Proper 9, Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 7, 2013

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
2 Kings 5:1-14Psalm 30Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

By Mary Ricketts

During Common Time the lectionary gives continuous reading through a number of books. In the month of July in the Hebrew Scriptures we are finishing up with 2 Kings, moving though Amos and will finish up in the first chapter of Hosea. Each of the Hebrew Scriptures selections can be easily paired with the Psalm of the day. The month begins by finishing up the readings from the letter to the Galatians and then the rest of the month is spent in the letter to the Colossians. There is some affinity with the Gospel lesson, however each of the passages from Luke have a strength and depth that could have them stand alone for the worship experience.

2 Kings 5:1-14

This passage tells the story of the healing of Naaman, commander of Aram’s armies, who has leprosy. It is clear that Aram is an enemy of Israel, since the person who knows how Naaman can be healed is an Israelite slave in his household. Also, when Naaman takes a note from the King of Aram to give to the King of Israel for a request for his healing, the King of Israel fears the consequences of the inability to cure Naaman.

So we are looking at two peoples who have a volatile relationship. And Elisha, the prophet of God, steps up to extend God’s healing power to the enemy. Of course, Elisha doesn’t go personally to Naaman, but he sends a messenger with a very simple procedure for healing his skin disease, dipping seven times into the Jordan. So, Naaman’s reaction seems appropriate to me. His instructions come from a servant and this river in enemy territory can’t be different than the beautiful rivers in his land.

One more time, the servants come to the rescue. They encourage Naaman to humble himself and give Elisha’s instructions a try. God’s power not only brings healing to Naaman’s skin, but it also brings a profession of faith, if we read to verse 15.

So, the transformational power of God is enacted for Naaman’s healing through servants who point the way and Elisha who opens the way for a commander of the enemy army. In our world today, we so often choose sides and do not extend grace, let alone healing power to the other. Elisha is often at the center of our reflection of this passage, but I invite you to think creatively about the lines that are crossed between tribes, the courage and faithfulness of the servants and the humility of Naaman to receive God’s healing.

Psalm 30

Because this psalm of thanksgiving was used in a worship service for healing of a life-threatening disease, it can be used as an emotional voice of the reading from 2 Kings. The situation of the writer of the psalm and Naaman are not identical, however the joy of healing is compatible.

It is interesting that in verse 9 the writer tells God that saving their life is worth it because then they can praise God. At the end of the United Methodist baptismal ritual, it says that praising God is the purpose of our life, “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Yet, I wonder: even when our mourning transforms into dancing how often do we remember to praise God as the source of the transformation?

Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16

This final reading in the letter to the Galatians can be divided a number of ways. You can use 1-6, or 1-10, or 1-16; whichever is most helpful in shaping your worship experience. In any case, in this sixth chapter the focus is on living in the community of faith.

I really enjoy Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of these verses in The Message; here is 1-6:

1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

6 Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.

For me it is important to remember that these instructions are for community and comes from a diverse group of people who are just learning what it is to follow The Way. And these words are just as important and relevant for our communities of faith to hear today.

Verses 7-10 continues to point the community to self-awareness with the truism that you reap what you sow. We have all heard these phrases, but as I look at them again, I wonder if we really know what we are sowing. For example, sometimes we sow criticism, when we think we are sowing helpfulness; or we sow obsessiveness, when we think we are sowing thoroughness. I guess it goes back to the exhortation in verses 4: to know who we are and the work we have been given.

Let us consider the wisdom in this passage for the diverse group of people who gather in our churches today.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

It is often an ironic twist for a United Methodist pastor whose first Sunday in a new appointment sometimes falls on this passage from Luke. The sense of being sent out as lambs among wolves felt all too real. But, let’s begin at the beginning.

The passage begins with Jesus gathering and dispersing seventy of his disciples in pairs for mission work in the towns he plans to visit. Notice that the disciples are not sent out alone, even through there is a great deal of work to be done by an insufficient workforce. The disciples travel light, and have no expectations of how they will be received. Jesus simply says, if it goes well, accept the hospitality given to you, heal the sick and tell them God’s kingdom is near at hand, and don’t try to trade up in your accommodations if you get a better offer. Jesus also says, if it doesn’t go well just move on, let everything even the dust stay in that town. I think it is comforting that even these first disciples who personally knew Jesus were expected to fail in some of the places they tried to carry there mission.

The verses that are excluded from this reading are some venting about the towns that do not receive the missionaries.

The final verses are words of triumph for the success of the mission. Luke uses strong imagines to have Jesus describe the power that the disciples have to cast out demons. “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you.” (The Message) Unfortunately, the walking on snakes idea has been taken way too seriously.

It is interesting that people will focus on the idea of the snake and not the end of the sentence which says, the important part of your mission is that your life is in God. So, the essence of the mission is to live out the relationship with God that has been given to us through Jesus Christ. And this is what it looks like; don’t travel alone, do travel light, not worry about what is up ahead, just share peace and healing if you can.