Sermon: Faith in the Time of Leprosy

2 Kings 5:1-27
All Saints Sunday
November 2, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 Listen to the Sermon.

AsthmaI think I’ve always grown up with some sense of illness, either in my own life or in the life of my parents or my relatives.  I was diagnosed with asthma when I was about two.  I can remember that Mom and Dad had to do a few things to help me not have asthma attacks or at least lessen their frequency.  They got central air to protect me from the molds and grasses.  They made sure what ever school I went to was clean.  I remember I was enrolled to go to one school which happened to meet in the basement of the church.  Mom pulled me out of that school after two days.


I also couldn’t have pets like cats or dogs.  There was a tiny problem.  I seemed to like cats.  Mom had enrolled me in a daycare center and she told them to keep me away from cats.  Well, there was stray cat in the area, and somehow I was outside and decided to pet the cute kitty.  A few hours later, I was in emergency with a 103 temp fever and a bad asthma attack.


My asthma was pretty serious until I was about 9 or so.  I can remember one image that seemed to sum up my time living with severe asthma.  I was looking out the living room window.  My parents were careful when to let me outside and when to stay indoors.  They didn’t want me pushing myself too hard and triggering another attack.  So here I was maybe about 3 or 4 staring out the window seeing the world outside, a place that was viewed by the grownups as somewhat dangerous to me.  I can remember a sense of isolation, that I was different.


Illness has a way of doing that to people.  For whatever reason, getting sick with a chronic illness tends to either keep people away or separate people from the rest of the world.  The current struggles with the Ebola virus has resulted in people being cut off from the wider community, even when there is little chance that the person in question would get sick.


Sometimes people isolate themselves from others in order to not have face others or have people see them in a vulnerable position.  I’ve known people with psoriasis who wear beards to cover their skin.  Older people who have various health problems tend to stay home instead of going out, something that might be too hard or too embarassing.


In the Bible, we might be familiar with the texts that deal with people with various skin diseases.  These stories are found more often than not in the gospels.  Jewish law deemed these people unclean and they had to separate themselves from the wider community.  In today’s story we meet a man named Naaman.  He’s the top general in the Syrian army.  He was considered a masterful warrior which probably made him famous in Syria.  But while things might seem to be going well for Naaman, we learn that he has leprosy.  Now leprosy in the Bible was probably not the thing we think about when we think of leprosy: which is also called Hanson’s Disease.  Instead, it refferred to a number of skin diseases.  We don’t know what kind Naaman had, but we do know it was serious.


One day, a servant girl speaks to Naaman’s wife.  The young girl was from Israel and was taken during one of Syria’s raids.  She tells the wife: “Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.”


Naaman hears this and goes to tell the king.  I can imagine him feeling a little bit of hope.  Maybe, a cure was around the corner.  He tells his boss, the king, the news.  The king decides to send a letter his counterpart in Israel and sends Naaman on his way.


Naaman is probably thinking he would have this grand meeting with Elisha the prophet.  But that wasn’t meant to be.  Instead of seeing Elisha he was greeted by a servant and instructions: go wash in the Jordan River seven times.


Some theologians criticize Naaman for being so prideful and I think there is a bit of that.  But I wonder if this is not more an anger of frustration than mere pride.  Elisha never bothered to come out to meet Naaman.  There was that problem of isolation again.  Instead of meeting him face to face, Elisha seems to hold Naaman at a distance, something he’s been used to for as along as he had the illness.  Maybe he thought Elisha was doing the same thing: staying away and then to add insult to injury being told wash in a substandard and probably unclean river.


A journalist of Liberian heritage was in her nativeland to report on the Ebola epedemic.  Back in the United States, she talked about the fact that she couldn’t touch her family members and noticed how sad it was to not be able to hug a neice or shake a friend’s hand. Could Naaman have been angry that yet again, someone couldn’t come near him for fear of being infected.  He was ready to head back to Syria, unhealed.


Like in the early part of the chapter, it is the outsiders, the servants who come to Naaman’s aid.  They persuade him to wash in the Jordan and he is healed.  The outsider is now free from what kept him separated.  He is made whole.


The interesting part of this whole story is that God was always there in the background.  In verse one, we see God affecting the outcome of the battles Naaman fought in.  The little girl had faith that Elish could heal Naaman through God’s power.  God is with Naaman when he is the outsider with a skin edition, God is with the servant girl who is considered an outsider by being a servant.  After Naaman is healed, he asks that he might take some clumps of the soil in Israel.  He plans to play on that soil, as a reminder of who it was that healed him.


Before I go any further, there is an anti-story here as well.  Gehezi, Elisha’s servant schemes to get some of the riches Naaman brought as a gift for Elisha, the gifts the prophet refused.  The insider decides to get his pound of flesh.  But Elisha knew that Gehezai had scammed someone who has been healed by God.  Because of that, he got the same skin condition Naaman was healed from.  The insider was pushed out because of his greed.


The story to hear from this passage is that the God of the Israelites is the God of the world.  It is a God that cared for a foriegn general, a man from a foreign people who wanted to worship and follow God.


The ultimate healing that would come in the form of Jesus Christ would not be just for certain people, but for the whole world.  Outsiders would become insiders.


This past Friday, we had our first ever Trunk or Treat.  Yes, it was dissappointing to only get one child after standing out in the cold.  But the role of a church is to tell those around us that they are welcomed at God’s table.  We can’t force them to come, but when we as church share God’s love with others, we are bringing others to God’s Welcome Table.


By the way, as I got older, I kind of outgrew my asthma.  I still carry an inhaler that I use at times.  But I was able to get outside more and most importantly, I got to pet cats and not get sick.  I wasn’t separated anymore.  And neither are we.  Thanks be to God. Amen.


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