Sermon - 24th June 2012
Naaman's slave girl
Scripture - 2 Kings 5
Rev Andy Braunston
The long reading we’ve just heard stands alone even though it’s part of the wider story of Israel. It’s set after the division of Judah – the southern kingdom – from Israel in the north. Israel is weak, it’s surrounded by various foreign nations with whom it has, at best, difficult relationships. In an age when land and power go together there were many tribal skirmishes as the nations wanted to increase their power. But, in the distance, were the ever-present super powers. Egypt to the south and Assyria – and later Babylon – to the North. The kings of this time were weak, and they had no central religious system to bring the nation together. From time to time religious leaders, called prophets, emerged and offered religious leadership based on their own experience of God and their own charismatic authority. Elisha was one of these – a disciple of Elijah (another prophet who tried to stiffen the resolve of the king) and he had a reputation for working wonders.
Slavery and Inconsequential Slaves
Slavery has existed in most of human history and still exists now. We’re used to thinking of the Roman and ancient Greek economies built on slavery, we think of the growth of America and how much of that growth was based on the enslavement of Africans. We’re not so used to thinking about slavery in our world now yet it is reported that there are more slaves now than ever existed in any previous era. Children are sold into slavery to pay the debts of their parents in South East Asia, women and children are trafficked into Europe to work as slaves in the sex industry. We don’t call them slaves but that is, in effect what they are – forced to work to pay off imaginary debts and allowed no control over their own money or lives.
In the ancient world slavery was a by-product of warfare. People who were defeated in battle were forced into slavery as were their wives and families. People were also stolen into slavery – just as the Africans were who were shipped over to America. In the reading today we heard that Naaman’s slave girl suffered this fate – she’d been captured on a raid in Israel, taken to Syria and made into a slave.
All we hear of this girl is this little episode. We don’t know her name, we don’t know her past and we don’t know what happened to her after this episode – I wonder, for example, if it would have occurred to Naaman to free her in gratitude for her information which led to his healing; somehow I doubt it. The slave-girl appears into this story, has a big part to play but then fades from history. She is like many women, many poor people, many outsiders who aren’t recorded in history as they are not important enough to warrant a mention. History is written with the purpose of recording the deeds and motivations of the important, not those on the margins. Yet it is those on the margins through whom God works – just as God worked through this slave-girl whose name is now known to God alone. It is often through nameless and unremembered people in history whose names are known to God alone that big differences are made. Naaman’s life was forever changed by this slave-girl and we don’t know her name.
- Our country’s life was forever changed by whoever it was that introduced Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and implanted the idea that he could divorce his wife, marry Anne and break away from the rest of the Western Church.
- Our lives were forever changed by whoever it was that planted the idea that came into Troy’s head he could start a church which didn’t hate LGBT people?
- Our lives were changed by whoever it was that suggested we came to MCC, gave us a card about MCC, or pointed us to the website.
- Who gave the geeks that designed Facebook the idea in the first place?
- Who gave the people who designed the Internet the original ideas that they built upon?
- Where did the stories come from that Dickens and Shakespeare turned into great literature?
We all play a part in genius and greatness. Sometimes it’s our ideas that we can refine, burnish and make bright. At other times it’s our ideas that contribute to a wider social trend which changes lives forever.
Making a Difference
Who has made a difference in your lives? Who has made a significant contribution to how you live now. Maybe someone was there for you in a time of crisis that helped you make changes or get through a time of great pain. When have you made a difference to someone else? Who have you helped through a time of pain or crisis? Sometimes the people who help us are only a fleeting part of our own stories yet make a huge difference, sometimes we are only a fleeting part of someone else’s story. The people that helped me most when I first came out are no longer part of my life – yet at the time their acceptance was crucial in my first faltering steps as a gay man.
We make a difference to others by being ourselves, by being honest and authentic, by seeking to embody Christ’s love in our own lives. We may never know the difference we make to another. We may, like Naaman’s slave girl, fade into insignificance in the story of their lives but our part, like the part of that slave girl so long ago may be key.