Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pentecost 4, 2019-C: Show up and let God work

Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for alternative audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

In today’s gospel, Luke offers a perfect description of the relationship between a rector and the church community they serve, as well as the members of a church to their church and community. Jesus, having already sent the twelve disciples out, now sends 70 others in pairs “into the harvest.” Numbers have spiritual significance in the bible. In this case, 70 represents God’s authority being carried out in power.

The harvest is plentiful, he tells them, but laborers are few. Pray that you will be a laborer for God’s harvest. That will be different from what you’ve learned, so listen up: Go where God sends you. God has a plan.

See, he says, I am sending you out like lambs (symbols of peace) among wolves (which symbolize enemies). Go to those who are your traditional enemies and offer God’s peace to them because God’s peace brings the end of enmity and replaces it with tranquility and security.

This is why you must enter the relationship with vulnerability: so that those to whom go recognize this isn’t about power, but about love. They are empowered because they must tend to your needs even as you tend to theirs. It’s hard to imagine how the colonialist approach to sharing the good news gained momentum in light of this instruction, but it did – and it still does. Yet Jesus’ instruction is clear: there can be no coercion. Each in the relationship is dependent on the other; each is the servant of the other.

If you enter a town and there is anyone there who accepts your peace abide with them for a while. Get to know them. Build relationship with them. Tend my sheep there.

The phrase translated as “cure the sick” means more broadly: notice those who are weak, who need strength in body or spirit. The instruction is to identify the powerless and bring them the power of God which you embody, saying to them, “the authority of God, the realm of God has come near to you.”

This is where the OT story of Naaman ties in. Naaman is a mighty military commander who has leprosy, though it’s in the early stages. When it progresses, he’ll lose his position of power because in those days, a person with leprosy was exiled in order to keep the disease from spreading. Leprosy was thought to be punishment for sin, so not only were they exiled, they were also shamed and blamed.

Hearing about Naaman’s condition, a young Israelite slave girl (notice the vulnerability in each of those descriptors: young, Jewish, slave, female) who served Naaman’s wife offers some advice: Why doesn’t Naaman go see the prophet of God in Samaria? He could cure him.

So Naaman goes off to find this prophet, bringing expensive gifts and showing off his importance with military pageantry. But when Naaman arrives, Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him. Instead, he instructs Naaman to go and wash in the River Jordan seven times.

The powerful Naaman is highly insulted and angry. ‘That’s it? I thought for me the prophet and his God would put on a great show of healing magic. I came all this way for this?’

Naaman is eventually convinced to do as Elisha commanded, and is healed. No pomp, no circumstance; and power is redefined for all who read this story and have ears to hear it.

The slave girl in this story exemplifies what Jesus is teaching his followers about being laborers for God’s harvest. She notices Naaman’s weakness and tends to him. His physical weakness is the skin condition, but his real weakness is spiritual – his attachment to having and wielding earthly, coercive power.

She didn’t need to tend to Naaman. She could have let his disease progress and take him down. It’s likely that his downfall would have led to her freedom. But she was a laborer in God’s harvest, one in which every fruit, every person is worth serving.

Back to the gospel. Jesus instructs the 70 to abide where God has led them. Don’t go seeking a better house, better food, better accommodations. For us the instruction might sound like this: abide and serve in the church community to which God has led you. Don’t go seeking a better budget, better leadership, better programs.

Jesus continues: wherever you are welcomed, eat whatever they set before you. When God sends a laborer to serve, they must not be inhibited by religious laws. God’s love will be spread to its fullness by faith, and being faithful isn’t about knowing or keeping religious rules. It isn’t about belonging to or joining an acceptable group.

Being faithful is about living in the risky uncertainty of the presence of God and responding to an inner prompting that compels us to love as God loves. Faith causes us to walk into a relationship we’d rather avoid; to care for someone we’d rather see fall.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” If I could be so bold as to re-state what Francis said, I’d say: We have been called to be vehicles for God to heal wounds, for God to unite what has fallen apart, and for God to bring home those who have lost their way.

If we look within any faith community, we can find those who could be reunited and brought home if we chose to notice and reach out to them. We could find those among us with wounds and offer ourselves as vehicles of God’s healing.

We must also remember that the choice to reconcile, to receive God’s healing love, is theirs. If they choose not to accept it or to ignore it, walk away, shake the dust from your feet, and leave the rest to God.

We must also look out to our local community where it isn’t hard at all to find the weak, the wounded, and the powerless… because we are the 70 Jesus is sending today. We are God’s laborers being sent into the harvest to bring the realm of God near to those who need it. And like the 70 in this gospel story, we also will be thrilled when we return to tell about how God’s power working in us defeats any adversary out there.

The gospel story closes with a promise and a caution. Jesus says, I have given you authority over every adversary, but be careful about rejoicing over what looks like your success.

I have been a vehicle for God’s healing power many times affording me the privilege of witnessing God do miraculous physical and spiritual healing in people and even in churches. When these healings happen, it isn’t because I did anything other than show up and let God work… and that’s the point: God is alive and at work as much today as when Jesus walked the earth, and every time we participate with God our lives and the lives of those we serve are transformed by the shared experience of the kingdom of God drawing near.

If we rejoice about anything then, it’s that God has chosen, prepared, and sent us to bring God’s peace, healing, and reconciling love to all who need it within our church and in our local community.
Let’s close by praying together today’s Collect (found in your lectionary insert): “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.” (BCP, 230-231)

No comments: