Sunday, January 22, 2023

Learning Humility

 2 Kings 5:1-15a

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel." 5 And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel."

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothes. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me."

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel." 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean." 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, "Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage. 13  Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean '?" 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him."

Sermon for 3-SAE                  1/22/23

Learning Humility

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This Old Testament text has always been one of my favorites.  The odd thing for me is that I have loved the account for many reasons, but I have never written a sermon on it before.  Sometimes you get a well-seasoned sermon that I have preached in one form or another in the past, perhaps many times.  This morning you get a brand-new, Just written for here and now sermon – not something I do every week.

Don't get me wrong, almost every sermon is rewritten and tailored for this congregation and this point in time.  This morning's sermon is a first run at the text, just like I was a new kid in the pulpit.  Writing a sermon on an Old Testament lesson that I have never preached before is a humbling experience.  So, with Naaman and all of you, this text will be a lesson in learning humility for me as well.

I love the lesson of the little Israelite slave girl.  She was captured in a raid by Syria on Israel and she became a slave in the household of Naaman, serving Naaman's wife.  We know nothing about her situation except that she was a captured slave, and apparently holding fast to her faith.  She also wished the best for her captor - she wanted him to visit the prophet in Israel and be healed of his leprosy.  There seemed to be no bitterness in her about her situation or the change in her circumstances and loss of family, and what not.  She had clearly learned humility and her situation did not change her heart toward her God.

Naaman brought the novel request to his king, and the king sent Naaman with a large gift to the King of Israel seeking the healing that the little slave girl spoke so confidently of.  Once the confusion had been cleared up and Naaman sought the prophet, we have the remarkable scene of the leading general of the Syrian army, with his chariots and troops and what-not parked outside of the humble home of the prophet Elisha.

Elisha did not even deign to come out and appear before Naaman, but sent a messenger out to tell him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times.  Naaman was outraged!  The prophet did not even come out to see him, or wave his hands over the man and speak some sort of incantation.  That was an offense against the pride of the great general.  And then he told him to go wash in the Jordan river!  The river was shallow and narrow most of the time and nothing much to look at, let alone bathe in.  The mighty rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, were far more impressive!  How dare the prophet humiliate – humble –  the mighty general of Syria?  So Naaman stormed off in a huff,  filled with wounded pride.

Eventually his servants managed to communicate some sense to Naaman, Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean ‘?"  They said, in effect, that his pride was standing in his own way.  You would do some great and difficult thing, if the prophet came to you and asked you.  Why not just do the simple things he commands?

Naaman had to swallow his pride, and humble himself to dip in the Jordan seven times.  And it worked!

Now there is more to the story, of course, but Naaman's healing required learning humility, and being guided by the Word of God instead of following his own proud thoughts.
The lesson for Naaman is the lesson for us.  Humble yourself before the Word of God.  Our circumstances are different, and our needs are generally different, but we all need to learn that lesson of humility.  There are always at least two ways of doing things, man's way and God's way.  You can listen to your ego or listen to the Word of God.

To follow God requires that you learn humility.  The Gospel requires that you humble yourself under the Law and  recognize that you are a sinner.  We all do that, sort of.  We may confess our sins, but we secretly don't think our sins are all that serious or a big deal.  Your pride has you convinced that your sins are nothing special.  So, Coming to church, going to Bible Study, paying attention during worship, and finding the true depth of your sins is a step too far, and woe unto the Pastor who preaches too clearly and forces you to confront your sins.  You are wrong, of course, and imitating Naaman after a fashion.

On the other hand, some of us go to the other extreme and believe that our sins are too many and too great to ever really be forgiven.  Like Naaman, we think we need more than what God prescribes.  We want the prophet to lay his hands on us and speak mysterious incantations – and whatever is prescribed by the Word of God seems too small and insignificant to remove the stain of our sin.

For healing, Naaman had to humble himself, and ignore what seemed to him to be a slight, an insult, and do the simple, unpretentious thing that God gave him to do to be cleansed.  He had to learn humility and dip himself in that pathetic excuse for a river – and he came out cleansed.

We need to hear God's Word and learn humility, and discover that He has placed true power in simple things, like Pastor's preaching and the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.  The preaching is not just Pastor Fish's opinions, but the very Words of God which works faith in those who take it to heart and trust God to do as He has promised and to cleanse us in the absolution, and in the sermon and in the sacrament.

If you think that your sins are of little account, you have not been listening or taking God's Word seriously.  To rescue you required the very life and death of the Son of God.

If you think that your sins are too many or too great to be truly forgiven, you are underestimating the price paid for your sins, and thinking that just because it is simple bread and wine that the Lord chose to use in the sacrament, it does not retain enough power to cleanse you.  You need to learn humility and stop calling God a liar, and stop judging things by how they appear to you, and listen to the Word of God instead.

Jesus said "It is finished."  He accomplished your redemption completely that day on the cross.  When He said this is My body and this is My blood, He created something new and miraculous for you and all sinners.  Your sins are forgiven!   Not because Pastor Fish says so, but because Jesus says so, and I am simply the voice He has called to speak those words of grace through in this place and to you personally.

You have been cleansed of the leprosy of sin as surely as Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy of the flesh, by learning humility, and doing the simple things that God promised would cleanse you – hearing His Word with faith, and partaking of this holy food, hidden in, with, and under the humble elements of bread and wine and believing what Jesus has said about them, that you are forgiven.

The verses following our text in 2 Kings tell us of the transformation of Naaman by the gracious gift of God.  He changed his religion, and he appealed to God for forgiveness when he had to accompany his king to the temple of a false God.

Faith in the Gospel will work similar changes in us – we will take this religion seriously, and will guard our steps that we confess Christ in all that we do, thinking about what we do and what we say, and how they reflect our confidence in God.

You see, learning humility is not a "once-and-done" thing.  We must fight the sin that is natural to us, and constantly repent and believe, learning humility daily and living in it all of the time.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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