Sermon for October 13th, 2019
One of the most amazing things about the Bible for me, is that even if you read it every day, even if you know some of its stories very well, it still reveals new things to you. You reread a story, that you think you know, that you have read many times before, and yet somehow, this time, you notice something that you didn’t notice before.
You know when Paul says that I have been chained but the Word of God is not chained, he’s not kidding. You may think that your imitation leather, red-letter bible can’t mess with you if its just sitting on the shelf on your bookcase, but you’d be wrong. Because the conviction of the church has been the same God that inspired these writers is the same God that created and runs the universe that you’re still living in, so the truth that is speaking in this book is alive in the world, you can’t shut it up just by keeping it on the shelf…so you might as well read it.
You won’t always understand everything, but that’s ok. I don’t understand everything that is happening in the world, but that doesn’t stop me from living in it.
You would think that after thousands of years, we would have figured out this book by now, but we haven’t. It reveals new things to us all the time.
Take the story of Naaman for example. Now it is buried down in the second book of Kings in the Old Testament, but it is a popular story, and I have heard it many times.
Naaman is a powerful leader of a foreign army. He works for the King of Aram, which was a kingdom to the North of Israel, around where Syria is today. Naaman was a powerful leader, but he had a weakness. He had leprosy, a terrible skin disease. His wife tells him that there is a prophetic healer in Israel that might be able to help him. So he asks his king for permission to go and seek help and his king sends him with a letter to the King of Israel. The king of Israel reads the letter from the King of Aram that basically says “This is my general, please heal him of his leprosy” and he is indignant. No one can heal but God. This King of Aram must be trying to pick a fight with me…this is a trap. But Elisha the prophet tells Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan river, he reluctantly does so, is healed, and is finally convinced that the God of Israel is THE God. God heals this foreign general and proves his power. God (the God of Israel) has the power to heal. End of story.
Only there is more to this story. There are parts of this story you might have missed, because I did the first several times I read it. Yes, it is the power of God that heals Naaman in the end, but how did Naaman hear about this God? Let’s go back to the story:
Now the Arameans, on one of their raids, had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. A young girl captive who is now a servant. You know, we have a word in English for a captive servant…they’re called slaves. This is an enslaved little girl that had been taken from her homeland and her family and now she is forced to work for the leader of her captors and she is the one who says to Naaman’s wife: I know who can heal your husband.
Let that sink in a minute. Why on earth would this little girl want to do anything to help her captors? You would expect her to be asking God to give Naaman a skin disease, not take one away, but here she is telling the man that enslaved her where he can go to be healed. It’s remarkable. Yes, it is God the heals Naaman, but it was this little girl that first led him to God.
So I went back to the story again and I started to pay attention to all of the servants. You know sometimes we get frustrated by the names in the Bible, names we struggle to pronounce, but you know, sometimes it is the characters without any names at all that are the most important. Most of the servants in this story don’t have names.
The nameless slave girl tells Naaman’s wife where God’s prophet lives.
Elisha the prophet, who is a servant both of God and the King, sends a nameless messenger to the King asking him to send Naaman to him.
When Naaman arrives, Elisha sends another nameless messenger out to meet him and to instruct him to wash in the Jordan.
But Naaman doesn’t want to be greeted by some lowly messenger. Naaman’s salvation and healing should come from on high: the mighty prophet of the mighty God should give him a mighty task to perform. But this guy expects him to listen to some lowly servant, and bath in some dirty little stream.
He storms off, but then who stops him and talks sense into him? His servants.
It is the lowly servants in this story that direct and redirect Naaman to the healing power of God. The two Kings and the mighty general, they look weak and powerless in this story. They look ridiculous.
It is the servants that know where true power lies. The lowly, the humble, the powerless…they are the ones that ultimately lead Naaman to God. They showed mercy and forgiveness and lead a man that for all intents and purposes was their enemy, to God. Naaman needed these nameless servants and messengers more than they needed him. In God’s eyes a dirty little stream can be more important than a mighty river.
When you discover in this Word the wisdom and power of the humble and often nameless voices; when you realize that it is the Samaritains and the servants and the slaves that truly know where God is to be found when he is revealed in this word, then you may be more prepared to listen to those voices when you encounter them alive in the world today. The word of God is alive and powerful, it is not chained, but sometimes its messengers are. The word of God is mighty and powerful, but it constantly reminds us that it is very often the humble and powerless that actually have the faith and the strength to share it.