When Enemies Need Each Other

Veteran’s Day-2019 2 Kings 5:1-21

Tomorrow is Veteran’s day.

Recently an elderly Canadian gentleman arrived in Paris by plane. At the French customs desk, the man took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry-on bag.

“You have been to France before, monsieur?” the customs officer asked. The elderly gentleman admitted he had been to France previously.

“Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.”

The Canadian said, “The last time I was here, I didn’t have to show it.”

“Impossible, you always have to show your passport on arrival in France!”

“Well…”, the older gentleman explained, “…when I came ashore at Juno Beach in 1944, I couldn’t find any Frenchmen to show it to.”

A little fun at the expense of the French, but war is no joking matter. It is one of the most inhumane ways of settling our differences. Among us today there are people who gave part of their lives and their youth to serve.

I was startled to read that if a child is 16 years old today, they have lived in a country that has been at war all of their lives.

It is safe to say that war is humanity’s ultimate failure. And yet, we repeat it over and over across the face of the earth. With very few exceptions we usually ask ourselves afterwards; “…was that necessary?”

In the time of the prophet Elisha, Israel lived in a perpetual state of tension with its neighbor, Syria. If you read this history it is a story of attacks and counter attacks, of suffering, of loss and of fear.

That is what makes today’s story so weird.

An important Syrian general, Naaman, a veteran of many battles and a decorated soldier, was suffering from leprosy. No one could help him. But a victim of one of his battles, a young girl from Israel who was kidnapped and brought back as a slave for Naaman’s wife, mentions to her mistress that there was someone in Israel, Syria’s bitter enemy, who would be able to heal Naaman.

Its truly weird because here you have a sworn enemy of Israel, willing to reach out to one of Israel’s most influential prophets to ask him a favor.

This proud and powerful general must have risked his reputation by putting himself at the mercy of his enemy. Imagine the scandal if this had gone wrong. He could have lost the respect of his soldiers and much worse, he could have lost the support of the Syrian king.

But this veteran of many battles had come to the end of his endurance. He had nothing to lose so he took the chance. He humbles himself before the prophet of his enemy and he walks out of this as a healed man.

Not only is his body healed, but according to the story, his relationship with God was healed.

How is it that as the most innovative nation in the history of the world, we have found no alternative to war?

And why, when we do go to war, do we not honor our pledge to give those who wage war on our behalf, every available resource to ensure their wellbeing when they come back home?

Why do we have to resort to the generosity of the public through organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House Foundation, Hope for the Warriors and so many more? Why did it take so long for our veteran’s to receive help for the suffering they endured thanks to Agent Orange, or why were Vietnam Vets offered Valium and shown the door when they begged for help when they came back so broken, so shattered?

Why have we seen such horrific numbers of suicides among our vets returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the places they are asked to wage war on our behalf, before our government agencies began to pay serious attention to their needs?

Today we pause as a faith community—a church, to remember the incredible burden we place on people when they ask them to wage war on our behalf. To engage in war is to place ourself in a position for which the human spirit is not designed. We are not designed to cause others harm. We are not designed to hate. We are not designed to kill or maim.

That is why so many of our brothers and sisters and our sons and daughters, or perhaps, ourselves, come back from war suffering from what has now been called, “moral injury”.

Shira Maguen, PhD and Brett Litz, PhD, explains moral injury as, and I quote;

“ …moral injuries may stem from direct participation in acts of combat, such as killing or harming others, or indirect acts, such as witnessing death or dying, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders that are perceived as gross moral violations…”[1]

Elisha, who is described as a political activist and a prophet—shows us another way of dealing with one’s enemy.

How weird that when you have your enemy groveling before you, that you show him mercy. How revolutionary to help your enemy when you have him begging for help.

We are so good at waging war that it has become an institutionalized part of our culture. How sad that we are unwilling to apply our immense national power to wage peace in the world?

To our vets:

Today we honor you for your service and we thank you for your sacrifice. We ask you for forgiveness where we have failed to live up to our collective responsibility to support you in your process of finding a good and safe place among us after your service. For those who still deal with the wounds of body or soul, we pray that the love and peace of Jesus Christ may find its way into your experience.

May we never forget the sacrifices of those who never came back and those who came back but left so much behind on the battlefield.

There is nearly always an alternative to war. And in today’s story God demonstrates how it can work.

May we listen and learn and apply the wisdom of God’s Spirit to the way we treat our enemies. Amen.

[1] https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/moral_injury.asp