COLUMN: Creating extraordinary things

Published 5:06 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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You’re in a meeting at work, and your mind starts to wander. Suddenly, you realize everyone is looking at you, waiting for your input. You quickly scramble to catch up and offer a vague response.

Your colleague asks, “What do you think about the new project proposal?” You reply, “Uh, yeah, sounds good. Let’s move forward.” Congratulations. You just okayed a half-million dollars to initiate a study phase of a construction project that you’re not entirely sure what it’s for. You were half-listening.

You’re watching a movie with friends or family, but your attention drifts. You miss crucial plot points and character developments. Your friend asks, “Did you see how the detective figured out the killer’s identity?” You reply “Umm, yeah, it was… mysterious?”

The dangers of just half-listening are rampant and obvious. We all do it, I suppose. Perhaps never more often than during sermon times across America. But sometimes, the mess left to be cleaned up from someone just half-listening is terrific.

In 2 Kings 5:1-14, Naaman needed help in our story today and nicely enough in the end, he got the help. But not without a good dose of half-listening that almost started up a war and then his own arrogance and cynicism nearly caused him to miss out on the help he needed. 

In the midst of it all, God is continuing to create extraordinary things right within the ordinary. There are a couple of things that might help us to get the most of today’s story. First, Naaman was a foreigner. He was not one of the Children of Israel. He was from a country that was constantly at odds with Israel, Aram. 

Second, some of the exiled or displaced among Israel’s people had been sent there. It was not a place any of the ancient Jews were necessarily living by their own choice. 

Naaman was a powerful and valuable man back in that place. He commanded the army of Israel’s enemy, and was therefore well-connected and quite important to Aram’s king himself. 

Oh, and one other thing. None of this healing that this foreign enemy will get from God’s prophet, Elisha, will happen if not for a nameless slave girl from Israel who is willing to speak up and suggest that her own God’s people might help her master. 

Naaman went to the king of Aram and told him that a potential cure lay across the border within the Israelite kingdom, if only he could see the prophet of Yahweh, Elisha. The king of Aram admitted that he was powerless in his own place to heal this valuable servant. So yes, Naaman could go. 

But, the king turned right around and wrote a letter asking Israel’s king to heal his army commander. But because he was half-listening and got the whole thing wrong. You might see how that letter would be received poorly by his counterpart, the king over in Israel at the time. 

How do we know this was a serious situation now, once Israel’s king received the letter? Because Israel’s king tore his clothing. A king tearing his clothing was symbolic of distress and grief. He was feeling boxed into a corner now. Picked on and made fun of. When they tore their clothes, they weren’t playing. 

Instead, Elisha did what a pastor is supposed to do. Be a less anxious presence. 

He heard about all of the drama. He sent a note to his king in Israel, saying “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, so that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” Now, if you’re familiar with the story, you know there will be some more back-and-forth before a miraculous ending.

You may remember that Naaman was indeed healed. That is, after he initially balked at the instructions to dip himself in the waters of Israel’s Jordan river, rather than one in his home country. But some of the power of this story might be what happens after the scripture citation you saw earlier. 

Naaman has a spiritual awakening. He declares Yaweh to be the one true God. He offers remuneration to Elisha, but the prophet refused to accept any payment. Instead, he is content serving God faithfully. 

A God who can use a nameless servant to speak hopefully, and dirty river water to heal. A God who prefers a prophet with integrity and a follower who is transformed. A God who is able to create extraordinary things from every day, highly ordinary materials.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.