It's Not About Me.

Sermon Preached on July 3, 2016
Proper 9C / 2 Kings 5:1-14

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram. . . a great man. . . in high favor with his master” . . . a “mighty warrior” and yet, one who “suffered from leprosy.”[1]  This morning’s Old Testament lesson at first seems to be a story about God’s healing power, one of several stories about the miraculous curing of leprosy.  But, I want to suggest this morning that Naaman, suffers an ailment far worse than leprosy and that this story from 2 Kings is actually about that healing.  The story doesn’t mention Naaman’s other ailment by name but it describes it in great detail.  Naaman is afflicted by Pride.  It’s a common literary device, isn’t it? The hero, the powerful character in a story, the one who has fame or fortune or power or prestige is presented with a tragic flaw that has the potential to lead to their downfall.  Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, King Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Victor of Shelley’s Frankenstein all share one thing in common with Naaman.  Pride.
Sadly, I suspect the reason this literary device is so common is because it is a flaw that many of us share.  We can readily relate to it on one level or another – from not asking for directions when we are clearly lost to persisting in doing something in the same manner even though we continue to get the same failing result.  Or, like Naaman – so used to his pride of place in society, that he cannot imagine why the prophet Elisha would not personally come out of his house to heal him; so set in his nationalistic pride that he cannot imagine why the waters of his own mighty rivers in Damascus are not good enough – not better than - the River Jordan in the land of Israel to produce a cure; so convinced of his uniqueness, his special place in the world, that he cannot imagine that a simple act of bathing in water could be enough to cure him of his leprosy.[2]  And we, like Naaman, if we are honest, can also get so caught up in our egos that we cannot grasp the possibility that the solution to our problems might be as simple as asking for help and following the simple suggestions that are given to us.
In this morning’s story, there is a great twist of irony, the servants of Naaman - enslaved by Naaman’s army – are the very ones who are able to convince Naaman to humble himself before the God of Israel, to engage in the simple act of bathing in the river Jordan, so that “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.”[3]  Those who are enslaved – the captives - are able to see the way to freedom for their captor so that Naaman, held captive by his own pride, may ultimately be set free by becoming humble.
Now humility gets a bad reputation in our day.  It is often misconstrued as “acting as if” we are “unimportant, inadequate, [or] of no value.”[4] Or, it is misunderstood as being centered on knowing our place or not being overly competitive.[5]  But a definition I prefer – and one that I think is more in keeping with our scriptures – comes from Keith Miller, a layperson who was a prolific inspirational author throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  He writes:  “humility is seeing ourselves as we actually are, good and bad, strong and weak, and acting authentically on those truths.”[6]  When we see humility in this light, it is more about truth-telling and integrity than it is about self-deprecation or self-loathing.  And in being willing to tell the truth about ourselves – to ourselves, to one another, and to God – it becomes possible for us to ask for help. To ask for help when we are lost. To ask for help when we are confused.  To ask for help when we are in need of healing.  Because, there is not one of us who is not in need of healing.  There is absolutely nothing shameful in that.  The shame comes in our unwillingness or our inability to let go of the pride that gets in the way of saying, “Help me” and the shame comes when God presents us – often through the words of another human being – with a simple path forward and our egos continue to insist that our problems are so special, so uniquely ours, that they must require a special, unique solution.  That our problems, like Naaman’s, require the prophet himself to come out of his house to stand before us ”and call on the name of the Lord his God,” to “wave his hand over” us and cure us.[7]  It is our human pride – our own leprosy of the mind – that becomes our worst enemy on the road to healing. 
But there is hope.  And that hope comes in the amazing turn-about that is the Gospel – the good news – for us today and for tomorrow.  It is that in every prayer in which we do find the courage to humble ourselves, to acknowledge that we do not have the answers, and instead ask God for help, what we receive in return is the power of the Holy Spirit![8] Amazing, isn’t it?  We humble ourselves acknowledging our lack of power, our lack of knowledge, our lack of might and God, turns around and gives us the very power we need!  The power of the Holy Spirit that heals, that transforms, that endures.  Richard Rohr, a Franciscan teacher and wise spiritual leader, writes,
“We can never engineer or guide our own transformation or conversion. If we try, it will be a self-centered and well-controlled version of conversion, with most of my preferences . . . still fully in place but now well disguised.  . . . God has to radically change the central reference point of our lives.”[9]
You see: it is not about me; it is not about you; it is about God, the One who has all power.
Naaman’s pride led him to expect “the prophet to stand before him” but instead, albeit with a great deal of reluctance and coaxing, it would ultimately be Naaman who “on the heels of his obedience to the simple commands of the prophet” would wash himself in the healing waters of the Jordan, the living waters of God’s transforming grace and love, and be restored to good health – of body and of mind.[10] May you and I find the courage we need today and each day to humble ourselves before God, to ask for the help that we need, so that we too might know ourselves to be restored – in mind, body and soul.

[1] 2 Kings 5:1.
[2] 2 Kings 5:11-13.
[3] 2 Kings 5:13-14.
[4] J. Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 116.
[5] Ibid., 116.
[6] Ibid., 117.
[7] 2 Kings 5:11.
[8] Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2011), 61.
[9] Ibid., 63.
[10] Cheophus J. LaRue, “Summer Series 1: Intervention: Four Parts: Proper 6 through Proper 9: We Serve a God Who Sees, Cares, and – at Times – Intervenes in Human Affairs,” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C, compiled by Jessica Miller Kelley, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 222.