Surprise! An Unexpected Call

Rev. Caroline East
(2 Kings 5:1-15a; Matthew 4: 18-22)

Let’s talk about Naaman. He’s less familiar than a lot of the folks we’ve talked about with call stories this summer. Did a few of you remember the story of Naaman?

He was an interesting character. Dynamic to say the least. Sort of a comic book villain. He was a powerful military leader, an enemy of Israel, indeed a leader in Israel’s defeat by the Arameans, with a short temper and a superiority complex (did you hear how he treated the renowned prophet Elisha!), yet He, Naaman is favored by God in battle against God’s own people, and He, Naaman gets healed by God of leprosy.

Naaman wouldn’t be someone that I’d probably feel comfortable with if we met in person. Probably a really big guy who was armed to the teeth. Probably had killed many, enslaved more. Probably someone who was easy to provoke. And yet, he was chosen by God to be victorious, chosen by God to be healed. Chosen by God to be imbued with faith and to praise the Lord.

Naaman?! Really?! I don’t understand it. Naaman seems a strange choice, for sure. There were warriors all over. Why didn’t God favor one of Israel’s military leaders? There were lepers all over Israel, weren’t there enough of them that God didn’t need to spend time healing Naaman?!

“My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 55, “neither are my thoughts your thoughts.” Naaman was desperate for a cure. Willing to try anything, it seemed. He was willing even to take the advice of an Israelite slave girl working in his house. He was even willing to wash in a slow-moving, muddy river, nothing like the beautiful waters flowing cold and fresh out of the mountains that he had at home.

If you’ve ever been to Israel you know, or if you ever have a chance to go you’ll see, that the Jordan River isn’t really much to write home about. It’s a little murky, and the water looks a lot like the water at lake Norman. Kinda clear, but certainly not something that you’d come out of feeling cleaner than when you got in. And so, (after having a bit of a hissy-fit and eventually bathing in these waters), Naaman was miraculously healed.

He truly does seem to have been affected. Naaman returns home, declaring that there is only one God, The God of Israel. With his skin changed from leprous to whole, Naaman seems to change as well. Change into a believer in, and follower of the Lord our God. He is overcome with awe by the wonder, by the surprise of God’s willingness to heal him.

God is remarkable, you know. Ineffable. Unpredictable.

God continually chooses those we don’t expect. And, I don’t know about you, but I never seem to get used to it. What a strange person to declare that there is no God except in Israel. Naaman the foreigner, the invader. The conqueror.

I would have counted him out long before. As an important leader among the enemies of God’s people, I would have assumed that Naaman was an enemy of God. And yet, Naaman is chosen to be God’s follower, to receive God’s grace and live as one of God’s own.

We know it, but it is worth repeating and repeating: God’s love and grace (and to whom they are given), ultimately have nothing to do with us or whether we approve or whether we agree or whether we understand. Instead, they have everything to do with God. Grace reveals the power radical love of God. We may never be able to understand why God picks who God picks, or why God uses who God uses, but the story of Naaman helps us at least to better understand one thing: the character of God: God’s gracious act towards Naaman was and is typical of the God we serve. God seems willing to engage all sorts. Connect with all types. The least, the last, the lost, the perpetrator and the persecuted.

The story of Naaman isn’t an anomaly. The Bible is actually full of examples of when God chooses those who didn’t seem like ideal candidates to serve the, ‘Creator of Heaven and Earth.’ God chose Sarah who laughed when told she’d have children. God chose Jacob the trickster. Samuel the confused. David the shrimpy baby brother. Gideon the coward.

In today’s obscure story we are reminded that God doesn’t always respect human boundaries, any of them: class, nation, gender, race, criminal past? Status as slave or free? God is breaking into this world, calling folks to a new way of living, and serving, and of being God’s own.

This is good news for all of us. We who live in a world that is not at all what we imagine God wants for us. We who aren’t all that God wants us to be.

We who sit complacently as horrors go on – many of which we could affect.

Have you seen the news overnight? None of us is beyond reproach.

We aren’t exactly who you’d expect God to have sacrificed himself for and saved. We are sinners, yet we are citizens of His Kingdom and serve him as Lord.

God chose us. God lived among us, with us and died for us, and three days later, God rose for us, defeating the power of sin and death. For Us. For us, the unlikely chosen.

How does that work out in our lives – that God chooses or calls the unlikely?

It may be like the disciples, when Jesus strolled by and said – plain as day – ‘follow me.’ It may not be. We may be called to do something that we think doesn’t suit us. Something that isn’t convenient or even all that practical.

Wash in the Jordan river.
Leave your nets and follow me.
Who knows?

You may not understand it.
You may not even like it.

But if God will use an unlikely person for a task, it means that we never know. God might be choosing us. Be available to God’s call for you both as an individual and as a community. Don’t count yourself, don’t count the people around you out of anything.

Amen.