Barry Luppin was just twenty-six when a rare nerve disease sent him into the world of silence. Unable to pursue the law career he had planned, he drifted aimlessly for eight years, remembering beautiful music and the voices of loved ones, and bemoaning his deafness. Then he determined to “put his chin up and fight.” He learned to read lips and went into the auto leasing business. The business prospered into a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Barry didn’t let his handicap keep him from normal work. When a customer called, his secretary picked up an extension phone. She heard the caller and mouthed the words silently to Barry, who sat nearby. He replied in normal speech. Callers were never told that Barry was stone deaf. “If you have a physical handicap, you can run into a corner and hide,” said Barry. “Or you can just try harder than the next man and make a success of yourself.” (James C. Hefley, Life Changes, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1984, pp. 88-89.)
Naaman, the main character in our Old Testament Lesson, also had made a good name for himself. He was the chief commander of an army. He was respected by the king and regarded in high esteem by his fellow citizens because of the battles he had fought and won. The people of the country of Aram, also known as Syria, admired Naaman because of what he had done. He was a great public servant, but something plagued him. He had leprosy, and that dreaded disease prohibited him from ever being fully recognized as a good man. Despite his military accomplishments, the disease tendered him socially unacceptable. Also, lepers were considered unclean, and thus isolated from holy events.
It was common during Old Testament times that if an illness or predicament was not explainable medically or scientifically, then the person was somewhat ostracized from the mainstream of society . . . no matter the person’s track record. Naaman had served his country well, but he still lacked personal contact with people; he still lacked fulfillment. His leprosy was certainly a curse.
In our passage, a servant girl offered a suggestion to Naaman’s wife. The servant girl was an Israelite, and she was aware of the great prophet Elisha. She also knew that this great man of God could help Naaman. She suggested that Naaman go and allow Elisha to help him. She said, “If only my master would see the prophet . . . ” The effort could be life-changing.
“If only ” is a phrase that sometimes haunts us as well. “If only we had listened to our children, and made quality time to spend with them, they would have turned out better.” “If only we had taken our children to church regularly when they were younger, they would have a greater attraction to church when they were older.” “If only I had said “yes” to teaching children and youth when the need was presented, we would have more young families in our church.” When considering the implications of “If only . . . ” statements, we can be prompted to act. Naaman chose to get busy when hearing the “if only” statement.
Naaman considered the option so greatly, that he went to his King and told him what the servant girl had said. This was an act of faith. Here was a person of no reputation, the foreign servant girl, offering advice to a man of impeccable credentials, and the respected military leader shared this hope of healing with his boss, the king of the land. To complicate matters, Syria was at war with Israel on a regular basis (it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same). And even during this time of peace in our passage, the relationship between the two lands was strained. Yet Naaman was desperate; he was willing to risk reputation even with the one who issued him his paycheck in order that he might find healing.
Sometimes, I think we are like Naaman; we’ll try anything to make us feel better. Some become captive to their feelings, how they feel or how their behavior may make someone else feel; this captivity to feelings can cause a person to lose sight of what really is important. Feeling good becomes the goal. Drugs, harmful relationships, or clamoring to be the center of attention become choices to make people feel better, and some go to great lengths to ease their own pain, losing sight of who gets injured along the way, just so that they can feel better.
The Syrian king evidently liked Naaman; he may have also viewed Naaman’s well-being as an investment. If his chief military leader was “up to snuff,” then their chances of military success were certainly greater. A sports team is going to endeavor to keep its most valuable player happy and healthy. Naaman’s king even volunteered to write a letter to the King of Israel explaining Naaman’s presence in the kingdom; the letter served somewhat like a passport. So with his king’s blessing, Naaman went to unfamiliar territory on a quest to find healing.
But Naaman did not travel lightly. With him, he carried roughly $75,000 and ten changes of clothes. Whether Naaman thought that Elisha was a high-priced doctor or that Elisha would be impressed with the amount of money, we don’t know. One can assume that Naaman was uncertain of what the prophet would ask of him.
Not knowing where to find the prophet and also making sure that the king knew why he was in the country of Israel, Naaman went to the Israelite King first. He delivered the letter from his own king which read, “With this letter, I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
Oops! There seems to have been a mix-up in communication. Naaman wanted healing from the prophet, not the king. Because of the strained relations between the two countries, the Israelite king became angry. He said, “Who do I look like? God? Can I perform miracles? Who does he think he is? Why does he send someone with an incurable disease to me and then asks me if I can heal him? Does he want to start trouble, because if he wants to start it, then I’m sure the one who can finish it. Is he making fun of me? He better not be, because if he is, I’ll . . . ”
Word of the letter got out into the kingdom, and Elisha, the prophet, sent a note to the king. “Shake it off. No big deal. Send the fellow out to me, and I’ll take care of him.” So Naaman gathered up his horses and chariots and went to the home of the prophet.
Elisha was expecting him; evidently the man’s reputation had preceded him also. Elisha must have been well aware that Naaman was a well-respected man in his own country. He also knew that Naaman was accustomed to the pretentious. He arrived with his horses and chariots to the home of the prophet, but Elisha did not even address him personally. Instead, Elisha had his servant give Naaman a directive to wash seven times in the Jordan River.
Naaman was outraged! He was a commander who demanded and deserved respect, yet he had traveled all this way and gone to all this trouble and had to interact with an enemy king and for what? He didn’t even get to see the prophet face-to-face; he was given a piddly suggestion to wash in the Jordan, and the message was delivered by a servant. The gall of this prophet was unreal! Didn’t he know who Naaman was? Didn’t he know his reputation? Naaman was insulted to have taken such effort and then the prophet did not even have the decency to shake his hand, say hello, or even show his face. Naaman was also appalled to have received such a simple remedy. Naaman had brought wealth, prestige, and even his own king’s blessing, but now he was being sent to the Jordan River which was dirty and muddy. And for this dignified leader, the icing on the cake was that the foreign prophet wanted him to wash not once, but seven times. How ridiculous! How could muddy water remove scaly leprous sores from his skin?
Naaman was angry and disappointed too. He said, “Given the prophet’s reputation, I thought he would come to me, call on his God, and then wave his magic wand over my body.” Naaman expected immediate results. He wanted the magic cure, an instantaneous remedy.
Naaman had faith in what his wife’s servant had stated about this prophet in Israel. His faith was great enough to risk his reputation even to his own king. Yet when the faith process was not what he expected, he wanted to bail out. When the answer was not what he wanted to hear, he refused to participate.
If we pause to think about it, dipping seven times in a muddy river is an odd request. Why not wash just once? I think the continual dipping denotes the process of faith. To be faithful, one has to continue to believe even when there is no reason to believe. To be faithful, one has to continue to trust God and sometimes even attempt the unbelievable.
But like Naaman, we want a quick fix. If we are sick, we want immediate healing. BOOM! We want to be knocked over with a feather; we want the spectacular to happen to us. And even spiritually, many of us are lazy. We don’t like the idea of working to improve our walk with God. We prefer the easy way out. We expect instant results. When we turn on a lamp, we expect to see light automatically. When we get sick, we want a minimal recovery time. We expect to be back to normal in no-time, because we live in a convenient society.
And this also translates in church life. We waited for three years to call a full-time Minister of Music. The success of Renae Hester’s ministry will not be instantaneous, but all of us are to do our part in helping her succeed, because if she succeeds, then the church succeeds. Your assistance in the ordinary times will go a long way in how well her ministry advances, and all of us can find God in the ordinary: treat Renae to a meal; be faithful in choir or the orchestra; join a music group; be encouraging to her; introduce yourself again and again until she knows your name. These are ordinary ways where you can serve God in this church.
Again it was the unlikely words of a servant that prompted Naaman to change, to consider the prophet’s option of washing in the Jordan seven times. The servants asked him, “If the prophet had asked you to do the unthinkable, something spectacular, would you have considered it? Is it the action itself or the motivation behind the action?” For Naaman, it should not have mattered if Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan seven times or to seek the wing of a fly or the tail feather of a hawk. The healing was going to come because of Naaman’s faith.
Naaman wanted the remedy to be unusual. For us, it is harder to have faith in the ordinary times, the day-to-day routine of our lives.
Emily Harbin’s last Sunday is three weeks away. While we vote on the new Search Committee next week, more volunteers still are needed in our youth and children’s ministries. We will not be calling a new staff member to fill this vacancy prior to Emily’s departure; calling a new ministerial staff member takes time. We still need a Sunday School teacher for our youth. We need volunteers to teach children on Wednesday nights beginning in August. Caryn Pagett will be responsible for Wednesday Youth Discipleship and is enlisting people to offer weekly Children’s Sermons for Sunday mornings. Jerry McCullough has volunteered to provide the devotional for the Tuesday Youth Prayer Breakfasts, but others are needed to find God in the ordinary by picking-up the Chick-fil-A items, pouring the juice, etc. Do you love your church? Do you consider the ministry to our children and youth to be vital? The week-to-week ministry to youth and children is ordinary, but it is the consistent routine which profoundly makes the biggest difference. Call/text/email me of how you will help.
Washing in the Jordan River was not glamorous. There was nothing magical about that water; it was ordinary. But after a suggestion from one of his servants, Naaman finally consented to look for God in the routine, in the ordinary. And that is where Naaman found God . . . in the ordinary. You can also find God by serving in our weekly ministries to youth and children . . . in the ordinary.
Ordinary is not a four-letter word; yet most of what we expect from faith and faith institutions, like churches, is the extraordinary. We can become like Naaman, addicts to the spectacular.
Naaman’s servant named his problem, “If the prophet had asked you to do some great thing, you would have done it.” But the ordinariness of faithful living is not the attractive. Most of faithful living can be found standing waist deep in the muddy river of life.
Can God be found in the routine, in the ordinary? There is an endless quest for God in only searching for the spectacular. I was blessed by the consistent teaching of adults when I was younger; great blessings also await the individuals who say “yes” to teaching our youth and children today. My prayer is that like Naaman, we all may find God in the ordinary.