Saturday, July 6, 2013

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Looking for God in Unexpected Places and Faces

Naaman had it all.  He was not just a general, but the winning-est general of the Aramean army.  He had the favor - and the ear - of the king.  He had a loving wife.    What’s more, the Bible says, he got all this, because God favored him.

Not everything was peaches and cream for Naaman though.  He had leprosy.  Now biblical leprosy covered a host of skin diseases – whatever it was that Naaman had, it didn’t interfere with his ability to be a part of the community.  It did, however, interfere with his life and his health. 

Naaman had another gift from God, although he did not know it yet.  He had taken a young girl as a prisoner of war, with the idea of making her a servant for his wife. 

Now there’s a lot of amazing things in this story and one of them is this slave girl.  So insignificant, that we don’t even know her name, but a hero of the faith nonetheless.  Think about.  She far away from home, prisoner in a strange land, made to be a slave.  She could have whined about her faith – ‘oh poor me, I’m just a slave.  I’m nothing.”  She could have been angry, “Serves him right!  He tore me away from my family and home.  I hope he never gets better.”

But she didn’t.  She saw that her mistress was saddened by her husband’s illness.  And she sympathized with her mistress.  Furthermore, she had a solution.  She knew that there was a prophet in Israel who spoke the word of the Lord – Elisha – and she knew that God was in the business of wholeness and restoration.
So the slave girl told her mistress about Elisha.  Excitedly, she told her husband Naaman what the slave girl said. 

Hope.  There was a chance that he could be healed.  How could he not grasp at that hope – even if it came from the most unlikely place, the God of a defeated prisoner of war?

Naaman must have really been grasping at straws to even consider going to Israel.  In that time, people believed that if one army defeated another, that army’s god had also defeated the other.  So it was incredible that Naaman would seek the help of a God who apparently couldn’t defend his people.  Of course Naaman didn’t yet know that God works in unexpected ways and shows up in unexpected places. 

I can only imagine that conversation with the King of Aram:

“Sire, my wife’s slave girl says that there’s a prophet in Israel that can heal me.  May I have your permission to go?”

“Israel?  Are you crazy?  We soundly defeated them.  What makes you think their God has the power to heal you?”

“I have to try.”

It just shows how high the king valued Naaman.  Not only did he give him permission to go, but he greased the skids.  He sent a letter to the king of Israel to smooth the way.

Instead of smoothing the way for Naaman, the letter only served to scare Israel’s king.  Thinking it was a trick to start a war, the king despaired.

Neither the king of Aram nor the king of Israel remembered what the slave girl did – there was a prophet in Israel.

Elisha reassures the king of Israel that Naaman will be healed – just send him over to Elisha.

When Naaman shows up, instead of a king’s palace, he is sent to a prophet’s simple house.  Then the prophet doesn’t even come out – he sends his servant with a message. 

That’s no way to treat a man as important as Naaman, and he becomes furious.  What’s worse, all the servant tells him to do is go dip in the Jordan River – that muddy insignificant creek – 7 times. 

What bunk.  What insult.  Just wait till the King of Aram hears how his favorite general was treated!  Naaman turns to go.

Naaman had a vision of how this healing would go.  The prophet would come out and pray over him and wave his hands over his diseased skin.  And then he would be healed.

Naaman couldn’t see the God might just work in a different way. 

His servants called him out on this – Father (they must have really loved him to call him such an intimate name), if the prophet had asked you to do something great, wouldn’t you have done it?  This is such a simple thing – why not do it?”

And that was the exactly the issue.  There was not spectacle, no magic, no pomp.  It was too simple.  It was too easy.

It was too good to be true.

It was so unlikely – a slave girl has an important message for her master, giving him the information to get the thing he most desired.

It was so lowly – not a king, not even a prophet, but a servant gives him the message that can heal him.

It was so improbably – a dirty creek, not a mighty river, is the means to his healing.

Naaman sees the wisdom in his servant’s words.  There really was nothing to lose.  And if this worked…
He dunked down in the muddy waters – once, twice, three times…seven times.  And when he came up on the seventh time – he was healed.

And more than just physically – because Naaman knew in that moment that God was God. 

How do we know that God is God?

Are we looking for God in all the wrong places?

Are we looking for fireworks and miracles, and miss the little daily ways grace comes to us?

Are we expecting mighty prophets (or preachers) when God sends servant girls, and apprentice disciples, and healed demoniacs, - and us - to spread the good news?

Where do we see God in the unlikely, unexpected places?

In the words of a slave girl and a message from a prophet, and a dip in muddy water,
In the song of a expectant mother and a baby wrapped in swaddling and the shepherd’s story,
In the cry from a cross and an empty tomb,
In water poured over a baby’s head,
In a bit of bread and sip of wine,
In a listening ear, and a burden shared,
In laughter, and a child’s joy,

In the words of a holy hymn or even song on the radio that touches your heart,
In the smallest moments, the simplest things, 
God speaks healing in our souls.


  1. "Namaan couldn't see that God just might work in a different way." Perfect. That sums up so succinctly the challenge for all of us, I think, and your sermon does an excellent job of exploring that idea and getting me to think about it.

  2. I think this is beautiful. Looking at unexpected people and places as agents of grace is a hard calling, but it is ours nonetheless. Thank you for this.

  3. wonderful! I especially like the last 2 lines. thanks for sharing.