Sermon: The Simple Things

October 9, 2022

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Luke 17:11-19

by Eric Anderson

The great general Naaman had been diagnosed with leprosy. It’s impossible to say in 2022, some 2,800 years since the life of the prophet Elisha, whether Naaman actually had Hansen’s Disease, as it has been called since Dr. G. H. A. Hansen isolated the bacterium that causes it in 1873. The Hebrew word tzara’ath seems to have referred to a variety of skin conditions – and for that matter, conditions of clothing – so what ailed Naaman isn’t clear.

It also isn’t clear – but it is really likely – that his illness threatened his standing and livelihood as the senior general of the army of Aram. The use of the word “tzara’ath” – leprosy – by the author of Second Kings suggests that in Israel, the condition would have forced Naaman into exile or at least extended quarantine. The chances are pretty good that the same applied in Aram, one of Israel’s neighboring nations and one with the habit of cross-border raids. The text makes clear that, at this stage of the ailment at least, Naaman had not been forced into exile or quarantine. I don’t know whether that’s because the illness had been diagnosed as not requiring those measures, or because the rules are different for the wealthy and powerful.

If I had to guess, I’d guess it was the wealth and power.

Still, if the disease progressed as they would have feared, Naaman would have lost his ability to lead. It was a threat to his position. Something had to be done. But what? It would take a miracle.

So they got one – in the form of information from a captive and a slave, a young woman seized from one of Aram’s raids into Israel, a foreigner who had very little reason to care about her captor’s health, yet nevertheless she displayed miraculous compassion to tell her captor’s wife, “There is a prophet in Samaria.”

There are only four occasions in the Hebrew Bible when someone described as a “na’arah,” or a young girl, speaks. That is, four occasions where they’re quoted. Rachel Wrenn lists them at Working Preacher: “Rebekah (Genesis 24), Ruth (Ruth 2), and Esther (Esther 2). A Matriarch, the Great-Grandmother of King David, a Slave-Girl and a Queen; these are the only na‘arah who explicitly use their voice in the Hebrew Bible.”

Do you get a sense of how extraordinary this is?

Not only does she speak, the woman who claimed to own her listened. Not only did she listen, her husband listened to her. Not only did he listen to her, he followed her advice: the advice of women, one of them a slave so young that she would have been considered of less than no account in that society.

The miracles piled up before anybody actually set out on the road to Samaria.

These were simple things: listening to women. Listening to young people. Letting oneself acknowledge that somebody else knew something worth trying.

The simple things. Simple things that might not have been done.

Elisha gave Naaman simple instructions, and Naaman promptly resisted them. I grant you that Elisha had been provocatively rude. Generals did not get sent directions by messengers when they were at the door; generals dealt with the principal, or in this case the prophet. Although Elisha had extended the invitation through the king of Israel, Elisha also seemed determined to treat Naaman like a king of Israel – which in Elisha’s case, meant rather coldly (he really didn’t treat the kings of Israel well at all).

Between rudeness and the bizarrely simple treatment, Naaman was on the verge of going home in a huff. Once more, it was those of lower social status who spoke, and who persuaded him to do the simple thing.

As Rachel Wrenn goes on to write, “Naaman’s first lesson in humility is not on Elisha’s doorstep, but on his own, where he listens to his wife and her slave-girl and honors both of their voices. Before humbly washing in the Jordan, Naaman learns to listen to the humble around him.”

The simple things. Listen. Consider. Do the simple things.

Part of me yearns to know why human beings resist doing the simple things, because the evidence that we don’t do them is so widespread. Nearly every day I hear the children in the nursery school classroom next door sing, “Clean up! Clean up!” It’s one of those simple things, right? But somehow when it comes to industry and industrial agriculture, that simple thing has frequently been neglected. Rivers in parts of the United States stank for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire several times, which you have to admit is a very odd thing for a river to do. To this day the Environmental Protection Agency maintains a “superfund” to clean up toxic dumping by industry and government-run landfills.

The US is hardly alone. Coal burning plants devastated East Germany with bad air and coal soot before reunification. When Beijing hosted the 2008 summer Olympic Games, smog was easily visible in the televised images. It should be noted that things have markedly improved in China. According to the Air Quality Life Index at the University of Chicago, “Pollution countrywide has declined by about 40 percent, and by about 50 percent in Beijing thanks to the country’s ‘war against pollution’ since 2013.”

Simple things done by a large number of people.

I wish I could forget about Americans’ response to the COVID pandemic, but I can’t. Masking in the US has decreased markedly in the last months. While on vacation I saw a lot of people masking in New York City, which suffered so intensely in the early months of the pandemic and where masks are still required on public transportation, but far fewer in other places I went. I saw people masking and not masking on the airplanes flying to and from the east coast – but I have to say that who wore masks and who didn’t made it rather easy to identify who lived in Hawai’i and who was visiting.

Simple things.

On this Access Sunday, recognizing both the contributions of people with disabilities and the obstacles they face to full participation in society and in the Church, I note with some satisfaction that we have made some gains here at Church of the Holy Cross. A small ramp we added in the upper parking lot makes for easier access to the sanctuary and upper buildings than before. There’s a bench near it that means folks waiting to be picked up can seat themselves rather than standing while a car comes for them. That’s good. We have continued to stream worship so that those who cannot reach us can participate. That’s good, too.

But I have to admit that we still have gaps in our efforts to make worship accessible. It took a while for me to realize that our sound system does not include a component to assist those with hearing loss. I haven’t started the research on that yet, but I hope we can do something about it fairly soon.

Simple things.

Disabled people spend a remarkable amount of time trying to overcome unnecessary obstacles, ones unnoticed by people with fully functioning legs, eyes, ears, and lungs. They cope with things like the high floors of sport utility vehicles, movies without an audio description, lack of sign language interpretation, and crowds of maskless people. They also spend a remarkable amount of time trying to fend off not-so-helpful attempts to “help.” A person in a wheelchair does not necessarily want to be pushed around. A person with poor vision does not want to grabbed by the elbow and guided. And so on.

There’s a simple thing to do about that: Ask. “Could you use some help? No? If that changes, let me know.”

In a few moments you’re going to hear my daughter Rebekah Anderson, co-chair of UCC Disabilities Ministries, sing a song that she wrote, joined by another person active in UCCDM, Jacob Nault. They’ve both worked to achieve success as musicians (not monetary success, mind you, at least not for Rebekah), but their success has relatively little to do with their disabilities. It has to do with their talents. It has to do with their effort. It has to do with repeatedly practicing the simple things until they could combine them into complex things and achieve the beautiful thing you’ll hear shortly.

Simple things repeated.

I look over the US today and yearn for more practice of another simple thing: Apology. I complain about this a lot, I know. Most apologies aren’t apologies, they’re excuses. “I shouldn’t be held accountable for the thing I did because… I didn’t mean it, I didn’t intend it, I did something else and it had nothing to do with me.”

Excuses do nothing to restore damaged relationships. Whereas apologies, now: “I’m sorry I did this thing. I’m sorry it hurt you. I’ll do my best to make it up to you. I will not do it again.”

That’s a game-changer.

Simple things.

It is the simple things – basic consideration of other people, respect for their worth, cleaning up after ourselves, taking responsibility for the things that we’ve done. It’s much like extending the wings and the tail and tucking up our feet beneath us: these are the things that help us to fly.

The simple things.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Because of technical difficulties, the live stream broke down and could not be resumed. The service was recorded, but it has taken longer to post that video. We regret the errors and delays.

Because Pastor Eric improvises, there are differences between the text prepared and the sermon as delivered.

The image is a plaque once mounted in a church in the Meuse Valley, ca. 1150. Photo: Andreas Praefcke – Self-photographed, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on October 10, 2022

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283