Who wants to do great things? Only me? Who would like Stairs to be known, not just in our community, but maybe in the entire city or province as one that shares faith, love and community in grand, memorable, amazing ways? Again, only me? Do we like the accolades that come along with grand, memorable gestures? Who feels equipped to do those things? Or do we feel better equipped to do small things… or do we feel that small things don’t make a difference?
Today we are going to explore the juxtaposition of those two things. They are as ancient as our scriptures and as current as today.Our reading today is from the book of Kings.
After David and Solomon, the kings became increasingly more self-interested and less faithful, worshipping other gods and engaging in economic and social practices that were harmful to the community. The kingdom split apart into the northern kingdom of Israel, made up of the land of ten of the tribes, with the capital in Samaria, and the southern kingdom of Judah, made up of the land of two tribes, with the capital in Jerusalem. Each kingdom had their own kings who were mostly not good, with the occasional bright spot among them. God sent prophets to speak to the kings and the people, to try to bring them back to God’s way. Other prophets were in the royal court, paid to give the king the news he wanted to hear from the divine realms. In today’s story we hear about a prophet who was decidedly not welcome in the royal court, but who did have power from God. He lived and worked in the northern kingdom of Israel, which was particularly politically unstable and was also the first target of neighbouring empires with dreams of expansion. (Teri Peterson)
In the midst of all these kings and prophets are the words of a slave girl, overshadowed in inventory of riches. But her words are key to understanding the story. Let’s listen, as it unfolds in the second book of Kings, chapter 5:
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from a skin disease. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his skin disease.” 4 So Naaman[a] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, “Go, then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his skin disease.” 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his skin disease? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God and would wave his hand over the spot and cure the skin disease! 12 Are not Abana[b] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
I love the Hebrew Scriptures, the First Testament, or what many of us grew up knowing as the Old Testament. I love them because the stories are timeless. Here we have Naaman, a commander of an army, with some sort of skin disease. Who thinks he needs some dramatic treatment by a prophet in order to be healed. After all, he is a commander! He has stature! He brings a letter from his king, the king of Aram, to the king of Israel, asking for healing. He wants his healing to come from someone with stature too! And he is willing to pay for it! Ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. The king of Israel tears his clothes when he receives the letter… it’s not clear why, tearing clothes is a sign of grief, anger, despair, shame etc.
Enter Elisha, a prophet, part of the king of Israel’s court. Naaman goes to Elisha’s house and Elisha won’t even receive him, instead, send a message that says, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” Naaman’s more than a bit ticked off with this, he wants drama, he wants invocations, he has come to a foreign king, who sends him on to a prophet, who won’t even come and meet with him.
Instead, just simple instructions: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
Isn’t this a very human story? We don’t want ordinary solutions to whatever ails us, whether that is illness or economic challenges or church survival. We want drama, we want someone to wave a magic wand. We don’t want to do the small things. The small things that eventually we realize are the important things.
Let me tell you a story about a church who engaged a consultant. They, like every church I’ve served in almost 20 years of ministry was concerned about membership and not enough people. Someone wanted to blanket the neighbourhood with brochures… someone else wanted to hire an advertising company to tell their story. Someone else thought that they should get rid of their current minister and if only the church could get the right minister, or maybe an additional minister to do this work for them, the pews would be miraculously filled once again. Just like they remembered them from the 60s and 70s. All of these were grand, dramatic gestures.
As the conversation wound down into fretting over how they would afford any one of these options, the consultant said, “You know, numerous studies have shown that the best way to grow a church is for members to invite their friends.”
There was silence… a silence that seemed to go on forever… and then one brave voice said, “Why aren’t we doing that then?”
The consultant said, “I don’t know!”
It was simple, the solution was simple. Invite their friends. But they resisted. Surely it couldn’t be that simple? Surely there must be some much grander solution! Doesn’t that sound like Naaman? (Pause)
Our lives are made up mostly of ordinary moments, not grand gestures, but I believe that it is in the very ordinary moments that lives are transformed. We need grand gestures to inspire and energize us… and yet it is in the small moments that we are transformed: food offered, a listening ear, an invitation extended.
The fifth petal in our discipleship flower is one for loving service: caring for the needs of those both inside the church and outside the church and seeking justice for all. My reflections wound up taking me in a direction that was somewhat different than I had anticipated. But whether we are looking for healing or offering healing. Whether we are hoping to expand our church’s ministry and membership or offering to those who are already here. We can all cross the boundaries of our pre-conceived idea. We are called to discipleship… both in and out of the church.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Small Things – Rev. Catherine MacDonald
2 Kings 5:1-15a
November 13, 2022 – SMUC