Peg's Sermon on 2 Kings 5:1-14 & Mark 1:40-45
When Reg and I left two
weeks ago for the Head of Staff Conference it was raining here in
But as to how God could
do all that in one week, the scriptures before us this morning show us a God who
does all kinds of wonders – though often in ways and by means we don’t
expect and sometimes we don’t even like.
In today’s II Kings
reading unexpected people carry the story forward.
A young slave girl has hope in a situation of grave hopelessness.
Though Naaman, the commander of the Aramean Army has had great victories,
he now faces something all the horses and chariots and wealth in the world
cannot command. He has the dreaded
skin disease, leprosy. And for all
the rank he can pull, he holds no rank over this disease.
But the story doesn’t
end as would seem inevitable. Naaman
does not go off and die separated from his people.
Instead, the story links him to people he’d never imagine being liked
to and the story ends in surprise. An
Israelite girl who had been taken captive by the Arameans is used by God in an
enormously surprising way.
This young girl serves as
maid to Naaman’s wife, so in essence she is in enemy hands.
But that does not keep her from seeing the human need. She
sees the possibility of healing for Naaman and doesn’t withhold what she
knows. The girl’s compassion is costly because had she held her tongue, Naaman,
who was the one who enslaved her, might have remained crippled with leprosy and
But the girl risked
compassion and says to her mistress, “If only my Lord were with the prophet
who is in
And so Naaman came with
all his entourage loaded down with silver and gold and beautiful Aramean
garments and horses and chariots. But
Elisha wasn’t impressed by all that and just sends a messenger to meet him.
And Naaman is incensed. He
knew himself to be an important person and Elisha does not even take the time to
come himself and wave hands over him and cure him in a grand fashion.
And the messenger who
Elisha sends makes things worse for Naaman because he tells Naaman to simply dip
seven times in the
As you may know, the
number seven in the Hebrew Scriptures means more than just the number.
The number seven means infinity, endless, on and on.
In other words, Naaman is being told not to just dip himself; not to just
get wet seven times. He’s being
told to do this endlessly. He’s
being told to live wet. The story is
a story about transformation.
Leprosy was a life
threatening disease, but it was also a socially threatening reality.
To have leprosy was to be banned from human community.
It was to wear a label naming you unclean. There was no cure in those
days. There was no hope.
Martin Luther identifies
Naaman’s dilemma with our efforts of works righteousness, our efforts to save
ourselves from the predicaments that enslave us – physically, emotionally,
spiritually, or mentally. No matter
how brilliant of a commander Naaman was, or how many riches he had, or how much
clout he enjoyed he could not save himself.
There are realities in
our lives that we too have no power over. Some
people are struggling with life threatening diseases.
Others are buried under the weight of guilt and fear.
Still others are struggling just to make ends meet. Day-to-day life
itself can be overwhelming. Others
find themselves saddened by the way things are in their family, or community, or
in the world. They do not see how to
get around what overwhelm them.
Luther regards Naaman’s
eventual willingness to dip in the
In the verses before us
this morning from the Gospel of Mark we hear another story of leprosy.
This man in the Gospel story believes Jesus can cure him, but what Jesus
has on his mind is not curing, but healing.
And there is a difference. In
this story, the man with leprosy is ostracized by his community.
As a leper he is supposed to live outside the city gates. And
if he comes near anyone he is required by law to shout “Unclean!” and mess
his hair up so he stood out in the crowd. (I
think we should ask Reg to demonstrate!)
There were other
Levitical laws as well. If you
touched someone with leprosy, you took on their lot.
You too became unclean simply by that close association.
Jesus had compassion for the man, but he also saw the larger implications
of the cultural taboo related to leprosy. Jesus
did not have to touch the man to cure him. Jesus
is God who can turn the weather from rain to blossoms in a week if God chooses.
And choose God does.
And the man said to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
And Jesus chose to do more than cure his temporary state. Jesus didn’t
prevent the man from ever dying. He
would die someday, as we all will. What
Jesus had in mind was larger than curing and so Jesus stretched out his hand and
touched this leprose man.
Jesus’ compassion was
costly because by touching the man, Jesus traded places with him.
He took on his ailment. Jesus
became unclean in the eyes of the world. But
Jesus did not live into that label. He
knew something he had come to help the world see: those with leprosy are not
unclean, rejected, condemned in the eyes of God.
Jesus now wore the label of “unclean” according to the law, but
Jesus continued to preach, to teach, to love and care and serve.
He continued to gather children around him, to speak with women in
public, to call people to lives of blessedness and compassion – even costly
To be sure, he was
affected by his new label. He now
could no longer go into a town openly, but had to stay out in the country, as
today’s text tells us. But Jesus
carried on his ministry and people came to him still.
Jesus came to show us
that nothing can separate us from God. Or
even, if we take the promise seriously, from each other.
Not even incurable diseases that eventually take our lives.
We are still in the company of Jesus who takes our lot upon himself.
And, we are still in the company of the communion of saints.
Not even death can hold us from God or each other. This is a promise to
hold close at heart every time we come to the Table.
At the Table of the Lord
it is with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven that we
feast. That means with my mom and
dad, your late relatives and those who will die too soon in life.
They remain a part of God’s forever family.
What is overwhelming is met by God’s love forever.
And if this promise extends to the ultimate overwhelming that death is,
how much more so does it make sense for us to trust that it extends to the daily
overwhelmings of our lives.
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson,
to the glory of God