Sunday’s sermon: “Bah! Humbug!”

Text used – Habakkuk 1:1-5; 2:1-4; 3:17-19

  • “Bah! Humbug!” It’s a refrain we all recognize, right? It’s a phrase we all associate with one person: Scrooge! That truly singular and unmatched character from Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol.
    • Originally published in 1843
    • Story that’s been adapted to film no less than 135 times – everything from …
      • Silent film version entitled Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost in 1901
      • Classic Mickey’s Christmas Carol done by Disney in 1983
      • Classic Scrooge starring Albert Finney in 1970
      • The Muppet’s Christmas Carol in 1992
      • Fully computer animated version in 2009
      • Other off-shoots
        • Scrooged starring Bill Murray from 1988
        • Most recent Spirited starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds
      • Adaptations go far beyond film – you can find A Christmas Carol
        • Theater productions
        • Radio programs
        • Audio recordings
        • Operas
        • Ballets
        • Graphic novels
        • Comic strips
        • Video games
        • Podcasts
    • For many, the Christmas season hasn’t truly begun until they’ve watched their favorite version, either on their own with a plate of gingerbread cookies and a cozy mug of hot chocolate or with family and friends. There’s just something about the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, his moonlit wanderings through past and present and future, the lessons he gleans along the way, and his ultimate redemption that draws us back again and again.
    • Also a story that’s a perfect traveling companion for the season of Advent – read Redemption of Scrooge[1], p. 10
  • So we begin at the beginning of Scrooge’s story this morning.
    • Dickens’ own description of Scrooge: Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.[2]
      • Rawle’s slightly more general description: Scrooge is an iconic figure who represents stinginess, greed, and generally being in a terrible mood. … Even though by the end of the story Ebenezer Scrooge is a changed person, the character remains a strong caricature of everything our Christmas celebrations shouldn’t be.[3]
    • First stave (section) of Dickens’ story gives us a truly unsurpassable impression of a man focused on just one thing: money
      • Making it
      • Keeping it
      • Counting it
    • Also introduces the equally stingy and equally crucial character of Scrooge’s former partner, Jacob Marley – a man who, by his own description (via his chain-adorned ghost), was focused on all the wrong things during his life: making money, keeping money, counting money … a misalignment of priorities that he has realized all too late
  • Just as Marley attempts to warn Scrooge of his own wildly misaligned priorities, so the prophets of the First Testament were trying to warn the people of Israel and Judah of their own wildly misaligned priorities
    • Description of Habakkuk – scholar: Habakkuk’s prophecies date to the dawn of the 6th century BCE, when Babylon was bearing down on Judah after defeating the Assyrian Empire to become the dominant regional power. Like many other biblical prophets, Habakkuk interprets Babylon’s incursions as God’s judgment on Judah’s internal politics.[4] → For generations leading up to Habakkuk’s time, the people of Israel had been turning further and further from God. Sometimes they had been led there by kings who were themselves growing increasingly more corrupt and idolatrous. Sometimes they were led there through their own circumstances – those who had married people from other cultures who worshiped other gods. Many times, through the words of various prophets including Habakkuk, God tried to call the people back to that covenant relationship God had made with them. But each time, they fell away again.
      • Result of that falling away makes up the beginning of our Scripture reading this morning – Habakkuk crying out to God to notice the desperate plight of the people: Lord, how long will I call for help and you not listen? I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us. Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish so that devastation and violence are before me? There is strife, and conflict abounds. The Instruction is ineffective. Justice does not endure because the wicked surround the righteous. Justice becomes warped. Look among the nations and watch! Be astonished and stare because something is happening in your days that you wouldn’t believe even if told.[5]
        • Scholar makes an important point about this seemingly-harsh passage: The prophet’s cry of frustration—“O LORD, how long?”—is shared with over a dozen psalms, as well as with other laments across the prophetic corpus. The question testifies to prolonged suffering; the speaker cannot imagine an end to the misery. Habakkuk does not hesitate to call God to account, giving voice to what he perceives is God’s refusal to respond to the prophet’s cries for help. That in and of itself is an important reminder for congregations: that being angry at God, or feeling that God seems absent, is “allowed,” and in fact has biblical precedents—and yet those feelings of despair are never the end of the story.[6]
    • Just as Marley is sent to Scrooge as an initial warning, so Habakkuk is sent by God as a warning to the people of Israel – a declaration that change must come
      • Scripture: Then the Lord answered me and said, Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet so that a runner can read it. There is still a vision for the appointed time; it testifies to the end; it does not deceive. If it delays, wait for it; for it is surely coming; it will not be late. Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.[7] → God is not trying to hide salvation from the people. God’s promised salvation is coming. Change is coming. Hope is coming. But those promised comings don’t negate the present circumstances. The people are still living in the midst of the lives and culture that they made for themselves. Here we see a prominent difference between our Scripture reading this morning and Scrooge’s story: timing.
        • Scrooge’s story = accelerated → all the revelations and changes come in the span of one single night – in the roughly 17 hours between sundown on Christmas Eve and daybreak on Christmas morning
        • God’s timeline = much, much longer → And it’s that waiting that can be so incredibly hard, isn’t it? Intellectually, we know that Advent is a season of waiting, and we can spin that in all sorts of holly jolly ways: “It’s a season of anticipation” – a word that sounds so much shinier and more palatable than “waiting” … “It’s a season in which the light draws ever closer” which is meant to distract us that, in the absence of the light, things can be dark and cold and uncertain and scary … “It’s a season of preparation” which makes us feel like there’s at least something we can do in the face of the waiting.
    • Sort of helps us understand the desperation and frustration that we hear in Habakkuk’s complaints at the beginning of our reading this morning, doesn’t it? → When we’re holding out for something new, something different, something more, something sure, the waiting can seem interminable and even unbearable.
      • Rawle makes a particular tie btwn the agony of waiting and the season of Advent: Advent is to be a time of waiting, not only to live into the tension of when the divine and creation collide, but it is the spiritual discipline of slowing down to notice God’s presence in the still small voice within a violent and hurried world.[8]
  • But the thing about waiting is that only in that space between what is unknown and what is known can we find hope. Once a thing has been confirmed, has been made sure, has been defined and named, has been given substance and certainty, we move from hope to something else. Hope is born and lives and even thrives in the waiting places.
    • Hope expressed by Habakkuk at the end of our reading this morning: Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom, and there’s no produce on the vine; though the olive crop withers, and the fields don’t provide food; though the sheep are cut off from the pen, and there are no cattle in the stalls; I will rejoice in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance. The Lord God is my strength. He will set my feet like deer. He will let me walk upon the heights.[9] → Clearly, things are falling apart all around Habakkuk. Things are not going well for the people of Israel. But still, Habakkuk declares his hope remains in “the God of my deliverance.”
    • Rawle: I like to think about hope as “possibility.” Hope is the picture of all that God can accomplish. There will never be a day when dream about God’s goodness will pass, so there will never be a day not in need of hope.[10]
      • If ever there was a story about the power of hope, it is Scrooge’s story
        • Hope that was dashed
        • Hope that was repressed
        • Hope that finally burst forth
        • Hope that overcame
      • If ever there was a story about the power of hope, it is God’s story
        • Hope that was born
        • Hope that lived and breathe and loved and wept
        • Hope that taught
        • Hope that suffered and died and rose again once and for all
  • Good news
    • Just as Scrooge did not travel through this revelatory midnight wanderings alone, we do not travel alone either
      • God travels with us in the midst of it all
      • We travel with one another → Here to help each other see. Here to help each other trust. Here to help each other take the next step forward … and the next … and the next.
    • Hope endures all – all around us and all with us, all that is in our control and all that is out of our control à Rawle: Even though by the end of the story Ebenezer Scrooge is a changed person, the character remains a strong caricature of everything our Christmas celebrations shouldn’t be. It seems that we can’t accept that he has been redeemed. But maybe there’s still hope. Maybe over the course of this study, even Ebenezer Scrooge’s name might come to mean something different to you. After all, if Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we.[11] → Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Matt Rawle. The Redemption of Scrooge. (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 2016.

[2] Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol, illustrated ed. (White Plains: Peter Pauper Press, Inc., 2022), 5-6.

[3] Rawle, 18.

[4] Cameron B.R. Howard. “Commentary on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:[3b-6] 17-19” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/faith-as-a-way-of-life-2/commentary-on-habakkuk-11-4-22-4-33b-6-17-19-2.

[5] Hab 1:2-5.

[6] Howard.

[7] Hab 2:1-4.

[8] Rawle, 36.

[9] Hab 3:17-19.

[10] Rawle, 34.

[11] Rawle, 18.

Sunday’s sermon: Making, Doing … Hoping … Preparing

Text used – Micah 5:2-5a; 6:6-8

  • Y’all know just how much I love my to-do lists, and I know that I’m not the only one here that feels that way about making and completing those lists.
    • Lists for packing → Yup, mine are typed up in Word documents on my computer so I can adjust them from year to year before I use them again.
    • Lists for shopping
    • Lists for day-to-day activities → I know y’all have seen the running to-do list that I keep on the whiteboard in my office. And, if you’re so inclined, after worship today you can go in and see how relatively short that list is at the moment!
    • Lists for specific events → 2 separate to-do lists from our Outreach Team mtg. last Thurs. night
      • One for Christ the Servant Sunday that we’ll be celebrating next week
      • One for the Christmas Cookie Sale
    • Lists for special occasions → I may or may not have a detailed, 5-pg. document sitting in my office right now that is every step and every ingredient for the multiple elements that will go into our dessert for Christmas Eve dinner … and that document may or may not be complete with a computer-rendered diagram of said dessert. I don’t know.
    • I even keep an announcements to-do list on my bulletin every Sunday!
    • But as it turns out, there’s a significant psychologically beneficial component to the practice of to-do lists. – article from CNN Health: To-do lists can be great tools for decreasing anxiety, providing structure and giving us a record of everything we’ve accomplished in a day. The trick is to reframe your to-do list as a set of miniature goals for the day and to think of your checklist items as steps in a plan. Research on the psychology of goal-making has revealed that an unfinished goal causes interference with other tasks you’re trying to achieve. But simply making a plan to facilitate that goal, such as detailing steps on a to-do list, can help your mind set it aside to focus on other things.[1]
      • Doesn’t matter what medium you use for your to-do list
        • Any loose sheet of paper
        • Whiteboard
        • Digital format (smartphone, tablet, etc.)
        • Journal pages/special “to-do” notebook
        • Even Post-It notes
      • Doesn’t matter what your list is for
        • Regular, every-day tasks
        • Special events/significant tasks
        • Very specific purposes → Making a Christmas Eve dessert, for example.
    • In fact, I think heading into the holiday season is probably when people have the most to-do lists rattling around in their heads or their phones or their wallets.
      • To-do lists for holiday food
      • To-do lists for gifts
      • To-do lists for other holiday activities
        • Parties/gatherings to attend
        • Decorations to dust off and put up
        • Traditions to enjoy
        • Charitable donations to make (either monetary donations or donations of time or other needed items)
    • But what about our faith? We’re coming up on the season of Advent – a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ-child. But how much preparing do we actually do this time of year as far as our faith is concerned? How often do we make a concerted effort to getting our hearts and our spirits ready for the birth of Love Incarnate – the coming of God in human form? Or do we expend all of our energy on the physical preparations for the season and simply sit back and wait for God to find us in and amidst the hustle and bustle?
  • Today’s Scripture reading from Micah = powerful reading that binds together the “doing” side of faith with the “hoping” side of faith
    • Background for Micah from scholar: Prophesying toward the end of the eighth century BCE, Micah was a witness to the antagonism of the Assyrian Empire against Israel and Judah, including the capture of Samaria in 722 BCE and the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE, when the capital of Judah survived by the skin of its teeth. Instability and war were all around, and that sense of danger is reflected in the many judgment oracles found throughout the book, especially in the first three chapters. Chapters 4-5 take on a more hopeful tone, while chapters 6-7 are a mix of both judgment and hope.[2]
    • Passage today can be broken up into the two sections (both by chapter and by theme within those chapters)
      • First part (from ch. 5) = reminder of what we’re preparing for
      • Second part (from ch. 6) = how to prepare
      • So let’s investigate these two sections a little more closely.
  • First section: what we’re preparing for – text: As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you. His origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Therefore, he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor gives birth. The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. They will dwell secure, because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace.[3]
    • Surely, as Christians, we read the words of this prophecy and believe that they point to Jesus: coming from Bethlehem, coming on God’s behalf, one who will shepherd his flock, one who will “surely become great throughout the earth.” By our understanding … through our belief … God is speaking through Micah to point the way to Jesus – the Messiah, the Christ.
    • One really particular phrase that grabs my attention in this passage – end of v. 2: His origin is from remote times, from ancient days.
      • Heb. “origin” = particular word that encompasses both the act of something going forth AND the place from which that something has come → It’s a word that very much encompasses the eternal nature of Christ as God Made Flesh.
        • Expansive nature of who the coming Messiah was and is and will be is also found in the rest of that phrase
          • Heb. “remote times,” “ancient,” and “days” = all words that ring with eternity, with a cyclical view of time – indicating beginning as well as ending, what was before and what lies ahead
        • Brings to mind the beginning of gospel of Jn: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.[4]
    • Passage also speaks not only of who is coming but also of what this One will bring
      • Reunion and return
      • Protection and guidance of a shepherd
      • Strength of the Lord
      • Majesty of God’s name
      • Security and peace
      • Those sound like the words of another prophet, don’t they? – Is: A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever.[5]
    • These are the promises that came with Jesus more than 2000 years ago, but I think that we often forget that they’re the promises that still come with Jesus today and the promises that Jesus will bring with him again when he returns. Today, I think we’re so far removed from that incredible night full of angels and shepherd and a birth and the brilliant light of a guiding star that we forget that that Jesus is the one we’re still preparing for today. Advent isn’t just about “preparing for Jesus” by putting out our creche and lighting a special candle during worship or maybe even at home around the dinner table. Advent is about preparing ourselves to receive the light and promise of Christ into our hearts anew, and it’s about preparing ourselves for Christ to come again – a coming that will change things forevermore.
      • Scholar: [Micah] is pointing to a leader who stands “in the strength of the Lord,” rather than in the strength of weapons or power or wealth or territory. Here is a difference that makes a difference. It takes one’s breath away, this promise. In these few verses, tucked away in a slim prophetic book, Micah captures the ache with which we live each day and the hope that is in us for a future that only God can deliver. Life is precarious, and so too are the so-called securities we purchase with our dollars and in which we place so much trust: insurance policies, savings accounts, credit cards, physicians, and elected officials. Like us, they are here today but gone tomorrow. Christians understand God’s provision of true security in the One whose birth the church is soon to celebrate. Christ is our security. He is bread for our hunger, drink for our thirst, and life for our death.[6]
  • And if that’s the “who” and the “what” that we’re preparing for, then what about the “how”? → shift our focus to the second part of today’s reading – familiar portion from ch. 6: With what should I approach the LORD and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit? He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.[7]
    • Begins with an age-old question – one that we’ve asked ourselves … and each other … and God time and again throughout the millennia → As long as people have placed their faith in God – this incredible, powerful, compassionate, protecting God who we cannot see or hear … As long as people have place their faith in God, we have also wondered about the best way to approach God. The most appropriate way. The most reverent way. The most effective way. Even the safest way!
      • Question that has spurred so many of the interactions throughout Scripture – both First Testament and New Testament stories
      • Question asked by Micah again this morning: How should I come before God?
    • Response reads a little like a side-by-side to-do list and “anti-to-do list”
      • Ways not to come before God: Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?[8] → The particular form of the Hebrew here makes it clear that, while Micah is asking rhetorical questions, he’s asking those rhetorical questions in a way that deliberate leads to a “no” answer. So this is the “anti-to-do list.”
        • I should not come with entirely burned offerings and year-old calves
        • God will not be pleased with thousands of rams and torrents of oil
        • I should not give my oldest child
      • To-do list follows on the heels of these rhetorical questions: He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.[9]
        • Scholar: If Judeo-Christian ethics had to be summarized on a bumper sticker, Micah 6:8 would fit the bill … There may be no better summary of the neighborly ethic voiced by prophets, codified in the commandments, and incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth.[10]
  • So there it is: our to-do list for preparing our hearts, our minds, our spirits, and our lives for the coming of Christ – the coming that was over 2000 years ago, the coming that is when we wake up every morning and choose to follow Christ, and the coming that will be.
    • CNN Health article about to-do lists and goals: In order to work effectively, your to-do list’s mini-goals also need to be well defined and have short time frames. That’s because people also tend to give up in the middle of goals, according to psychologists. … “We celebrate graduations at work and cheer when we finish big projects. But there is no celebration for middles. That’s when we both cut corners and we lose our motivation,” said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago who is an expert on motivation and decision-making. “We will still slack in that middle, and having long projects invites a long middle.”[11] → So here’s my challenge to you today as we think about the coming season of Advent: spend some time really thinking about how you want to prepare for Christ this season.
      • Maybe prayer
      • Maybe volunteering/service
      • Maybe giving
      • Maybe just finding 5 solid minutes somewhere in your day to think about what the coming of Christ means to you → how the coming of Christ has changed, does change, and will change you
        • And we’re going to begin that preparation by moving straight into our time of Exploring the Word Together with this morning’s question: How can we prepare for Christ today? Friends, let us be the word of God for one another this morning.

[1] Lauren Kent. “The psychology behind to-do lists and how they can make you feel less anxious” from CNN Health, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/health/to-do-lists-psychology-coronavirus-wellness/index.html. Posted July 14, 2020, accessed Nov. 13, 2022.

[2] Cameron B.R. Howard. “Commentary on Micah [1:3-5];5:2-5a; 6:6-8” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/micah-2/commentary-on-micah-13-5-52-5a-66-8-2.

[3] Mic 5:2-5a.

[4] Jn 1:1-4.

[5] Is 9:6-7.

[6] Nancy S. Taylor. “Fourth Sunday of Advent – Micah 5:2-5a – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common LectionaryYear C, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 76.

[7] Mic 6:6-8.

[8] Mic 6:6b-7.

[9] Mic 6:8.

[10] Andrew Foster Connors. “Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Micah 6:1-8 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 290.

[11] Kent, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/health/to-do-lists-psychology-coronavirus-wellness/index.html.

Sunday’s sermon: It’s That Simple

Text used – 2 Kings 5:1-15a

  • Time for another children’s book, all! This is another one from one of the very favorite authors in our house: Mr. Mo Willems.
    • Other Mo Willems books I’ve talked about before: Elephant and Piggie books
    • Other Mo Willems books in general
      • Knuffle Bunny books
      • Leonardo, the Terrible Monster[1]
      • Nanette’s Baguette[2] (which is probably one of the best read-aloud books out there!)
      • And a number of other off-shoots written by other authors but endorsed by Mo Willems via Elephant and Piggie.
    • But the first book that Mo Willems wrote featured a different character: the pigeon. → introduced a highly entertaining and attitudinal pigeon with big ideas, big emotions, and epic facial expressions (You didn’t think pigeons could have facial expressions, did you?)
      • First book: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus[3]
      • Many other highly enjoyable Pigeon books since (including the brand new one: The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster![4])
      • Pigeon story I wanted to introduce you to today: The Pigeon Needs a Bath![5]
        • [read title pages]
        • Throughout the first 2/3 of the book, the Pigeon expends a great amount of energy and persuasive power trying to convince you, the reader, that he does not, in fact, need a bath despite the fact that he is clearly covered in dirt and grime with stench trails wafting off him.
          • Finally convinced when even the flies buzzing around his stinky, dirty self fly away with the parting remarks of, “P.U.! Yuck! Let’s get out of here! Take a bath, dude!”
        • Spends another few pages in front of the bathtub doing everything he can not to get in
          • Water’s too hot → water’s too cold
          • Not enough toys → too many toys
          • Too much water → not enough water
          • Water’s too wet
          • Water’s too reflective
        • [SPOILER ALERT] But when the pigeon finally gets into the bathtub, he discovers he LOVES taking a bath! He loves playing in the water. He loves the bubbles. He loves relaxing in the water. He even loves the washing part!
          • Final pages: TEN HOURS LATER → Pigeon: “Can I stay in the tub forever?”
      • And frankly, it was too perfect a lead-in into our Scripture reading today to leave at home! I mean, it’s a story whose main character doesn’t think a simple bath is going to do him any good, but once he finally takes that bath, his entire outlook changes. Truly, this picture book is the story of Naaman in snarky, cartoon pigeon form! Okay … that may be going a bit far, but the parallels between The Pigeon Needs a Bath! and our story from the First Testament this morning are undeniable.
  • So let’s take a minute to figure out how we got from King Solomon last week to Naaman’s story this week.
    • Last week: story took place at the very beginning of Solomon’s reign as king over the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah → now skipping over the entirety of the rest of Solomon’s reign
      • Solomon building the first Temple (destroyed by the invading Babylonian army in 586 BCE)
      • Northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah splitting once again
      • Long line of rulers for both kingdoms → each king growing slightly worse and more corrupt and less dedicated to God than his predecessor
        • Stories of prophet Elijah fall into this time period of deteriorating kingships
        • Story of Elijah being taken up into heaven and being succeeded by his disciple, Elisha[6]
  • Brings us to today’s story
    • Naaman = “general for the king of Aram” → Aram = kingdom that shared a significant portion of the border with the northern kingdom of Israel (modern day Syria and northern Palestine) → And clearly, Naaman is a big deal. Besides being a general, our text said he was “a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram.”[7] It also calls him a “mighty warrior.” So yeah. Naaman is a big deal. BUT he also has “a skin disease,” which, within the context of Scripture, is generally understood as leprosy.
      • So let’s talk about leprosy for a minute. – disease from “Bible times,” yes, but a disease that still exists today → from non-profit Embrace a Village founded to serve people affected by leprosy “holistically through spiritual, medical, nutritional, and educational programs”[8]
        • Leprosy (aka – Hansen’s disease)[9]
          • Chronic, mildly infectious disease caused by slow-growing bacteria → incubation period of about 3-5 yrs → symptoms can take as long as 20 yrs to appear
          • Can affect the nerves, eyes, skin, and mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract
          • Not highly contagious → contracted in the same way as a common cold (coughing/sneezing) but 95% of adults are already immune
          • Can be cured through multidrug therapy over the course of 6-12 mos.
        • Some numbers from Embrace a Village
          • Close to 250,000 cases worldwide today
          • Nearly 60% of the world’s cases are in India → culture in which a leprosy diagnosis will still find both you and your entire family ostracized by your village … not so different from “Bible times.”
      • For someone as prominent as Naaman to suffer from such a stigmatizing disease was uncommon. Nothing in our text this morning tells us how long Naaman had had his skin disease, though we might infer that he was still able to hide the effects of the disease due to the fact that he wasn’t ostracized – the fact that he still maintained his prominent position.
    • Naaman hears from captured Hebrew slave girl working for his wife about the miraculous healing capabilities of the prophet Elisha → And in her words, Naaman sees a glimmer of hope.
      • Goes to “his master” (i.e. – the king of Aram) → king of Aram (who must be privy to Naaman’s condition) agrees to write to the king of Israel to make sure Naaman and his traveling party can venture safely into the territory of the kingdom of Israel so Naaman can seek out Elisha for healing
    • So first Naaman goes to the king of Israel and presents him with this letter from the king of Aram explaining the situation and the need … and the king of Israel sort of flips out a little bit. → gives us a little insight as to just how serious a leprosy diagnosis was back then (and still is for a lot of people today) – text: When the king of Israel read the letter, he ripped his clothes. He said, “What? Am I God to hand out death and life? But this king writes me, asking me to cure someone of his skin disease! You must realize that he wants to start a fight with me!”[10]
    • Somehow Elisha hears about this reaction and sends word to the king of Israel telling him to send Naaman and his entourage to Elisha’s house → So Naaman the Big Deal and those traveling with him show up on Elisha’s doorstep … but Elisha doesn’t even come to the door himself! He simply sends a messenger to tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times if he wants to be cured!
      • Naaman the Big Deal is not having it – text: Naaman went away in anger. He said, “I thought for sure he’d come out, stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the bad spot, and cure the skin disease. Aren’t the rivers in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all Israel’s waters? Couldn’t I wash in them and get clean?” So he turned away and proceeded to leave in anger.[11] → Naaman the Big Deal is angry that he doesn’t even get to see He’s angry that all he’s being asked to do is wash in some stupid water – some water that is clearly inferior to his Aramean water. He’s angry. He’s insulted. And why is he feeling that way? Because he’s a Big Deal. Because he’s Somebody. Because he feels entitled.
        • Plenty of other people suffering from leprosy at the time would have jumped at the chance à literally would have jumped weeping and hoping and splashing and rejoicingly into the waters of the Jordan River believing with every ounce of their being that their cure was just a simple wash away → But Naaman expects better. Naaman expects more. Because Naaman expects that he is better … he is more.
          • Scholar: Naaman is a powerful person who is used to people doing what he tells them to, and he demands the five-star treatment from [Elisha]. It’s as though he has arrived in Israel expecting a private suite in a private hospital, and instead he’s been offered a bed in the hallway.[12]
        • And because of those inflated self-expectations – because of that entitlement – he almost misses out on his chance for healing.
          • Only the words of a servant stop him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash, and become clean.’” So Naaman went down and bathed in the Jordan seven times, just as the man of God had said. His skin was restored like that of a young boy, and he became clean.[13] → As I said, a story whose main character doesn’t think a simple bath is going to do him any good, but once he finally takes that bath, his entire outlook changes.
            • Naaman’s final words upon returning to Elisha’s presence = declaration of faith: “Now I know for certain that there’s no God anywhere on earth except in Israel.”[14]
  • Too often, friends, we let our expectations about what “should be” get in the way of our faith.
    • Who and what and how others should be
    • Who and what and how we should be
    • Who and what and how the church should be
    • Who and what and how faith should be
    • Who and what and how the world should be
    • And we have this strange and maddening tendency to make things harder – sometimes infinitely harder! – than they need to be!
      • Me at regional spelling bee → word: absurd → I missed out because I was expecting the word to be harder than it was. I was expecting a trick, something hidden and difficult. I was overly complicating things. And we do that so often with our faith! We think we have to be in the right place or pray right or have the right words or the right posture or exactly the right set of beliefs for God to hear us and see us and love us. And so often, we let the buildup of our misplaced expectations get in the way of our relationship with God. We think we can’t approach God until we’ve ticked all the right boxes … done all the right things … become all the right things. But in the midst of it all, there God stands, saying simply, “Come. Love. Believe. Stop making it so hard. I’m here. You’re here. It’s that simple.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Mo Willems. Leonardo, the Terrible Monster. (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2005.

[2] Mo Willems. Nanette’s Baguette. (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2016.

[3] Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2003.

[4] Mo Willems. The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster! (New York: Union Square Kids), 2022.

[5] Mo Willems. The Pigeon Needs a Beth! (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2014.

[6] 2 Kgs 2:1-22.

[7] 2 Kgs 5:1.

[8] https://www.embraceavillage.org/who-we-are/#mission.

[9] https://www.embraceavillage.org/what-is-leprosy/.

[10] 2 Kgs 5:7.

[11] 2 Kgs 5:11-12.

[12] Cameron B.R. Howard. “Commentary on 2 Kings 5:1-15a” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/elisha-heals-naaman-2/commentary-on-2-kings-51-15a-2.

[13] 2 Kgs 5:13-14.

[14] 2 Kgs 5:15a.