Sermon given at Isham & Orl (Benefice) 19.6.16
Readings: OT/Epistle 2 Kings 5: 1-15
Gospel Luke 8: 26-35
‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.’
The story of the healing of Naaman shows how people have gradually learned more about God through the ages. The opening of this story would have been a bit of a shock to Israelite ears because the person who benefits from God’s healing is the commander of their enemy’s army!!
In those times it was generally understood that each nation had its own god – and if they won their battles it showed the power of their god which alarmed their enemies. God, the one true God, reveals himself to the human race by working through their current understanding of divinity.
So at that time, for his own reasons to which we are not privy, he started to reveal himself to the Israelites. By the time of Naaman, about 120 years after King David died, they understand that their God is the God of the entire world but the peoples around them still all have their own gods and there’s clearly a temptation for the Israelites to think that the God of the entire world is THEIR God more than other people’s God!
So you can see that the idea of God, THEIR God, blessing an enemy general wouldn’t be that welcome!! We may live more than 2,500 years later but the idea that God, OUR God is on OUR side is still around – think wartime, think disputes between faiths, or even within a faith!
Another general idea that challenged by this story is that status matters. Power always seems to benefit the people who hold it, whatever era you live in! It’s easy to go with the flow and accept that rich people will always make things work to their advantage. But in this story it’s a servant girl who takes the lead and tells her mistress about Elisha.
And Naaman, the successful and powerful commander, has to learn that it’s not his status that’s gaining God’s favour – God is not going to wave a magic wand over him from a distance and Elisha is only God’s prophet who is speaking God’s words to him, he’s not a magician with supernatural powers that he can exercise at his own will.
If Naaman wants God’s healing, God’s blessing, he’s first got to get to know God for himself and enter into a relationship with God – and at this moment that means humbling himself and obeying God’s instructions!
As a result Naaman realised that God is indeed God – God of the entire world – and way above our imagination or our ability to control – he’s GOD!
There is a very important lesson for us all in this story – EVERYONE, every single person in this world, is equally important to God – no matter how poor or wealthy they are, no matter what ethnic group they come from, and no matter whether they are Christian or of another religion, or have no religion at all. And that is one of the things God has been trying to teach us for ever!
Why is it important for us to know that everyone is equal in God’s eyes?
Think what happens when any human thinks someone has a different value to themselves. They will refer to the other person (or people group) usually by a derogative or diminishing word. We often do that to make us feel better about ourselves. Even if we think someone is of higher status than we are, we’ll usually think of something negative to describe them!
And that is the beginning of a slippery slope to seeing someone, or a group of people different to yourself, as somehow less valuable, less human than yourself (or your people group). SEEING people as less human is the first step to TREATING them as less human, and eventually to treating them inhumanely in some way.
It’s the way that tension is built between people, tension that often leads to violence that diminishes all our lives. And that is why God is constantly trying to teach us that ALL people are equal in his eyes – and that’s why we have to keep battling the urge to value people differently.
The more we see and value everyone equally the MORE HUMAN we become ourselves!
The other side of the Sea of Galilee, the land of the Gerasenes, is outside Israel – by going there Jesus is treating the people as equally valuable – and by healing a demonic who basically had been cast out of society, he is demonstrating that even someone suffering mental illness is of equal value to everyone else.
Which begs the question of why our mental health service is the Cinderella of the NHS! God keeps having to open our eyes and remind us about the equal value of ALL humans!