Naaman wants to get better. Even though he’s an accomplished mighty warrior – esteemed even in the eyes of the king – he’s hurting. After years of living with a terrible skin disease, he hears about a miracle cure. Naaman wants to find someone who can make him better. So he heads out to Israel, hoping to be changed.
We all want to get better. Even though many of us are accomplished in our jobs or have successfully raised families, even though we are esteemed by colleagues and friends, we are hurting for many different reasons. We struggle with grief and loss and past traumas, we battle depression and loneliness, we’re not sure of our purpose, we want to make our marriages and families and friendships stronger. We want to find someone who can make us better. For some of us, that’s why we come to church.
Naaman’s first stop was to the king of Israel. Naaman and the king of Aram thought this made perfect sense: in order to get something important done, you need to someone with power and prestige and money. But the king of Israel was powerless to heal Naaman.
In our country today, we often think the same way. We’re taught that the “American Dream” will solve all of our problems. If we just study hard and work hard, we’ll be given a wife, 2.3 children, a fancy car, a big house we’ll have everything we ever want. If we just work hard, we’ll get power and prestige and money and all of our problems will be solved. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. Our deepest fears, our most difficult problems cannot be solved with power and prestige and money. Just as Naaman made the wrong choice to go to the King of Israel, we often focus too much of our time and energy on acquiring wealth and esteem, hoping that will solve our problems.
Naaman eventually finds his way to Elisha, a prophet, a “man of God.” Elisha gives him specific instructions: he tells Naaman “Wash yourself in the Jordan River seven times. The waters will heal you, and your skin will be back to normal. You will be cleansed.” He gives Naaman specific instructions on how to heal his problems. I know that would be enough for me but it’s not for the mighty warrior. “Naaman boiled with anger as he left Elisha. He had come to his house expecting something much different…. [He said] I came here thinking that Elisha would come outside and call upon the name of the Eternal One his God, and that Elisha’s hand would pass over my sores and heal my skin disease, not the waters of the Jordan River.”
Naaman, this great powerful leader, wanted Elisha to do the work for him; pass his hand over Naaman’s sores and make him better. Naaman was insulted at the idea that he’d have to do the work himself, to go places that he didn’t want to go. He was upset that there wasn’t an easy way to fix his problems.
Many of us are hurting. Some of us come to church hoping to get better. We pray, attend worship, listen carefully to the bald guy in the black bath robe hoping to hear something that will change us. But coming to church isn’t an easy fix for our problems. Unfortunately, since we are a church made up of imperfect humans, coming to church sometimes even seems to make our problems worse. If we just come to church or pray to God to fix us or listen to preachers in the hopes that our problems will just go away, we’ll most likely be met with disappointment. Like Naaman, when we come looking for easy answers, we may not be happy with the solutions we’re given. Instead of our pain magically disappearing, we find that there’s hard work that needs to be done, that we have to go to places we don’t want to go.
When we are faced with personal pain, we have to struggle to grow stronger, find ways to cope, take a closer look at ourselves to understand the roots of our problems in order to find a way out.
When we are faced with disagreements with each other, we have to put in the work towards reconciliation, learning how to speak with love to each other even when our points of view differ.
When we see others struggling we have to reach out to them and offer help. Naaman had his travelling party and the young girl from Israel with him to help him find his way. His servants were the ones who pointed him in the right direction when he became upset at Elisha, when he was angry that he’d have to do the work himself. As we each resist doing the work of growth and change that God calls us to do, we need friends that we trust who can encourage us and push us on.
Naaman expected something quite different from Elisha. He thought that he would simply be healed and he could go on his way.
Sometimes, we expect something quite different from church. We come to church hoping to hear that we are made whole simply because God loves us. Instead, we are met by more difficult challenges: love your enemies, forgive those who have wronged you, become pure at heart.
Don’t get me wrong, the message in all of this is still that God loves you. God loves you just the way you are. And God also believes in your capacity to grow as a person.
We choose to come to this church as Christians. We choose to follow Jesus. When we are faced with tough times, it seems so easy to turn to a miracle-working Jesus and expect him to fix it for us. If we focus on the gospel stories of Jesus walking around healing the sick and the blind and the deaf and raising the dead, it’s tempting to expect an easy cure, just like Naaman expected from Elisha. But Jesus’ ministry was not about making everyone else’s life easier. Jesus challenged everyone he saw to follow him, to accept the costs and joys of discipleship, to make difficult choices, to not take the easy path.
And Jesus assures us that we are strong enough to do the work that needs to be done. “Whoever believes in me,” he says, “will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater.”
Going to church – following Jesus – will not make our lives easier but, if we accept the challenge, it will make our lives – and our world – better. Naaman had to do something to be healed. So do we. We need to do the hard work of reconciling. We need to try harder to grow as individuals and as a church. We need to find our voice so that we can live out and share the good news of God’s challenging love with everyone we see.
The hard work will pay off. Naaman had to wash 7 times; we often need to try over and over again before we get it right. It may not be what we want to do; it may not look the way we think it’s supposed to look; the end result may not be as dramatic as Naaman’s new skin. But if we come to God and ask to be healed and if we listen to and follow out the instructions we’re given, we will be cleansed.
We all want to get better. Our church – with all its bruises, lesions, and imperfections – is a stop along the path to healing. Come to the river and find relief. Come to church and listen deep within your heart to how God is calling you to be healed and to heal others.
If we are willing to put in the hard work, we will be cleansed. We will get better.