a sermon, based on 2 Kings 5.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016
The dramatic story of the healing of Naaman has a grand cast of characters. Naaman, “a great man” and “mighty warrior,” his master, the king of Aram, and, though Naaman may not know it, his chiefest master, the Lord, the God of Israel, who, through Naaman, “had given victory to Aram.”
Naaman has leprosy, a life-altering, status-changing disability. A hideous skin condition for which folk were ostracized, relegated to the fringes of society, apart and away from the healthy and well. Naaman, though highly favored by the king, is subject to banishment.
As the story is told, Naaman appears before the king of Israel, bearing gifts and a request, one king to another, to cure him. The king of Israel is terrified, convinced it’s a trick. He is not God, the giver of life or death, with power to heal, thus, when the attempted cure fails, Aram will wage war on Israel.
Enter “the man of God,” Elisha, sending word to the king of Israel to have Naaman directed to him, through whom God would perform the cure so that Naaman would know that in Israel “there is a prophet”; one who bears God’s word, which, once spoken, is accomplished.
So, it was, but not before overcoming Naaman’s contempt for Elisha who declined a personal appearance to affect the cure through the expected performance art of uttered prayer and manual gestures and for the prophet’s ridiculous direction to wash in “the waters of Israel,” so vastly inferior to the purity of “the rivers of Damascus.”
Naaman, the king of Aram, the king of Israel, surely Elisha, and most surely the Lord, are the principal actors in this healing drama. Or are they? There are others as prominent, though easy to overlook for they are without names or titles.
The young girl, captured during an Aramean military raid in Israel, carried back to Damascus to be the servant of Naaman’s wife, told Naaman about Elisha, the man of God with healing power…
The lone messenger Elisha sent to relay to Naaman the prescription for the cure…
Naaman’s servants who, reacting to their master’s angry and incredulous dismay at being told to do some trifling, preposterous thing as bathing in polluted water to be made clean, encouraged him to heed Elisha’s instruction.
These characters in this story of healing bore the words of divine wisdom step by step along the way toward the revelation of the miracle. And throughout history, the numbers of the unnamed and unknown are legion.
Tomorrow, we celebrate the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, a symbol of our national story of strife and struggle, formation and unification. We recognize the names George III, King of England, from whom we sought liberty, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, the best known of the Committee of Five appointed to craft the language. But none can know every name of those who printed and reprinted the document, published its text in newspapers throughout the thirteen states, listened to its public recitation, reflecting on its meaning; all of whom were actors in the miracle of the march toward emancipation.
Today, let us celebrate that we are living fruits of the seeds of countless ages past. The names of some, perhaps many of our forebears we know, surely those of immediate preceding generations. But most, even if by name, we know not, ancestry.com notwithstanding; their places in the miraculous lines of lineage that gave us birth shrouded in history’s shadows.
Today, let us also celebrate that we are the progenitors, whether through blood and biology or, metaphorically, but no less truly, through our helping, healing relationships with others, bearers of God’s life-giving word to the miracle called the next generations; some with whom we live and move and have our being, known to us and knowing us and countless others we, given our mortality, will not, cannot know, but who, because of us, will be.
Now, in our daily walks of life, let us imagine those who are strangers, them to us and us to them, unnamed and unknown (though in Laurens everyone seems to know everyone else!), passing on the street, in a car or the aisle of a store, with whom we can offer a friendly wave or kind gesture or respond with care to a question of interest or with sincere attention to a statement of need.
We, in accord with our Collect, have been taught to keep the commandments, loving God and our neighbor, who is anyone, everyone, especially those yet unknown. And we do not, will not, cannot know when our small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness will be for them a declaration of Jesus’ miraculous gospel of unconditional, healing, emancipating love.
Illustration: The Prophet Elisha and Naaman (c. 1630), Lambert Jacobsz (Jacobszoon) (1598-1636). The scene depicts the post-healing conversation between Naaman and Elisha: Then Naaman returned to Elisha, the man of God, he and all his company. Naaman came and stood before Elisha, saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a present from your servant.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” Naaman urged Elisha to accept, but he refused (2 Kings 5.15-16).
 Robert Livingston, New York, and Roger Sherman, Connecticut, being the other two.
 The Collect for Proper 9, The Sunday closest to July 6, The Book of Common Prayer, page 230: O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.