Earning a Spot on God’s Team-2 Kings 5: 1-17
Pastor Brian - August 22, 2021
Growing up I loved to play baseball. One summer when I was about 12 or 13 I was old enough to play in the Babe Ruth League, a step up from Little League. I knew I could make the team and wanted the chance to show my stuff. But for whatever reason, the coach was gracious enough that we didn’t even need to try out. Everyone made the team without having to earn it. This would have been good news for me if the sport had been soccer or something, but baseball…I was good at baseball and I wanted to earn my spot on the team.
So I think I can relate a bit to Naaman here. He thought he had what it took to get what he wanted all by himself. He didn’t need anyone’s charity—he could take care of himself and pay whatever the price. He was a great man. He was rich and powerful and favored by his king. But there was that one problem: he was a leper.
But no big deal. He heard from his wife’s slave girl that some prophet could help him out. And since he’s such a high official he should have no problem getting this prophet’s blessing right? So he loaded up tons of material wealth—ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of clothing—presumably to trade to Elisha for healing. Sounds like a fair deal, right? So he travels all the way to Israel from modern day Syria, showing off all his power and value along the way. But when he gets to Elisha’s house the prophet isn’t impressed by him. Elisha doesn’t even come out to meet him. All he does is send a messenger out to tell Naaman to go wash off in the river and that should take care of it.
You might think someone with leprosy would be thrilled to hear this news. But not Naaman. Naaman is actually insulted. He thinks he’s a big enough deal that Elisha should’ve came outside, waved his hand over the leprosy, and made a big show of the whole healing thing. Nope. Elisha stays on the couch and sends out a servant to tell Naaman to go wash off. After coming all this way Naaman probably felt unappreciated and disrespected. So much so, he doesn’t even want to listen to what the prophet said.
Luckily, Naaman has some loyal servants to talk some sense into him. They tell him how he would’ve done any great feat Elisha had asked, but now he’s refusing to do such a simple thing. Maybe he thinks he’s too big for simple things? Maybe he wanted to have to earn his healing—because, of course, in his mind, he could.
Naaman’s problem is that he is incapable of accepting a gift. You can’t really blame the guy: he thinks the way God works is the way the world works. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours kinda thing. Even after he’s healed he wants to offer Elisha presents for this healing. Elisha refuses because he understands that God heals out of love, not to gain our riches or praise or anything of that sort. Naaman just didn’t get how God works.
But really…do any of us? How often do we find ourselves thinking we can earn God’s favor by doing good works, by believing hard enough, or by making sacrifices of time or money? In a world where nothing worthwhile is ever free, how can it be that some of the most precious things—Naaman’s physical health, or the most precious gift of all: our spiritual salvation—how can it be that these are free gifts? Naaman thinks he can somehow earn God’s healing either by buying it or accomplishing some great feat. We often act as if we believe the same thing. Even if we intellectually understand God’s love is a free gift of grace, we don’t always act like it.
I suppose it’s human nature to feel like we have to pay for something or earn something. After all we live in a society where hard work is rewarded and where the give and take of everything is controlled by the almighty dollar. And while there are many differences between Naaman’s world and our own, this mindset was very much the same in his time as it is in ours. Naaman thinks all the accomplishments that make him great in the world’s eyes should make him worthy of God’s healing. But, in fact, his understanding of having to earn a gift almost prevents his healing.
But God doesn’t let us turn away and run back to Aram with leprosy. God puts people in our lives to call us out when we’re being too proud like Naaman was. God reminds us that we are healed as a gift of God’s grace. It’s not something we can earn; but it’s something we all get.
God isn’t impressed by Naaman’s material wealth, nor is God impressed with our financial status, our reputation, or our attempts to believe enough or be good enough. God’s grace alone sets us right!
The important thing I want to emphasize here is not the bad news that we can’t earn God’s love and favor, but the good news that we don’t have to! We don’t have to worry ourselves with trying to earn God’s favor by being good enough or by believing hard enough. God’s love is a free gift of GRACE.
That’s what Naaman had to realize in this story. And that’s what we should all realize in our lives. We’re accepted and loved by God not because of anything we have done—but because God is gracious and merciful and loving.
It’s not what we do, but what was done for us, that sets us right with God. And like Naaman, once he finally realized this healing was God’s free gift to him, we should join Naaman in worshipping the God of Israel. Let’s join Naaman in praising this God who offers healing, grace, and reconciliation so freely.
Those of us who think we’re worthy of making the park and rec baseball team may still have a little problem with this story. Better yet—(forgive my corniness)—those of who think we’re worthy of making God’s team may still have a problem with this story. But true confessions…after the very first practice with my Babe Ruth League team, I realized that just about everybody on the team was better than me! Good thing making the team wasn’t something I had to earn! And good thing getting a spot on God’s team isn’t something we have to earn. The good news is that instead of having to work tirelessly to earn our spot, we get to spend our time praising God and sharing God’s healing grace with others. We don’t have to do anything to earn God’s gift of grace and love. We don’t have to live our lives trying to impress God, but we get to live our lives working with God for the benefit of our neighbors and the world. So let’s join Naaman in spreading the news of this healing God and worshipping God in everything we do!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.