A sermon preached by Br Luc, OHC
We meet again this morning to celebrate the Resurrection and to be fed by our loving Lord through Word and Sacrament. With suffering and injustice sorrounding us, at times on an overwhelming scale, it is easy to feel helpless and powerless.
At a personal level, most of us wonder how we can possibly make a difference in all the places of human need that we are confronted with, whether we can really make a meaningful contribution to stop the tide of gun violence in our world, root out racist attitudes and policies, put and end to aggression and warfare, reconcile enemies, reform the justice systems, provide welcome for migrants and refugees, create homes for the unhoused, comfort the grieving, feed the hungry, care for the ill, secure employment for the jobless, etc, just to name a few of the many issues plaguing our society today.
Luckily, today we are not left to deal with these issues only in thought and prayers. Our readings today, especially the Gospel passage, remind us that we have been given power and authority to embrace the mission of Jesus to prepare the world for the coming of the the reign or kingdom of God.
In todays first reading from the book of Kings, we hear the story of Naaman, a great warrior and head of the Aramean armies, a group of people who lived around modern day Syria. Strong and brave as he was, Naaman had leprosy but could not be healed by anyone at home, until a nameless slave girl brings it to their attention that back where she was captured from, there is a prophet of the Most High God who could heal him. He goes there, displays his greater and a more worse illness than leprosy, pride, then tones it down, obeys what he is asked to do and is instantly healed.
The main hero in today’s passage is the unnamed slave girl and to some extent the equally unnamed messenger whom Elisha sends out to bring words of good news to Naaman, and Naama’s other servants. The slave girl was captured from home and I am sure even if well treated by her “owners” , an unlikely event, had a right to be angry and bitter with them, and like a normal human being would have been expected to rejoice in her master’s misfortune. She however chooses to be the bigger person by showing compassion to the master and his family and urges them on to where they could find healing. We are challenged by this girl this morning to be heralds of hope wherever we find ourselves, both in good and bad circumstances, and especially in bad circumstances where the tendency would be to sulk, be angry, bitter and miss the opportunity to testify to the healing power and love of God! We are told by spiritual masters that in God there are no chances…everything happens for a reason and if we approach situations with the question “what does God ask of me in this situation” as opposed to “why is God punishing me by putting me in this situation”, then many of the suffering situations we find ourselves in will become a little bit more bearable and life giving to others if not to us as well.
Naaman in his self importance seems to have expected drama from the prophet. In his mind he had a formula of how he wanted to be healed but bathing in a stream was not in his plans. Elisha on the other hand doesn’t even leave his house, he sends a messenger to him to go and bathe and the good news of healing to Naaman sounded like bad news and drew him into a series of tantrums and rage as is normally the case with the entlitled who are full of self importance. He was ready to abandon healing in order to preserve his self importance but once again servants, the lowly, the nobodies of the world of his time intervene, speak sense to him and ensure that he receives what he had come out for. God may have prophets in the world but God can act powerfully and fully, where, when and how God pleases. In Naaman’s case, God chose to heal him without the power of the prophet Elisha present, and mainly through the interventions of seemingly insignificant people.
God works in and through insignificant people in the eyes of the world to bring transformation in the world. The gospel passage we read this morning from Luke 10 attest to the simplicity needed by those called to be messengers of the good news. They ought to be flexible and adaptive. They should be able to eat whatever is presented to them as well as use the modest of lodgings provided by the very first host they encounter. In other words, their comfort is of no importance. What is important is the work they set out to do ,and that is, preaching the good news of the nearness of the Kingdom of God and healing the sick; and remember sickness is not just physical but spiritual, mental or even of attitude as the story of Naaman reminded us this morning.
Before the disciples left, Jesus counselled them to keep things in perspective. The work ahead was not their own but God’s. They were not the Messiah but an advance team. This he did because he knew that they might not find a warm welcome in every place. Whether they were welcome or not, they had it at the back of their minds what Jesus had told them.. “Whoever listens to you listens to to me and whoever rejects you you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Our efforts will not always be successful. Yet we have been called and sent to go out and make a difference. The Spirit has empowered us not to solve all the ills of the world at once but to keep our hearts attuned to suffering people and then to bring healing, forgiveness, justice, peace, food and assistance in whatever way we can.
In times of success, we should not be proud or let down our guard. Jesus urges us through the disciples after they returned in verse 20 of our passage… “do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. We should rejoice in the fact that we are called to work with and for the Lord in faithfulness and trust, recognizing that the outcome is not in our hands.
However the most significant thing in this passage is that just like our slave girl and Elisha’s messenger to Naaman, the Seventy disciples sent out in pairs are unnamed. They are just ordinary followers who are ready to go and do service for their master. When they return towards the end of the passage,they are overjoyed and apparently surprised at the power with which Jesus had cast upon them.
A constant temptation in our lives of faith is to think that we are not the ones, that we are not up to the task, that there is nothing special enough about us, that there is nothing remarkable about us. We sometimes tell ourselves that we have nothing to give, that we are not important or worthy enough, that we are not among those who can do service in the Church or invite people to come join the community of believers or even have an impact on people coming to know and develop a relationship with Christ.
Our readings today remind us that all the excuses and self doubt that we have are simply not true. We don’t need to be Christ himself or great prophets like Elisha for God to use us. We don’t even need to be counted among the 12 Apostles and their successors the present day bishops and priests. We are called and sent just as we are in our lowliness…and guess what, the 70 cast out demons, something that some of the Apostles had failed to do despite their priviledged status! It is not who you are that matters but who sends and empowers you! Paul makes this clear when he says that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”. (Galatians 2:20)
In God, there is no “them”, that is, the the special, the holy, the smart, the eloquent, the skilled, the ordained, the monks, and the holy looking, and “us” ordinary pew folks. We are all the same in the eyes of God and He uses all of us, even the nameless ones to make his love known in the world for everybody. God’s healing love is offered to all, something that is echoed in the passage we read from the letter to the Galatians today… “for neither circumcision not uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything”!(Galatians 6:15)
May the God of love and peace give us hearts and minds to know, believe, get convinced and remember that we are all called to be instruments of spreading His Kingdom, the Kingdom of love and peace in the world and Help us deeply desire so to be!