The Miracle
2 Kings 1:-14

This is a pretty well-known story.  Often, having heard it, we walk away primarily with an impression of ‘the miracle’.  In your listening today I ask you to notice how various people react and relate in ministry to one another:

 1 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.
 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “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. 6 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.”
 7 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!”
 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
 11 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. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
 13 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’!” 14 So he 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.

“Ta Dah!”

What he wanted was a flourish.  Or magic words.  Naaman was desperate for someone to offer some compassionate ministry, but he also wanted ministry worthy of a headline.

Wash?  His whole life resurrected, restored by a simple washing?  What kind of religion is that?

Perhaps ours is not the only era in which significance is measured by celebrity status, or the degree of ‘super’ or ‘mega’ attached to our next ‘extravaganza’.  Perhaps that is inherent in the human condition, in human nature.  We have a current culture full of high-profile ‘causes’; a culture that constantly drives us to achieve and succeed and where to simply ‘be’ may leave us painfully longing to ‘be more’:  to ‘be noticed’, or to ‘be noteworthy!’ (or even ‘be notorious’ rather than ‘be’ in a ‘be nothing’ sort of way).  It’s not just the reality; it’s also the excitement, the buzz….

The danger, of course, is that we then run the risk of overlooking the ‘ordinary’ – or even undervaluing(!) what may be considered common, un-spectacular.

I asked you to listen to the story of the healing of Naaman with a particular focus on how people in the story react and relate in ministry to one another.  In a way, I would like you to consider the situation from the perspective of our understanding of what we call Christian ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’.  In an immediate sense our ‘calling’ is about listening to what God says to us, asks of us, invites us to do in response to his calling; in a broader sense it really is about the whole of who we are and how our lives are shaped by the fact that God has brought his grace into our lives; it’s about how we live having received and knowing God’s loving will for us.

The whole of the story, the whole of ‘the miracle’, the whole of the ‘event’, the whole of the ‘drama’, the whole of the international diplomacy, royal correspondence, and the extravagant ‘tokens of my appreciation’ – it all begins with a child, a girl, a slave, a foreigner – a person of no power, no authority, no acknowledged significance who shows compassion for the one who has abducted and enslaved her.  Her faith in the power of God is combined with her faith in the mercy and love of God, and is demonstrated in her compassion for Naaman. 

Naaman’s wife translates the compassion of the slave girl into the suggestion of hope for her husband.

Then the tempo shifts, the spotlights are switched on, as the power steps in.  The king of Aram sends a letter outlining his expectations.  Naaman, the commander of the army, puts together an incentive package.  The king of Israel immediately sees the threat of an international incident; and two royal courts are set into uproar about who has the rights and who has the authority and who has the power and whose expectations will or won’t be met, and what are the implications … and we have, in a way that we do so well, moved some distance from the compassion of a slave girl for her master who was suffering and, in fact, a long way from the Word of God she hoped her master would hear.

Enter Elisha.  Elisha pulls the plug on all the power play and does his job:  he speaks God’s Word – he speaks God’s Word into the life of a man suffering:  “Wash, and be cleansed.”

“Be cleansed.”  The expression here is a use of what is called in studying the language of the Bible, a ‘divine passive’.  By saying ‘you be cleansed’, or ‘he was saved’, or ‘you are called’ – each of these use the passive voice with the understanding that God is the subject of the verb, God is the one who performs the action:  God cleanses, God saves, God calls.  When Naaman trusts that what Elisha has spoken is worthy of trust and goes and washes in the Jordan:  it is God who cleanses, it is God who heals.

You can write royal letters and decrees, and you can gather impressive incentives, and you could even make a loud pronouncement and wave your arms around with trumpets and shouts – but you can’t heal.  God heals.

This is what the little slave girl knew from the beginning.  What she began was not a grand exercise, but a simple act of compassion and care for someone suffering.

The Gospels repeat this lesson dozens of times.  Jesus’ own healing miracles are offered not with fanfare but with compassion.  And though Jesus’ power is made clear, more than not Jesus seems to draw our attention to the faithful father who pleads for his child, the friends who carry the helpless one, the mother who will endure any insult, the compassionate foreigner, the persistent outcast – people whose world is not at all unlike our daily existence – to whom comes the often very, very simple Word of healing and hope:  “I forgive you.”  “I am with you.”  “I hear your prayer.”  “I will never leave you.”

Today we have a good-sized gathering of people from our community who, in their daily vocation, bring the saving message and loving action of God’s faithfulness into the lives of others.  On top of that we also have gathered together a group who have a special calling in this community, as staff of our two schools, bring the saving message or loving action of God’s faithfulness into the lives of the children and families of our schools.  And the truth is we do actually have “Ta dah!” moments – maybe one of them even this morning when we visually see a sizeable crowd of people whom God has brought together to serve our local community – “Ta dah!  What a blessing!” – in our day to day we don’t always see the ‘big’ because our focus is on the smaller, the more intimate, the one-to-one conversations or acts of service. 

Who remembers the name of the little girl?  She is unnamed in this story; did you notice that?  The whole of this great miracle starts with the act of compassion, the love, of an unnamed slave girl who says, “if only he could see the prophet”, which means, “if only he could hear God’s Word”.

“The girl invites Naaman to hear that Word.  Elisha speaks God’s Word.  God heals and restores Naaman’s life.”  There:  the whole drama in 25 words (and less). 

Our community here is one of the most complex ministry communities you will come across.  With that complexity comes the reality that most of us don’t even come close to knowing all that is actually going on.  What we don’t see we don’t comprehend, we don’t feel we control, we don’t see the outcomes, we don’t know how to assess.  And when we put everything – commitment, energy, personal investment – into something we don’t fully see, comprehend, control, or assess it is easy to sometimes be unsure or lose confidence.

Here is a simple reference point for each of us, in our ministry – and each of us has a ministry in our lives – break it down to the simple insight of the unnamed slave girl:  “If only he could hear the Word of God.…”  And then, with compassion, she begins the conversation that introduces that Word…. 

Compassion doesn’t always create a headline, but it gets the heart-lines happening – relationships around the Word of God.

And whether you are charged with responsibility to preach or teach or lead a class, a club, a craft, a kitchen, or a whole community, or sing softly over your finally-sleeping infant, or make a phone call to ‘check up’ on someone remembered, or silently sit with your prayers, your compassion and faithfulness that draws another into God’s healing and hope-giving and resurrecting and joy-giving and service-inspiring and song-provoking and affirming conversation with his loved one… – well done good and faithful servant!  God promises to make his grace effective in that, in his Word, in the lives of those you care for!