Sermon 10/09/2022 – The Simplicity of the Miraculous

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from a skin disease. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his skin disease.”

[The king of Aram sent a letter to the Israel regarding this matter] When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his skin disease? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God and would wave his hand over the spot and cure the skin disease! 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?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”

Sermon Text

I like a good mystery, and some of the most satisfying one’s have some of the most basic answers behind them. From Sherlock Holmes stories like, “The Speckled Band,” which gives us a classic locked room murder scenario. While speculation swirls over what might have caused the death at the center of the story, a simple answer is hidden in the seemingly mundane set pieces of the room. The death is not because of anything magical or impossible, but instead the result of the titular “speckled band,” a snake smuggled into the country and used to invisibly kill its victims.

Agatha Christie would write her own mysteries with goiters and handkerchiefs being the missing piece to find how mundane the mysteries that Poirot and Ms. Marple investigated really were. Real life mysteries often have equally common solutions. There is a photo, for example, of a child out with their parents. Somehow, a mystery figure appeared in one single photo taken that day out at the picnic. Looking all the world like a spaceman, people for years questioned how something like that could suddenly materialize without anything being physically present. Well, fast forward to our digital age, the photo was adjusted slightly, to reveal the figure was just a woman in a dress, the little girl’s mother.

Simple explanations often hide just behind the most baffling aspects of our lives. The simplicity of those explanations do not decrease the wonder we can feel at the existence of the seemingly impossible. We love a good mystery book because they impress us with how the little things come together to solve something bigger. That picture of a spaceman is still one of my favorite miscellaneous bits of trivia to go back to. The way that light can completely change the way we interpret a situation, that something as small as how little particles of energy hit a receptor can make so huge a difference, it fills me with a different kind of awe.

For Naaman, the simplicity of the miracle that he was about to receive seemed insulting. He traveled from another land, just to bathe in a river that is best described as muddy and shallow and perhaps equally accurately described as a dirty streak in the Levant. The Jordan, despite the significance it holds for us as a place of repentance of transformation, is not a mighty river. By the standards of first century baptism, for example, it was considered unsuitable for baptizing Jewish converts and sub-optimal for baptizing Christians.[1] It was not the river anyone would go out of their way to have something miraculous happen in, but it was a fulcrum for transformation none the less.

At the Jordan the people of God reaffirmed their commitment to God, at Gilgal and Shechem, the crossing of the Jordan transformed the people from the Hebrews in the Wilderness to the Israelites in their home of Canaan. It was the Jordan that saw Elijah spirited away, that healed Naaman, and that one day would have a prophet stood on its banks baptizing Pharisees, Sadducees, sinners, and saints alike in the name of a new kingdom. By the washing of Christ in those waters long ago, all water was made holy.[2] We remember with every drop of water that touches our hands, our face, somehow even our soul, that we are beloved of God.

A muddy river, hardly worth mentioning except for the exceptional things that happen around it. That is the site of today’s miracle. The general whom had led his people to such success thought for a moment that this would be beneath him, but by the end of our story he sees the simplicity of God’s gift, the most mundane of water becoming a balm for his afflicted skin. After the conclusion of our reading, Naaman takes soil home from Israel, wishing to worship the God who rules that land for the goodness he was shown. Simple dirt, simple water, simple joy.

It can seem trite to suggest that there are simple miracles around us every day. While we might, when we are feeling especially holy or joyful, look at a flower and call it a miracle, it does not always wow us to see its petals reaching toward the sun. The simple act of breathing in and out, the exchange of billions upon billions of atoms with billions more to fuel the molecular processes the produce life within our bodies, is both miraculous and terribly mundane. If we want it to be, life is just about energy moving from higher levels of concentration to lower, but why would we ever want that to be our point of view.

Naaman, of course, had a more direct route to see something miraculous going on. If we could dip in some water and come out cleanses of illness, I think we would all be willing to travel as far as we possibly could. It probably would be cheaper than most prescriptions too. In that regard, perhaps we are looking in a different direction than Naaman as we seek out the miraculous. We are not given the obvious signs often, not everyday has something defying the laws of nature happen to bring about a change in our life. However, that never was the case. It is not as though there were millions of Naaman’s in Israel, in face only one ever crossed the shores of the Jordan and he was form Aram. Yes, despite the seeming quantity of them in these pages, miracles of that scale were rare even at the heights of prophetic power.

The love of God does not diminish in God’s people because of the occasional nature of the miraculous. Just because the sun does not stand still does not mean that we are not enamored by the stars moving in their courses. We have always been in a world where the miraculous stands out because it is rare and exceptional. In those rare and exceptional moments, we see something distinct, wonderful, and praiseworthy. Likewise, somehow simultaneously, the mundane elements of life carry another kind of spectacle to them. We are wowed both by the things that defy explanation, and the things that are simply magnificent in themselves.

Jesus, when he preached to his disciples about how they ought to trust God, told them to look to birds and to flowers to understand how God cares for all of creation. No one, looking at a flower, will suddenly understand the seeming lack of food and care in the world. No one looking to a bird will feel that they fully understand human suffering. Yet, there is something in those mundane things that reveal some of the extreme care and love God has in the universe. The sun sitting in a space-time nest, heats us and gives us life and light, while all the time also spinning around a black hole bigger than we can imagine, in a galaxy that boggles the mind, in a universe as constantly expanding as our own thoughts.

There is such a grand impossibility to life itself. From matter staying together and not spinning apart, to nucleotides coming together to make something as complex as an organism. Naaman saw in the Jordan a river weaker and less impressive than those of his homeland, but it was a river built from eons of erosion and tectonic activity. It was filled with water that had been part of ancient seas and that had felt the breath of titanic dinosaurs. It was clouded by dirt, yes, but dirt forged from the fires of creation itself, diluted bit by bit into the rich mud and clay that only a riverbed can make.

The Psalmist was amazed by the works of God’s hands, how the stars take shape in the yawning void of the cosmos and how our origins trace back to the depths of the earth itself. Mysteries answered simply in some ways, with wave equations and chemical taxonomies, but mysteries no more amazing for having a solution. The work of God, to simply make us be, and to live in a world that is not only effective, but pleasant. Is a miracle to itself. Yes, for Naaman something simple became the vehicle for a supernatural healing, but before even that a million unlikely wonders had to happen to bring him to those waters. Let us seek out the small wonders of life, so that we understand the baseline of how simply miraculous our life truly is. – Amen.

[1] While Messianic Jews argue the Jordan is a Mikvah, and therefore able to facilitate baptism, however the Mishnah Parah, specifically states its waters are unfit as it is “mixed,” water. Didache 7 is more lenient in what constitutes baptismal water, but the focus is still upon fresh, cold, water.

[2] Mysteries of the Lord’s Baptism St. Maximus of Turin

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