“God Works in Mysterious Ways—Through Us!” by Cynthia Dahlin

July 3, 20162016 After Pentecost Altar

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

           We are all in this together.  I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.  God works in mysterious ways—through you and I and our little community, Seekers Church.  Our lectionary readings this week are unified by a theme of humility about how we are to do God’s work in the world and how we treat and care about others doing God’s work.  There is a common theme of listening to those around us for wisdom and guidance, even the foreign born female slave,  and remaining with those who share in peace and hospitality, and leaving those who do not welcome us, wiping off the dust of their village from out feet in protest.  God will help up, even preserve his disciples from serpents and scorpions, (a phrase taken perhaps a bit too far by some Christian sects who bring this blessing into a challenge to prove courage and faithfulness, but, the Psalm sets a boundary:  if we then use God’s help to bring so much worldly success that we separate ourselves up on a mountain, we will feel separated from God.   So much guidance in just a few pages—let’s break it down a bit so it can be digested!

            In our reading from 2 Kings,  Naaman, the commander of the Aramean Army, got leprosy.  Naaman’s wife was a captured slave, who was Jewish.   She told Naaman to go to Israel and get help from Elisha, the prophet, to cure his disease.  Naaman got permission from his king to go, and brought huge treasure to pay for his cure, and presented himself to the king of Israel.  The king of Israel didn’t know what to do and tore his clothes, figuring his lack of response might mean war.  But the prophet Elisha went to the king and said to send Naaman to him, and he would cure Naaman.  Naaman went to Elisha’s house, ready to give all his gifts there and be part of a big, fancy ceremony, but Naaman sent out a messenger and told him to wash in the Jordan seven times.  In those days, there were many prophets baptizing people in the Jordan, but most of the people who went there were ordinary people, who left their clothes on the banks—Naaman would have to be swimming with the regular folks—and there might be no big clap of thunder, no drums or ceremony.  It seemed ignominious, kind of embarrassing.  Naaman went away, and Elisha did not rush after him to tell him he was making a mistake.  Naaman’s own servants had to point out to him that he had been prepared to make a large sacrifice of money, and would have been ready to do some difficult task to be make healthy, why could he not just try washing himself in the Jordan, trusting the messenger of the  prophet of his Hebrew wife?  Naaman did, and was healed. 

            Naaman was a successful person and expected to deal with and be helped by persons of his own status.  Here, he had to ask for help and receive it from the source offered by God—a lowly foreign messenger of a foreign prophet. 

            In my own life have I expected my help to come from the king or famous prophet, in the guise of a well-credentialed doctor or therapist or teacher, and it has often come from the invisible, undervalued foreign servant. 

            –When I had my children, I found a nanny who lived with us for almost seven years.  We helped each other learn to give affection and consequences and try to avoid punishments.  Ron and I did turn to therapists and doctors for ADHD and when Julia did not start reading automatically at age 5, but I know I got a lot of my support in what was my key call at that time, trying to build a loving family in which each member heard and knew each other, was a foreign born servant –albeit well paid.  

            –When I had cancer I gained the ability to conquer my fear from a young hemotologist who sat with me in the middle of the night, giving me my first awareness that God comes when needed, and acts through unexpected and perhaps invisible hands – I don’t think I ever knew that young woman’s name. 

            –At seminary, I may have learned most from being in the “foreign students group,” at Parrammatta Untiing Seminary in Sydney.  We were outcasts by Australian society in the ‘90s, Asians, Pacific Islanders and one lone American, and I learned so much from those people, even while we had theologians from around the world doing stop-ins to add another continent to their resumes.  I was taught about the respect for elders that makes many Asian Christian churches seem so patriarchal to me, how we can so easily deeply hurt each other’s sensitivities about religious practices—the Pacific Islanders felt so hurt and the church debased by the fact we strode in to worship with shoes on—when they clearly saw in the Bible that Moses was told to take his shoes off in holy ground. 

My own experiences leave me wishing I could have seen and talked to Naaman on the way home from his healing—when he was absorbing what had happened to him and how.

            So let’s go forward to the Luke passage.  Luke talks of Jesus appointing seventy disciples to go out in pairs.  He tells them to bring no purse, bag or sandals and see where peace and hospitality is offered, accept the hospitality, cure the sick, and tell them “the kingdom of God is near.”    This is after Jesus has “set his face toward Jerusalem,” which theologians say is when he accepts his future role as sacrifice, and moves toward his death

Jesus had preached and healed in Galilee for three years, but the priests and leaders in these towns took him for granted, and he was ready to take his ministry to the more populous capital and center of Jewish faith, and he was ready to empower his followers to serve in his name. 

            We, as Seekers, take on this charge to heal or work as disciples.  We do not try to go out alone, we seek at least one other steward to confirm our call, and form mission groups.  We try to discern what we should be doing to bring the kingdom of God, or figure out what justice and peace means in each situation.   The Galatians reading tells us we should work to restore others in a spirit of gentleness if we see a transgression, bear one another’s burdens, look to our own work, carry our own loads.  If we think we are too important, too grand, we deceive ourselves, and we will share in all good things with our teachers.  So there is not a hierarchy of our value in the world or to God—we might be great at our work, produce more, be teachers, but we share God’s love equally with those whose work is not so spectacular, or with those whose load needs be smaller or different, or who never have the skills to teach.  This is hard, and by the way, we are not to grow weary in doing what is right. 

            This is particularly hard sometimes—think of all the comments we made last week when the New Story Leadership members preached.  So many of us said something like:  “we have been working for justice so long, and change can be so slow, but you are giving us hope in taking up the baton and staying in the race.”  And, we were listening to young people from other countries and of other religions, like Namaan listening to his Jewish slave wife.   We were trying to listen to God bringing the word to us from unexpected prophets.  These young people have come in relationship with us, found hospitality, and gave us their wisdom.  Let us all have the open ears and hearts to go to all the places we are invited in our lives, feel whether there is hospitality and be the hands and mouths of God. 

            One of the main reasons I love travelling is that I enjoy the unexpected deep conversations I get with people from other countries and cultures.  Many people are very surprised to meet someone who is a chaplain, and ask many questions about what this means to me.  People in other countries have only met Christians who want to come and do their set chore and stay in their group, and are very curious to find me asking questions and learning about their own religion and beliefs.  It took me a while to learn that I was happy to accept a blessing from any person who was working with integrity to find God, no matter what their religion.  And I believe that many of us are looking for God using different languages and different models, but when I can feel the peace and hospitality that Luke describes, I can be a disciple and sit down to a discussion of the kingdom of God—whether that be about racism in our society, the shortcomings of policy in the District of Columbia to improve the plight of homeless women, the violence and guns in the U.S—which is seen as insanity from many other countries, or the growing prevalence of atheism among young people who do not see a force of goodness operating in the world,  I can sit down with others who also want to be forces for good, some other part of the body of God, working in the world. 

              Interestingly, our lectionary today omits verses 12-15 in Luke 10, in which Jesus curses the towns in Galilee which reject him:

12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.14But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you.15And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.

            When the little towns that surround the Gallilee continued to ignore Jesus, reprimanding him for not following the traditional Jewish services, Jesus got angry.  These towns, whose people must have known Jesus well with the short distances involved and the fast travelling of gossip along with food traders or fisherman boating across the water, continued to treat Jesus like a smart young Sunday School teacher, and he cursed them!  Luke says that Jesus told the disciples “whover rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”  He is worried they will be disheartened by the rejection, and tells them not to worry, their names will be written in heaven.  I often feel that the harder job is not getting started on an important project, but to keep going with it.   Sometimes, one’s friends are just not interested and it is discouraging.  I think that is an important reason we have two stewards in groups to sound a call as a mission group, and then serve to support each other, keeping the hope alive.  We are trying to follow Jesus’ instructions to his disciples, and know that we are not alone. 

            We are all in this together, and God works in mysterious ways—through us.

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