2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:1-18; Luke 10: 1-24

Proper 9 (14) Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
4 July, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 9C / Ordinary 14C / Pentecost +6
July 4, 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is so tempting to explore the Old Testament reading again today. The last few weeks we’ve been following Elijah and as we come to Elisha there’s part of me that wants to carry on and explore where that's all going. But I thought we might start with the gospel and see where that leads us.

“The Lord appointed seventy and sent them out in pairs to every town and place. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few”.... “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”.... “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals”...Whatever house you enter, say “Peace to this house.” If any share in your peace, remain in the same house eating and drinking whatever they provide... Cure the sick and say to them “the kingdom of God has come near.” If they do not welcome you, go out and say “even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this; the kingdom of God has come near. The seventy returned with joy and Jesus said to them “rejoice that your names are written in heaven." And then it finishes with Jesus offering a prayer of thanksgiving.

How do you hear this story? What thoughts and feelings and questions does it raise for you? Where do you look for yourself in the story? I wonder if most of us do a sort of comparison – wondering about the ‘sent out’ nature of our own lives in comparison to the lives of those in the story. "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few”. We all know that truth, and with it a twinge of guilt comes into play. Do I do my share? Do I do enough? About now you’ll be wondering if you’re going to hear something about the ‘only seven’ who turned up for the busy bee yesterday. But it’s only a twinge of guilt because somehow we know the story speaks of more than yesterday’s busy bee.

“I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Again, we all know the truth in that. The world is full of wolves: selfish, greedy, hungry, taking whatever they want! Being a Christian ‘lamb’ is really quite difficult, so difficult in fact that we don’t tell many people.

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals”... Why did Jesus have to say that? It just adds a degree of difficulty. And of course we all know of those spongers that go around with no money, little belongings and shabbily dressed, often with no sandals, expecting everyone else to look after them. But really, Jesus is probably just giving some perspective – he doesn’t mean no money, just don’t hoard money, or have more than you actually need, because it will get in the way.

‘If any share in your peace, remain, and if they don’t, leave and shake the dust off your feet...’ Yes, we do have to be discerning – it’s just not worth wasting your time with some people. And yet we’ll find this a bit confusing because Jesus also says “love your neighbour.” So we’re not really sure, we’ll have to look at this again, sometime, maybe! Of course we all do share our peace with some people and they with us – so maybe it’s all OK. I wonder if this is also about the “Greeting of Peace.”

‘They returned with joy and their names were written in heaven…’ Do we now wonder if we’ve done enough to get our names written in heaven? Sometimes we’ll feel that ‘joy’, but not always, maybe not often, but maybe more than many others. Finally after all this reflecting we’ve done, we hear Jesus pray a comforting end to the gospel story and an opening up for our own thanksgiving, and probably for many, that’s the end of the reflecting they’ll do!

All that we’ve just heard is a valuable reflective reading of the text, albeit somewhat shallow. And shallowness on a Sunday morning is perfectly acceptable, for there is always potential – Sunday afternoon and the unfolding week - for going deeper, if we so choose.

There is another context or perspective for our reflection….“the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him.” We might appreciate that it was only seventy that were sent out, so what if we reflect on ourselves as the recipients of those who were sent out?

When someone enters our house, our space, our comfort zone, do we receive their peace? And do we offer our peace and give of our hospitality? Do we seek to share of our abundance with those who come to us? Or are we like the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum? The current political posturing in relation to refugees and ‘boat people’ is nothing other than woeful! Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! And Woe to you Australia!

In today’s gospel we hear that those who are visited by people ‘in Christ’, are as integral to gospel narrative as those who are doing the visiting. It is the leaven and the flour that make the bread; we all have a part to play in the unfolding of “the Body of Christ” and the bringing near of the Kingdom of God, whether one of the seventy or whether one of those that the seventy come to.

Paul sees that very clearly. It’s a shame the church wasn’t established on the teachings of Paul. Paul gets it: whether one of the seventy or whether one of the others, we have a part to play. “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.” It’d be stunning if that was the new pastoral care motto –‘ all must carry their own loads’. It wouldn’t leave people by the roadside, it would actually lift them up and empower them to find the power within themselves.

“You reap whatever you sow” – you can tell Paul didn’t have a closed mind, he listened to the teachings of the East, the idea of karma.

“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” In the prayer of Jesus at the end of the Gospel for today, we hear: ‘At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "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….I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."

These things are hidden from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed to infants
many prophets and kings desired to see them, but did not see. And that reflects very much the story of Naaman in the Old Testament reading: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master...”

He is one of the wise and the intelligent, one of the many prophets and kings. But though he was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy, and when Elisha sent a messenger with a cure he became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD.” It’s as if this great man had expectations and thought he also had the answers, even though asking for a cure. So it’s like he hasn’t got the cure, and yet he still retains some sense of control and holding the answer. He only hears the truth when approached by his servants and then he does as they suggest. It is the ‘servants’, like the infants that Jesus speaks of, that hold the keys. One of the beatitudes that constantly echoes for me is “the meek shall inherit the earth”, because the answers are hidden from the wise and intelligent and hidden from and the prophets and the kings.

When we hear of things hidden from the wise, the intelligent, the prophets and the kings, we should hear ourselves being spoken of, for in a global context it is us that the world sees as the wise and intelligent, and the prophets – holders of the future - and the kings – the ones with all the power, it is us. The infants and the servants are more likely found in the third world or within a life style that is going against the tide of the first world.

As we sit here in our place of Chorazin and our place of Bethsaida, we should more than ever be open to the voice of those who come to bring their peace to us. Much as we have a gospel to proclaim so too we have a gospel to hear.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris