The Power of a Simple Act
July 7, 2019
2 Kings 5:1-14
Simple acts have the power to transform us.
Lately I’ve been participating in a master’s class that has driven this point home. The class is being taught by my 17-month old little boy and the location has been checkout lanes across Groton and New London—Home Depot, Stop and Shop, Aldi, Target—each location my little boy has taught me again and again about the power of simple acts.
Here’s how the lesson goes: As we pull up to the checkout lane, our cart laden with the day’s purchases, I begin to hastily unload the cart. I’m generally a bit frazzled by this point, a situation generally not helped by grabby toddler hands and a plethora of tempting treats within arm’s reach in the checkout lane. By the time we arrive at the front of the line, all I’m usually thinking about is getting our purchases, and said wiggly toddler into the car and home before anyone melts down.
And then the lesson begins. As I fiddle with my bag searching for my wallet or blindly hand over my keychain with the store’s reward card attached, I hear a small voice from the cart seat, “hi.” This sweet greeting is accompanied by a large, toothy grin. The “hi” isn’t meant for me. As I look, I see my little boy smiling and repeating, “hi” over and over at the cashier checking us out.
The initial responses vary a bit. Sometimes they notice right away, sometimes it takes a few “hi’s” before their attention is captured. But the end result is always the same. The cashier’s face breaks into a wide smile. They grin at this smiling, “hi’ing” toddler and repeat, “hi,” and are rewarded with an immense grin, often followed by a conversation about said toddler’s hat or shoes, or perhaps the bananas or juice we’re purchasing.
As we finish our purchase and roll away, I’ve started glancing back, and regularly notice something incredible. Not only is the cashier smiling, but often the people within ear shot are smiling too. And so am I.
A simple act has transformed us all.
The power of a simple act is reiterated in the story we read today of Elisha and Naaman from the Book of 2nd Kings.
We first met Elisha last week, when we heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. Elisha is Elijah’s student and anointed successor.
Unlike Elijah, we do know a bit more about Elisha’s history. He is likely the son of a wealthy landowner as we meet him while he is plowing his family’s fields with a team of 12 oxen—a likely indication of his family’s wealth. As Elisha is plowing, Elijah approaches him and throws his mantle over the younger man’s shoulders, announcing that Elisha is his heir apparent.
Elisha sacrifices the oxen on an altar he builds from the plow, kisses his family goodbye, and departs to follow after Elijah.
We don’t hear from Elisha again until quite a bit later, in the Book of 2nd Kings—when he joins Elijah on a journey that ultimately ends with Elijah being taken up into heaven and the mantle of authority falling to Elisha. As a final request, Elisha asks that he be granted a “double-share” of Elijah’s spirit. This is granted to him, and Elisha goes on to perform twice as many miracles as Elijah.
He largely serves in the same places as Elijah, in the northern kingdom of Israel, but spends far more time in public than did his predecessor. He leads a group of holy people known as the “Sons of the Prophets,” about which not much is known other than that it seems to have been a school or guild for prophets. He assists the kings of Israel in defending the people, and is crucial in several key battles that allow the people of Israel to keep invading armies at bay.
Elisha’s miracles are numerous. Including feeding a hundred people with twenty loaves of barley and ears of grain, multiplying the oil of a widow to defend her from her unscrupulous creditors, feeding the Sons of the Prophets during a famine with a stew that, while made with poisonous gourds, did no harm to any, and even raising two people from the dead—one of whom was resurrected by simply touching Elisha’s bones after his death!
Today’s reading from the Book of 2nd Kings tells the story of another of these miracles—the healing of a Aramean military commander, Naaman. And it is in Naaman’s story that we are reminded of the transformative power of simple acts.
Naaman, suffering from leprosy, is directed to a prophet in Israel who has the power to heal him by a young girl held captive by the Arameans. Naaman collects up his wealth and seeks out Elisha, desperate for a cure. Elisha ignores the man’s wealth and instead instructs him to engage in a simple act—dip yourself seven times in the Jordan River. After initially balking, and even leaving in a huff, Naaman eventually follows Elisha’s instructions and douses himself seven times in the Jordan, and emerges healed. After he is cured, he returns to his own country worshipping God. For he has encountered a loving God who heals generously, welcomes warmly, and loves extravagantly.
Thus a simple act transformed Naaman. And simple acts can transform us.
Perhaps it is a simple act of kindness, like a “hi” and a smile at the checkout lane, or allowing one more car to pull in front of you in the height of Mystic summer traffic. Or perhaps it is a simple act in the fight for justice, like writing a letter to your elected representative encouraging them to prioritize the needs of those in greatest peril today. Or perhaps a simple act of reconciliation, as you seek out the voices of those who have been oppressed or marginalized and just listen. Or perhaps a simple act of love, as you offer a warm embrace to someone who is hurting.
Simple acts have the power to transform us, because at the heart of each simple act of kindness, justice, reconciliation, or love is God, who heals generously, welcomes warmly, and loves extravagantly.