Outside your skin

2 Kings 5:1-14

Ian Molly Meldrum remarked that when he met Elvis Presley, his presence in the room was overwhelming and you could feel “that thing” or “that feeling” that you cannot describe, and I’ve read of similar reports from people meeting Bill Clinton.

Yet on several occasions I’ve heard a well-respected sports writer and commentator note that often when meeting notable athletes for the first time, that he initially felt let down by their normalness, or even seemingly inadequacies. Supermen and women in their fields of brilliance, yet out of them were no different from the rest of us.

Be it initially being inspired or let down when meeting people, ultimately we are either confronted or comforted by their normalness. Like we as Christians are confronted by our all-powerful God the Father and his law. Yet comforted by His normalness. His self-imposed normalness seen through Jesus Christ who purposely goes beneath himself, belittles himself to walk and talk with us. To walk amongst sinners. To walk amongst the flawed. To walk amongst the unintended normalness of our sin to bring us his gospel.

When Jesus came on the scene his ways and teachings made no sense to most of those of the day waiting for a warrior type of saviour. Just as today his simple and unpretentious ways are so difficult to understand that many have sought refuge in the seemingly more spectacular. Crystals, contacting spirits, public healings or the necessity of speaking in tongues and so forth. Things seemingly spectacular yet flawed. Things seemingly bringing meaning to those searching, yet just adding to the uncertainty. Things bought into to find peace, yet just bringing empty noise and confusion.

Confusion because they are our ways and not those of the Lord. Our ways that would see us earn our salvation through good works and self-righteousness. Or our ways that would see us beyond salvation through our sin, wrong ways and wasted lives. Two views at opposite ends of the spectrum yet that both join together in their errors and foolishness of how we would do it, or think it should be up and against the truth of Jesus Christ and what he has done.

His truth and peace which Philippians 4:7 tells us “is beyond our human understanding”.

His truths and peace which come differently to how we may imagine, yet come all the same like seen through Naaman’s experience in the reading from 2nd Kings.

Naaman was a national hero, the commander of a successful army. As a fighting man he was admired for his strength and power, and feared by his opponents. But he had been laid low by the skin disease leprosy. Naaman is now a picture of pity. He’ll try anything to get better, but every known cure he tries fails. What a blow to such a mighty man. He is now weak and helpless.

In contrast there is a slave girl who was captured in a war raid on Israel. She works as a maid for Naaman’s wife. This unknown slave from Israel shares her faith in God’s power. She announces that her God could heal Naaman through the prophet Elisha, who lived in her home land of Samaria. It is the simple faith and witness of this girl that changes everything that follows.

Naaman’s wife tells her husband about Elisha the prophet. Naaman is so desperate to be cured he tells the King about this foreign prophet who lives in the land of their enemies. The King sends Naaman off to the King of Israel, loaded with treasures. It shows us the value the King placed on Naaman. The King was rich and would give any amount of gold to have Naaman strong and healthy again. The future of his kingdom depends on Naaman leading the army.

Naaman passes on a letter from his own king to the King of Israel, an old enemy! It read, “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.” When he reads the letter the King gets upset. He smells treachery and fear some sort of trap. We read in verse 7:

‘When the King of Israel read it, he tore his clothes in dismay and said: “This man sends me a leper to heal! Am I God, that I can kill or give life? He is only trying to find an excuse to invade us again.”’

Here is a king who knows his limitations and doesn’t like to pretend he is a god, in an age when many kings claimed to be gods. ‘Am I God, that I can kill and give life?’ he asks. Kings had great power. Kings could sentence a person to death. It was accepted as part of the power of a ruler. But only God could give life to a person condemned to die by contracting an incurable disease.

This King can see himself being set up for something treacherous. How delighted and thrilled he must have been to receive a letter from Elisha, the prophet, with the offer to take on the job himself! Elisha writes: ‘Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.’ Elisha will save the nation’s pride! Then we read, ‘So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited outside the door of Elisha’s house.’

This foreign commander, a great hero in his day, waits to see what the great prophet of God can do! And Naaman is ready to pay a fortune to experience it. Something great is about to happen. He will see God at work.

Elisha sends out a mere servant with a message telling Naaman what to do: just a servant and not Elisha the great prophet himself! We read in verse 10:

‘But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of leprosy.”’

It is like arranging an appointment to see the top specialist in Australia, and when one gets there the specialist doesn’t even come out to see you, but sends a mere messenger out to tell you to go and wash in a river seven times. Naaman is furious. He is deeply disappointed and feels insulted. Naaman feels he has come all this way for nothing, except to being insulted by Elisha sending out a messenger, when he expected to see God’s awesome power at work in a great prophet.

‘So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.’

Thankfully some officers talk some sense into him and suggest, ‘Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply to go and wash and be cured.’

Verse 14 simply says, ‘So Naaman went down to the Rive Jordan and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his flesh became as healthy as a young child’s, and he was healed.’and Naaman goes back to his home country and worships the living God there.

The Lord might have come differently to how Naaman imagined and “beyond his human understanding”, but he did come and it is a great story to open our eyes to see that even though we may look for peace and salvation in this or that or over there, he still comes to us today in Word and Sacrament to heal us of our affliction of sin by taking the wages of our sin on himself. To be raised on a cross in our sin, that we be resurrected with him in his Holy righteousness. A great story to see how God can work in our lives but an even better story of the Gospel. Naaman, a powerful and respected man yet from the wrong side of the tracks from God’s people the Israelites. Yet through a slave girl that whether directly or indirectly he was responsible for incarcerating tells him of the Lord and with nowhere else to go and with no other options gives it a crack. Through my eyes, hardly the resume of someone deserving the Lord, but thankfully for all the Naamans of this world, for me and you-the Lord sees things differently to how we may.

At the beginning of this message I spoke of people with great gifts, yet underneath it inadequate and failed. Seemingly conflicted but in reality just normal people like you and me. Normal people like you and me condemned by the law of God, yet acquitted by His Gospel in Jesus Christ who came and continues to come amongst that confliction to bring the peace of God that surpasses our understanding.

The confliction of the truth we know of ourselves against the truth of Christ in our lives is our daily walk. A walk that Johnny Cash knew well. A man that broke most of the rules. Yet a man that when at his lowest came to know a loving and forgiving Christ through his suffering friend and wife to be June Carter.

A man brought the truth of God through Christ, yet shown to him through the unspectacular and to a lesser or greater extent that is also our walk. A walk written off by Johnny’s good friend Waylon Jennings:

“I’ve spent a lifetime looking for you

Single bars and good time lovers, never true

Playing a fools game, hoping to win

Telling those sweet lies and losing again.

I was looking for love in all the wrong places

Looking for love in too many faces

Searching your eyes, looking for traces

Of what.. I’m dreaming of…

Hoping’ to find a friend and a lover

God bless the day I discover

Another heart, looking’ for love

When I was alone then, no love in sight

And I did everything I could to get me through the night

Don’t know where it started or where it might end

I turn to a stranger, just like a friend

You came a ‘knocking at my heart’s door..

You’re everything I’ve been looking for..

Now that I found a friend and a lover

God bless the day I discover(ed)

You, you, looking’ for love”.

And there we see the truth. We may look for peace on the mountain top or through the bottom of a glass. We may look for meaning in what we do or in the earthly treasures we can accumulate and we may even look for salvation in our actions and our steadfastness to our Saviour. Yet while “we were looking for love in all the wrong places”, you came amongst them looking for us, and God bless the day we heard you say to us:

“In all your affliction I was afflicted. In my love and in my pity I have redeemed you…and carried you all the days of the past. I the Lord hold your right hand saying do not fear for I help you. So be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid for I the Lord your God go with you and I will not fail you nor forsake you. I have given you a measure of faith, and your faith should not stand in the wisdom of yourself, but in the power of God. For I did not come to condemn you but to save you and whoever calls upon me shall be saved.”

May the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


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