July 3- Proper 9 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

June 24, 2016 | by Robert Gnuse

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
2 Kings 5:1-14 Isaiah 66:10-14 Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

2 Kings 5:1-14

Scholars assume that this adorable little story of the Israelite maid, general Naaman, and the prophet Elisha was a separate account placed into the narrative of Kings by the biblical author. The story testifies to the courage of a small slave girl, the faith of a foreign enemy of Israel that puts most Israelites to shame, and above all, the authority of the prophet. Listeners and readers can identify either with the little girl who accomplished much despite her weakness or with the general who was willing to take a gamble and believe in this prophet in enemy territory.

Process theology speaks of how God continually offers new choices to us in the future (“the primordial nature or body of God”) even after a bad choice may have been made in the past. God “lures” us onward constantly to make new choices, and this “divine lure” is grace. The Israelite maid is offered the choice of acting with courage even though she is a prisoner of war in Syria, and she acts to speak boldly to her master. The Syrian general is offered the choice of traveling to enemy territory and trusting a foreign prophet, and he takes it.

Each of us today is offered many choices in our life by our gracious God who moves through life with us and in us. We are constantly provided the opportunities to have the faith and the courage to make the right choices, even though at times the good and loving decisions may be difficult for us. Can we accept the gracious opportunities that our God provides to us? Can we make the difficult decisions that sometimes need to be made?

Isaiah 66:10-14

To a people living in poverty and oppression under foreign rule in the post-exilic era, the prophet uttered this oracle of tremendous hope perhaps in the fourth century BCE. Scholars suggest that the oracles in Isaiah 56-66 originated with either one, two, or three prophets between the years 525 and 330 BCE (an allusion to Alexander the Great may be found in this collection). In this depressing era of Jewish history, our nameless prophet imagines Jerusalem as a mother nursing her children (vv. 11-12). Then, in amazing fashion, God portrays “herself” as a nursing mother comforting her child, the people of Judah (v. 13). The hebrew word for “comfort” carries the strong nuance of “nursing.” This is an awesome feminine image by which to describe God. There is indeed other powerful feminine imagery of God in the Old Testament, if only we pay close attention.

In process theology we speak of God as intimately integrated into the life of the world and the process of human existence. This feminine imagery of God is a dramatic biblical metaphor to which process thinkers may refer. God will be active in consoling the pain of people in the temporal process, in all times and places. How incredibly dramatic is the image of God as a loving and comforting mother. Truly this is a metaphor of “Gott mit uns,” a God involved in the human process who can feel our pains and share our joy as only a mother can do. As we move forward in life we can think of God present with us like a “nursing mother.”

Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16

Quotable quotes abound in this last chapter of Galatians. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2). One of the most important roles of the Christian church is for members to help each other through periods of emotional and physical crisis. Furthermore, we must always remember that many people we come in contact with bear life’s burdens, and we must remember that before losing our temper with them. Later, verse 5 says, “For all must carry their own loads,” which appears to contradict that previous saying. However, earlier verse 4 says, “all must test their own work,” so that when verse 5 says, “all must carry their own loads,” it means that each of us must take responsibility for our own actions. This actually complements the advice to “bear one another’s burdens,” for doing so is a form of responsible behavior that the later verses call upon us to do. In verse 7 the expression, “for you reap whatever you sow,” does not imply a retributional God who punishes us for our sin; rather, it implies that sometimes our mistakes will rebound upon us in the everyday life of the world, especially if we fail to help those around us. This is evident from the conclusion of this section which says, “whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (v. 10). Quoting these passages in isolation can lead to misconceptions; always read scripture in its context. These passages must be read together to obtain the full meaning of the text.

Alfred North Whitehead spoke of “communities” composed of the aggregates of actual entitites or actual occasions, which move through the constant “moment of becoming.” In common parlance, we would say that individual people are intertwined with each other in the communities of faith, as well as larger communities of people in the world, all of which move through time and space. We are called upon to work with each other in Christian love and help each other bear our burdens.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Jesus sends out the seventy disciples in this account and gives them directions for their mission. Most likely Luke has provided us with the directives that Christians used in their mission endeavor in Palestine during those early years after Jesus’ ministry. The directive not to move from house to house, for example, was an early encouragement not be to freeloaders throughout the villages of Palestine, and that reflects the experience of mission activity after the time of Jesus. The number, seventy disciples, indicates to us that there possibly was an inner circle of twelve disciples and a larger group of seventy followers during Jesus’ ministry.

The theme that may be central to the entire narrative is the great bounty of the harvest (v. 2). The potential for the spread of Jesus’ message among those ancient Jews of Palestine was great. In more general terms today, we might say that the potential for church mission and ministry is great in many diverse areas: preaching missions, medical missions, spiritual guidance, and social ministry to the poor, both in our country and overseas. The options for ministry are limitless. The modern church is not lacking for possibilities and challenges, and if individual congregations seriously reflect upon the mission possibilities available to them, they can find many actitivities to undertake. (Too often small congregations sit back and say to themselves that they can do nothing to grow or to minister to others.)

In the face of these challenges, we can recall the statement of Jesus, “I watched Satan fall from heaven” (v. 18). We should take these words today not in literal fashion, but in symbolic fashion, to refer to the rewards that acrue for those faithful stewards who minister on behalf of the Christian movement. They can reflect upon how God has blessed them in their ministries and their success indeed causes “Satan to fall.” The process theologian would add that in our mission we should never forget the dramatic presence of God in our actions and life journey.