter went like this:
“Once I reach Israel…I’ll be welcomed like a king. Then there’ll be the part where everyone is so grateful for the gifts I brought. Then I’ll be cured… Then I’ll live happily ever after. And I’ll write all about it using the pseudonym “Yaa-man” The End.”
The excitement has built and built…but then reality comes in contact with Naaman's imagination…and we know it didn’t exactly happen like he had planned…
The problem started when he went to the King of Israel…who instead of being grateful…TORE HIS CLOTHES at the sight of Naaman because he was so distraught.
Frankly it seems like a bit of an over-exaggeration to me…but in fact, Naaman’s huge gift did put the king in a bit of a bind.
Roger Nam, a Biblical Studies professor writes, “The King could not refuse the gift, as it would be like a new bride and groom refusing a wedding gift from a guest (“Sorry Uncle Charlie, but we won’t be needing that salad spinner.”) But by accepting the gift and not curing the leprosy, the king would violate the required social responsibility.”
And this put the relationship between the two countries, which was volatile on a good day, at risk.
Hence the tearing of garments and then the exclamation, “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” (verse 7).
The king was in no mood to start a war…but couldn’t accept the gift without indeed curing Naaman. And so he tears his clothes…good thing, by the way, that Naaman has brought him 10 more sets of garments as a part of his gift!
Thankfully, Elisha intervenes and tells the king to send the Naaman to him.
But here’s where the second thing goes wrong…in the story Naaman had written…the prophet would be ready and willing…even eager!…to heal him. It was an honor, after all, to simply be in his presence. So while this odd detour to head over the prophet’s house was a little weird…what happened next was even weirder.
Imagine a military division of horses and chariots parked in the prophet’s driveway. And then, said prophet, would not even come out of his house.
Instead, he sends a servant out to tell Naaman to take a bath. Seven times.
Naaman has traveled many miles to Israel with his affliction. He assembled this vast payment and was diverted from the royal palace to the house of the prophet.
And now, it is not the prophet, but a servant of the prophet who gives a one sentence instruction -- an instruction that is too simple, too mundane, and too humiliating to really work.
This is not the way it is supposed to happen. This is not how this chapter goes…
Don’t they know who I am? A general! A great man…it says it right there in the Bible! The alter-ego to Yaa-man? I am not used to being GIVEN the orders…I give the orders!
Naaman is angry.
And he starts to turn back without even trying.
But Naaman’s servants gently persuade the general. And finally he yields.
He goes down to the Jordan…and washes seven times. And sure enough…”His flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean” (verse 14).”
There was no pomp. No circumstance. No smoke. No poof. There was barely a prophet.
But God was there all along.
Using not the powerful…but the weak to be instruments of truth and wisdom.
Three different times in fact…when the lower and weaker character gives wisdom to the powerful. The servant girl…the servant of Elisha…and the servants of Naaman.
God chooses to speak through the lowly to the lofty.
We can poke at Naaman a little bit…we can even conjure up stories of his alter ego…because the thought of him ringing Elisha’s doorbell with an entourage behind him, and then being told to take a bath in a river…is a little humorous.
But at the same time…I know there have been many Naaman like moments in my own life.
Times when real life events have conflicted with my imagination…and I haven't liked it.
We are all guilty of writing chapters in our life before we’ve actually lived them…
…and since we’re so good at writing them for ourselves, we write them for our children, our parents, our friends.
And the expectations grow and grow…and soon ‘entitlement’, expectations privileged cousin, starts playing a bigger and bigger role.
(And pretty soon, disappointment, entitlements wayward cousin…comes to town)
-And so when the family vacation does not live up to our expectations.
-When we get sick on the worst day possible
-When things don’t go according to plan…
We start thinking…this isn’t how this was supposed to go. And we realize we’ve written a chapter that we haven’t lived yet.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t dream, hope, or even plan for the future…
But I do think we must be ready when the story doesn’t always go the way we planned.
Its the when, then trap…When this happens, THEN this will happen. When I finish school…then life will be good.
When he learns to do this or that…then life will be good. When I make partner…then life will be good.
When the medication kicks in…then life will be good. We ‘when, then’ all the time.
We spend so much time “whening’ the future…that we miss the beauty of the present.
I find this to be terribly true in my life…I’m so quick to think about what is coming next that I don’t enjoy the present.
Naaman fell into the same trap:
When I get to Israel…THEN I will be welcomed and healed on the spot. Except he wasn’t…this chapter needed a bit more nuance.
And our chapters do as well.
When we seek to write every chapter of our life, we risk missing out on the surprises God has for us.
God’s story is so much bigger than our story.
And our story is so much better when its wrapped into God’s story. The Adventures of Yaa-man? Meh. I’ve seen it before.
But the Adventures of Naaman?
A story where the weak speak to the strong…where the easy answer is not given…where the miracle is almost missed…and ultimately where God’s healing shows up…
Now that’s a story worth listening to…
The truth is the future is unknown to all of us.
For some, this is a happy and exhilarating prospect. You stand at the beginning of a new chapter…starting college, a new job, a new relationship.
But for others, an unknown future holds so much pain and fear.
-An increasingly fractured relationship
-The diagnosis you didn’t want to hear
-A financial situation that leaves you wondering if you’ll be able to make it.
These are scary times. And as much I would love to say that everything will be okay…I just can’t.
But I do know this. That God has promised to go with us through every chapter…our future chapters? God is already there. There is no place we can go without him.
And so those burdens…those things on your heart…will you trust God enough to hand them over?
Healing requires us to give up control.
We may be asked to do some expected things…Naaman was not expecting to take a bath. And although reluctant at first…this simple act healed him.
He learned that healing does not come with terms. It’s an open-handed exercise.
And it may require us to walk into a chapter we had not imagined:
But that is when God shows up and shows us once again that he is the author of all that is good and holy and right. And that the future he has for us is better than anything we could have written on our own.
This is the good news. Because Jesus walked into his all-too-known future…because of his death and resurrection…we can walk boldly into our future…knowing that God is already there…writing what C.S. Lewis calls the “Great Story…which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
When he released his terms and entitlements…Naaman found hope and healing at the water’s edge.
God invites us to stop frantically scribbling out our future…and to turn to him…to put our faith and trust in the one who will bring us rest and renewal.
This morning, the invitation extends to all of us. God’s healing presence is here in this place…will we release control long enough to embrace it?
As we close today, there are two invitations for you to receive God’s presence…
If there is a burden that you are carrying…something that you would like to hand over to God and receive a prayer for healing…Pastor JB and I will be on either side of the platform. You can choose to be anointed with oil, as the Apostle James instructed, if you wish.
The other invitation this morning is to come to the Water’s Edge…here in the center aisle is our baptismal font. You are welcome to come forward during the song and simply take some water and touch your forehead as a reminder of your baptism into God's story.
If you would like to remain in your seats, I invite you to simply turn your hand over…as an expression of giving over our burdens to God, and releasing the control we so quickly grasp.
God invites us all to journey with him…to places we never imagined. Just ask Naaman.