Sermon – 4 July 2004

This morning, I am going to concentrate exclusively on the story of Naaman.

It is a story that I first heard when I was in Sunday School ? for some reason, it has been a popular story to teach to children.

I suspect that the reason for that is that you can read it simply as a story of obedience. Naaman ultimately had to do exactly what he was told and, the implication when teaching it in that way to children is, that so must we, always, do exactly what we are told.

Well, I can see how the story came to be told that way, but this morning, I want to try to read it another way.

One way of reading this story (and lots of other stories in the bible) is to ask where all the power is.

Well, on the face of it, at the start, Naaman has all the power. He is a warrior. His pal is the king, whom he thing can get him everything he wants. Yet, he has no control over his health. Leprosy overtakes him.

Then as now, a connection was made between health and the spiritual. That connection has certainly changed over the years. Sometimes we still talk as though God strikes people down with illness, though, I hope, we don?t believe that at all.

It is easy to think that everything that happens to us, bad as well as good, happens because God has decided that it will be so.

I don?t believe that for a minute. I don?t believe that God can do us anything but good and anyway, we know more and more about the origins of disease and what causes us to have bad health. However, that is not to say for a minute that health, well-being and spirituality are not forever linked ? they are.

But back to Naaman. With leprosy, his power instantly starts to diminish. Naaman begins the story as the master of the king?s army ? someone whom everyone else would listen to. However, he soon turns into someone who has to listen to others. Listen, in fact, even to his servants, who come out of the story rather well.

Indeed, Naaman is reduced to taking the advice of a woman ? one of his wife?s slave-servants. Someone whom he would, no doubt, when things were going well, have thought nothing of at all.

The balance of power has swung right away from military might and is picked up by the slave girl who almost seems to be speaking out of turn. The power of a woman?s voice in the right place at the right time.

But in order to get what the women tell him he needs, Naaman must use his influence. Off he goes to the king and gets sent off to Israel. The power of influence.

And in Israel, he presents himself to the king there and brings the letter which demands that he be healed. And the power shifts again. The king this time has to decide what to do. He has the power, but pretty quickly it turns into the power of fear.

For fear grips his as he senses that he is in the middle of a political plot.

Then Elisha comes into the scene. All of a sudden, the man of God has all the power. The power of calmness. The power of taking calm control of the situation.

And he sends Naaman off on his bathing trip. And the warrior goes off in a huff ? almost ready to leave Israel without the cure rather than submit to being treated without the respect he thinks he deserves.

And once again, he is forced into listening to the voices of those who seldom get heard ? the voices of people whom he usually takes scant heed of.

He goes down to the river. To the muddy banks of the river Jordan. And he bathes. And he is healed.

As Naaman was down in the river, perhaps he was washing off all kinds of things which harmed him. Perhaps he was washing off some of the arrogance that characterises his story. The faith in power and influence. The belief that his connections can get him anything. The trust in military power. His pride. His bad temper. A warrior amongst warriors. A patriarch in a patriarchal society.

It is a wonder that washing seven times was enough.

I wonder whether the prophet Elisha got some kind of wry pleasure out of sending this big man down to the river to wallow in the mud.

For the Jordan is a muddy river ? more so than the great rivers of the North which Naaman was so proud of.

But the big man became like a young boy. And he is healed. Healed hopefully of more than his skin disease. Here is hoping that his grumpiness gets washed off in the river too.

Things that separate Naaman from God:

? Pride
? Piggheadedness
? Patriarchy

Things that restored him and made him like a young boy:

? Humility
? Listening to unheard voices
? Wallowing about in the mud.

One of the ways of hearing the voice of God is to listen for the voices of those who don?t often get heard. Those who seem to have no power, or influence or military might.

The big secret in the bible which churches through the centuries seem to have managed to keep under wraps, is that God is always on the side of the poor and the downtrodden. And the authentic voice of God can be heard alongside those who are seldom listened to.

The song that I taught you earlier in the service which is based on this story and all the other stories in the bible where people go down to the water to pray is a song of struggle. The song of voices from the deep South in America. Black voices. Voices who were, at one time, seldom heard. And to end the sermon slot this morning, we?ll sing their song once again.

As I went down to the river to pray,
talking about that Good Old Way,
and who shall wear the robe and crown,
Good Lord, Show us the way.

Oh sinners let?s go down,
Let?s on down wont you come on down
Oh sinners let?s go down. Down to the river to pray.

As I went down to the river to pray,
talking about that Good Old Way,
and who shall wear the robe and crown,
Good Lord, Show us the way.


  1. Kelvin says

    Re: Sermon – 4 July 2004

    I enjoyed this. It's good to expose power and patriarchy in a church sermon and to get across the message that it's much easier to find God in and among people at the bottom of the pile. I wonder how many opportunities there are for church goers to find that out for themselves. Moira

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