"And There Was No Fire, Lightning or Thunder"
We love to see oversized egos get their comeuppance, and we love the stories of the humble person who succeeds against all odds.
The Bible says God resists the proud and lifts up the humble.
In fact if you want to know one of the ways to find God's favor, begin with humility.
It's a story of the proud and the humble. It has drama and it has humor. Above all is God, showing the same concern for the high as the lowly, abundant in mercy and power.
A big man with a bigger problem
Naaman commander of Syria's armies, and as such is a big man in Syria. We later learn he is wealthy too.
But he is a big man with a bigger problem. He has leprosy, a serious and highly contagious illness for which there was no cure. Leprosy was slow but it was fatal.
The man who controlled thousands of men was about to lose it all because of an illness he had no control over. As a warrior, he no doubt had contemplated being killed in battle. But now he face to face with an enemy he cannot fight and on his way to a horrible death without honor. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. All the kings horses and all the kings men can't put Naaman together again. The most powerful in Syria are reduced to powerlessness by a bug they cannot even see.
Into this circle of powerlessness steps a lowly house maid. She is a servant girl who had been taken prisoner in a raid on Israel. She is Naaman's wife's servant.
There are many questions you could ask about this girl.
On the one hand you might wonder if she had any resentment toward her Syrian captors. Why would she want to help Naaman?
On the other hand there is the possibility that she is far better off now than she had been in her life. As a girl in a border town, it is likely she came from a peasant family. Economically she is almost certainly better off.
It's interesting to think about. Sometimes events that seem like catastrophes to us can be the vehicle through which God works not only for us, but for others. I know that sounds like such a clich?, but you know and I know that it is often true.
But the fact we are presented with is a powerful general up against a battle he cannot win.
Into his circle steps a girl who his soldiers had taken as a captive. A girl who is a house servant to his wife.
The humble stretches out her hand to the powerful and the proud.
Now I could imagine that if this girl were consumed with bitterness and hate, it would be a totally different story. A hate filled girl might sit in her room at night and laugh to herself and secretly enjoy the destruction of this proud Syrian.
Why doesn't she do that?
Could it be that Naaman and his wife treated her kindly and with respect?
You've heard the aphorism:
Whatever the reason, this servant girl goes to Naaman's wife and says, "if only Naaman would visit the prophet in Samaria". She is speaking of Elisha, the successor to Elijah.
Of all the facts that she could focus on, she focused on what she knew about God and God's man Elisha.
She could have focused on the statistics and concluded that Naaman was toast--which he was.
She could have focused on her anxiety about maybe being out of a job and started looking for good references.
She could have looked for a way back home.
But she looked at Naaman, not as a man who held the world in his hand, but as a man who needed help.
She focused on the hope that if Naaman met Elisha, then God's power might do him some good.
It's interesting, but the most powerful person in that moment is this nameless girl.
This should be a simple matter. Either you believe the girl or you don't.
Either you go visit Elisha or not, but apparently that's not how the diplomatic channel worked. Naaman was heading to a foreign country so his king writes a letter to the king of Israel.
I am sending you Naaman my servant. He has leprosy. Can you please arrange for a complete cure?
The king of Syria"
He tears his clothes as a sign of total distress. He figures the king of Syria is looking to start a war.
Elisha hears about it and writes to the king of Israel.
I hear you have torn your clothes. This is unnecessary. Send the man to me and you will see for yourself that God is at work.
The prophet Elisha"
Naaman arrives at Elisha's house. We read that he arrives with horses and chariot and some servants.
I imagine he did not arrive quietly either, but made sure everyone in town knew he had arrived.
Its like arriving in a convertible. Top down. CD playing. Loudly.
Its about style, and I imagine Naaman didn't take any beat up chariot to see this prophet. I bet he arrived in style.
But Elisha doesn't even come out. He doesn't invite Naaman in.
He just sends out one of his servants and says,
"go wash in the Jordan seven times and you will have skin like a baby."
Naaman is angry. In fact he is in a rage and is about to drive off, spitting gravel everywhere.
He says, he can't even come out and talk to me personally?
You see Naaman was a big man at home. A Very Important Person.
Very Important People are used to better treatment than this.
Very Important People don't line up at the teller to do their banking. They arrange for the bank manager or someone with authority to meet them and give personalized service.
Naaman is a Very Important Person and is used to being treated better.
Besides, what use is a prophet and healer if he doesn't show more commitment to the healing?
He says, "this fellow didn't even come out personally. He should come out, wave his hands around."
A miracle should be miraculous.
And there was no thunder or lightning or fire. Phooey who needs it?
I can get better service than this at home.
His servants remind him of why he is there.
It seems he is more upset over not having his ego massaged than he is about the leprosy.
Well maybe not so strange.
I can think of times when I have been more concerned with being slighted than I was with what God wanted in that occasion.
I can think of times when I was more concerned about getting approval and being recognized than doing what God wanted.
Needless to say, those have not been my finest hour.
And I know that it is when I recognize that its just not about me that God gets through and gets things done.
Henrietta Mears, the founder of Gospel Light is quoted as saying , "God never put anyone in a place too small to grow."
Just at the moment you begin getting fussed up inside that someone is taking credit for an idea or yours, be glad someone thinks its worth something.
Just the moment you think you should be getting more thanks and recognition for all you do, remember how much God does for us that we never acknowledge.
Just the moment you are sure that you are being forgotten about, be glad.
If the spotlight is on you, who is going to notice those nail scarred hands that have been holding you up all along?
Naaman's servants convince him that if Elisha had set some impossibly difficult task, he would have done it gladly, and that he should just stop being worried about his importance and just do as he is told. They don't put it to him that way, but its the same message.
So Naaman does and predictably is healed of his leprosy.
I wonder how things were around his home when he got home.
I think the lowly servant girl probably got a promotion and raise in salary.
It's one of those paradoxical truths with God, that the minute we get preoccupied about our status or who is getting the credit, we stop becoming much use and God stops using us.
And the moment that we stop caring about whether our feelings are hurt or what we get out of the deal that God makes connections for us that we could never make on our own.
Some may know the name George Washington Carver.
He was born in 1864 to a black couple on a plantation in Missouri. He was orphaned as a young child but was a great student and went on to become a world famous botanist, and the first African American professor at Iowa State University. He is remembered for his work on developing uses for the humble peanut.
"God's little workshop" was the name George Washington Carver gave to his laboratory. According to his own account, it was there the famous scientist asked in prayer to discover the uses of what was then a lowly, unesteemed crop: the peanut.
"Dear Mr. Creator," the humble man began, "please tell me what the universe was made for."
"Ask for something more in keeping with that little mind of yours," God answered. So Carver tried again.
"Dear Mr. Creator, what was man made for?"
Again the Lord replied, "Little man, you ask too much. Cut down the extent of your request and improve the intent." So the scientist tried once more.
"Then Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?"
"That's better," the Lord said, and beginning that day Carver discovered over 300 uses for the lowly peanut.1
Humility is a wonderful attribute.
We love it in others.
But it didn't hinder the life of a simple servant girl from Israel.
The kings of Syria and Israel could do nothing for Naaman in the end.
It was a humble prophet with no VIP lounge that changed Naaman's life.
Did he learn more humility?
I hope so.
How about you?
One thing needs to be clear. This is not about God saying that you are unimportant.
It is about discovering why you are important and to whom.
When we try to make ourselves important in other people's eyes, its a waste of time.
What makes us important is knowing how much we are loved by the creator.
He loves us so much that he sent his only son to die for us, so that we could inherit eternal life. John 3:16
When you see the fellow with the sign at sporting events, that's what he is trying to tell the crowd.
It's a good message.
When you are loved by God and held in his hands, there is really nothing more you can do to add value anyway.
Humility is recognizing that fact.
It is saying, "I am loved and that is enough"
And it is.
And you are.
Prayer: Lord we give thanks for your love. Help us to recognize who we are in you and give up our feeble attempts at making ourselves important in human eyes. As long as we have are approved in your eyes, it is enough.
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia
1.Paul Thigpen, "
For more on the incredible life of George Washington Carver.
Online Resources Consulted
Return to Main Sermon Page
Email Harold McNabb