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Sermon for 13 October 2013

FIRST READING 2 Kings 5:1–3, 7–15c

1 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 leprosy. 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 leprosy.” 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 leprosy? 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 leprosy! 12 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?” 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. 15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.

PSALM Psalm 111

1 Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. 2 Great are your works, O LORD, pondered by all who delight in them. 3 Majesty and splendor mark your deeds, and your righteousness endures forever. 4 You cause your wonders to be remembered; you are gracious and full of compassion. 5 You give food to those who fear you, remembering forever your covenant. 6 You have shown your people the power of your works in giving them the lands of the nations. 7 The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice; all of your precepts are sure. 8 They stand fast forever and ever, because they are done in truth and equity.
9 You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever; holy and awesome is your name. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever.

SECOND READING 2 Timothy 2:8–15

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — that is my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself. 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

GOSPEL Luke 17:11–19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”


If I were to say the word “healing” what comes to your mind? Oral Roberts? Ernest Angley? Professional healers on TV? The Christian Scientists? A place in France where lame people seem to have been made well? Jesus giving sight to a blind man? Perhaps none of the above. If you’re at the grocery store and you glance at one of those tabloid magazines and see the word “healing” on the front page, what do you think of? New-fangled diets? Miracle drugs? Acupuncture?
As Christians here in the US, we tend to compartmentalize healing. If something is wrong with our body, we go to a physician. If something is wrong with our spirit, we go to a pastor. If something is wrong with our mind, we go to a psychiatrist. And in at least one sense, that’s entirely proper. The wisdom and talent, these people share with others, is a gift from God. But the Bible doesn’t divide healing into those neat sections. Indeed, Jesus offered healing for the whole person-spirit, mind, and body. And what’s interesting is, modern medicine has been confirming just how right Jesus was for a while now.
Stop and consider what medical professionals have been saying for years; physicians talk constantly about holistic medicine. They know that there’s a deep and profound unity between spirit, mind, and body. Each person is an indivisible symphony of instrumental parts. I know, from experience, that during some of my annual checkups, my doctor will oftentimes inquire about stressors in my life that might indicate mental problems that could affect my physical well-being. As a physician, he knows that to bring real and profound healing to a human being, one must deal with the whole person, just as Jesus did. This is something that even the military picked up on some 15 to 20 years ago.
For years, the military kept physical, mental and spiritual matters completely separate. When it came to spiritual matters, a member would go to the chapel or seek out a chaplain. When we were physically ill, we’d naturally go to sick call or the hospital and if we found ourselves struggling with our mental well-being, we’d seek assistance from behavioral medicine. For decades these matters were dealt with independently, there was little to no connection between the three. Even if a member sought assistance from a chaplain for a mental concern, they would receive a referral and the member would be sent elsewhere. However, all that changed sometime in the late ‘90s.
Near the turn of the last century, the military realized that an individual needed to be viewed holistically. The body, mind and spirit had to be treated together. And it changed the way we viewed, supervised and cared for our people. Of course the spiritual aspect is now under attack, with many Christians being singled out and harassed over their belief on marriage. But that’s an issue for another day. The point is, Jesus saw the whole individual as God created them, body, intellect and spirit.
For those of us who have been around the block a time or two, we can remember when having a failing heart was fatal. We have one heart and when it gives out, that was it. There were few options. However, all that changed in the late 60’s when the first heart transplant took place. Early in the 60’s, pioneering progress in cardiac care and heart transplants took place in Memphis and some Christian physicians led the way. The first successful heart transplant was performed in 1967 by the South African surgeon, Dr. Christiaan Barnard. In telling about his experiences, Dr. Barnard said that very often, one of the first requests of a patient was to see their old heart. Dr. Barnard would comply with the request by putting the heart in a jar for the patient to see, and often the patient would say, “Thank you, doctor, for taking away my old diseased heart and giving me a new one.” On a much deeper level, that’s precisely what God can do for us.
When Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”, He in essence was saying we need new hearts. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can experience a kind of heart transplant. We receive forgiveness, changed hearts, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With God’s help, our perceptions, values, and priorities are gradually changed. The peace and joy of Christ replaces guilt, anger, and selfishness. We really do become new. That miracle is the true source of real healing. It is God alone who is the Great Physician.
He alone heals totally, touching the spirit, mind, and body. As the old Scottish teacher James S. Stewart used to say, “If there is any healing for humanity’s hurt, it must come, not from man’s side, but from God’s.” It’s God alone who can give us new hearts. Then from those healthy hearts, rivers of healing flow through body and mind. And we have access to that kind of healing through faith and obedience. In order to see those truths lived out in human terms, one place we can turn to is the story of Naaman in Second Kings, chapter 5.
The time period is about 800 years before Christ. The nation of Aram is the strongest country in the Middle East. It’s on the northeast border with Israel, approximately where Syria is today. Tradition indicates that Ben-Hadad was king of Aram and Yehoram is king of Israel. In our Old Testament reading for today, we’re introduced to a man named Naaman. He’s the commander of Aram’s army, and he’s contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy. Leprosy, much like AIDS today, was one of the most feared diseases of the time. Most forms of the disease were incurable and many were extremely contagious. What’s interesting about this story is that Naaman, despite his disease, still held his post, which means that his case was either a mild form of leprosy or perhaps it was in the earliest stages.
Earlier, Aram had conducted some cross-border raids into Israel and had taken captives. It continues to amaze me how God works in the lives of faithful people even when He seems to have abandoned them. Consider Joseph; betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, tempted by his master’s wife and thrown into prison, only to be lifted to a high position in Egypt at the right time to save his people. Or consider Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: One was thrown to the lions and the others into the fiery furnace. All were dealing with difficult circumstances, possibly feeling abandoned by God, yet because they placed their faith in God and remained obedient, at the right time God rescued them for His glory. The same thing happened to a young girl taken captive during a border raid by the Aram army.
Among those taken captive was a young Israeli girl, who became a servant for Naaman’s wife. She, like her ancestors, remained faithful to God. Despite the widespread wickedness in Israel during this time, this young slave girl hadn’t forgotten her God, nor His prophet Elisha. This is a critical point, because if she hadn’t been firm in her belief and willing to share her faith, the story of God’s work in Naaman’s life would never have happened. However, unlike her ancestors before her, Biblical history doesn’t record the girl’s name, but her witness made possible a miracle so significant that Jesus talked about it 800 years later. (Luke 4:27) Thank God for faithful parents, who taught her well, which reinforces what king Solomon wrote in Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” (22:6) It was through this faithful and obedient child’s witness, that Naaman was given hope.
It stands to reason that Naaman was desperate at this point and was willing to try anything because none of his doctors had given him any hope. So, Naaman asks King Ben-Hadad for permission to visit this prophet of Israel’s God, Elisha. King Ben-Hadad agrees and even sends a letter about the matter to king Yehoram of Israel. Because of his pagan beliefs, Ben-Hadad assumed that Elisha was under Yehoram’s command and control, so he sent a letter saying, “My man Naaman is coming to you for healing of his leprosy.” When Yehoram gets the letter, his blood pressure soars and he throws a temper tantrum. He rips his clothing in frustration and screamed, “Who does he think I am? Am I God, to give life or death, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of Leprosy? Ben-Hadad is just trying to pick a fight with me.” Yehoram is so wicked that he doesn’t even consider God as an option, nor does he even think to call on a proven servant of God, the prophet Elisha.
When Elisha gets word that king Yehoram was having a really bad day, he sends word to him, saying, “No need to get upset. Just send General Naaman to me.” So, with his entourage in tow, Naaman goes to the prophet’s house. Hoping to buy his cure, Naaman brought with him gold, silver, and clothing which in today’s dollars would be worth some $1.2 million. This man had to have been important and wealthy. He might of even had a few trumpet players along to herald his arrival. However, the reception he got from Elisha wasn’t what he expected.
According to 2 Kings, Elisha doesn’t receive Naaman with a large amount of pomp and circumstance or a grand reception. Nor does he run to meet the man in order to pay homage to him. In what must have been the biggest surprise of Naaman’s life, Elisha doesn’t even leave his house! Instead, he sent his servant out. And in what appeared to be the craziest thing anyone has ever heard, the servant said, “Elisha, the prophet of God, says for you to go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River and in that way the God of Israel will heal you. Have a nice day.”
Naaman was shocked and enraged! He expected to be treated like the VIP that he was, but instead he had to deal with a mere servant. Not only that, the prescription bothered him as well. Why must he bathe in that little muddy, ugly Jordan River when there were some really first-class rivers back in Aram? So, Naaman left in disgust. It’s an interesting reaction leaving us to ask, why didn’t Elisha go out and greet the visiting celebrity? Maybe God revealed to Elisha that Naaman was at least a quart low on humility and therefore, he needed to be taken down a few notches.
Notice something very important here. Naaman obviously had his own ideas about how he could be healed. I say important, because many of us suffer the same problem. We like to make our own prescriptions, but we have a hard time following them. Someone says, “My wife and that dumb counselor said that I’m selfish. That’s not the problem in our marriage; the problem is that she doesn’t understand me.” Someone else says, “I don’t have an alcohol problem. I can quit any time I want to.” Or someone says, “There’s nothing wrong with my work ethic or job performance. The problem is that my boss and I have a personality conflict.” Still others say, “This ‘repent and get right with God’ business is okay for uneducated and simplistic folks, but I’m much too sophisticated for that stuff.” Most of us act like physician “wanna-be’s”; we love to give prescriptions but we have a hard time receiving them. This is the problem Naaman was dealing with. The good news is, Naaman had surrounded himself with some pretty smart servants.
Luckily, Naaman had very wise servants who he listened to because one of them tells him, “if the prophet had asked you to do something really difficult, you would have done it. This jumping in the Jordan River seven times is easy. Talk about the perfect plan under the Affordable Care Act, you won’t even have to report this to your health insurance company. The co-pay is zero. Trust in the God of Elisha and just do it. What have you got to lose?”
Again many of us are so much like Naaman. We keep looking for pretty, attractive healers who will do it the way we prefer. The government can’t heal us, even with its New Deals, Fair Deals, Great Society, Affordable Care Acts and all the rest. Schools can’t heal us. Churches can’t heal us. There’s only one name “under heaven given to men by which we must be saved,” and that name is Jesus. (Acts 4:12) The prophet Malachi referred to Him as the “Sun of righteousness risen with healing in his wings.” (Mal. 4:2) And the prophet Isaiah tells us that, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:5)
So a humbled General Naaman crawled down into that old muddy Jordan River seven times. And when he emerged the seventh time, he had the complexion of a youngster! Here’s an interesting tidbit for you. I’m told that as we meet here for worship, there are some tourists down at the Dead Sea, just about 30 miles south of where Naaman was, putting mud packs on their faces, hoping for a similar miracle. Naaman, having now been humbled and healed, heads back to the prophet’s house.
But this time the greeting was different. This time Elisha came out to greet him. A humbled and deeply grateful Naaman said, “Now I know that your God is the only God in the world. Please accept a gift from me in gratitude.” To this Elisha replied, “No thanks. I didn’t heal you; God did. Go in peace.” Elisha knew who had the power to make whole. Elisha knew that it was through faith in God and obedience to His commands that miracles happen. It was up to him to remain faithful and obedient, that God may be glorified.
Everybody needs healing, of spirit, mind, and body. God is the Great Physician. It is He alone that heals totally, touching spirit, mind, and body. Our struggle is to remember that physical healing is not nearly as important as spiritual healing. All physical healing is tentative. Our time on this earth is short and the mortality rate is still 100 percent. But there is a kind of healing that transcends our physical deaths. It begins with our spirits being touched by his Spirit. And that healing impacts our minds and bodies in powerful ways. And we receive that healing the same way General Naaman did…by faith and obedience. We are healed through our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior and Lord and through our obedience to His commands. And the rivers of healing have never stopped flowing! In closing I’d like to share with you a story from teacher and writer, Tony Campolo.
Some years ago he was preaching at a church in Oregon. On impulse, as he ended the service he said to the congregation that if anyone wanted to remain behind for healing, that he would be glad to pray for them. He told them that he was not a TV miracle worker but that he would be willing to pray for them. Surprisingly, about thirty people stayed behind for prayer. Tony anointed each one with oil, according to the epistle of James. (5:13-15)
Most of the folks whom Tony prayed over didn’t have a physical problem. One man needed healing for an addiction to pornography. One woman wanted healing for her marriage. Another asked for healing for anger. Four days later Tony got a phone call, and the woman at the other end said, “Tony, on Sunday you prayed for my husband. He had cancer.” Tony replied, “You say he had cancer. Do you mean that he’s now cancer-free?” She said, “Well no, he’s dead now.” Tony thought to himself—a lot of good I did!
But then she said, “You don’t understand. When my husband and I walked into that church on Sunday, he was angry with God. He had cancer and he knew he was going to die soon, and he hated God for letting it happen. After all, he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up more than anything. At night he would lie in bed and curse God. It was horrible. And the angrier he got toward God, the meaner he was to everyone around him. It was unbearable. But then you prayed for him on Sunday morning and when he walked out of church I knew there was something different. I could feel it. He was a different person. The last four days of our lives have been the best days we’ve ever had together. We talked and laughed. We even sang hymns with each other. It was a glorious time.” Then she paused, and then added something really profound. She said, “Tony, he wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”
What’s hard for us is to remember that God doesn’t work according to our preconceptions – never has, never will. However, He doesn’t abandon us to the forces of evil either. In Hebrews chapter 13:5 the author quotes the passage in Deuteronomy 31:6 where God promises to never leave us nor forsake us and in the next verse he quotes another promise from Psalm 118 that reminds us that, “God is our helper, therefore I will not be afraid”. These two promises are then followed up in verse 7 where we are told that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Since we serve an unchanging God, who then has changed? We have of course.
Modern medicine is a gift of God and can do some wonderful things, but there are limits. But thanks be to God, He has no limits. He healed then, making people whole, and He heals today. God can and does do marvelous things every day. All we need to do is place our faith in His abundant mercy and be obedient to His command and then allow Him to make us whole, body, mind and spirit. When we’re faithful and obedient then we need to be open and ready for some wonderful surprises… gracious gifts from our magnificent, mysterious, and unchanging God.

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