Waters Of Jordan
Sunday, 13 October 2019 09:00
“Are not Abana and Pharphar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kings 5:10)
My wife and I are off to Cyprus tomorrow. No doubt we’ll go down to the seafront, to the Mediterranean - the sea that laps the shores of Europe, Africa and Asia. Cyprus, itself, is divided between a Greek part and a Turkish part and we’ll probably hire a car and drive up to the North, crossing the border between the two parts. The sea, though, knows no borders and circulates - the same waters touching the shores of both North and South uncaring of the divisions that people have made between the two communities.
That’s the thing about water on this planet - it circulates. Not only does it flow between nations and continents, it evaporates and condenses and falls as rain on parts of countries far inland to fill the sources of great rivers such as the Clyde and the Forth; the Jordan and, as Naaman names them in our passage, the Abana and the Pharphar. Which brings me to Naaman’s question, “Are not Abana and Pharphar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” No. They’re not. It’s the same water. Water circulates. The water that runs through Damascus has, at some time, perhaps, run through the Jordan valley from the Sea of Galilee.
Maybe, when he wasn’t teaching, Jesus sat by the shores of the Galilee and wondered where the water went to after it had flowed away through the Jordan. Where else in the world did the waters of the Jordan touch? There’s a deep connection between the two stories we heard this morning - the story of Naaman and the story of the ten lepers healed by Jesus. A really important detail about the second story - which is often used to teach the importance of thanksgiving - was that the man who came back to thank Jesus was a Samaritan.
The Samaritans were the outsiders in Jesus’s time as far as his people, the Jews, were concerned. Pious Jews from Galilee making their way to Jerusalem for religious festivals like Passover would sometimes travel miles out of their way - think a diversion in the Highlands here - simply to avoid travelling through Samaritan territory and encountering them. In the story, though, Jesus doesn’t care - he heals all ten lepers regardless of who they are or where they came from or how they contracted the disease. None of that matters.
Then there’s Naaman. He too is an outsider to the Jews. He is an Aramean. More than that he is an Aramean general who has fought the armies of Israel and has carried off men and women as slaves. He is the last person, you would have thought, that the God of Israel - if he was the kind of tribal god that is sometimes envisaged in the Old Testament - would be likely to cure. Yet when Naaman steps down into the waters of the Jordan he is made clean, regardless of who he is or where he has come from or how he contracted the disease. None of that matters.
“Are not Abana and Pharphar, the rivers of Damascus, greater than all the waters of Israel?” asks Naaman. No, they’re not. If we take seriously the idea that there is one God, then he is God in Damascus every bit as he is in Samaria or Jerusalem, or North and South Cyprus, or Edinburgh and Glasgow. Just as the waters of Jordan flow to join the seas and oceans that touch the whole world, so has the faith that began in the Galilee with the teachings of Jesus before finding their fulfilment in his death and resurrection in Jerusalem flowed out from there to touch every part of the world.
A faith that says that in Christ we can all belong. A faith that says that whoever we are, wherever we have come from, whatever we have done, we can come home to God and find new life - eternal life in the loving presence of God. A faith that says however we came to need healing - whatever stupid, hurtful, destructive things we have said and thought and done in our lives - we can be washed clean simply by accepting the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.
Something as simple as stepping into the waters of Jordan to bathe. Perhaps we sometimes want it to be more complicated than that. Just as Naaman thinks that Elisha should wave his hands about and make some kind of incantation, sometimes, maybe, we think that people have to accept a whole pile of theological teachings, doctrines and dogmas to be truly accepted by God in Christ. In times past we have excommunicated each other, or divided from each other over obscure points of doctrine or over arguments about how the Church should be governed.
Just as the waters of the Jordan that healed Naaman, though, flowed out to mingle with waters that touch the whole world, the gift of God’s grace in Jesus is for all humanity. Sometimes we want to make reservations on that. Because we sometimes like the divisions that exist between people. We comfortable among people who are like us - who have the same colour of skin and speak the same language; who dress in the same way and have the same cultural background. We sometimes distrust the outsider - especially if they come to live among us.
But if we believe there is one God, then he is the father and the creator of all his children and whatever they have done he longs to bring them home to him as the Prodigal’s father embraced him and brought him into his house. Maybe sometimes we think there are things that God cannot forgive - that there are people who have messed up so much that they cannot really be like us; that they are some kind of feral underclass to be held at a distance.
But the grace of God is like the waters of the Jordan - flowing out to touch all the world. To touch the shores of every nation - however far away; to touch the hearts of men and women across all the world - however different they may be; to offer healing to those whose lives are broken - however they may have gotten that way; to reach out for those who are walking in darkness - whatever they may have done. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ - that none of the divisions that we throw up between us as human beings matter one jot in the love of God that longs for us simply to accept that love and come home to him.
That’s the message we can take out there in the way that we live, in the choices we make, in the things that we say. That is the mission of the Church - to communicate the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ; to live the message that God’s love and grace are for everyone, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they’ve done. We talk, sometimes, about mission in the Church and people get all anxious as if it means thumping on people’s doors and waving the Bible at them.
It doesn’t. It just means living out an idea. The idea that in the love of God everyone is welcome. In the love of God there are no outsiders. In the love of God the next person you speak to outside these doors is welcome. In the love of God the people you hear despised for their race or their background or their social class or the mistakes they’ve made are welcome. In so far as we - all of us - can live that idea then we touch the whole world. We are the waters of Jordan - the means by which God brings his healing touch.
Lord, all the world belongs to you. All its peoples in all their diversity are your children. In Jesus you have offered your love and forgiveness to all - may we live lives that reflect that offer and cross the boundaries that divide humanity to offer the peace of Christ.
Preached at Brydekirk Church and Annan: St Andrews Church