The message for this morning, July 3, was not anything patriotic. It was based on the suggested lectionary and as fortune or fate or whatever the case would have it, one of our visitors felt it was spoken directly to him. He told me his skin cancer is acting up and he decided to attend church with the family thinking that it might help him with his thoughts and focus regarding the return of the cancer. Interestingly, the focus scripture is about Naaham who was stricken with a skin ailment. God is always at work even when we least expect it. I how this message has meaning for some of you readers too.
The scriptures were read in this order: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Galatians 6:7-10 and II Kings 5:1-14.
Last week I had to write the Faith Finder article for the Northwest Blade. I started by speculating what the questions of the week would be. My examples included this one for the farmers and gardeners, “Will your corn be knee high by July 4th this year?” For the avid camper the question might be, “Do you have your equipment, boat, motor home, tent as the case may be in shape and ready for the July 4th weekend?” For the compassionate Christian the questions may vary from, “Have you prayed for the victims of the latest mass shooting, or are you praying for better leadership to help end such violence in our time in our world.” Fortunately for me that was written last week Wednesday and not this past one when I was called away to deal with electrical issues in that crazy little campsite of ours (our meaning me and my sisters.) I am about to ask myself this question: “Was the expansion was really worth the hassle.” Those questions aside, let us look at the scripture passages for today and see what question they lead us to in their message.
Today’s gospel lesson is interestingly found only in Luke. Parts of this story or some of the statements by Jesus from this passage are also found in John and in Matthew, and there is a story in Matthew, in which Jesus sends the 12 disciples out to other cities, but this is the only place where Jesus sends 70 followers in groups of two to share the good news that he has come to proclaim. And in fact, certain Bibles or certain interpretations read that 72 were sent. The number 72 is significant because at the time of Jesus it was considered that there were 72 non-Jewish nations.
I have always liked this passage because this is where Jesus tells them that if they are not welcomed in any of the cities they go to, they are allowed to shake the dust from their feet when they leave. I love that image. They get to wipe off the bottom of their feet, and leave even that part behind as they travel on to a spot that is more welcoming. What an interesting gesture, perhaps a rather satisfying way to leave an insult. Can you imagine the statement the disciples might make? “Here keep your dirt. If you won’t welcome me or listen to the story about Jesus who came to earth to proclaim God’s love for you, well, just keep your dirt, keep your sin, and we will find someone else with whom to share this great news.”
What struck me, though, this week was the excitement the pairs had when they returned. None of them mentioned anytime when they were rejected. It was just the opposite. If we would be sitting in the room and listening to their return, we would probably hear them all talking at once. There would be energy and excitement, and they would each have something more wonderful to declare than the next one. The issue that really seemed to come to the top of the conversation was that as soon as they mentioned the name of Jesus, the evil spirits, the demons, seemed to run for cover, run for their lives. Just at the name of Jesus, people were healed; people were set free from whatever was plaguing them. Just His name made them better. What a reason to rejoice! All this by 70 or 72 lowly followers of Jesus, not just the main 12 and not Jesus with them physically, but this was, according to the testimony of Luke, done by some very faithful followers, and with some pretty exciting results.
Our focus scripture today is the passage from II Kings. It is the story about a very important army commander, Naaman. According to what we read he was subject to the King of Aram, which the Interpreters’ Bible notes is a kingdom of Syria. Whatever is the exact location, what we know for sure is that Naaman was a very important leader and prized by the king, and the king wants Naaman to be cured of the disease he has. The scripture notes it as leprosy, but that could mean any sort of skin disease at that time, and likely is not the leprosy we know as Hansen’s disease where the sores are never healed and even body parts such as ones nose can fall off.
As it turns out in this story there is an Israeli slave girl serving Naaman’s wife. She was stolen during a raid of some sort and as most servants do, she knows the business of her owners. She could have kept quiet. She could have left well enough alone maybe even hoping to escape being a slave, taking the chance of getting out of her circumstances, but she didn’t. Instead of ignoring what she knew, this young girl took the chance of telling Naaman’s wife that she knew how Naaman could be cured of his disease. She suggested that there was a prophet in Israel who would know how to cure him.
So the way this story plays out, you wonder if some of the modern day dramas have studied it. Naaman goes to the king with the advice of the slave girl, and instead of listening to her and going straight to Elisha, these two important leaders change the plan. The king writes an important letter which we can only imagine is on special paper, sealed with a particular stamp or waxed seal. Then Naaman loads up a pile of expensive gifts and heads out to see not Elisha the prophet, but the King of Israel. When the King reads the letter, he is scared. Here is a letter from another King demanding that Naaman be cured of his disease. This has to seem like some sort of threat. No wonder he tears his clothes and starts fretting about what will happen next.
In the meantime Elisha is well aware of what is happening, and he sends to the king to have Naaman come to him. I don’t know about you, but I like his reaction. It reminds me of how James and I were taught to deal with crazy student situations at the State Hospital School in Jamestown. I just wish I could remember to do that when other parts of my life seem crazy, like when power starts surging on campers.
We were taught to be as casual as possible. Put your hands in your pockets and lean back and say “oh” and “I see” and “how does that make you feel?” Anyway, I can see Elisha with that sort of attitude as he tells the king to send Naaman to him to be healed. Then when Naaman comes with all his gifts and the big letter of orders from his king, Elisha doesn’t even come out of the house. Instead he sends a messenger a servant to tell this big important man to dip himself in the Jordan River.
I don’t know about you, but I get sort of funny when I have a cut or an open sore. I don’t much like to have that spot on my body touching dirty water. So, I am thinking that someone with a skin ailment of any kind would not be too fond of going into any lake or pond or river that doesn’t look clean. Now I am not too up on my ancient Biblical geography, but just from reading this passage, we pretty much get the idea that the Jordan River is not the cleanest thing in the area.
Naaman is not too excited about the message he is given from Elisha, and besides that, he feels more than just a bit slighted because this prophet doesn’t even take the time to see him personally. It is sort of a hard pill for this army commander to swallow. And if it were up to him alone, he might not have even been cured because he was so upset about what he was told to do. And then one of his servants, again a servant, suggests that he give it a try. Just try it, what could it hurt? And he does, and he is cured, the last verse even ends in saying his skin was restored like the days of his youth. Wow, wouldn’t that be nice.
Paul in some of his final words to the Galatians says, “we reap what we sow.” If our focus is on things of this earth when our time here is over, all will be lost, but if our focus is on Christ and things of a spiritual nature, to do the will of God, then our reward is eternal, forever with God and with Christ Jesus.
The message for today is that God works however it is necessary in whatever way is possible and through whomever is available. Jesus sent 70 of his followers, not kings or leaders, just simple people to share the good news that he brought to the world. And while they were busy sharing even the demons recognized the strength of Christ’s name. This healing of Naaman came because of a young, insignificant, slave girl. She understood what could be done and was able and willing to share what she knew.
Christ calls us where we are in whatever the situation we are in, Christ calls us to be His church. The question, our question, is, “Are we as willing as the 70 or even as the little slave girl to answer that call?” That is our question for this week, and for all weeks. When and where and how are we willing to share the story of Jesus? I hope we are all able to answer: anywhere, anyplace, anytime and without any of the distractions of this world because we are all unexpected prophets. Amen!