Unnamed and Unknown

The text of the sermon, based on 2 Kings 5.1-14, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2022.

The dramatic story of the healing of Naaman[1] has a grand cast of characters. Naaman, “a great man” and “mighty warrior.” His lord, the king of Aram (present day Syria). The king of Israel. Elisha, “the man of God.” And the Lord, the God of Israel (indeed, the God of all), who, through Naaman, “had given victory to Aram.”

Naaman has leprosy. A hideous skin condition. Naaman, highly favored by his king, is sent to the king of Israel; bearing gifts and a request to be cured. The king of Israel is terrified. He is not God with power to heal. Thus, he fears that in refusing the request, Aram, in retaliation, will wage war on Israel.

Elisha sends word to have Naaman directed to him. Through him, God will perform the cure. And Naaman will know “there is a prophet in Israel” who bears God’s word of power.

So, it was. But not before overcoming Naaman’s contempt for Elisha’s triple effrontery. First, declining a personal appearance to perform the expected healing ritual. Second, merely sending word to “wash in the Jordan”; which, third, was vastly inferior in purity to “the rivers of Damascus.”

Naaman, the kings of Aram and Israel, Elisha, and God are the principal characters in this healing drama. Yet there are other (although unnamed and unknown, not lesser) actors.

The young girl, captured during an Aramean military raid in Israel and carried back to Damascus, who spoke of the prophet Elisha…

The messenger Elisha sent to Naaman with the prescription for the cure…

Naaman’s servants who, reacting to their master’s rage at the simple and ridiculous instruction to bathe in polluted water to be made clean, encouraged him to heed Elisha’s instruction.

These characters pointed the way, step-by-step, toward the realization of the miracle.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the 246th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. The preeminent symbol of our national dramatic story of strife and struggle, formation and unification. Some characters, we recognize. George III, King of England, from whom we sought liberty. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, the best known of the Committee of Five[2] appointed to craft the language. But we don’t…can’t know everyone…

Those who printed and reprinted the document.

Those who distributed the text.

All who listened to its public recitation, reflecting on its meaning.

All who, not yet considered fully human, were excluded from “all Men (who) are created equal.”

All these were actors and our ancestors in our ongoing drama of the miracle of emancipation that all may enjoy the “certain unalienable Rights…(of) Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Today, we celebrate that we are living fruits of seeds of ages past. Some, perhaps many of our ancestors we know. But most, even if by name, we know not; ancestry.com notwithstanding. Their places in the miracle of lineage that gave us birth are shrouded in history’s shadows.

Today, we also celebrate that we are ancestors to the miracle called “the next generations.” Some, alive now, we know. And countless others, not yet born, we will not know, but who will remember us. For because of us, they will be.

Now, in our daily living, we are surrounded by strangers. Them to us. Us to them. Unnamed and unknown. Passersby on the sidewalk. In the car in the next lane at a stoplight. In the aisle of a store. Everywhere. To them, with them, we can offer a friendly wave. A kind gesture. Or respond with care to a question of interest. Or with sincere attention to an expression of need.

For we have been taught to keep the commandments, loving God and our neighbor,[3] who is anyone, everyone, especially those yet unknown. And we do not, cannot, will not know – especially during this time of intensified tempest and tumult in our nation where civility and comity have given way to all manners and forms of vitriol and violence – when our small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness will be for them a dramatic declaration of Jesus’ miraculous gospel of unconditional love.

© 2022 PRA

Illustration: The Cleansing of Naaman, Meuse Valley (Belgium), c. 1150-60, British Museum, London

[1] 2 Kings 5.1-14

[2] Robert Livingston, New York, and Roger Sherman, Connecticut, being the other two.

[3] In the words of the Collect appointed for the day (The Book of Common Prayer, page 230): O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2 thoughts on “Unnamed and Unknown

  1. Thank you Paul!! Whenever I read your titles I always try to discern what the sermon will be about. Most of the time I guess incorrectly, as I did today!
    This sermon really struck me… ever since Mom died I am feeling more and more alone. Feeling as if there is a large part of me that’s unknown, a part that I don’t even think Ancestry.com could help. My father was adopted so even though I had met the women who raised him, Grandma Dorsey and Aunt Helen, I won’t ever know anything about his biological family. I also wonder why the put him up for adoption.
    All of these things have caused me to chat more with folks I don’t know in Starbucks or Target just as you wrote about. I just want to be nice to people!! We need nice and kind and it really surprises people when I do it, but they smile and speak back also grateful that someone was kind to them!
    Your sermon made me smile and even them I feel sad about the “unknowns” in my life I’m so happy for the knowns.
    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Loretta, one of the elements I included in the sermon as preached that is not in the text (happens all the time, for things occur to me in the moment) is the fact that I only know what I know of my ancestry on my maternal side. As my father’s father was Cuban, I know little to nothing about my paternal heritage. I recounted this in brief in my sermon this morning, and then said, in effect, that I know I come from a long line on my paternal side, even if I known none or few of the actors. How do I know? I exist! I’m here!

      So, my beloved sister, this, as you say, accounts from a bit of my “known” even amidst a greater sea of “unknown.” And, yes, like you, I’m sad about the unknown, yet, also like you, I’m happy for the known.



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