Hespeler, 7 July, 2019 © Scott McAndless
2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
hat would you do to be healthy? What would you do to be whole? It is a question that a lot of us don’t really ask ourselves, I think. We don’t ask it because we think we know the answer. We assume that health is the highest priority and that we would do whatever it took to obtain it or maintain it. We would do whatever the doctor said, take whatever was prescribed and make any changes necessary. In theory, it is a question that doesn’t even need to be asked. But that is theory, real life tends to be a little bit different.
Do you remember that classic rock song by Meatloaf: “I would do anything for love”? In the song, Meatloaf runs through a number of things that he would do for the sake of the person he loves. He even says, “I’d run right into hell and back.” But the refrain of the song is, “but I won’t do that,” reminding us that absolute words like “anything” always seem to have their limits and the limits and exceptions that come along in practical life are often much more important than the absolute anythings.
So, what are the “but I won’t do that’s” for you when it comes to health and wholeness? Naaman is forced to take that question very seriously in our reading this morning from the Old Testament. He is not well. He’s afflicted with a condition called leprosy, an affliction that is kind of hard to pin down in the Bible. They did not have any way to diagnose the cause of an illness; they just called any condition that affected the skin leprosy. That could mean anything from minor itching to major, life-threatening infections.
So, we can’t really say what was wrong with Naaman. Nevertheless, we do have a pretty good idea how his condition would have affected his life. Anything that was called leprosy would result in someone being excluded from society. The fear of skin conditions was so great that, in many cases, the social impact of that label of leprosy was more destructive than anything that was actually wrong with somebody’s skin. Naaman, though he was a leader among his people, had been turned into an outcast because of whatever it was about him that was unwell.
So, he was in a somewhat desperate state; he needed to be well. He would do anything to be well, but he ran into a few “but I won’t do that’s.” First of all, he learns of a possibility of healing from a very unlikely source – from a slave in his household. She is a captive, a slave who Naaman himself may have taken in previous raids into Israelite territories. She speaks to her mistress, Naaman’s wife, saying, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
It is an indication of Naaman and his wife’s desperation that they actually listen to such a lowly individual. In many cases that was something that a powerful man just wouldn’t do. Naaman will listen to a slave in order to be well. But will he actually do what she says? No, he won’t do that. She has told him that he should actually go and seek out the prophet, but he doesn’t do that. Instead, he does what noble people do. He uses power and leverage to get what he wants; he gets his king to write to the king of Israel. This is all about showing off how important he is instead of showing the humility that the slave girl was suggesting.
Of course, Naaman’s power move causes lots of trouble. The king of Israel is afraid that the Syrians will use the situation to restart hostilities. “[The king] 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.”Here is the first indication that we have in this story of the trouble that the “but I won’t do that” can cause. By failing to do what he has been told to do to be well, Naaman almost causes an international incident, but fortunately, the prophet Elisha is gracious enough to give him another chance.
Elisha bails out his king – tells him to send the man over to his house and then proceeds to give Naaman a well-deserved lesson in humility. The prophet doesn’t even step out of his house to greet him. Just sends a message telling him to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. And that is when Naaman loses it. He says, “I would stand here and let this Elisha wave his hands over me and invoke the name of his fake God. I would do anything, but I won’t do that.” What’s more, his servants tell him – and they undoubtedly know what they are talking about – that he would do much more difficult and dangerous things than that in order to be well. He would storm the defended walls of a city, he would face down chariots and armies, he would “run right into hell and back.” He would do anything for health, but he won’t do that – but he won’t do that.
What won’t you do in order to be whole; it may be the most important question that anyone will ever ask you? We have all known some people who are obvious illustrations of the importance of that question. People, for example, who have been told by their doctors that they need to make significant changes in their lifestyles to be well. Maybe their doctor says, “you must quit smoking,” and they just won’t do it.
What people won’t do is not always a matter of willpower. There are some people, for example, who can just walk away from the an addiction like nicotine if they are given the right motivation and there are some people who just can’t – whose physical dependence is so powerful that change is beyond what is within their own power to make and they need significant assistance from outside themselves.
The crisis of addiction is an important battle, but that is not really what I am talking about here. I’m talking about what people won’t do, not what they can’t do without help. And what Naaman won’t do has nothing to do with the difficulty of the task he is given. I believe that that is often the case with us.
Think of your marriage or of some other significant relationship in your life. Is that relationship as healthy as it could be? There is nothing better for your life, your productivity, your personal health than for you to be in a healthy, mutually affirming and upbuilding relationship. But I think that we all recognize that there are times when we neglect those relationships and allow them to be somewhat less than what they could be. What would you do to have a better relationship? Would you run right into hell and back? Sure, I can do that. But will you admit when you are wrong? No I won’t do that. Will you forgive that time when the other person hurt you? Will you speak honestly, even though you know it might lead to a long and difficult conversation? No, I won’t do that. No, I won’t do that.
I realize that there are different places where different people will draw that line, but I think we all have those “I won’t do thats,” and it’s usually not because of the difficulty of the thing, but rather because it would be about swallowing your pride or letting someone else see how vulnerable you are. I’m sure that’s what it was for Naaman when he said he was not about to bathe in the Jordan River even though it was what he needed to do to be well.
God wants you to be the best person you can possibly be. That’s the kind of healing and wholeness that God wishes for you. And I know that you do many things to become your best person. You work hard. You try to take control of every aspect of your life, building up security in possessions and knowledge, savings and investments. But what if God’s plan for your wholeness includes what Jesus told his disciples in our reading this morning where he says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road”? What if God is asking you to give up on all of those things that the world turns to for security and instead to trust in God alone? If that is what it takes to find the health God wants for you, would you do that? No, I won’t to that. No, I won’t to that.
It’s a particularly interesting question to ask of churches these days. I don’t think it’s any great secret if I tell you that many congregations are under pressure because of demographic and social changes. Congregations want to be healthy but in many cases are feeling as if health is eluding them. If you ask a congregation what it would do in order to be healthy, can you guess what the answer almost always is? Anything. We would do anything to be healthy.
Well, let me tell you something about congregational health. Yes, it can be a challenge these days, but it is not an impossible thing. Congregations are doing many things to find that health. Health, by the way, may not always mean huge numbers of people showing up but it does mean many kinds of strength and growth within a congregation and it can be found.
Let me tell you some things that congregations have done to find health. They have made radical changes in worship and music, changes that made the people who were in those congregations feel less comfortable at least at first. Some have walked away from or radically changed much-loved and beautiful buildings. For some congregations, finding health has meant that some of the people have had to give up fighting over things like the placement of furniture, how people should dress or who got to use the kitchen. (Let me tell you something, if you ever want to know whether or not people find certain things to be sacred in the church, just try rearranging the cupboards in the kitchen without telling anybody!)
Would you do things like that, would you embrace those kinds of changes in order to find congregational health? I hope so. But I’ll tell you, I have known many people in churches who would look at any one of those things and protest, but I won’t do that. I would do anything for church health, but I won’t do that. There’s a real danger that that could be the epitaph of the church in many places in years to come.
God wants you to be healthy. God wants your relationships to be healthy. God wants your church and your community and your nation to be healthy. God your creator created you so that you might be whole and well. And there really are no limits on that. When Naaman came along looking for help, God did not look at him and say, you are not one of my people, you do not believe the right things about me, I don’t want you to be healthy. No, God ministered to him through the prophet. The only roadblock was Naaman and what he was unwilling to do.
That is why I am bold to say to you today that God wants to make you healthy. That can be a tricky thing to say because it’s not always true that God is going to cure various ailments or conditions. Illness and death are not things that any of us can completely escape because God has designed them to be part of life in this world. But health and healing are always possible. Even someone who is dying can be healed; healing in that situation may mean coming to terms and finding peace with what is happening to them or perhaps finding reconciliation and forgiveness with some of the people in their lives before they go, but even in that situation healing is possible. The roadblock is never because God lacks the ability to heal. The roadblock is found in us who say, but I won’t do that.
And what is the number one thing that God is telling you to do in order that you find healing in your life? God is telling you that you need to trust in him. That is what the command to wash in the Jordan ultimately meant to Naaman. That is what Jesus’ command to the disciples to go out with “no purse, no bag, no sandals” was about. That is the attitude that the psalmist has in our reading this morning when he says, “I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” God will ask you to trust him to bring the healing you will need – trust God instead of the things that make you feel secure and comfortable. But how you act and what you are and aren’t willing to do will be a big indication of that trust, so think carefully before you say, “but I won’t do that.”