“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel…” 2 Kings 5:15
A few weeks ago, we had a story sermon about Elijah complete with wonderful sound effects by the congregation – a strong wind, an earthquake, fire and then the sound of sheer silence. There on Mt. Horeb, in still small voice, God told the worn-out prophet to anoint some new kings and a new prophet, Elisha. Today’s story is about this new prophet, Elisha. One person is needed for sound effects – and that is someone to pour water into the Baptism font using the pitcher that is sitting in it. Put shawl on.
Hello, my name is Ariela, which means lioness of God. But no one called me by my name – they just said girl, girl come here, girl sweep the floor, girl wash the dishes, girl. The last time I heard my name was when the day the Aramean army raided my village, stole our goats and sheep, set the houses on fire. My mother was screaming “Run, Ariela, run” as a solider grabbed me and threw me in a cart with other children. I was about as tall as Addilyn. I’ll never forget watching the black smoke rise over my village.
When we got to Aram, the wife of a General bought me at the slave market. She was very strict. High standards. Things just so. I worked hard. Her husband was a General named Naaman. People treated him with great respect and honor, even the king, for he had won an important battle. But the General had a problem, leprosy, a disgusting, incurable skin disease. No matter what the doctors did, it would not get better, only worst. General Naaman was unclean. Well, even though no one knew my name, I remembered that I was Ariela, a lioness of God, and I also remembered there was a prophet in Israel, my home country, that could cure the General of the disgusting disease. I told my mistress about the prophet. She told her husband about the prophet. He went and told the king about the prophet.
The king wrote a letter of introduction for the General to take to the king of Israel. So, he got his horses and chariots and brought along 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold and ten sets of fancy clothes. He was not a charity case. He would pay his way. Only when he carried the letter to the king of Israel, who upon reading it ripped his robe into shreds while shouting, “I’m not a healer. I have no cure for leprosy. Surely, the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight with me!” Apparently, the General’s king forgot to mention the prophet I told my mistress about in his letter. Well, Elisha hears about what happened and how distressed his king is so he sends him a message saying, “Calm down. Send him to me so he’ll learn there’s a prophet in Israel.”
So General Naaman with his horses and chariots arrives in style and stops at Elisha’s door. Only instead of coming out to greet him, Elisha sends a messenger to tell him, “Go to the River Jordan, wash yourself seven times. Your skin will be healed. You will be as good as new.” The General was flabbergasted! He said, “I thought he’d come out and meet me, call upon the name of God, wave his hand over the disease spots and heal me. Surely the rivers of Damascus are cleaner and nicer than any river in Israel. Why not wash in them? At least I’d get clean!” The General stomped off in a rage.
But then his servants intervened. I knew some of them. They were good at calming the General down. They said to him, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple, ‘wash and be clean’?”
Shawl off. It’s time for the sound effect – pouring the water….” Listen to River Jordan water being poured in our baptismal font. Elisha heard the singing of this river when the prophet Elijah was taken up into the clouds. Elijah received his call to be a prophet at the Jordan. Joshua and the children of Israel crossed the Jordan as they went from wilderness into promise land. John the Baptizer preached repentance and promisd forgiveness at the Jordan where he waded in the water baptizing Jesus as a dove-like voice declared, “This is the One.” Evaporation and condensation, sun and rain, makes every ocean and lake, every river and stream, including the Schuylkill and French Creek, one with the River Jordan. Today Eli, Addilyn and Jensen will be baptized in this freedom water – free from sin and death, free in forgiveness, free for life. God’s at the Jordan. And when Michael rows his boat ashore and the trumpets sound the jubilee, sound for you and me, at the deep and wide River Jordan, God promises to be there too. I know, I know, I turned into the Pastor, but I couldn’t help myself. Put shawl back on.
So, where were we? Naaman goes to the Jordan. Takes off his shoes and leaves his uniform with all his medals on the shore. Naaman puts one foot into the water, then another, carefully steps deeper and deeper and then just like the prophet told him too, he takes a deep breath and goes under. 1. Surfaces. Take another breathe – down, up, 2. And another…3, 4, 5, 6, 7. His skin is healed, no more wounds, no more sores. His skin is like the skin of a young boy – as good as new.
I have just a bit more tell you. After coming out of the river, Naaman, with his brand-new skin, finds Elisha and declares: “Now, I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” Then he tries to give the prophet gifts of gold and silver and fancy clothes, but Elisha says “No, thank you,” because he was only doing what God wanted him to do. Naaman offers again and Elisha says “No thank you!” again. Then Naaman does something odd. He asks Elisha if he can have a wagon load of dirt to take back home because so he can worship God properly on Israel soil. The God of Israel, the God of Elisha, my God, the God of Ariela, will be his God from now on.
Only then Naaman remembers he’s a General. And as a General he has duties. He will have to go with his King into the shrine of Rimmon, the Aramean God. There he will need to bow down to Rimmon. So, he asks Elisha, “Please pardon me for this.” The prophet tells him “Everything will be all right. Go in peace.”
That’s the end of my story. But you know what? When I heard about what happened with General Naaman and the prophet Elisha and how the General was cured of his leprosy and how he decided to worship the God of Israel even though he was in Aram, I decided that I could too – that nothing separated me from God, absolutely nothing. I’ll tell you a secret, sometimes I go out to sit on the pile of dirt from Israel to say my prayers. It always reminds me of home. Amen.