This story shows up several times in the RCL. It appears again this year in Proper 23 (October 13, 2013) as the Old Testament lesson paired with the gospel story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. You may want to think about that Sunday as you decide how to work with this story today. (FYI the stage directions below also appear in my post for The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany - Year B).
F This not very well known story begs for over the top storytelling. There is a lot of action in these 15 verses. (I, and several commentators I read, would add the first part of verse 15 to this reading.) To help worshipers follow action, have it pantomimed as it is read. A youth class could do the job. But it would be more interesting to use players of the appropriate ages – maybe from one or two families. Players might wear jeans and dark shirts or khaki pants with a white top. Most characters have one defining prop.
This could simply be the scripture reading for the day. Or, you could ask the characters to stay in place on stage and move into the sermon by moving among the character, commenting on their actions. With prepared players, you could even have conversation with the characters about what they did and how it felt. Whichever you do, some rehearsal is required.
Players and Props/costumes:
Naaman(military headgear – a costume helmet or a modern
military/police officer hat)
Naaman’s wife (hand held mirror)
Naaman’s wife’s servant girl (hairbrush)
(burlap sack or black garbage bag stuffed with paper to look full)
King of Syria (crown and a rolled paper scroll)
King of Israel (crown)
Elisha (no prop)
Elisha’s servant (no prop)
Reader/Stage Manager: Our story today is only fifteen verses long but involves eight characters, two kingdoms, and one river. First, of course, the kings: There is the king of Syria.
Beckon deferentially for the King of Syria in his crown to take his place.
And there is the King of Israel – a much smaller country and so a less important king, but still a king.
Beckon deferentially for the King of Israel in his crown to take his place, possibly on a lower step from the king of Syria.
And there is Naaman the general of the army of the King of Syria – another very important man.
Grandly direct Naaman to a spot near the King of Syria.
Naaman has a wife - I forget her name. And the wife has a young servant girl - who cares what her name was.
Point dismissively to their spots.
Naaman also has a servant whose name we don't know, but who was sort of Naaman's right hand man.
Point to a spot by Naaman for his servant.
That is the cast in Syria. Over here in Israel, there is also a prophet named Elisha. The prophet also has a servant.
Point to spots for Elisha and his servant.
There are several large, beautiful rivers in Syria, but for our story the important river is the muddy little Jordan River in Israel.
Spread out the muddy river and show the river shakers where to stand or describe the muddy Jordan River pointing to where it is to be imagined.
Oh, our story involves a disease, a dreaded disease, called leprosy. It was and is a horrible disease. Its symptoms are sores that do not heal but do spread. Eventually toes, fingers and even whole limbs fall off. In the time at which our story takes place, people were so frightened of the disease that victims were sent away from their homes and communities. They lived together in caves. Some of their families or kind folk from town left food and clothes for them near the caves, but they never got very close. When no food appeared the lepers had to call out to travelers begging for what they needed. Today we have drugs to treat leprosy. But, in the days of our story there were no cures.
Shiver and shake your head as you conclude this description.
Now, we are ready for our story. It begins with Naaman at home in Syria.
Point to Naaman.
Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria, because through Naaman the Lord had given victory to the Syrian forces.
Naaman stands tall and folds his arms across his chest.
He was a great soldier, but he suffered from a dreaded skin disease.
Naaman inspects the back of his hand and hides it behind himself.
In one of their raids against Israel, the Syrians had carried off a little Israelite girl, who became a servant of Naaman’s wife.
Servant girl pretends to brush mistresses hair.
One day she said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could go to the prophet who lives in Samaria! He would cure him of his disease.”
Servant girl pantomimes speaking. Mistress turns to listen, then turns toward Naaman and reaches out to him.
When Naaman heard of this, he went to the king and told him what the girl had said. The king said, “Go to the king of Israel and take this letter to him.”
Naaman turns toward the king of Syria. The king gives him a letter (rolled up piece of paper).
So Naaman set out, taking 30,000 pieces of silver, 6,000 pieces of gold, and ten changes of fine clothes. The letter that he took read: “This letter will introduce my officer Naaman. I want you to cure him of his disease.”
Naaman bows to the king, picks up a large burlap sack or black garbage bag stuffed to look heavy and full, hands the sack to his servant who hauls it as if it were heavy. Naaman keeps the letter. He then goes to the king of Israel.
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and exclaimed, “How can the king of Syria expect me to cure this man? Does he think that I am God, with the power of life and death? It’s plain that he is trying to start a quarrel with me!”
Naaman bows before the king of Israel and hands him the letter. The king opens it, reads it, and puts his hands over his face or makes other signs of despair.
When the prophet Elisha heard what had happened, he sent word to the king: “Why are you so upset? Send the man to me, and I’ll show him that there is a prophet in Israel!”
Elisha puts his hand to his ear as if listening, then sends his servant to the king. The servant bows to the king who sits/stands up and looks relieved. As the servant backs up to take his place beside Elisha, the king looks at Naaman and points toward Elisha.
So Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and stopped at the entrance to Elisha’s house.
Naaman and his servant go to Elisha. The servant pretends to knock on the door.
Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the River Jordan, and he would be completely cured of his disease.
Elisha’s servant standing in front of Elisha, pretends to open the door and points toward the river, then closes the door.
But Naaman left in a rage, saying, “I thought that he would at least come out to me, pray to the Lord his God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and cure me! Besides, aren’t the rivers Abana and Pharpar, back in Damascus, better than any river in Israel? I could have washed in them and been cured!”
Naaman stamps his feet, scowls, and puts his hands on his hips.
His servants went up to him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. Now why can’t you just wash yourself, as he said, and be cured?”
Naaman’s servant, cautiously taps Naaman on the shoulder, pretends to speak reasoning with his master using his hands to suggest the possibility of trying the river. Naaman listens, shrugs his shoulders, and turns toward the river.
So Naaman went down to the Jordan, dipped himself in it seven times, as Elisha had instructed, and he was completely cured. His flesh became firm and healthy, like that of a child.
Naaman squats seven times pretending to pour water over his head each time. His servant keeps count on his fingers for both Naaman and the congregation. (Or, have muddy brown cloth fabric laying on the floor as a river. People standing at the ends pick it and wave it in front of Naaman seven times as the servant keeps count.) After the seventh dip Naaman looks at his hand in amazement, shows it to his servant. Both show signs of joy (maybe a high five?)
He returned to Elisha with all his men and said, “Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel…”.
Naaman and his servant return to Elisha’s door. The servant knocks again. Elisha pretends to open the door this time. Naaman and his servant bow before Elisha.
(Biblical story is from Today’s English Version)
F God works through the powerless is the key idea of this story for children. Children, who often feel powerless and sense their ideas are ignored, are delighted that a little girl is the heroine. She speaks up and is listened to. Naaman actually takes her idea to the king, who produces a letter of introduction to a second king, then travels to find the prophet she mentions. Naaman’s powerless servant is the other hero who speaks up to convince his master that he ought to try following the prophet’s instructions. All the “powerful” people in the story (General Naaman and the two kings) save the day by submitting to the advice of the “powerless.” That preaches on many levels. It assures children that God works through them now (not when they grow up) and encourages them to speak up and act boldly based on what they know about what God wants and does.
F The Man Who Took Seven Baths, by Joan Scheck (Archbook) is hard to buy today, but might be available in the church’s library for children. It tells the story in simple straight language. Omit the last lines on the last page about Naaman’s gift.
F Since Syria and Damascus are very much in the news at the moment. Get out a map or globe and point out the countries and cities named in the story as well as the Jordon River. Speak briefly of the war going on in that area today and note that the story we are going to read takes place in the very same places that are still there today thousands of year later. This gives the story a sense of reality to the children.
F For children this is mainly a psalm that Naaman might have sung after he was healed. To help them see that point to verses 11-12 before reading the psalm. Imagine Naaman’s feelings. (If a child raises the question of those who are not healed, note that there are 150 psalms. This one is for those who are healed. There are other psalms for those who are not.) Then read the psalm.
F This psalm is filled with unfamiliar words (Sheol, the Pit, sackcloth, etc.) and word images that do not make immediate sense to literal thinkers. The Good News Bible provides clearer language, but loses the beauty of the poetry in the NRSV. Either choose the NRSV knowing the children will miss most of it, pick out a key verse or two in NRSV to unpack for the children, or use the TEV.
This is a reading for the grown-ups. It requires that hearers be able to think about how we relate to Jerusalem – or our country, or the church. This is advanced metaphorical thinking.
Children will not catch the references to crossing from Egyptian slavery to freedom through the Sea and again across the Jordan River. But they can hear most of the other phrases without explanation. As a whole though, the psalm does not catch their attention in any particular way.
Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16
F There is a connection (probably not intended by the RCL team) between this letter and the story of Naaman. The subject of both is simple everyday “little things” that God uses to make a big difference. Naaman’s cure is brought about through information from a little girl and a bath in a muddy river. Paul sends his readers out to take care of each other promising them as they do they are living in God’s new creation. This is a good message for children who tend to discount what they can do now and dream of doing something “special” or “heroic.” God is at work in the little things we can do every day – if we just will.
F In Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss, an elephant named Horton goes to great lengths to “bear the burden” of the community of beings he hears on a dust ball even though no other animals can hear their cries for help and think Horton is crazy. He says repeatedly, “Even though you can’t see them at all, a person’s a person no matter how small.” The story is too long to read in worship, but is familiar enough that it can be told and used to illustrate the importance of caring for people you encounter day to day.
F Often we hold back on hospitality out of the fear that there will not be enough. Always Room for One More, by Sorche Nic Leodhas, tells the story of a family that never asked that question. When their house exploded because it was filled with so many singing dancing people taken in on a stormy night, all their guests simply helped them build a bigger house so there would be more room for more guests. The book is written with lots of scots words and in rhyme. If you or someone in the congregation is comfortable reading in this dialect, the story will be a special mid-summer celebration of hospitality.
F Highlight the Passing of the Peace in worship today. Jesus sent the seventy out to share Christ’s peace eating and talking with people they met. Paul sent his readers out to share Christ’s peace with people they met every day. When we pass the peace in worship we are practicing for following both Jesus’ and Paul’s directions ring the rest of the week.
F “Brother Sister Let Me Serve You” is a good song to explore and sing in connection with these verses. Read through the first verse, pointing out that it is repeated as the last verse. Suggest that worshipers identify those who will be as close as brothers and sisters to them this week. That might include biological family, but also people we will work and play with lots this week. Then sing the entire song with these people in mind.
F Especially if communion is part of worship today, sing “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.” Before singing, walk through it with worshipers following along in their hymnals. The first verse is about the Kingdom of Heaven being near when we gather in worship. The second verse insists that God sends us out to live out what say and sing in worship (teaching people to live to bless, love in word and in deed express). Verse 3 emphasizes the importance of both the inward gathering and the outward going.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
F Both Paul and Luke are interested in HOSPITALITY today. Both insist that when we pay attention to the people around us, taking care of them when they need it, sharing what we have and know, and letting them do the same for us, God’s kingdom is very near to us. Make a word poster to display. Near the beginning of worship, define the word in the New Testament way and encourage worshipers to listen for it in all the readings, songs and prayers.
|Children packing food bags for pantry|
F Jesus sent the seventy out to do fairly simple things – like eat and talk with people they met. Yes, they also healed people, but I’d emphasize the relationships. Luke said when they did those things the Kingdom of Heaven would come near. Show pictures of people in your congregation doing those sorts of things and insist that as they do, they are bringing the Kingdom of Heaven close today.
F The seventy were largely successful, but Jesus sent them out prepared for failure as well as success. In our success-obsessed culture it is wise to help children prepare for failure. Compare Jesus’ “shake the dust from your shoes” to shrugging shoulders or saying “Oh well.” (Maybe lead worshipers in shaking their shoes, shrugging their shoulders, and saying “Oh well” together.) All of these are ways we can admit that we have not been able to do what we set out to do. Instead of getting upset, we tell ourselves that we tried our best, but our best was not enough and that’s OK. We don’t blame ourselves. Nor do we blame other people. We just let it go and move on to other things. This is important to know when our team is turning out to be a lot less than champions, when a camp or trip or party to which we had looked forward turns out to be not so great, when we really tried to learn that instrument, or sports skill, or trick but could not get it, even when we really tried to make friends with the new kid down the block but he or she just did respond.
A list of failures for people of all ages could be turned into a responsive reading with the whole congregation shaking their feet or shrugging their shoulders in response to each failure.