A Tale of Two Hearts
21st Sunday after Pentecost
A Tale of Two Hearts
Text: 2 Kings 5:14-27
The year was about 850 B.C. The location was northern Israel. Things weren’t so great. Actually, they were near terrible. Israel had been ripped in half and split into two kingdoms. Though the northern kingdom was worse, both kingdoms were plagued with bad kings and bad spiritual leaders that led the people astray. As idolatry and the worship of false gods increased, so also adultery and immorality increased. Often, the people even combined the two and committed adultery while worshiping other gods.
As the spiritual state of Israel was pathetic, the political side wasn’t much better. Since the kingdom split, things hadn’t quite been the same since the glory days of King David and King Solomon. Israel was always being threatened. At this particular time, it was the Arameans from Aram just to the north and east that were threatening. Spiritual turmoil. Political turmoil. War. Not easy times for Israel. Not easy times for Elisha to be a prophet in Israel.
It was at this time that one brief little episode took place, a story so short and strange that most of you may not have even heard it before.
A man named Naaman was general of the Arameans, the enemies of Israel. He was a very successful and powerful man, and the right hand man of the king. He had one big problem though. He had leprosy.
Leprosy was a big deal. Its symptoms included numbness in the limbs, flesh turning white as snow, and eventually even blindness or paralysis. It was highly contagious and it was incurable.
As Naaman suffered from this skin disease, a little girl was bold enough to speak. This little girl was a slave girl captured from the land of Israel. Yet trusting in God, this little girl was bold enough to tell the general of Aram: “Why don’t you go see the prophet Elisha. By the power of God, he could heal you.” An incredibly bold testimony from a little girl!
Naaman traveled to see Elisha. He brought 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 sets of clothing. If Elisha could do this miracle, he was going to make sure he had enough to pay for it! After Elisha sent him word to go and wash seven times in the Jordan River, he finally obliged and did it. Sure enough, the impossible happened!
We pick up today with verse 14: “So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.” Naaman was cleansed of his disease! He was cured of the incurable! He was healed!
Naaman’s heart was changed, and that changed heart overflowed in thanks: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” He wanted to give something to show his thanks. But Elisha would not accept it. He didn’t want others to think that this miracle and the power of God could be purchased. So Naaman, formerly a ruthless enemy with a terrible disease, returned home physically healed and spiritually healed by the Lord.
But Elisha had a servant named Gehazi who couldn’t believe what he saw. Naaman was carrying 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 sets of clothing! How could Elisha take nothing? Not even a few pounds of gold?
Gehazi’s wheels were turning. Maybe there was something that could be done. Maybe Naaman could still give his gift of thanks and unknowingly help out Gehazi. After all, Gehazi’s mortgage on his tent was coming due. He was behind on his camel payments and camel insurance. He had unleavened bread to put on the table.
So Gehazi concocted the scheme and ran to Naaman and said, “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.”
Naaman gladly obliged. What a joy to give back to God and support the ministry by helping out these prophets. He even gave Gehazi double what he asked for. Gehazi ran and stashed it in his house and returned to Elisha. But it wasn’t a clean get away.
“‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ Elisha asked. ‘Your servant didn’t go anywhere,’ Gehazi answered.” Busted! Elisha knew exactly what happened. So he told him, “‘Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.’ Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.”
It’s one short little story occupying one little chapter nestled among hundreds of pages and stories in the Old Testament. Yet small as it may be, the story is in no way insignificant. This story is A Tale of Two Hearts, and it’s a tale that reminds us of what happens in all of our hearts.
Gehazi should have known better. He was a servant of the great prophet Elisha. Undoubtedly he saw countless wonders of God done through Elisha. Regularly he heard this bold prophet proclaim the word of the Lord. Yet when it came to money and personal gain, he just couldn’t help himself.
That’s the way it is with money, isn’t it? Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Like Gehazi, we should know better. We hear it so often in church: “Trust in the Lord. He will provide. Be thankful. Be content. Be generous.” We hear this often in church or Bible study. We nod our heads in agreement. “Yes, we do need to do that,” we think.
But when the rubber meets the road, it’s a different story. How many times have you heard what God says about greed and contentment, agreed and felt bad about your life choices, but then went home and did nothing about it? How many times have you rushed home from church, set everything aside and dedicated time to revamping your budget realizing: Maybe I shouldn’t spend more on internet than I give to God. Maybe I shouldn’t spend more on Starbucks or Big Macs than I do on the Lord’s work. Maybe God is worth more to me than two or three percent of my total income.
When the budget rubber hits the spending road, isn’t it easiest to cut back on giving back to God? After all, I need to keep the lights on and I really want to go on that cruise, and no one will ever know if my offerings are less.
That’s what Gehazi thought too. “No one will ever know if I steal a little money to help myself out.” Yet there was a big problem with that logic. God knew. God knew that Gehazi wasn’t content with the blessings God gave to him. God knew that Gehazi deeply desired what general Naaman had (the Bible calls that coveting). God knew that Gehazi stole. God knew that Gehazi lied to try and cover it up.
No matter what we do, we can’t hide our greed from God. He knows what you think when you angrily lust after the riches of others. He knows what you think when you pout over your lack of blessings (As if having more than 90% of the rest of the people in the world is so terrible!). He sees when you cheat on your taxes. He sees what you give back to him, knows exactly whether that is your best or not, and knows exactly where your heart is at when you give that gift.
The apostle Paul once wisely wrote to a young pastor named Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Gehazi fell into temptation and a trap and to many foolish actions. So we on a regular basis fall into temptation and a trap with many foolish and harmful desires.
What did you think when you realized this service was about money. “Oh boy. A church talking about money. Go figure. Do you think anyone will notice if I leave?” We become so consumed with greed that we not only make poor, shameful, foolish decisions to get more money and possession, but then we also get angry when Jesus wants to learn about how to properly use our blessings. The warning is clear. Not only is money a root of all kinds of evil, but money is something that can lead us away from God. It happens all the time all over, including in this church. People will claim that the church is “all about money.” People will get offended if the topic is even brought up. People will get angry with God if money is tight. They get upset that God doesn’t give them the blessings others have. We so quickly fall into Satan’s traps as he desperately tries to pull us away from the riches of heaven and into the depths of poverty in hell.
Let the tale of Gehazi’s heart be a warning. Then let the tale of Naaman’s heart be an encouragement and an example. As soon as this heathen general saw the marvelous power and gracious love of God, his heart was completely changed. To think that this Israelite God would have the power to completely heal leprosy! And then to think that this Israelite God would have compassion and mercy to help out the heathen general of the enemy of the Israelites!
“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except Israel,” he said. With such a changed heart and life, he was bursting with joy. “Please accept now a gift from your servant.” Generosity wasn’t the only thankful reaction. “Please let me, your servant, (How interesting that this army general called himself a servant of this Israelite prophet!) be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.” Naaman was so thankful that he renounced the sinful idolatry of his country and vowed to worship and sacrifice to the Lord.
The formerly hardened man even had a sensitive conscience now. He still had a civic duty to help the king when he went to the temple of the false god Rimmon. He had to ask Elisha if it was acceptable to do his duty and help the king because he felt bad even about entering the temple of a false god. Then finally, even though Gehazi was lying to him, he generously gave over and above in what he thought was a gracious gift of thanks.
That is a changed man with a changed heart. He saw the marvelous power and grace of God. His heart swelled with joy and spilled over in a desire to change his ways, to worship God, and to graciously give to others.
With a heart like that of Naaman, behold the marvelous power of God. See how he powerfully came and conquered sin and death. See how he crushed Satan at the cross. See how he carried the sin and guilt of the world. See how he triumphantly rose from the dead in victory.
Then, with a heart like that of Naaman, behold the marvelous grace of God. As he had pity and mercy on a heathen sinner like Naaman, so God takes pity and has mercy on us. In love he sent his Son even for us, the worst and greediest of all sinners. While we greedily hoard our money and possessions, God generously gave even his own Son to forgive us and save us. Just as Naaman rose from the waters of the Jordan cleansed of all his leprosy, so in even greater power God washes us in the waters of baptism and with the blood of his Son and cleanses us of all our sin.
With a heart like that of Naaman, what a joy then to live a new life of thanks! How gladly we can give to God our very best. He gave us his own Son! He gave us eternal riches in heaven! Surely we will give back to him our first and our best. Surely we will actively pray and plan how we can give back our first and our best.
With a heart like that of Naaman, what a joy it is to try our best to leave behind our ways of sin! What a joy it is to vow to ceaselessly worship and praise our merciful and loving God! What a joy it is to do everything to the glory of God.
This is a strange and unique little tale nestled in the pages of Scripture. Yet this Tale of Two Hearts is more than just the story of two dudes with really strange names. This Tale of Two Hearts reminds us, through Gehazi, of the dangerous temptations of greed and money that we often fall prey to. Yet this Tale of Two Hearts also reminds us, through Naaman, how God completely changes our lives. Because he has shown us his marvelous power and grace, we gladly and thankfully give him our first, our best, and our all. So we joyfully sing and live these words:
Brothers, sisters, let us gladly give to God our all, our best—
Service hearty, thorough, honest, with a living love impressed.
All our duty, all our striving, all our time to him belong;
Praise him, then, with true devotion; come before him with a song.
By his mercy, by his bounty, by the gift of Christ, his Son,
What great goodness he has shown us, what high marvels he has done!
Let us to him promptly, freely, yield our bodies and our souls,
Thankful that his love protects us, that his wisdom all controls.
Gracious Lord, accept our service for the sake of Christ, your Son;
Lo, our hope abides now only in the righteousness he won.
Bless and save us; help and guide us; watch to comfort and restore
Till in heaven we rest rejoicing, praising you forevermore.
Posted on October 21, 2012, in Church, Sermons and tagged 2 Kings, 2 Kings 5, Church, Content, Contentment, Elisha, Gehazi, Greed, Leper, Leprosy, Naaman, Sermons, Thanks. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.