Go, Wash in the Jordan

Meditation on 2 Kings 5:1-14

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 3, 2022

Link to Live-stream video: https://fb.watch/e2EfoOpaXW/

When I first heard the call to parish ministry, I wasn’t working in a parish. I was serving as a campground chaplain for Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania leading ecumenical worship in an outdoor amphitheater.

I had never planned on working in a campground before I had a surprise call in January 2007 to come and interview for the position with a committee from the Church of the Brethren.

I had never been camping before.

When they chose me for the position, I asked my youngest son, James, to help me.

James was in middle school at the time and NOT interested in religion. He said, “OK,” when I offered to pay him 20 bucks a weekend. He came with me when I did children’s messages on Saturdays, and he helped to set up and take down for the outdoor worship services on Sundays and operated the sound system.

One Sunday, the service was delayed when James opened the wooden box to plug in my microphone and found a large snake coiled inside. When the ranger came to gently remove the snake, she said it was a “good snake.” We went ahead with the service as if nothing had happened, but after that, we were all a little nervous whenever James opened the wooden box.

The hardest part about the ministry wasn’t the worship service, though I thought it would be, since I had no experience preaching and had never taken a preaching class. It was when I had to go from campsite to campsite on Friday nights as campers arrived, introduce myself, and invite people to church. It’s a lot easier to share your faith in church with people who come expecting you to share your faith. It’s not so easy going out to labor for the harvest when there’s a good chance you will be rejected. I wasn’t welcomed at every campsite.

Fewer than 50 people came to worship, but it was a different congregation every week. I started from scratch with invitations every weekend. But the people who came brought us so much joy. I remember the little girls who showed up in pajamas and bare feet to help me greet and give out bulletins. I remember the live music from local churches that included banjo, fiddle, guitar, and sometimes autoharp. I remember Mark who taught James how to twist balloons into animals and swords to give to the children. They would line up for his creations! And Georgia who made the delicious peach sauce when we had the ice cream social at the end of the season—and 200 people came! My wrist was tired from scooping vanilla ice cream.

As the summer went on, James had a change of heart. He started to look forward to the church services, though he didn’t want me to know that. He talked with the people for a long time after worship when we had donut holes and lemonade. He began to see the power of ministry, how God was using us to help people find healing, joy, and peace.

He even let me play Christian music on the 45-minute drive to the camp.

***

We encounter the prophet Elisha again today in our Old Testament lesson. His gifts are sought by a powerful enemy of Israel. The king of Aram in what is part of Syria today is requesting a miracle for his army commander who had led the Aramean troops to victories. The request is brought with riches of this world beyond what the people of their day could imagine to entice the Israelites to cooperate: 10 talents of silver weighing about 750 pounds; 6,000 shekels of gold weighing another 150 pounds! Says my Hebrew professor, Matt Schlimm, “It is more money than hundreds of people would make in a year.” Not to mention the 10 sets of garments—more clothes than any regular person would ever be able to afford.

The Israelite king responds with fear, believing the king of Aram is looking for an excuse to go to war. But Elisha says, “Send him to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman comes to Elisha’s front door with his troops and ancient machines of war—horses and chariots.

And…. Elisha doesn’t come to the door. He sends a messenger who tells the great commander how to find healing. His skin disease isn’t leprosy or Hansen’s Disease as we know it today. But it turns his skin white, and those who suffered from it were often forced to live alone—the great man an outcast from his community.

The messenger says, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be made clean.”

Naaman goes away fuming at the disrespect of the prophet, giving him no attention, making no effort to help him, and insinuating that the Israelite river would have healing properties that the rivers of Damascus in his land of Aram would not.

Who could blame Elisha for his not wanting to come to his door? Naaman and his army had committed horrific acts against Israel. We know from the beginning of the passage that he had in his household a young, Israelite slave girl seized on one of his army’s raids.

The surprise in this passage is that the healing and blessing of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is bestowed on a fierce enemy of Israel. And this is the God of mercy whom we love and serve! We worship a Risen Savior who gave his life for the world God so loves, teaching us that it’s not enough to love our families and friends—people like us, who love us back; we are called to love everyone, including those who seem different from us and speak and act as enemies.

Another surprise in this passage is the gracious attitude and strong voice of those in their society who had NO voice—the Israelite slave who tells her master he will find healing with the prophet of Israel and the servants who persuade the proud Naaman to change his mind and do as the Israelite prophet has said.

He washes in the Jordan 7 times, and his flesh is restored, like the flesh of a young boy. He is made clean!

***

One Friday evening, that first summer of my campground chaplaincy, I was making my rounds to campsites inviting people to church. Campfires glowed and people were settling in for the night. I was tired and ready to go home. So when I saw a large group of Harley Davidson bikers dressed in spiked helmets, bandanas and black fringed jackets and boots, I thought maybe we could cut short the campground visitation.

James said, “But Mom, they need Jesus, too!”

At that moment, I was longing for the kid who wasn’t interested in religion.

I reached out to them and introduced myself, invited them to church. I left my flyer, and I walked away, never expecting to see them, again.

On Sunday morning, some of them came to worship! One brought his guitar and asked what I wanted him to play. More would have been there, he said with a smile, but they had their own service at their campsite. They were members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

My fear of rejection almost caused me to miss a beautiful blessing—and see a glimpse of just how big the Kingdom of God is growing!

On this weekend, when we celebrate our country in all its wonderful diversity and the many freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom to worship as we desire and be who God wants us to be, we are reminded to whom we belong. That our lives are not our own.

We are humbled by the knowledge that the many blessings we enjoy are entrusted to us to be faithful stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To grow the Church. To build up the Kingdom of God drawing ever nearer.

God’s healing love is for the world—the proud and the lowly. The rich and those who are struggling to get by. Those with a voice and those whose voices have been silenced or ignored.

It’s up to us—we who have experienced the healing waters of baptism, our cleansing and redemption from sin, to share and live out Christ’s life-giving message of peace and reconciliation. The Lord is sending us out now to our mission fields—our homes, families, and communities–with the power and unity of the Spirit.

Lambs of the Good Shepherd, we go out in the midst of wolves to love and serve God and neighbor. Because the harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.

Let us pray.

Lord of the Harvest, thank you for the many blessings that we enjoy and for entrusting us to be stewards of your gospel, of the good news of eternal life. Help us to faithfully labor as your humble servants for healing and peace in our divided nation and broken world. Open our ears to the voices of the lowly and empower us by your Spirit to work for freedom and justice for all until darkness, oppression, and fear are no more. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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