February 12, 2006

6th Sunday after Epiphany

"Put It In A Sack, Swing it Over Your Head and Scream Like A Chicken"

(2 Kings 5:1-14)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


My favorite old TV show is the Dick Van Dyke Show. I have all five seasons on DVD and no matter how many times I watch them, they still make me laugh.

In one particular episode titled "The Impractical Joke" one of Rob Petrie's co-workers, Buddy, pulls a practical joke. Rob gets mad and at first wants to get even but then decides that the best way to get even with Buddy is to do absolutely nothing. It will (and does) drive Buddy nuts waiting for Rob to do something to get even.

And in the end, Buddy is so busy expecting something from Rob, that he gets caught by another friend. It seems a Mr. Handlebuck from the IRS comes to talk to Buddy about his return. Buddy thinks it's all a set up by Rob. Rob keeps telling him that he doesn't know anything about it. Buddy insults the IRS agent, confesses to all kinds of tax fraud and even goes so far as to tear up the return. The whole time Rob and Sally are trying to convince Buddy that Handlebuck is the real deal.

[Play Clip - Dick Van Dyke] After a Handlebuck leaves, Rob finally convinces Buddy the guy was for real by showing him his signature on the tax return. Now Buddy is in a panic. Rob finally gets Handlebuck to come back.

Buddy is ready to do anything. Anything at all. He apologizes and asks what he should do. Handlebuck says: "This shouldn't be too complicated, take this form, tape it together, then you make out a new form, copying this form exactly. Then put both forms in a paperbag, wave it over your head and scream like a chicken."

When I read the passage for the message this morning, I immediately thought of that scene. You see, Buddy was ready to do anything, anything at all to makes things right with the IRS. And if Handlebuck would have been serious, he would have "put both forms in a paperbag, waved it over his head and screamed like a chicken."

The reason I thought of this scene is because the main character of today's passage would have done the same thing. Let's look at the passage: 2 Kings 5:1-14 (NRSV)

[1] Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

[2] Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife.

[3] She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."

[4] So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.

[5] And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel." He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.

[6] He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy."

[7] When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."

[8] But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel."

[9] So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house.

[10] Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean."

[11] But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

[12] Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage.

[13] 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'?"

[14] So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

For most people back then, leprosy was a social death sentence. You didn't die from the disease, you just wished you would. And you were isolated so that no one would catch it from you. So, you can see how devastated Naaman must have been. But his wife's servant, an Israelite, who knew of the prophet Elisha, told them that Elisha could heal him.

With a letter from the king of Aram, Naaman goes to Israel to be healed. After meeting with the king, Naaman goes to visit Elisha, who in Naaman's eyes completely disrepects him. Elisha doesn't even come out. He just tells the servant to tell Naaman to go down to the Jordan and bathe seven times.

Well, that totally ticks Naaman off. His pride jumps up and gets in the way. You can almost hear him fuming. "Who does he think he is, anyway? Doesn't he know who I am? Why should I bathe in that muddy river aren't the rivers back home cleaner and purer than this?" He has one major rant, until the servants, in essence, ask, "If he'd told you to stand on your head and juggle swords while riding a horse you would have done it wouldn't you? Then why don't you do the simple thing and see what happens."

He did and he was healed.

I don't know about you, but this year's Super Bowl was kind of a dud. So were the commercials. There were only about three or four really good ones. This passage, as well as some of those Super Bowl Commercials, has some very positive things to teach us. This passage teaches us about SELF-ESTEEM, HELPING OTHERS, AND JUDGMENT.


Naaman, once he contracted leprosy, developed a self-esteem problem. All of a sudden he went from being a somebody to being an outcast. He went from being powerful to being defenseless. And that will wreck anybody's self-esteem.

One of the later commercials was almost a Public Service Announcement. It had to do with the Dove-Self Esteem Fund.

[Show Clip -Dove-Self Esteem Fund]

Self-esteem is a major issue in our country. And that bumfuzzles me because we have so much to be thankful for. And yet among youth and even some adults, self-esteem is a growing issue.

Stanley Coppersmith, an associate professor of psychology at University of California studied 1,738 middle class boys and their families, beginning in the pre-adolescent period and following them through to young manhood. After identifying those boys having the highest self esteem and self control, he compared their homes and childhood influences with those having a lower sense of self esteem and self-control. He found three important characteristics that distinguished them from one another.

1. The children with high self-esteem were clearly more loved and appreciated at home. In other words, tell your kids you love them.

2. The high esteemed group came from homes where the parents had been significantly more strict in their approach to discipline. In contrast, the parents of the low self-esteem group had created insecurity and dependence by their permissiveness. In other words, boundaries and rules help our kids know they are loved. They may think of them as barbed wire prisons but in the long run they are a good thing.

3. The homes of the high self-esteem boys were characterized by democracy and openness. They had freedom within the set boundaries for individual growth and expression without the fear of ridicule. There was an atmosphere marked by acceptance and emotional safety. In other words, they didn't play the put one another down game. (1)

Naaman regained his self-esteem once he was healed but something else probably changed too. His heart. The pride and arrogance that marked him before were probably gone. He was truly a changed man both inside and out. All because his servant believed in helping others.


All because his servant believed in helping others. Believe it or not, once again, one of the best messages of all the commercials came from Budweiser.

[Show Clip - Clydesdale] A young Clydesdale goes into the barn and see the Budweiser wagon and the harness. He put his head in and tries to pull. To his surprise and ours, you see the wagon start to move. But then you see why. Two older Clydesdales are pushing the wagon with their heads, helping the younger one make it.

That speaks volumes about the life and ministry of every adult in the Church. Believe it or not, it made me think of the vows we take with families every time a baby is baptized.

"With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life."

You and I are called to reach out to the least of these, whether it's children, youth, new Christians, the poor and needy or whoever. We are called to reach out and help because we belong to Christ.

We're called to help and not Judge.


[Show Clip - Ameriquest]

The Ameriquest ads kept their Don't Judge, we won't theme to good effect this year. The first one was particularly good. It showed a doctor and an intern looking over the chart of a patient. A fly keeps buzzing around annoying them. The doctor says, "He should be able to go home tomorrow." The scene cuts away to Mom and her daughter in the elevator, excited about visiting Dad.

The scene shifts back to the doctor and intern who now has the defibrillator paddles in his hands and zaps the fly with one of them. Just as Mom and daughter get off of the elevator and enter the room, they hear the intern say: "That killed him." Of course they think he's talking about the Dad.

The message, "Don't Judge, We Won't."

You see, that's the first thing Naaman did. He reacted to Elisha's command out of judgment. He judged himself better than the treatment he received. He judged Elisha as rude and unconcerned. He judged the action he was called to do as too little. And he even judged the Jordan River as being inferior to the ones in his homeland.

And so many times in life we are just like Naaman. And sometimes the only exercise we get is jumping to conclusions and judging others.

When in reality there is only one person who can judge others and that's Jesus. Not us. Jesus even admonished us not to judge: "Judge not, lest you be judged."

In Romans 14:13 Paul writes: "Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another."

When we judge others we usurp the power of Jesus, the Son of God. When we judge others, it smacks of works righteousness. That's part of what Naaman was complaining about. The process was too simple, just go bathe seven times. He wanted some task or quest.

He wanted a bigger bang for his buck. Haven't you ever gone to or rented one of those big blockbuster movies that have been hyped beyond compare. The critics have all raved about it, so you finally went to see it or rent and when it was all over you felt cheated? That's how Naaman felt.

But it was delusional disappointment. It was wrapped up in works righteousness. When in reality it all turned out to be about faith and trust. Our salvation isn't about meeting some daily minimum standard. There's no standardized test to become a Christian. Or to be forgiven. Or to experience God's grace.

There's only one benchmark and it's the same for all of us. All we are called to do is trust in Christ. To have faith and trust that our sins have been forgiven. To have faith and trust that we have been redeemed by Jesus sacrifice on the Cross. It is by faith through Grace that we are saved. Everything else comes after. The good works, the deeds, the loving others and caring for others are qualifying factors for salvation, they are the product or our faith, the fruits of our thankfulness.


[Show Clip - Aleve]

Sometimes it's hard to be the people of God. Sometimes it even hurts, especially when we bite our tongue or hold back our judgment. I know there have been times I've nearly bit my tongue off when I wanted to say something I knew I shouldn't. And there have been times when I nearly strained something trying to rein in my judgment. But like the idea the Aleve commercial suggests, there is something, for us Someone, who can help.

That's Christ himself. Whether it's the pain of trying not to conform to the world or simply the pain that comes from living normal lives, God is there. The help, to hold, the heal. To remind us that we are created in God's Image and God doesn't make junk.

We don't need to Put anything in a paper sack, swing it over our head and scream like a chicken.

All we have to do is trust and have faith in God through Jesus our Savior.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633 1-877-970-AUTO (2886)




Other References Consulted

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