I Need HelpPentecost
As some of you know, I’ve been reading mysteries. Maybe you’ve read the series of mystery novels written by Canadian author Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the main character who has always held unfashionable beliefs. Armand finds goodness in the most desperate places and knows that kindness is powerful. He instructs new detectives to use four sentences that can lead to wisdom: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help”
I see dependence on God as the nature of these declarations: how we come to depend on God, how we struggle with that dependence, and how we run into barriers in our ability to depend on God.
We begin today with Psalm 30, King David’s song of dedication. Walter Brueggeman says that the speaker in Psalm 30 is on the other side of a lament or a complaint. The psalm concerns a rescue, an intervention, or a particular situation of distress that is still fresh in the mind of the speaker.
The psalmist doesn’t give details of his distress. We hear him recall that he needed help and his situation was desperate: O Lord, My God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit. And then we hear the celebration in his song when he says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
The Psalm seems to suppose the darkness of being so worried about the peril of our life situation. In verses 8-12, we read the back and forth with God; King David’s fears and pleading. As he looks back upon these barriers, David recalls God’s rescue in verse 11, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,” King David celebrates his dependence on God.
Is God controlling our lives? No. This verse underscores the reward of God’s preserving and guiding and our cooperation. Suffering does not indicate God’s absence. We need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness.
The story we read in 2 Kings is, for me, a perplexing story. The army commander Naaman is respected and has achieved military success. He has power and independence but suddenly he has to say “I need help” because of the devastating onset of leprosy. His story can lead us to see our own barriers to our dependence on God.
Naaman doesn’t ask for help. When the slave girl who had been taken from Israel saw his condition and suffering, she recommended to his wife that he go to Israel and show himself to the prophet.
Instead of asking for help in a direct way, from the right person, Naaman presents himself to the King of Aram, his King, who devises a letter and riches to present to the King of Israel to ask for Naaman’s healing. The slave girl’s recommendation to present himself to the prophet gets lost in Naaman’s pursuit of power between Kings.
Naaman travels to Israel, but the King of Israel is aghast and wonders why Naaman has come to him. The King tears his clothes, an expression of sorrow, asking, “Am I God to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” He is quite distressed because he is the wrong person to ask for help.
Elisha the prophet hears about the King of Israel receiving Naaman, “Why are you tearing your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” Notice again that the one who needs the help is not the one asking for help.
Naaman came with his horses and chariots to the prophet’s gate. Elisha sends word that Naaman is to go dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Elisha doesn’t come out to speak to Naaman, who sees this as an affront to his position. He hears Elisha in essence say to take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
So the commander is irate that Elisha did not heal in the way that Naaman felt it should happen. Elisha didn’t come out, nor summon God on Naaman’s behalf, or wave his hand over the spot and cure his leprosy, and he sent him to the Jordan River rather than the rivers he thought were better. He left in a rage.
Naaman’s servants reasoned with him that if the prophet had asked him to do something hard, would he not have done it? When they encourage him, Naaman finally decides to dip himself in the Jordan and is immediately healed.
This story from 2 Kings is a lesson in arrogance, a lesson for persons who think they are asking for help but have an affinity for asking the wrong person, in the wrong way, and then getting angry when they don’t get the help they need.
What can we learn about King David’s approach to having a conversation with God, and being able to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I need help and I don’t know.” That is what I hear David saying in a number of different ways. We see the outcome of David’s expression of praise at the end when his joy is recovered. May David’s joy mirror our own.