Nothing Splashy, Just the Word

Sermon 1717 2 Kings 5.1-14 October 18, 2020

A tip of the hat to my high school science teacher, Marty Sponholz. He taught me the scientific method. Mr. Sponholz was hired by the city of Chicago in the 1960s to study air pollution, specifically inversion layers. Before computers, he and his coworkers had to spend a lot of time in Antarctica. It was the only place on Earth where the nights were long enough for them to get the readings and run the math. Marty taught me how to look for the way things work by simplifying the problem, eliminating peripherals which didn’t affect the outcome. That’s why he bunked with the Russians during the Antarctic winter--no pollution, no skyscrapers, no urban heat islands, just night after night of a stationary inversion layer.

Complex problems can be solved when you break them down into their constituent parts. And if you boil it all down to one central problem, voila! E=mc2 moments, happen.

Let’s do that today with our faith. What makes Christianity tick? What makes the Church work? All sorts of data complicate the issue--the look of the building, the type of church governance, location, location, location, if we had a praise band we’d attract the younger generation.

Hardly an academic exercise, this is necessary as we turn the corner balancing the need for worship with the threat of the COVID-19 virus. What is unnecessary? What must stay?

We see a case study before us in our Sunday School lesson for today, Elisha Heals Naaman.

Nothing Splashy, Just the Word

  1. Money, power and pride are peripherals.

  2. God’s Word and faith are the reactants.

  3. Deliverance is the product.

There is an end product we have to get to if this church business is real and viable at all. It has to provide deliverance, no matter how you define it. Let’s see what the end product is in the story.

“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy (1-3).’”

Here’s a statement of the problem. How do you cure Naaman of his leprosy?

Here’s the hypothesis. Nothing splashy, just the word. Let’s eliminate some peripherals that have nothing to do with getting our end product.

“Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ‘By all means go,’ the king of Aram replied. ‘I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ‘With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me! (4-7).’”

Sure looks like money and power here. Two kings, an official letter and almost five million dollars of precious metals. Quite a procession must have accompanied Naaman into Israel’s capital city, guards to protect the money and security forces because, well, because he is an enemy of Israel. Remember when our President went to an Asian country and there was almost a fistfight when it appeared the host country wanted to separate our President from his security and advisors? You keep your finger on the trigger in situations like that.

But are these components, money and power, really peripherals? Don’t they advance the process towards our desired product, a leprosy-free Naaman? Not at all! All they are doing is raising false hopes and exaggerating imagined slights. Two nations are on the verge of war! Money and power have done nothing constructive.

One more peripheral, pride, emerges as the story continues. Naaman goes to Elisha’s house. Elisha’s helper answers the door and tells him to “wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed (10).”

“But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed? So he turned and went off in a rage (11-12).”

Naaman’s pride is hurt. He wanted a show, some personal hocus pocus from the prophet to cure him. But to wash in the Jordan? The Jordan was filthy. The rivers coming out of the mountains to Damascus were pure, spring fed and crystal clear. Naaman will not lower himself to wash in the Jordan. Pride is as helpful as money and power in reaching the desired outcome. We can rule them all out. It’s scientific.

“If only I won the Megabucks Jackpot, pastor, I’d pay off the church’s mortgage!” I think we’ve all thought that. We imagine that would put our church on a firm footing. Our experiment’s initial findings say it ain’t so. Money doesn’t further the end product of deliverance. Money can often make matters worse. When money isn’t there, people argue over how to get more. I was told by some of you New York City expats that the bishop back there had to command his priests to cut back on so many Bingo nights in the church basements, because it was taking their time away from ministering to people! That says something. When money is there, people argue over how to spend it. One of our former church presidents had a saying, “I can get you an elephant for so much money.” “But we don’t need an elephant.” “I can get you two elephants for a deal.” “OK!” Money doesn’t save.

Power doesn’t cut it, either. I think sadly back over the history of our congregation and some of our worst spiritual years were when we had people who saw their positions in the church as sources of power. They loved to bully and push people around. Fire the pastor! Fire both pastors! Get rid of the director! Get rid of the synod! When they found out those techniques wouldn’t work at Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church, they left.

Appeals to pride are not the way to heaven. Human pride is never pictured favorably in the Bible. “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble (James 4.2).” When Gabriel leaves Mary, she sings, “God has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts (Luke 1.51).” Pride stands in the way of deliverance. So in the post-COVID Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church, don’t look for appeals to the pride of people.

Nothing splashy, just the word is our hypothesis. We have eliminated everything that doesn’t work towards deliverance, the desired goal. God’s Word and faith are the reactants.

The Word of God gets the ball rolling. “Elisha sent a messenger to say to Naaman, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed (10).’” That’s it. That’s the Word of God. It is not tough to understand. Wash in the Jordan River. Do it seven times. You will be cured. We’ve already seen how pride reacts to the Word of God. Naaman’s servants are upset at their master’s tantrum. “Naaman’s servants went to him and said ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, “Wash and be cleansed”!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times as the man of God had told him (13-14a).”

Faith keeps that ball rolling. Oh, and it isn’t a little faith or a big faith, a heroic faith or a faith that can move mountains. Naaman’s faith is a grudging faith, an “I’ll give it a try” faith. It is about as heroic as a kid finally listening to mom to take out the garbage. But he does what the prophet’s messenger told him.

Simple words. Simple responses. That’s it. The Bible says God wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For that to happen, the plan of salvation has to be really simple, because nobody sees things the same way. “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” “Christ died, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Everybody knows what those words mean. There is no mistaking them. Some do not believe them, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they know what these words mean.

Simple words. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Simple words. Take eat, this is my body which is given for you for the forgiveness of sins. Simple words. Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That gets the ball rolling. Those words come from God.

Simple responses. Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Whoever believes has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. Those responses, while some may argue about it, those responses, the responses of faith, come from God, too. God made his light shine in our hearts. That’s what we mean when we confess we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.

Here’s today’s “Aha” moment. Both the words and the faith in those words come from God. Both the words and the faith in those words come from God. God gives the promise. “Go and wash in the Jordan.” “Believe in me.” But through those words God gives what he commands. He creates what he asks for. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” The Gospel creates faith in our hearts. Where there was only deadness, a pride-filled Naaman storming away in a tantrum, now there is life, an acceptance of that word, an “I believe” no matter how faint the understanding of that belief is. Naaman goes down to the Jordan and dips himself, not once, just to show Elisha it won’t work, but seven times, as the Word of God commanded.

Nothing splashy, just the Word. Deliverance is the product.

If I put the reactants together I get a product. Sodium and chloride go into the test tube and out comes salt. Hydrogen and oxygen go into the tank and out comes water. I get the product I had a hunch I would get. My scientific method worked. It proves deliverance is the product.

“So Naaman went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel (14-15).”

Naaman is saved. He is delivered from his leprosy. His skin looks like that of an eight year old boy’s. Naaman is saved. He is delivered from sin, death and the devil. He knows and believes in the one, true God, the only Lord, the God of Israel.

Deliverance takes two forms in our lives, also. The first is the greatest deliverance, the deliverance from unbelief. We will not be judged on the Last Day on the basis of our wicked deeds. The blood of Jesus has blotted out every one of them. Forgiven and free, we are going to heaven. There can be no greater deliverance than that. Already our souls feel that deliverance. Already now our soul has that new life, the Christian within us, before God. This new life is why we trust in the Lord, pray to him, worship him, do the work of his Church, determined to make it great again, to build it back better. Our bodies will participate in that deliverance on the Last Day when Jesus raises us from the dead so that, soul and body together again, we will live in heaven.

The second deliverance is all the other deliverances we experience. We recover from illnesses. The Lord so moves our schedules so we were late getting out of the house to work and missed the big accident on the freeway by five minutes. The Lord delivers us with a call back to work just as our six month savings is down to its last nineteen dollars. The Lord delivers us from lots of time-consuming arguments as he gives us the discipline to bite our tongue and say nothing. Thanks to the Holy Spirit telling us, we can see Naaman’s second deliverance. Because of accounts like this, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to keep adding our deliverances to his written list of accomplishments. We know he has reached out. We know he has delivered us. We are grateful. We pray, praise and give thanks.

Nothing Splashy, Just the Word

  1. Money, power and pride are peripherals.

  2. God’s Word and faith are the reactants.

  3. Deliverance is the product.

As we move forward, let’s not overlook the obvious. Money, power and pride will not be our focus to build God’s Church. Those may be the very things we will have to fight against! We will push everything that fosters the spread of God’s Word. We will nurture every spark of faith the Holy Spirit lights. We will see the power of God for the deliverance of many. Nothings splashy, just the Word.

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