November 6, 2022
All Saints Sunday
2 Kings 5: 1-15 (draft)
A lot has happened since Solomon was king.
The kingdom ruled by Solomon’s successors has been split into two … the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom.
Naaman … an Aramean … is a great general, while Elisha is a prophet in the Northern Kingdom.
We are told that Naaman’s many victories are because God is on his side … even though the general is an outsider to the covenantal people.
But Naaman is afflicted with leprosy.
In the ancient world, this was a major illness. The visible scars would mark a person as being unclean … sinful … and as a danger to all with whom they come into contact.
There were no drugs or OHIP-covered treatments to deal with the disease. The only approach that could be taken was to isolate the person to lessen the chance that others would become unclean.
This meant the person would be excluded from the community and especially from worship life.
So, for the powerful general, leprosy had physical and social implications. The life Naaman knew would be gone.
Leprosy could end his life and break relationships.
For all his power and political connections, Naaman’s chance for life turns on the words of a captive Israeli slave girl.
Unnamed and almost unnoticed, the girl sends word through Naaman’s wife that he should seek out a certain prophet who could heal him of his disease. The girl doesn’t know the prophet’s name, just that he can be found in Samaria.
The general follows the course of the life that he knows and brings offerings to the king of Israel … believing that only someone like a king could wield such awesome healing power.
When Naaman finally comes to Elisha, the prophet refuses to come out to meet the general. Instead, he sends a messenger to tell the general what to do.
The general was expecting something a bit more grand. He expected the prophet to call to the heavens and maybe do something a bit more theatrical. Instead, he is told to go wash seven times in a river … a small, muddy river no less.
Naaman becomes angry and refuses to follow the instructions … until his unnamed aides convince him to do otherwise.
Naaman bathes seven times and is healed of leprosy. In fact, his skin is restored and rejuvenated. He had the skin of a baby … he had the skin of new life.
Naaman praises the God of Israel and tells Elisha that he recognizes only one god now. The covenant it seems welcomes all.
After this morning’s passage, Naaman even asks to take soil back to Syria with him, believing that God is linked to the soil of Israel rather than to people’s hearts.
Naaman also confesses that despite his restoration his old way of life …with its traditions and its gods will hold his life once more … even though he knows this God is a life-giving God.
As I considered Naaman’s story … his insistence to operate from a place of privilege and tradition … I was reminded of people’s actions during the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
I thought about the people I knew in college who have died of AIDS and who had remained closeted during our college years for fear of rejection and hate from the church, as well as from family and friends.
I thought about how the secrecy must have led to a profound sense of loneliness for them.
When the AIDS epidemic first arose, the patients were isolated to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. It was an approach dictated by fear and ignorance … some … including church leaders … called it “the gay disease” … and even declared it punishment for sinful acts.
Sadly, some still make such a wrong-headed connection between a person’s identity and a disease even after almost 40 years have passed.
You have to wonder about the effect such statements and the isolation had on the AIDS patients during that time.
If they had to feel the pain of losing family and friends after their diagnosis and their sexual orientation became known … how alone and vulnerable they must have felt.
You have to wonder about their desperate longing for a medical miracle to halt the progression of the disease and for broken relationships to be healed.
Healing … that is the centre of today’s passage from 2 Kings.
The miracle of Naaman’s restoration didn’t mean that leprosy was eliminated for good. After all, we just heard of Jesus healing someone with leprosy.
The miracle points to something else … the possibility of new life … of wholeness … that comes through faith and carried by love.
One scholar said miracles are there to increase our faith and to give us hope.
Healing and hope …
Some of the members of our congregational council are currently enrolled in online training programs as part of the Reconciling in Christ process.
Once the council members complete the training, they will join me in leading a year-long education process designed to improve our awareness and understanding of the issues and hardships caused by people’s reaction to a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
At the end of the year, we will be more inviting … more welcoming and more inclusive.
The isolation … loneliness … suffering borne by people in the community will be replaced by a sense of safety and belonging … and perhaps even hope.
Like Naaman’s healing in the Jordan River, this is a grace-filled … a healing … act and I am grateful we are undertaking the process.
Naaman’s healing is considered a miracle, but the healing brought on by the Reconciling in Christ process is not a miracle. It is a ministry … it is what we are called to do as disciples … as children of God.
Today, we remember the saints in our lives who have gone on before us … parents, spouses, children, relatives and friends. Lighting a candle for them … remembering their places in our lives … mourning … grieving … healing.
And … perhaps … as we near the season of Advent and the coming of the light into the world … it can also be a time to consider how … even in our own pain, grief and heartache … we can be a light for those saints we have yet to meet … those saints we invite into our lives.
A time to remember that the grace we have and share can wash away the wounds and scars others carry … even though they remain hidden to us.
May we be balm for the world. AMEN