But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
2 Kings 5:13
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story of Naaman and Elisha. Naaman was the military commander of Aram, which is in today’s Syria. The violent history of Aram and Israel was demonstrated in the presence of a Hebrew slave-girl, forced to serve Naaman’s wife. When Naaman is struck with leprosy and cannot find a cure, it is this slave-girl who mentions a prophet in Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel) who can cure him.
The geopolitical turmoil is shown when Naaman’s services are requested of the King of Israel, who fears that the request is some sort of trap. But the prophet, Elisha, invites Naaman to come see him.
The request came with a load of riches, and when Naaman comes to Elisha, he arrives with his great horses and chariots. Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him, but sends a note to go wash seven times in the Jordan River.
Naaman is incensed by this. He wants special ritual like he’s used to, performed personally by the great prophet. He doesn’t know why this local river is so much better than the great rivers of Syria. He is so offended by the simplicity of the cure that he initially refuses to comply. Again, the servants come to the rescue, and convince him to try, and he is healed.
This morning we hear the good news that another pharmaceutical company has achieved stellar results in their trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. This is thrilling, so much better than what we could have expected, even when these companies and the government have dedicated billions of dollars into this cutting-edge research in vaccine technology. This is the much-needed light at the end of a very long tunnel. The only problem is, we are still in that tunnel, and many of us will not see the anticipated benefits of the vaccine for several months.
Like Naaman, we Americans tend to look for solutions that are spectacular, technologically sophisticated—and expensive. For whatever reasons, we can’t imagine that something as simple and mundane as washing—or wearing a mask and keeping your distance—might also be helpful.
Last week I was in a Zoom meeting with representatives from across the PC(USA), and I was shocked to hear stories of COVID-19 spreading through their churches, as they have been worshiping inside.
In one presbytery, several pastors have been tested positive and in one church a full one-third of the members were infected. While I have heard from a few pastors how frustrated our members are that we cannot worship inside, these reports remind me how thankful I am for the strictness of the rules in Los Angeles County, and the patience and adaptability you are showing as you continue to find ways to worship and care for each other safely. I am thankful, because as a disease expert back east stated, if it weren’t for the biggest states like New York and California controlling the virus as well as we are, things would be much worse for the entire nation.
I know that your pastors are working their well-worn creative muscles to find ways to mark the holidays in a special but distanced way. Though I am a hermit by nature, even I am getting restless, and I am most concerned for people who are most isolated, because social contact is also needed for emotional and physical health.
But there is hope, and with God’s help we are resilient. I ask that we all be modern-day Naamans, and continue to follow the simple methods offered to protect us—wear your masks, keep your distance, stay in your home or outdoors, wash your hands. Use whatever way you can to safely reach out to those who are feeling isolated or at risk during these cold months. And look ahead to future holidays, when we can look back and give thanks for being able to survive these crazy times.
One way to reach out is to help our churches who are serving their community through food pantries. At our presbytery meeting tomorrow evening, our offering will go to the food pantry of Iglesia de la Comunidad. Anyone can give now—you don’t have to wait until the meeting, or be an attendee at all! Just go to https://sangabpres.org/donate/ and specify that you want to give “to Presbytery Offering” in the drop-down menu.
And, of course, I do hope to see many of you via Zoom tomorrow. We will remember the servants who have gone on to glory, and reflect on this year, as well as approve the funds and elect leaders for our ministry in 2021.
This strange time won’t last forever. Let us hold fast to our faith, and our love, and our health for some more months, so that we can again gather and sing and hug and know that our Lord has brought us through. And in these quiet months, may you feel all the more clearly the blessed assurance of the loving and healing presence of Jesus our Lord.
In Christ’s peace and love,