Readings for Proper 9 (14) Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 8 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 9C / Ordinary 14C / Pentecost +6 * July 2007 Textweek

II Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-24

One of the delightful difficulties in the preaching process is wondering where the sermon will unfold, what is the thread that eventually will be followed? And as we listen to the readings or read through the scriptures at home, sometimes it’s like looking through the travel pages of the paper, and you glimpse – you go, ‘Oh look, that’d be good’. You sort of get these glimpses of other places, places that we’re drawn to, places that have something that we delight in and that we know, ‘I don’t have it here but I know it, I actually can see it’. Going through the readings during the week is like that.

Yesterday, we, the community of St Paul’s had a busy bee – thinking of renaming them ‘bees’. For much of it I was aware of and reflecting on the text in today’s Gospel: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’ And obviously and quite immediately, it’s a text that probably resonates for each of us in our encounter with the everyday, the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. It’s almost a text of the contemporary world, but it’s only a part of the text because it continues: ‘therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’, and I wondered what that part of the text really means. It’s as if it provides a knowing, I can feel it makes sense of the first part of the text and yet I’m still seeking to understand what sense is it making of it? So maybe we’ll come back to that, that whole text at another time. It’s a good example though, because quite often with scripture we’re partially enlightened - I can make sense of part of it but there’s another part that leaves me with a frown – what is that about? When you come across those texts, stay with them for a bit longer. The questions that the Bible raises are far more important than the answers it provides, because it’s not a book to provide answers, it’s a book in which we’re to find ourselves as the answer. So in the meantime we might just briefly, because there are so many words – the readings are long, the hymns are quite long, there are a lot of words here, so we’ll briefly look at the other readings, explore other texts and see other possibilities as to what are the scriptures seeking to unfold in us?

The first reading from II Kings offers a straightforward story. Each part of the story is important – it’s not there for gloss, it’s not there for colour, it’s symbolic of. It’s a straightforward story that contrasts the power struggle of our worldly conflicts: you can read into this story any of the conflicts that we’re aware of in the world. And so too we can read into it and find within it our own inner disturbance. Naaman, the commander, the great, the mighty warrior, is given life from his weakness, his leprosy; he’s given life from an unnamed young girl, a captive and a servant. It’s a story of trust and of mistrust; it’s a story of networking, of community and communities overlapping and working together, but it’s a story of healing. It’s quite important - this is not a historical story, about someone years ago who was a mighty warrior who had leprosy and was healed of it, it’s a story about healing, your healing and my healing and the world’s healing, not in terms of healing from sickness, healing in its fullest sense: the making whole, the making full, the bringing to life. That’s what the story’s about. The healing occurs close by and is very simple, so close and so simple it’s even annoying. He almost says, ‘Look I wanted a miracle; I wanted you to come out and perform miracles.’ Go and wash in the Jordan: the path to wholeness is very, very close; the steps to wholeness are not miraculous steps.

The second reading, we have Paul in Galatians providing a text, and I thought with this text we could readily adopt it as the eight commandments of Holy Scripture. As someone who gets bored easily, I don’t often look at the Ten Commandments; do you look at the Ten Commandments every day? No. They are so old, so obvious, so simple. Paul comes up with eight here that are pretty good. In verse 1, restore in a spirit of gentleness; the second one, take care that you are not tempted. In verse 2, bear one another's burdens; verse 4, test your own work; verse 6, share in all good things; verse 7, do not be deceived, for you reap what you sow. Verse 9, be not weary in doing what is right; verse 10, work for the good of all.

When I listed them and read through them, they seemed to have an appropriateness about them, they seemed a little more real than those Ten Commandments that I’d heard of before. And they probably are more real and they probably are more appropriate. Why we ever got stuck with the ten is a church thing, it’s not a God-ordained thing. God didn’t say, ‘Here are the ten things, just do those and nothing else’. That’s an early interpretation; Paul now gives us a later interpretation and if we could truly recognise ourselves as church and not as people visiting a church, we would also come up with an interpretation for ourselves that more than likely would be truer and more appropriate than Paul’s or the ten from before. The orientation, which is so important of those eight, which is Paul’s orientation, what is it that draws Paul forward? We get in verse 15, ‘a new creation is everything!’ A new creation is everything.

Just before that there’s another little sermon sitting there in verses 12, 13 and 14. We won’t get too sidetracked by it now, it’s a homework one this is; I haven’t worked it out yet, but it’s worth looking at. Verses 12 and 13 speak of us; they speak of St Paul’s, the community that’s here on a Sunday. The circumcision bit, you’ve got to see symbolically, don’t go there literally, but it’s us, we’re in 12 and 13. Verse 14 then gives an orientation that probably will spark something within each; you might not see the spark because it’s one of the glowing ember ones, which means it’s at the bottom and underneath a whole pile of ash. ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ It’s a stunning spark, there’s the seed of life I think in that line, verse 14; we’ve got to get verses 12 and 13 first. So that’s the homework one, let’s come to the Gospel.

The Gospel reading - the harvest and the labourers - draws some threads together from the other readings. Now the danger here is we just take them as individual threads and we say, ‘Oh yeah, the harvest is plentiful, there’s a lot to do and there are only a few people’. I think what the Gospel reading is doing in light of the others is saying the other readings have already made clear what we need to here in the every day; it’s as if the Gospel reading this time steps back and says now look at this in the big picture. It gives us, it says if you take the other readings and the teaching within the Gospel and step back what will you see? It’s not a ‘thou shalt’ Gospel, it’s not a Gospel that’s pointing fingers and telling us what to do and where to go, rather it’s an invitation to look at the world, the universe, to look at our life and to look at the part that we play in it.

The reason that the Gospel begins with the Lord appointing seventy is not that it’s some magic number, but rather it reflects the cosmology of the Hebrew world at the time, the seventy known nations. This is a text about being Christ-like in the whole world, not within one faith tradition or another faith tradition, not in the area around Palestine, not in Israel, this is not about the chosen or anything like that, this about being Christ-like in the whole world. And verse 21 of the Gospel speaks of a rejoicing within the divine trinity: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants’. There’s a rejoicing between the father and the son - this is not dad and the boy, this is the trinity: the dynamic of life rejoices in the revelation. It’s a rejoicing that’s echoed in the first reading, the story of Naaman, the wise - the great, the infant - the young girl. ‘You have hidden these things from the wise’ - you have hidden these things from Naaman – ‘but you have revealed them to infants’ - you have revealed them to the young servant girl. It’s a rejoicing in the trinity that Paul has formed and that have formed in Paul the eight life commandments that we read in the second reading; and it’s a rejoicing within the Trinity that’s echoed in the Gâyatrî Mantra that we began the service with: ‘May the Divine enlighten our Intellect’. ‘Why does he put that in every Sunday? It’s not in the prayer book you know.’ Well, he puts it in every Sunday because it turns the prayer book around. The Church has spent so long with the intellect enlightening the Divine; priests have for so long told people, ‘this is the divine, I can give it to you’. What we need to get and we get it from all three readings today is that it’s the other way round: may the Divine enlighten our intellect.

It invites us to consider the process that enlightens us. What enlightens you? What do you engage to be enlightened - do you engage the place of wonder, the place of possibility, the place of creativity, of perception, of imagination, of play: the place of infants? Or do you engage the place of knowing, of observation, of analysis, deduction and purpose: the place of the wise?

If not the divine, where does your enlightenment come from? Where do you find the revelation of life? ‘Blessed are the eyes that see, blessed are the ears that hear.’

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris