“I alone am left. “
That was what Elijah had started to believe in his heart, as Trevor shared with our congregation last week.
But Elijah was not alone. He was not the last of the faithful prophets.
In fact, right there in that very cave, Elijah hears the name of the one who would succeed him – Elisha.
Elisha was no one special. He was the son of a wealthy land-owner but not immune to labor and work. And so when he is called, he tells his family goodbye and follows Elijah. For seven or eight years, he serves as his apprentice until Elijah is taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot and Elisha takes up his mantle.
And all summer, we will be exploring the everyday people who received an extraordinary calling to serve God in their time and place.
Lest we forget that these are simply every day people, one of the very first “miraculous” acts that Elisha performs is to get revenge on a bunch of kids that call him “Baldy.”
In 2 Kings chapter 2 – Elisha is walking down the road when a group of young people start taunting him for his lack of hair… “Get going, Baldy! Get going Baldy!”
So, he curses them and bears appear out of nowhere and attack the youth.
No one is perfect.
Elisha answers his call to guide the people by warning the kingdom of ambushes, and has a role in the downfall of the house of Ahab. He speaks God’s word about who will be king in both Israel and in Syria.
In the midst of political intrigue and the constant fighting between nations, Elisha’s story is also deeply woven with signs that the power of God was present in the lives of the people. He was a great wonder-worker and filled with the Spirit of God he brings healing and resurrection, he multiplies loaves and creates food in the midst of famine. Water springs forth with a word and a song. And these miracles are for both the leaders and for the overlooked and downtrodden.
I find great comfort in that.
Because in our time and place, like Elisha’s, famines and disaster, war and politicking are an ever present reality. The problems of this world are so big and seem so out of our control.
And sometimes it is hard to even imagine that God would listen to the cries of someone like me… like us.
But in the midst of even our individual pain and brokenness… God is present.
One of the most famous of these miracles of healing done by Elisha was that of the Aramean military commander, Naaman. He was a great warrior and helped to lead raiding parties into Israel to capture and conquer. Yet he lived with leprosy, a skin disease that greatly bothered him.
In our text for this morning, we discover a number of ways in which God works to bring healing to our lives… in spite of our preconceptions, our pride, and our inability to see the providential love of God at work.
First, God brings healing through providential bystanders.
Donald McKim describes God’s providence as “God preserving creation, cooperating with all creatures and guiding or governing all things toward the accomplishment of God’s purposes.” Or, as Carrie Mitchell puts it: “God employs ordinary people to act in extraordinary ways.”
In the story of Naaman, it is the voice of a young Israelite woman, a servant in Naaman’s household that points his way towards healing.
She has no name in this story and she had been captured and taken far from home, against her will. And yet, in spite of her lack of power or agency, she allows God to use her to bless another.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bystanders this week, especially in the wake of the national conversation about the Stanford sexual assault case. Two young men, who happened to be passing by, made a difference in that young woman’s life.
One of the realities of our human story is that we are not immune from pain and violence, tragedy and illness. Our bodies our fragile, our spirits are bent towards sin, and we harm one another through our action and inaction.
But we also have the fantastic capacity to help. In those moments when we become aware of the pain, suffering, and tragedy of another, God is guiding us, directing us, shouting out for us to hear the call to be a difference maker and work towards healing and hope in another’s life.
It is the prompting of the Spirit that causes us to turn around when we would have walked past. It is that tug of the heart that calls us to speak a word of comfort or to reach out with a personal touch.
And that is exactly what the young servant girl did. She knew the power of God was with Elisha and so she used her voice to speak a word of good news to her troubled master.
You may be an ordinary person, but wherever you are, if you are paying attention, God can and will use you to bring healing and hope into another person’s life. Maybe God is calling you to visit someone or to pray for them. Maybe God is inviting you to point someone in a different direction or refer them to someone who can help.
Pay attention to where you might be in just the right place at just the right time to bring healing and hope.
Second, God’s healing is bigger than our faith.
One of the fascinating parts of this story is that it is about the healing of an enemy.
That young servant girl is only in Naaman’s household because she was captured on a raid. There is conflict and distrust between Israel and Aram… further evidenced by the way in which the King of Israel tore his clothes when the request for healing came. He thought it must have been a trap, an enticement to war… rather than an opportunity to show the power of his God.
The king’s distrust in this moment put both his enemy AND his God into a box.
When we look upon another person and are not willing to see the possibility of transformation in their life, it is easy to write them off. We do it with enemies, but we also do it with people who have disappoint us, or who are different than us.
And when we are not willing to see God work in the lives of the people we have written off, then we miss the opportunity for transformation in our own lives.
Last fall, I was part of the Right Next Door conference and we explored what it means to really listen to the stories and lives of people who are just down the street. Sometimes, the label we attach to another person: poor, felon, addicted… keep us from sharing the transforming love of God with them… AND keep us from seeing how the transforming love of God is already at work in their lives.
When we read this story of Naaman, what we discover is that the point is not even the healing of Naaman, but the way that Naaman is brought to faith because of the healing he experienced. Elisha offers to heal him, even though he’s not part of the elect of Israel. Even though he is an enemy. Even though he doesn’t believe in Elisha’s God. And as Naaman returns from the river, he declares: “Now I know for certain that there’s no God anywhere on earth except in Israel.”
And if we refuse to see God working in the lives of the other, we miss the opportunity to be transformed ourselves.
Finally, God’s healing doesn’t always look the way we want it to.
This is perhaps the most important lesson of our scripture this morning.
As Naaman finally got the opportunity to meet Elisha, he was greeted by a servant instead of the prophet.
The instructions seemed too simple and Naaman stomped away in anger.
When we pray for healing, we are initiating a conversation with God and the answer we get back is not always the answer that we want.
Healing does not always happen according to our plans and I have no simple answers as to why that is.
Sometimes we get miracles. Sometimes we are invited into a difficult journey that is full of joy and sorrow. Sometimes healing comes in the next life instead of this one.
All that we know is that this scripture, as Haywood Barringer Spangler puts it: “discourages our tendancy to look for God’s work in terms of our own desires or expectations. Naaman’s healing does not occur as he expects, but as God chooses.”
We are not immune from tragedy and we cannot always see God’s picture of this world.
Prayer is not a magic word. Rather, it is a relationship where we both cry out and we must be silent and listen. When we pray for healing we stay in the conversation, in a relationship with our God so that we might be comforted in our suffering and so that we might start to hear and understand God’s will is in the midst of our pain.
Today, we have the opportunity to pray for one another. We have the opportunity to bring our prayers and concerns, our hurts and pains and to place them in God’s hands.
May we be the answer to another’s prayers. May we look for God to work in unexpected people and places. And may we listen as much as we speak so that we can understand God’s healing presence in our own lives.