An Open Table where Love knows no borders

Keep it simple, Stupid

A sermon on 2 Kings 5: 1-14 by Nathan Nettleton, 8 July 2001

The formula was simple. A child could understand it. “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan and you will be made clean.” But the person receiving this simple formula was not a simple man. Naaman was a great general in the Syrian Army. We know he was a great general even though we are told little of his campaigns. His greatness is disclosed in the fact that he was the commander of the King’s army despite being a leper.

Had Naaman been a Israelite, he would have been required to live apart from everyone else. Apparently as a Syrian, he didn’t, but his disease was still considered both hideous and incurable. According to this scripture, he, and his king, were willing to pay millions of dollars, measured in today’s currency, if the disease could be cured.

After a couple of twists in the story, Naaman presents himself before the humble home of Elisha the prophet, millions of dollars in hand to pay for the cure he so desperately wants. . . and Elisha won’t even come to the door! Instead, Elisha sends a servant to give the great general the simple formula. “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and you will be healed.”

And Naaman is furious. He has travelled a great distance to get a cure for his terrible disease. He is prepared to pay millions of dollars and, as one of his servants points out, he is prepared to perform any number of difficult tasks to receive this gift from God. But he is unprepared for the simple formula offered by Elisha.

“Go and wash in the river, and you will be healed.”

It was all too simple. He thought Elisha was mocking him. Trying to make him appear foolish. The great general bathing in the muddy waters of the Jordan at the command of a Hebrew prophet. I can sympathise with him too, because Elisha is not one of my favourite Biblical characters. He could be rude and arrogant at times, and I think his refusal to even meet Naaman was a rather ungracious and unnecessary act, not at all consistent with the gracious hospitality Jesus commended in our gospel reading (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20).

Fortunately, Naaman lets himself be persuaded. And the story tells us that Naaman walked from the waters not only healed in his body, but also giving praise to the one true God of all the earth.

There’s another reason I sympathise with Naaman. It was too simple… He nearly missed out on the healing because it was too simple.

It was a simplistic as the Church saying that if we are dipped into water in the name to the triune God, we’ll be healed of sin and united to Christ. Ridiculous, too simple. How could such a simple act possibly have such extraordinary consequences? Too simple to take seriously really, isn’t it? . . . But Naaman was healed.

I’ve done what Naaman did over and over. Done the heavy miles and skipped the simple steps. If something was so simple it didn’t seem like it would do much then I skipped it. I could do eight years of theological study, but not bother with half an hour a day of silent prayer. I could give several years to tough ministry on the streets of St Kilda, but not bother to meet once a month with a spiritual mentor. Too simple to bother with. I didn’t bother with such things for years because they were so simple I didn’t imagine they’d be of much value.

But when you think about relationships, whether with God or with some significant other in your life, it’s the the simple things that determine whether or not they are healthy and life-giving. If, in relating to my wife, I put all my energy into the big events — the birth of a baby or an annual holiday or her birthday dinner or something — and didn’t bother with the ordinary, day to day, little things of relating, the relationship wouldn’t last long. It’s the ongoing little things, that seem too simple to be significant, that keep the relationship growing and that provide the context to enable the big things to happen.

Most of what we do in here, Sunday by Sunday, is relatively simple. You don’t need to climb any high mountains, or fast for forty days, or trek across the continent on your knees. We simply gather with companions, sing some songs, pray some prayers – most of which are the same each week, listen to some ancient stories, spend some time in silence, break some bread and share some wine. All simple stuff. Perhaps Naaman wouldn’t have bothered. Perhaps sometimes we wonder why we bother. . . . But Naaman was healed.

In between our weekly gatherings here, there are lots of other simple little things that are even easier to overlook and not get around to. I’ve heard a number of people say that they miss the longer silences in our worship service, now that we have cut it down to only ten minutes. But it is not as if we no longer have the opportunity for them. We just don’t have them in this bit of the week. And it is always a danger of skipping the other little things and trying to get the weekly service to carry the weight of our whole prayer life. Much of the value of sermon of silence in the worship service is actually built on patterns of regular prayerful silence that we build in to the rest of our week. And yet strangely, most of us, and I’m no exception, would find it easier to enrol in a demanding and expensive course on spirituality somewhere than we would to spend twenty minutes a day in prayerful silence. Those simple little things seem so unlikely to yield any fruits, and those big impressive things seem to much more promising. But Elijah didn’t hear the voice of God in the storm or the earthquake or the bushfire, but in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings 19). And Naaman wasn’t healed by paying millions of dollars and crawling up a mountain on his knees. But he was healed . . . when he swallowed his pride and applied himself to the simple little things.

The road to life in all its fullness is made up of little steps, most of them seeming so insignificant as to seem irrelevant to our hoped for destination. A dip in some ordinary water. Listening to stories from long ago. Some regular silence and prayer. Sharing ordinary bread and wine. And as Paul said in our reading from Galatians (6:1-16), there will always be people trying to complicate it by telling us we need to add this that or the other thing, things bigger and more impressive. All that really matters though, he says, is that you are a new creation. And as Jesus said in the gospel reading we heard (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20), you might occasionally see some spectacular consequences of your participation in his mission, but don’t go getting carried away and making them the measure of your relationship. The real cause for celebration is the little things — “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It might seem ridiculously simple next to seeing Satan fall from heaven like lightening, too simple to be of any consequence . . . But Naaman was healed.

Questions for Discussion
• Discuss situations in which you have had trouble taking seriously the simple things that were needed for your own growth and development. If there are examples where you have now applied yourself to those things, what were the resulting changes?
• In our reading from Galatians 6: 1-16, Paul is critical of those who sought to complicate Christian faith by adding details of the Jewish law to its requirements. Discuss ways in which you have seen people adding requirements to the gospel and presenting their agendas as though they were essential to Christian faith and discipleship.
• In what ways could we better support one another in developing the simple disciplines of our relationship to Christ and his Church?


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