[2Ki 5:1-15 RSV] 1 Na'aman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Na'aman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Sama'ria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4 So Na'aman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel." 5 And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel." So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten festal garments. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Na'aman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he rent his clothes and said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me." 8 But when Eli'sha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, "Why have you rent your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel." 9 So Na'aman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Eli'sha's house. 10 And Eli'sha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean." 11 But Na'aman was angry, and went away, saying, "Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. 12 Are not Aba'na and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, "My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean'?" 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant."
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
I have this rule that when I see the same person three times in the same week, and I don’t know them, I will introduce myself. I figure once is nothing, twice is coincidence, but three times might be God trying to tell me something. I have to admit, it is a little awkward at times, but I simply start by saying, “I have this rule that if I see someone three times in a week I introduce myself. Hello my name is Tim and I am the Pastor at Evangelical Lutheran Church.” Many times it has just been our worlds colliding and we will have a nice conversation and then I never see them again, other times it is ministry. I bring up this rule because God is really smart—sometimes he has things happen to me three times in order that I will take notice. This week three different people have told me in some variation, “Your prayers sound really nice.” Now I know that is supposed to be a compliment and I appreciate the sentiment, but I am not sure if that is a good thing or not. What does it mean for a prayer to sound nice? When I probed for the meaning each time it was something like, you don’t stumble a lot on your words, you choose good words, and that is how prayers should sound. Maybe many of you have thought that. If not you may think I am bragging. I hope not because I found these comments not to be a source of pride, but one of great trouble.
It has given me a lot of pause this week, because all week I have been thinking about this text of Naaman. Naaman is a Syrian general who is a big wig. He is a powerful man who can walk into and ask favors from the king. He is a mover and shaker of the world. He is a decisive man who needs to be listened to. I suppose most generals are exactly that way—in order to triumph in a battle field, you need to be strong, decisive, and have people listen to you. You need to make snap decisions and know where the power is. Yet Naaman has also been humbled. He has leprosy. One day his wife’s Israelite slave says, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Sama'ria! He would cure him of his leprosy” She tells him to go and see the prophet because he will be able to be healed. Wow! Imagine! This slave is willing to help her slaver be healed. All he has to do is go and see the prophet. So he leaves immediately to go see— the king of Syria?!?! Wasn’t he told to go and see the prophet? Yet he doesn’t he goes to the king.
The king of Syria gives him a letter of introduction and he goes to see the king of Israel with a whole load of treasure—after all he is big and important and he knows he will be able to purchase and persuade this king of Israel to help him. When he gets there though, he cannot buy his healing—because he is talking to the king of Israel—not the one he was told to go and see! The king of Israel cannot heal anyone.
Just imagine the scene. After some false starts he and his whole entourage end up in front of the prophet Elisha’s house and he is ready to make a big show and promise this prophet a literal wagon full of money if Elisha can heal him. I can just see him standing in his armor in front of the house with his horses and servants all looking at their master. Then they wait, but instead of Elisha coming out, a servant exits the house with the message, “go wash in the Jordan River.” Just imagine how Naaman feels, he has created an international incident, he has a wagon full of treasure and he is an important man, and he doesn’t even get to meet the prophet. He is just given the message to “go take a bath.” Can you see Naaman’s angry face? He seems to be saying, “Does Elisha not think I have tried that? Does Elisha feel he is too important to come see me, Naaman the great general and very important person?” So Naaman almost goes home, except for the help of another of his slaves, who points out that, “You might as well try it.” So Naaman finally listens, goes and takes a bath in the Jordan and he is cured.
Think of how much simpler this story could have been if Naaman had listened the first time. The slave said, “You should go and see the prophet in Israel.” Naaman went to the prophet, and a messenger told him to go into the Jordan to wash. Naaman did and was cleansed.
Wow, now that would be a short story—but Naaman is not good at listening, he wants a miracle that fits the stature of a man like him. He wants the kings involved, he wants a quest that he has to go on to be worthy of the miracle, or at least for him to lavish great payment to Elisha so that Elisha recognizes that Naaman is worthy of such a thing. Naaman wants a good and proper miracle cure! It is not until Naaman is willing to give up his pride and entitlement and meet God on God’s terms that he is healed. He needs to be willing to go take a bath in a backwater river like the Jordan.
And that is what troubles me a little. I think Naaman would be very pleased with my prayers. My prayers sound like prayers are supposed to sound. They use big words and complex sentences. I fear people like them because they somehow feel, “God has to listen to an oration like that!” And that is not my goal. Part of the reason I pray like I do is because I talk like I do. You are listening to my sermon and that way of speaking is just a part of who I am. Also I like to read scripture and pray, a lot. When I am doing it in public I try to pray on behalf of all of us present so I make it more formal. As I have thought about it, I like the way I sound…yet if that has planted in your head that is the only way to pray then I repent of it. If you try to make language like that when you are in your home preparing for bed, well then you may sound a little pretentious.
When I come in here during the week, when I kneel before our God, I often pray using the same words I would say to you down at coffee hour. I talk to God and tell God all my burdens and troubles. It is just part of this great conversation I have with the Savior of the World. I also then leave a lot of space in prayer so I can listen to God. Remember how short the story would have been if Naaman had listened the first time and met God on God’s terms? How much easier when we listen to God the first time! Yet God is so good, God keeps telling us the fifth and sixth time.
In thinking about all of this, I have started to not ask my children to pray at nighttime, but I have started saying to them, “Talk to Jesus” or “What do you want to say to Jesus about your day.” We need to pray and listen to God every day. The prayers and the listening will sometimes be epoch changing moments, but sometimes they are as simple as saying, God do you want me to talk to that person because this is the third time I have seen them today? That talking and listening to God is a big part of our relationship to Christ and to our sainthood. That relationship, adoption that was started in baptism, continues in the discussion you have this week with God. Open your mouth and just talk to your savior, and then open your ears and hear what Christ is telling you, through scripture and the people around you. Amen.