God on Whose Terms?

God on Whose Terms?

All Saints Sunday – NL1 John B. Valentine
2 Kings 5:1-15 November 6, 2022


The appointed text for this All Saints Sunday is that story of the healing of a not-so-familiar man named Naaman ... a very powerful ... very wealthy ... fellow from a time and a place very far, far away ...

And every time I hear mention of that story of Naaman ... I get to thinking about ...... oatmeal!

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Seriously ... OATMEAL! I trust you know that stuff???

• That warm, gooey breakfast food Mom doled out on cold winter mornings before you shuffled off to school ...

• That paste-y concoction which camp kitchen staffs and military mess halls dished out when other food supplies grew thin ...

• That stuff probably would have tasted pretty good a few mornings ago when we had our first frost of the year.


You see ,,, some of you perhaps remember back to what sociologists now call the “pre-modern” era.

In the pre-modern era ... there was just one kind of oatmeal ... plain old “Quaker Oats” ... what they now call ‘Quaker Old Fashioned Oats’ if you go looking for it in the store.

It was just food ... food intended to fill you up ... food to keep you going.

Sure ... if you caught Mom on a good day ... maybe you got some got some brown sugar to sprinkle over it or maybe a dash of cinnamon ... but ... ultimately ... it was still just oatmeal.

But then the so-called ‘modern’ age rolled around and Quaker Oats came up with a product to match modernity ... and they called it what? ...

“Quaker Quick Oats”. (Not “Quick Quaker Oats” ... not “Quaker Quicker Oats” ... “Quaker Quick Oats”.)

Same as regular old Quaker Oats ... only better. Faster to make ... and easier to prepare.

And the time you saved making “Quaker Quick Oats” ... not having to stand there stirring the pot on low heat for five minutes ... was supposed to free you up to do other stuff.

But nowadays ... we live in a “post-modern” world ... so they say.

And ... in post-modernity ... we’ve gone from one oatmeal option ... to two ... to what? Fifty-seven???

I mean ... I was walking down the aisle at the Safeway over in Moraga yesterday ... and not only did I find

• Quaker Oats Old Fashioned .... and

• Quaker Quick 1-Minute Oats ... the rebranded version of Quaker Quick Oats from das now past ...

There’s ...

• There’s “Instant Quaker Oats” ... just put it in your bowl ... and add boiling water ... and stir ...

• There’s Quaker ‘Steel Cut’ Oats ... in both the quicker and the instant versions ...

• There’s Quaker Organic Oats ... and

• There’s Quaker Oats with additives ... what they call “Organic Multigrain Hot Cereal” ... with ‘Buckwheat and Flax’ or ‘Red Quinoa’.

Not to mention all those “flavored oatmeals”...

• maple and brown-sugar ...
• cinnamon and raisin ...
• strawberries ‘n’ cream ...
• peaches ‘n’ cream ...

And all those oatmeals in bar form sold under this ... that ... or the other label.

“Post-modern oatmeal” is all about ENDLESS OPTIONS and IMMEDIATE SOLUTIONS ...

• Whatever flavor you want ...

• Whatever time-frame you want ...

• Whatever level of sugar you want ...

• Whatever EVER you want!

Post-modern oatmeal is about having it all just exactly the way that you want it.

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Now you might think I’m crazy ... but oatmeal is probably one of my favorite metaphors for the culture in which we live.

We want what we want ... when we want it ... just the way we want it.

• If we’re dirty, we want to be clean.
• If we’re hungry, we want to be fed.
• If we’re poor, we want to be rich.
• If we’re ignorant, we want to be learned.
• If we’re out-of-shape, we want to be shapely.
• If we’re in debt, we want to be debt-free.
• If we’re sick, we want to be cured.
• If our economy is haywire, we want it fixed by ....... today!

We want our lives the exact same way we want our oatmeal ... “our way” ... on our terms ... and “immediately”.

But more importantly ... at least for today’s purposes ... oatmeal seems to me the perfect metaphor for this morning’s bible story.

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You see ... we read that story from 2nd Kings about a man named Naaman ... right???

I’ll grant you that Naaman was a man who lived something like twenty-seven-hundred years ago ...

But he’s a man to whom many of us who live amid post-modernity could very much ... VERY MUCH ... relate.

Naaman ... as the story goes ... was a general ... the commander of the army of the country that nowadays we call “Syria”.

Naaman was a highly-regarded fellow ... but he was also a fellow with a problem ... a BIG problem ...

You see ... Naaman had come down with a case of leprosy ... a condition every bit as physically bothersome and socially troublesome as ... say ... HIV/AIDS was a couple of decades ago ...

On account of which ... Naaman desperately wanted to be healed.

So ... hearing that there was a healer who seemed to know something about how to cure what ails him ...

Naaman packs his bags ... checks his physician’ referrals ... checks his credit status ... and heads off to what he assumes to be the then-a-days version of the Mayo Clinic.

But when he gets there ... he meets the prophet Elisha ...

And finds out that what he needs to do is go take a bath ... actually seven baths ... on the banks of the wimpy little Jordan River that winds from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea ...

And Naaman goes ballistic!!

“You’ve got to be kidding” ... he shrieks ... “If alls I needed to do to be healed of this disease is take seven baths in a river, why couldn’t have I just done it back in my own home town? The rivers up there ... if you didn’t know ... are far mightier and cleaner and healthier than this muddy little excuse for a river that you call the “Jordan.”

Can you not hear something of the ‘I want it all” and “I want it now” in Naaman’s voice?

“Just give me the cure!” ... “Just fix it, Doc!”

No time for some trifling task ... nor some bothersome baths ... nor some superfluous sojourn ....

He wants this healing taken care of ... so that he can get on with more important things!

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Be honest ... folks. Does that sound like any of us?

Have we not grown used to the immediacy of this age? Do we not expect that every little thing needs to be instantaneous to be satisfying?

I mean ... it used to be that we could wait patiently for a minute or two to download a web page off the Internet. But now ... if it takes more than two seconds ... we gripe that our connection is slow!

We fill our instant oatmeal lives be filled with ...

• instant online shopping ...
• instant delivery on purchases ...
• instant messaging ...
• instant answers to every question under the sun.

We want instantly meaningful relationships ... and instant fixes to relationships that are broken.

And ... to top it all off ... we demand in instant God!

A presumption to which God says what??

NOT SO FAST! Not so fast ... Naaman! Not so fast .........

You’ve heard the saying “Good things come to those who ..... wait”??

Maybe we should tweak that saying just a little bit and declare ... “Good things come to those who ..... wait on the Lord.”

You see ... Naaman’s idea of religion was that God would do Naaman’s bidding on Naaman’s time with Naaman’s expected results.

He figures that he is a somebody who thinks everybody is basically a nobody ... except him.

But the prophet Elisha ... that nobody Elisha ... won’t even get up out of his chair to go to the door and greet this very important somebody!!

He simply sends a message to Naaman that he should go and take this bath.

He gives Naaman a task that is anything but instant and appears anything but guaranteed.

He gives Naaman a task that involves some commitment and travel and time.

• If Naaman wants healing ... he’s going to have to put in effort.
• If Naaman wants healing ... he’s going to have to be patient.
• If Naaman wants healing ... he’s going to have to swallow his pride.

For God’s healing will be done ... but it will be done on God’s preferred time frame and in God’s preferred form ... by God’s way and not Naaman’s.

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Let’s be honest here ... folks. Does this story have something pretty pointed to say to us?

Actually ... it seems to me that it has a whole LOT to say to us.

You see ... from what I can tell ... we ... dare I say “all of us” ... we seem to want God on our terms ....

• We want a god who supports our preferred political party ...

• We want a god who affirms our pet social projects ...

• We want a god who likes to be worshipped in ways that we find entertaining ...

• We want a god who justifies our economic status and our financial choices ...

• We want a god who roots for our team ... cherishes our causes ... aligns with our values ...

• We want a god who connects with us just exactly the way we’d like ... a god who operates on our timing ... who speaks to us as we’d prefer to be spoken to.

Now don’t go thinking that you are immune to this problem ... or even that I am immune to this problem ... for that would be precisely the sort of thinking that Jesus was trying to call out when he said:

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

For the fact of the matter is that this is just who we are ... WE ALL ARE NAAMANS!

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But lest you think this story is ALL bad news ... let me remind you of just one little thing ...

That ... at the end of the story ... God’s healing does come.

At the end of the story ... God’s blessing does come.

At the end of the story ... God’s goodness does come.

At the end of the story ... God’s gifts and God’s abundance DO come ... to Naaman ... and to you ... and to me.

For which we can only ever say ... “Thanks be to God!”

“God on Whose Terms?” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the occasion of All Saints Sunday  on November 6, 2022.  the text upon which it is based is the story of Naaman’s healing by Elisha in 2 Kings 5:1-15.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20221106