OT: The Nameless Ones…

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Opening Hymn

Reading

2 Kings 5:1-14 (NLT)

The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.

At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing. The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

Homily

Over the past few weeks, we have learned much from the stories of Old Testament characters. On Sundays, we have thought about Abraham, Ruth, Amos, Esther and David. In our midweek services, we have mused on Elijah, Job, Jeremiah, Hagar and Deborah. We could discuss many many more. But on this final Sunday in our series, I want to look at the nameless characters who play unnoticed and vital roles in many Bible stories we tell.

Today’s Old Testament story is a fairly well known one. Naaman the great commander was stricken by a skin disease (in those days, all sorts of skin diseases were called leprosy) and healed after he takes Elisha’s advice and dips in the Jordan river seven times. But there would have been no story – Naaman would not have been healed, Elisha would not have performed a miracle, Aram would not have learned a new respect for their neighbour Israel’s God – if it wasn’t for the actions of a little slave girl.

In those times, when land meant survival, neighbouring countries regularly waged war against one another. Skirmishes along borders were commonplace and one of those skirmishes between Israel and Aram led to a young girl being taken from her home village as plunder. We can only imagine the trauma she experienced as her home was attacked and she was taken from everything and everyone she knew. However, given all the things that could have happened to her, it could have been worse. She is a captive, but as a captive finds herself a maid in the home of a wealthy and respected household. Who knows why the girl chooses to share her knowledge with her mistress? Maybe she hoped to benefit from passing on the information. Maybe Naaman’s illness put the wellbeing of the whole household in jeopardy. Or maybe, and this is my suspicion, she had received kindness from her master and mistress despite her captivity and wanted to help them in return.

One thing we do know. Her mistress, another nameless one, listens to her little slave girl. She neither scolds her for impertinence nor disregards her belief that in Israel there was a prophet of God who might help Naaman. The wife listens to this child, passes this news to her husband and the story we know so well follows on.

This girl would have no idea that people would still be talking about her – far less that I would be preaching about her – two and a half thousand years later. Her one act of kindness, and a kindness all the more remarkable after all that had happened to her, triggered a story that is still teaching us things about God and faith and obedience and humility today. And she is not the only one. The Bible is full of nameless characters whose small acts continue to speak to us millenia later. The thief on the cross. The widow and her mite. The woman who provided a home for Elijah. Lot’s wife. The wise woman of Abel. The woman at the well. And so many more…

On Thursday, some of us gathered via Zoom to hear Andrew Graystone tell us some hilarious and thought-provoking stories. He talked about some of the things he has experienced over a life of trying to be the person God made him to be in the places God put him. God certainly has a sense of humour. But one of the things Andrew said was that we all have these stories. Those times when we are the right person in the right place – or sometimes the wrong person in the right place – and end up having more impact than we ever expected. But more commonly, like the slave girl, we never know the impact our small actions of love, generosity, kindness and care have on others.

That girl is nameless to us, but she was and is known to God. Our actions may feel small and forgotten, but in offering them to God who knows what is possible. We worship a God who chooses to work through the overlooked, the powerless and the nameless. We worship a God who can use a kind word or a generous act to unleash a tidal wave of grace. So be encouraged by the nameless ones. In a world full of troubles, your small acts of love will be noticed and used by God.

Intercessions

God of love and wisdom,
in our prayers today we bring to you
the nations of the world and their leaders
amid growing tensions, accusations and mistrust.
We give thanks
for those pooling their resources to find a vaccine for the coronavirus;
for those offering sanctuary to refugees.
We remember and pray for those countries where we have family and friends,
and all those places whose suffering touches our hearts.
Lord, may the truths of your kingdom be our strength.

We pray for those industries hardest hit economically;
for all who are struggling with self-worth after losing their jobs;
for young people applying for university;
for those applying for benefits;
for charities struggling to cope with increased demand and reduced income.
Lord, may the truths of your kingdom be our strength.

We pray for churches and places of worship
as they welcome congregations back;
for courage as they encounter new challenges
and joy as they embrace new opportunities.
We pray for one another as we reflect on God’s word and live out our faith.
Lord, may the truths of your kingdom be our strength.

And we pray for those who are ill,
those in hospital and those at home;
those awaiting operations and treatment;
and those receiving palliative care.
We remember those who have died,
and pray for those who are grieving –
especially those who were unable to gather to comfort one another.
Lord, may the truths of your kingdom be our strength.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

Closing Hymn

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