Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sixth after Pentecost, 2010

RCL 9C: Second Kings 5: 1-14; Luke 10: 1-11

Good morning, and grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, on this Fourth of July Sunday. The day always of significance as something of the opening day of true summer, brass bands and parades, picnics in the park, fireworks—and certainly may it be the opening day of a good summer for you, with all best wishes for refreshment and good times with family and friends. Of course life goes on, work, all the ups and downs of our personal and family lives, and our life in our wider community, but however and wherever we would spend the season, may there be a sense of God’s blessing and presence with us.

Independence Day most importantly, of course, a day of national observance, to celebrate the founding of the nation, in the great story of 1776, and of all the history since, acknowledging both the high moments and the low moments, great accomplishments, and of course always a good distance more to travel before we can hope to live up to the high goals and aspirations set before us so long ago. A most appropriate day of prayer for our nation, and of thanksgiving. In all this, Happy Fourth of July indeed.

To notice in the propers of the day just quickly something of a connection between our Old Testament and Gospel readings, and a connection that might always be helpful for us, individually, as a congregation, and in perhaps many other contexts.

First to this great Elisha story. We remember last Sunday in the account of Elijah’s assumption into heaven and the passing of the baton to Elisha, that as they travelled together from Gilgal Elijah asked Elisha what gift he could give him. Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” Remember that Elijah replied, “That would be really something, but if you stick with me to the very end, God just might give you that gift.”

There are many different ways to approach this episode today in the ongoing story of Elisha—the healing of Naaman, the Syrian general. In the fourth chapter of St. Luke Jesus himself uses the story as a sermon illustration, and there are a number of points of entry for theological reflection. But I would simply pause this morning to express a continuing amazement at the miracle itself. We don’t know exactly what Naaman’s illness was. “Leprosy” in the medical vocabulary of the Old and New Testaments seems to be used for a wide variety of diseases affecting the skin and the outward appearance of the body. Not simply for the condition we now would label leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, although it certainly would have included that.

Apparently this man, who from his position in society had great wealth and status, had tried every known ointment and procedure known to the healers of his time and place, to no avail. Something of an act of desperation to travel on the evidence of a slave girl’s story to another country, to place himself in the care of and to make himself vulnerable to this odd religious character.

To go from the great city of Damascus to the countryside of Samaria would be like going from New York City, with all its resources, to, I don’t know, rural North Dakota. –Thinking about how sometimes people with serious diseases here sometimes find themselves flying to the Phillipines or someplace in Mexico to receive the ministrations of faith healers. But when your back is against the wall and there doesn’t seem to be any way out, sometimes even the most unlikely story can seem better than nothing. Maybe you’ll go anywhere, pay any price.

And we read of Elisha’s response when the great general arrives. He doesn’t even come out to talk to Naaman. No incantations, no burning of incense, no magical spells. “Go wash yourself in the river.” And we see how that story unfolds. Naaman resists at first. His pride getting the better of him. But then the counsel of his servant, and the dip in the Jordan. “And his flesh was restored . . . and he was clean.” That’s of course the key. What we need to know.

Elisha replied to Elijah, “let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” And we begin to get a sense of what that means. The power and presence of God making a difference in and through Elisha, his faithful servant.

And then in Luke 10 this morning, Jesus sends out his disciples. As we have just seen in the previous few chapters, not always the brightest or holiest of people. Sometimes deeply flawed. But he sends them out anyway as ambassadors of the Kingdom. And remarkable things begin to happen. “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” And Jesus sees even more: not just a few healings and exorcisms and words of blessing happening along the back roads of this out of the way corner of the world, but a transition and transformation of truly cosmic proportions: “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” The powers of darkness overturned, broken, defeated, once and for all. The dawn of the new age.

And to say this morning, as we are invited to come to this Table, that this is our story.

Hard to imagine anything more exciting. Who we are. Maybe it doesn’t always look so impressive on the outside, playing out in our lives. But in the true story that God is writing across the pages of history, we are right in the middle of things. Like Elisha. You and me. Like the Seventy. Fumbling as we may seem sometimes even to ourselves. We have no idea, what he’s doing with us. Through us. To wake up every morning of our lives with this understanding of ourselves. What he has made us, what he calls us to be. Agents of blessing and grace, forgiveness, healing, transformation. Ambassadors of the Kingdom. Key players in the drama.

Even our smallest efforts, offered in his name, with a significance and power beyond our imagination. In Christ, through us, the powers of darkness overturned, broken, defeated. The dawn of a new age. Just look around. Watch each other for a while with this in mind, and you’ll see what I mean. All kinds of power, and miracles--miracles--everywhere.

Bruce Robison

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