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Sermon for Proper 23/Ordinary 30 2 Kings 5:1-3

October 1, 2013

naamanWhoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it – words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

In the name…..

The slave girl was a nobody. Her name isn’t even recorded. Her lowly status is emphasized by the way the text describes her: na’arah qatan – young, little. She is pre-adolescent. In today’s world, she’s like girls stolen from Thailand or Uzbekistan for use in the sex trade or boys kidnapped to be soldiers. She was kidnapped from her country, Israel, by the Arameans in one of their military raids and taken to Aram, modern day Syria. and she becomes a servant of Naaman’s wife. What did the little girl see when she was taken in that raid? Did she witness the murders of her mother and father? Siblings? We are not told. We do know that her captors could not quench her spirit. She knew about Elisha; her community had taught her about him. They could take the girl out of Israel but they couldn’t take Israel out of the girl.
The slave girl was a nobody: owned but unable to own property, spoken for, but unable to speak in a court of justice, torn from her family and forced into slavery in a foreign country with foreign gods and a foreign language. She has no social power. No economic power. No political power. No access to the official centre of spiritual power. Just part of General Namaan’s war booty brought home to enhance his upwardly mobile lifestyle, a new maid for the wife.

If anyone had an excuse to abandon the God of Israel, she did! After all, he hadn’t protected her from the Aramean raiders, and he hadn’t kept her from a life of slavery! But she wasn’t looking for complaints against him; instead, she was looking for opportunities to spread his love.

Naaman was the Commander of the Syrian army, a man of courage, a top soldier with strategic ability. He had proved himself a worthy soldier, a man whom his king could trust: rare in those oriental courts so noted for their dastardly intrigue. Naaman comes from the Hebrew verb naem, “be delightful, pleasant, beautiful.”  “gracious” or “well formed.” His name suggests that he had been a handsome man but, the words you heard in our first reading: The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy –

The Hebrew is more blunt: The man, a mighty warrior, leper. All the glory, all the honour, all the dignity, is all obliterated by that one dreadful word, leper.

 Naaman is powerful, or is he? The King of Aram has sent him to his enemy, Israel where leprosy rendered you unclean.  Naaman has gone from being a well thought of insider to an unclean outsider! He’s taken the advice of a little girl and gone to see Elisha yet Elisha doesn’t even come out to meet him but sends an insulting message:

Wash in the Jordan? Where the waters were discoloured and muddy? Why not back home? Damascus, the capital city of Syria. one of the oldest cities in the world, a very beautiful oasis with the two rivers, the Abana and the Pharpar, flowing forth from the mountains of Hermon through sandy terrain making them sparkling clean.

Further humiliation:

Wash seven times.

One: This is stupid, this water’s nothing special!

Two: I’ve got better, cleaner rivers at home

Three: I can’t believe I’m even doing this!

Four: I’m getting wrinkled

Five: Something’s nibling my bum!

Six: This water stinks, or is that me?”

Seven: It worked!

God uses different agents: a little girl who speaks with deep conviction. She didn’t have to heal Naaman herself, or even pray for him to be healed; all she had to do was point him in the right direction. The king of Syria who intervenes with the lofty disdain of power. Elisha who remains anonymous and absent. The servants who persuade Naaman. None can pretend that he is the central point in God’s action.

Each had his own part. Each fulfilled her own vocation. We can’t all be Elisha, but we can all be the servant girl. We can be faithful to God even if our circumstances are less than ideal. We can reach across the barriers, caring not only for our friends but also for those we find it difficult to get along with and even for those who we might think of as our enemies. And we can point them in the right direction

A powerless, young girl in an alien culture but look at her again. She is not powerless.

She gives her simple testimony to the God she knows: power to subvert the seemingly dominant world of Naaman. By such means God’s Kingdom is advanced and other worlds are undone. Not the God you can put in a box but the God who works through losers, who sends us to places we’d rather not visit, enemy territory even, where outsiders become insiders.

Like Naaman, we are confronted with big problems. Their solution requires us to abandon our ideas of what the solution should look like, to be open to the God of surprises, to listen to the voices of the marginalised, take seriously the insights of children and young people. Children are not merely adults-in-waiting. They have their own role already. Unless we possess certain of their traits, we won’t be able to enter the Kingdom.

Lastly, we need to wash ourselves in the cleansing waters of humble obedience to our own, inner child, in those same waters in which Naaman was immersed and Jesus himself was baptised.

Naaman’s flesh is restored (shub), and compared to that of a little child. Thus, the great man, through the intercession of the little girl is made like a little boy.

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