Think for a minute of who you might imagine is the most powerful woman or man in the world. Naaman was one of those people. He was someone like Donald Rumsfield or Condelessa Rice or perhaps even better General Colin Powell when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Like each of these individuals, Naaman was a powerful man who had name recognition. At this point in his life, he has everything going for him, success, power, acclimation, adulation, and fame. He is a veritable rock star.
But he was a powerful man with a problem. And all the power in the world could not solve his problem for him. He was stricken with an incurable, horrible, defacing disease. This is a disease that would cause him to be shunned by all of society. He is faced with the total loss of his power and prestige.
But God, working in the amazing way that God often does, provided a means to resolve this problem. This means happened to be a young captive girl from Israel. Imagine, having all of the connections of one of the most powerful people in the world and yet. Those connections could provide no hope, no answers to this problem. But a little slave girl, the least powerful in the world has an answer. It is often in the least powerful people in the world that we are able to see God working in amazing ways.
Like Joseph the slave girl was faithful person placed by God in just the right spot, in spite of circumstances that seem far from favorable. Taken as a slave she ends up as one of the pivotal players in the healing of Naaman.
But back to our story. The girl knows of a prophet who could cure Naaman of his leprosy. It had to have taken a lot of faith for her to speak up and to say that. If she is wrong and sends her master on a wild goose chase she will end up paying dearly for daring to speak out. But she must have been rather persuasive as Naaman immediately asks for and receives permission from his king to go seek a cure.
So Naaman heads off to Israel for his cure. Of course he naturally appeals to the king of Israel. If you want something done, you should go straight to the top. The king of Israel however thinks he is being set up. He can't heal anyone and assumes that the king of Aram is setting him up for a reason to attack him. And so the king of Israel freaks out. But Elisha hears of what is going on and gets word to the king of Israel.
And so Naaman finds his way to Elisha's house for healing. Now Naaman expected something dramatic and exciting to happen. And I'm sure he expected a welcome befitting his high station in life. But he certainly does not get it. All he gets is a messenger telling him to wash in the Jordan river seven times to be healed.
This doesn't exactly please Naaman. He has been all over the country side on this mission for healing and this is all he gets for his trouble. Naaman wanted the prophet to come out and do something spectacular, he wanted something a bit more showy than a messenger sending him off to a small and dirty river. In fact, Naaman is so unhappy he stomped off apparently unwilling to do what the prophet told him.
But calmer voices prevailed and Naaman was healed.
In this story we see God working through a wide variety of people. God works through a slave, through kings, through a wife, a prophet, a messenger and servants. God is at work in various ways through each of these players in the story. Some times it is easy to see the hand of God and work and other times it can be more difficult.
And that is how God works in the church. We all have different parts to play in the work God has called us to do, but each part is important to the whole. Some may seem to stand out as greater players in God’s work in the world around us, people perhaps like Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, and God does work through them. But God works even more through the many, many more whose names will never be known. If for no other reason than that there are a lot more of them to go around. These unknowns are often people who serve on the Altar Guild’s, on choirs, on vestries. They are people who mow lawns and clean floors. And they are people who feed the hungry and visit the sick. But it is far too easy to focus on those out in front in the public eye or on those things that are showy.
It was the showy things that spoke to the 70 in the Gospel lesson for today. “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” How wonderful Jesus the power we had when we were out there. It was a mountain top experience for them!
But Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” I think I’m sort of like the 70 that were sent out. If I had experienced all the things they had I’m sure I would have come running back to Jesus shouting the same thing: “Hey Jesus, even the demons submit to us!” Who wouldn’t be excited about that!
But Jesus says an amazing thing. Don’t rejoice at that, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” What a downer. Don’t get me wrong, I do rejoice that my name is written in heaven, but come on Jesus, I have been casting out demons. Can’t I rejoice about that for a minute or so? Can’t I bask in the glow of my victory? It is a completely human reaction. We all want to find God in amazing situations.
But I believe most of God’s work is done in quiet ways by the unknown players. Those like the slave girl. She could have been focused on herself and the great unfairness of her present condition of life. But instead she serves God in a powerful way. Although we never know her name, she was just an important to God as anyone else.
What things are God calling you and I to do? They may not be the things that make the news. But that should not be our concern. Our concern needs to be answering the call of God in the world. God calls on us to be God’s eyes, and hands, and feet in the world today. God calls us, like this slave to be God’s voice in the world. We may be called on to speak at uncomfortable time or in uncomfortable places, but we must be ready to respond to the call of God.
It is not so much in the great and powerful things that God calls us for. It is in those mundane activities of reaching out to others in every day life where we have the ability to share the love of God most powerfully with others.
As the Swiss writer Henri F. Amiel said:
Life is short
and we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts
of those who make this
earthly pilgrimage with us;
so be swift to love
and make haste
to do kindness.
A look back: December 11, 1996...
13 hours ago