“It looks like that’s where the water goes. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
That’s what Nathan said as we surveyed our campsite near Mammoth Cave campground. We were looking around to find the best place to put up our tent, and Brad liked the looks of this flat area of dirt in a shady spot under some trees, so we staked down the tent, blew up our air mattress, and laid out our sleeping bags, and headed out for a cave tour and dinner. Later that night, exhausted from our day of exploring we crawled in and zipped ourselves into the tent. The wind, lightning, and rains came later that night. Of course, I woke up and discovered that where the kids were sleeping was wet, so they got up onto the air mattress, and slept the rest of the night . We woke with the morning sun, to discover we weren’t just a bit damp. Our tent filled was with water; we were soaked and what was worse was all the mud.
This is what Nathan had tried warn us about, the potential for water/mud flooding downhill into our tent. But, he was just a 10 years old kid, so we didn’t hear his words, his warning. We didn’t stop to listen to him. We discounted him.
I can’t imagine that we would have ignored him if he were a 40-something park ranger—you know the men and women with the experience and with badges. We tend to pay a lot more attention to those folks—the authority figures, the experts, the bigwigs—the mover’s and shaker’s in the world.
Those are people whose names we remember. Names like the prophet Elisha who we read about in our first lesson. Elisha is a prophet in the kingdom of Israel. Now I just have to remind us that prophets in the bible are not fortune tellers or predictors of the future. A biblical prophet is someone who speaks for God. In this story from 2nd Kings, we have the prophet Elisha and his enemy—another man named what?:
_Naaman__. Naaman is the commander, the general of the armies of Aram—a country we hear a lot about these days—modern day Syria. These lands and these people the Israelites and the Arameans did not live in peace. Even and especially way back then. Naaman is the man who leads who has the power of the armies of the enemy.
Of course, just because a person has power over people, does not mean they have power over disease, and Naaman has some skin condition disease which the writers of the Bible all lumped together and label leprosy. It is true that position doesn’t protect us from the human condition. Everybody’s got something. Of course as a man of power and prestige the other thing he’s got is—slaves. The slave of his wife, and what was her name again? doesn’t have one – not told it (of course she has one).
Her mother and father the ones from whom she was stolen, who if still alive, missed her and grieved for her, of course they had given her a name—a name that through the millennia has been lost. Her name is lost but not her words. Today we hear her, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Those could be simply dismissed as the words of the young—words of optimistic youth. Or these could be the words of faith, words of confidence and words of hope in the power of her God of our God. Some could say that this is the first miracle, that Naaman’s wife, that Naaman heard her, took her counsel, listened to her.
Of course, Naaman with all his power is still subject to the king; he can’t just ride off into enemy territory. With his king’s (superior’s) permission he travels to Samaria the capitol of Israel, with silver, gold, other gifts and a letter requesting that Naaman be healed. Of course, the king of Israel doesn’t like this one bit. What is he to do; he can’t heal Naaman, and if he sends Naaman unhealed he will look weak and offend he king of Aram. Will the enemy king use this as a pretense to war and attack.
Luckily Elisha gets the news and offers to heal Naaman. As Naaman and his entourage approach expecting an audience with this prophet, this man of God. However, Elisha sends out a messenger, probably yet another servant/slave with instructions—go wash not once, not twice, but 7 times in the river Jordan. Elisha doesn’t use any mystical words, gives him no magical potion, no special talismans or herbs. He doesn’t even bother to come out to see or meet Naaman.
Take 7 dips in the river Jordan on his way out of the country. Naaman is indignant. I can imagine him sitting high on his horse, “How could he?, doesn’t he know who I am?”. Well, Naaman’s servants certainly know who he is; so they tentatively gingerly approach him, use a familial respectful address, “father”, and convince him to just go ahead and give it a try. And you know what? Naaman takes the advice of his servants/slaves. He listens to them.
This could have been a completely different story if it had gone like our family camping trip—if the “little”, the insignificant, the powerless hadn’t spoken up and if they hadn’t been heard and listened to. When we think of movers and shakers we think of people like kings. But in this story, could the kings cure the man Naaman? No. In this story could the general go where he want, see whomever he want, do and order around whomever he wanted? No. Even Elisha the man of God would have had nothing to do if a young slave girl hadn’t mentioned his name. Even the words of the prophet would have fallen flat, emptied of their power, if Naaman’s servants hadn’t spoken up. Perhaps the Spirit isn’t just telling us a story of a man being healed of leprosy, but of people being healed of our prejudices and presumptions of who the movers and shakers really are.
And, one of the reasons, I love reading the bible is that is by no means the only story where the tables are turned and the movers and shakers are not the big wigs, the power players. God’s Spirit seems to have a real affinity for the nameless, nominal, normal average Joe’s—people like you and me, people like the guys who sell hot dogs on the corner, the people who come to our food pantry, the young people, children who come to worship. We should never presume that we as a person, or we as a church are too little—that what we do is insignificant.
Just a couple of nights ago, all we did was turn on our lights, open our door, have some pizza (donated by Ian’s down the block) and other snacks, and we touched the lives of about 20 police officers—men and women who can become so pessimistic, so negative and jaded. They felt welcome and appreciated, hopefully they are better able to deal with the crowds, the people who drink too much, and others on our block. It’s not just officers—we don’t turn anyone away. We are present inside and out on the street.
A church like little old Village church. Village church in the heart of a big, big, booming with construction is still a city, a people who are yearning, who need to hear words of healing, words of forgiveness, words of peace and love that can even cross enemy lines. We do not need to wait for big wig permission; we can’t let our size dictate our lives; remember Jesus didn’t send out thousands, but 70, in two’s. When the Spirit of God is in us, following Jesus and proclaiming the presence of God, it’s what we do, because the Spirit of God likes little places, little people like us—so let us listen for and let us speak out the words of God. Amen.