category: Musings, Prayer, Sermon Starter

Naaman, Paul, and Jesus. Who Knew?

By Rachael Keefe

Do you know how, every once in a while, a song gets into your head? Not in an earworm sort of way, but the song stays with you because it resonates with something in you? That has happened to me. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to …

Naaman, Paul, and Jesus. Who Knew?

Do you know how, every once in a while, a song gets into your head? Not in an earworm sort of way, but the song stays with you because it resonates with something in you? That has happened to me. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to a song by Matthew West called, “Hello My Name Is.” There’s something about it that has grabbed hold of me in a way that lets me get beyond the traditional language to the heart of the message. Here are the lyrics, but I encourage you to give it a listen.

“Hello, My Name Is”
Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief
These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life
What love the Father has lavished upon us
That we should be called His children
I am a child of the one true King

It’s the idea that when we encounter God’s transforming love, we are set free from the lies we believe about ourselves. Maybe it is under the influence of this song that I read this week’s texts. But I think Naaman or one of the members of the church in Galatia or one of the seventy could have written this song.

The last time I read the 2 Kings passage about Naaman, I heard nothing but Naaman’s sense of entitlement. This time I heard a story about a man whose expectations and the lies he told himself nearly cost him a whole new life. Naaman was an important man. He had power and position and respect. He believed he deserved an audience and a personal showing from the prophet Elisha. Namaan was, after all, an Aramean and, therefore, better than an Israelite (at least to his own thinking). He had expectations about the treatment he deserved from Elisha and, likely, from the God of Israel. If not for his servants, Naaman would have remained a leper, blinded to the simple act that would bring him healing. Instead, he is healed and maybe sees himself differently as a result of God’s grace.

Seeing Naaman as one limited by his own view of himself, I thought of my patients. As a psychiatric chaplain I frequently meet people who are trapped in their own expectations and are truly blind to opportunities for healing. Unlike Naaman, these people have very poor expectations for their treatment at the hands of others. They believe themselves truly unworthy of love and compassion. They tend to dismiss the idea that life could be different for them if they could see themselves as deserving of kindness if nothing else. Their own self-hatred keeps them bound to a cycle of self-destruction. They are provided with many opportunities to make small, uncomplicated changes which they cannot bring themselves to make. They would say their names are Regret or Defeat or worse. If there is a river of healing out there, it’s for someone else.

By the time I get to the Galations reading, I’m thinking about the Naamans and the psych patients I’ve met. And I marvel at how easy it is for people to get lost in the lies we tell ourselves – for better or for worse. Then I read these words:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Now I’ve stopped thinking about other people and I’m questioning myself. I realize how many times I’ve been like Naaman and like my patients and I’m thinking that I’ve missed out on lots of things. I’ve not joined in very many protests against injustice… stopped using zip lock bags and bottled water… donated blood recently, gone to any disaster zones to offer aid… kept up on all the happenings of the world… taken any big risks for the sake of improving life for someone else… prayed as much as I could for Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Arizona, New Hampshire, my neighbors, or my loved ones… Just what am I sowing, let alone reaping?

Just when I am beginning to despair, I read the Gospel lesson. The sending of the seventy and the instructions to essentially take nothing for their journey speaks of trust. Go where you go in the name of God. Bring peace and offer peace. If it is not received, don’t dwell there. Trust God to give you what is needed. I know it’s more complicated than that, but it comes down to trust. If I put my faith in my own achievements, my expectations are going to be skewed. I could become like Naaman and believe that I deserve better and miss the simple opportunities for cleansing and healing. Or I could become like some of my patients and expect only rejection and mistreatment and miss out on love and grace. The harvest would be rather limited.

Clearly, these readings hit me where I live these days. I am still questioning my expectations and how they might hinder me along the way. I want to pay far more attention to what it is I am sowing based on those expectations. And I want to let go of all the extras I carry when I could be trusting God. I want to live the belief that I am a child of a holy God and I am saved, changed, and set free.

So, Lord, I pray for the Naamans of the world who do not have brave servants and miss bathing in humble waters. And for the times when I have been Naaman. I pray also for the brave ones who speak out in your name to humble and heal the powerful. And for the courage when it is my time to be a brave servant. I lift up those whose expectations hold them captive to illness and self-destruction. And for those who try to show them the way to the river. For all those who sow only in the moment and think nothing of the harvest that is to come. For those who think only of the harvest and have forgotten for whom they sow. For those who weary of laboring for what is right. To this I add prayers of gratitude for all those who have trusted in you and have reminded me what is possible when we follow you, and for the love you lavish on us all. Amen

2013-07-03 21.23.17

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-14 with Psalm 30 or
Isaiah 66:10-14 with Psalm 66:1-9
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.