Saturday, July 06, 2013

C, Pentecost 7 Proper 9 - 2 Kings 5:1-14 "The Problem Being Parochial"

 So [Naaman] went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  (2 Kings 5: 14 ESV)
There’s not a better feeling being clean after one has endured in the stench of a filthy body for some time.  Even better is the peace and tranquillity of health after the churning and trauma of illness.  Picture Naaman standing clean in health after he had suffered at the hand of skin disease.  No more sores, no more oozing, no more itching and stinging, the smell of failing flesh is gone, and so too is the social stigma of being a carrier of leprosy.
But there’s a stigma that’s even worse than the physical ailment seen by all; it’s one not seen by the naked eye of humanity.  Yet it’s more debilitating, and everyone of us are long sufferers and loathers of this stigma we bear in the being of our flesh every day.  This is the oozing, rancid, reality of sin.  Like Naaman all of us have a deep down desperate desire to be rid of the sickly stench of our sinfulness.
However, it’s surprising Naaman even had the opportunity to be cleansed, let alone the cleansing once he was given the advice which would free him from the foulness of his flesh.  We hear…
…Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house.  And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”  But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.  (2Kings 5:9-12)
Now it’s easy for us to understand Naaman’s anger.  Why?  Because each of us bear the same pride as that of Naaman.  This pride manifests itself in his parochial attitude; the same parochial short sightedness as all of us bear.
A little test will demonstrate our bias.  Are you a cat person or a dog person?  What about Ford or Holden?   After all we all know Fords are “Found On Rubbish Dumps”, and Holdens are Holes, Oil Leaks, Dents & Engine Noise.  Perhaps you’re a lover of the green John Deere over the mighty Red of the Case or blue of the New Holland.  How about your political alliance; that always causes the hackles to flair!  And when it comes to the footy, surely we all stand as one!  Dare I even mention the other ludicrous code and how they hold and kick a football!
The point of this little, perhaps humorous, exercise demonstrates how our pride leads us away from listening, into opinions which are more or less built on emotive judgments.  It’s more than coincidence when a “one eyed supporter” evokes a war of words, always with another who’s just as opinionated it seems!  Pride always rubs pride up the wrong way!
Naaman expected big things from Elisha.  And Elisha surely delivered, but not as the military man had expected.  No pomp and ceremony, not even a face to face meeting, and washing in the waters of the Jordan, that’s just laughable; ludicrous!  Like Naaman, being parochial causes us problems.
But how did Naaman come to the point where he was commanded to wash in the Jordan seven times?  These are a string of events that break the parochial single mindedness of the most powerful people and they all start with the capture of a little child.  In the scheme of earthly things, this young girl is a nobody; she amounts to nothing in the big picture of Syro-Israeli relations.  We can be quite confident there wasn’t talk of her capture in the halls of power at Damascus or Samaria.
Yet this is from whom the whole even unfolds!  A captured child of Israel, speaks to her mistress, the wife of Naaman, about what Elisha, the prophet in Israel would do.  This little child speaks and cuts through layers of protocol and parochial etiquette.  She could be mistaken as obnoxious for speaking out of turn; after all she is a slave.  But against pride and protocol the wife listens to her, then Naaman listens to his wife, and then the king in Damascus listens to his leprous military leader, and sends word to his enemy, the king of Israel.
And it gets a hostile parochial reception from the Israelite king.  As it would from any of us!  After all this is the enemy king, requesting for his unclean military commander, one who has been very successful in leading battle against Israel, to be healed of an incurable disease.  What would the Israelite king have thought, when confronted with a leprous, Gentile, warlord, breaking all the boundaries of parochial protocol?  Surely he’s picking a fight with this request!
Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” (2 Kings 5: 7)  Is the king’s conclusion!  The irony in his words names God yet exposes his lack of trust in God but rather trust in his own parochial godliness.
How often do we listen to the parochial god within rather than trust the eternal Father in heaven whose desire it is to free us from the longsuffering stigma of sin which kills and causes our narrow-mindedness?  How quick do we depart from the word of God and trusting in our own limited understanding lose sight of the cross?  And when the going gets tough, how habitually do we fall into the mindset that the tough must get going rather than allowing the Holy Spirit access into our being so we can pray and ponder God’s word, therefore glorifying all that has been done for us?
Like Naaman we get angry; like the king we tear at ourselves fearing the worst and unlike the little Israelite slave girl we hang onto our parochial ways to the detriment of grace, mercy and peace.
 After he is encouraged to listen to the command, I imagine Naaman went down into the Jordan, just to prove a point.  “I’ll show them all how ridiculous is bathing in the Jordan!”  Defiantly he doesn’t even wash, but just dips in the river seven times and is healed.  Now Naaman, the mighty military man from Syria is released from his scourge and like the little slave girl through whom God began the whole process now too carries the same innocent clean smoothness of her flesh and faith.
Surely the events recounting Naaman’s healing are a reminder to us Gentiles to return to Word of God.  To repent and daily trust in the actions of God in his Word, and what he has done for you having been baptised into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Having had the old parochial sinful self buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:12)
Let the Holy Spirit continue leading you from the stigma of all your sin, into the promised peace and holiness of your heavenly home, together with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.