V Pentecost, Year C
2 Kgs 5:1-14 or * Is 66:10-14
Ps 30 * Ps 66:1-9
(2 Kings 5:1-14)
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel." He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me." But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman 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 his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was
restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
* (Isaiah 66:10-14)
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her– that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his
indignation is against his enemies.
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised–only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 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. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule–peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets 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.’
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given youauthority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
So, I’m reading today’s text. It’s about the mission of the seventy-two disciples’ that are sent out by Jesus. I think to myself, OK, if I am to apply this as a preacher today, I need to talk about the mission of the Church. Most of us are going to make this hermeneutic leap, aren’t we? The mission has a message in two parts, “Peace to this house”, and “The kingdom of God is near.” Peace. Preaching Peace. The disciples were sent out on a mission that was in every way to reflect Jesus’ own message, and that message was peace. Am I fixated, I wonder? Do I really believe Jesus preached peace? Then why do so many churches and pastors spend so much time justifying war? (You might want to see our piece on Charles Stanley on war…) How could there even be such a discussion? And in the name of Jesus? Only because we have been uncomprehending (see last week’s lesson as well as Easter 5).
Jesus acknowledges that he is sending us into danger. Human culture, which is mimetically conceived, does not want to acknowledge the rule of God and will do everything in its sick, satanic power to see that God’s prophets are stopped. This ‘power’ has seduced humanity into doing its bidding. Get rid of the messenger and you’ll get rid of the message, or so the ‘powers’ think. Preaching peace is a dangerous occupation in today’s world as Jeff has said.
[Interestingly, our reading today omits the woes that are part of this Lukan discourse. It is as though we can see a non-sacrificial choice of the editors. And that may very well be, but if you don’t acknowledge them, your people will remind you they are there, especially as a way of arguing that God judges and thus is retributive. Readers will want to consult Raymund Schwager’s Must There Be Scapegoats? and Jesus in the Drama of Salvation for discussions of the function of the woes. As Schwager puts it, “In the framework of the message of Jesus, the judgement sayings can be taken completely seriously – without any weakening of the salvation sayings – only if they are related to a second situation of proclamation, which is distinguished from the first by the human rejection of the offer of salvation that is given without prerequisites.” Jesus does not proclaim one message with two aspects but rather the judgement sayings arise within the temporal sequence of offer – rejection of offer – consequences of rejection (judgement sayings). “The transition to the second situation is not made by Jesus, but it results from the reaction of his hearers. Jesus only makes clear the theological consequences of their decision.” See also the discussion of Year C Proper 15]
As we discuss the mission of the church in terms of the Prince of Peace we must also mention that it is a mission that comes with real power, power to deconstruct even the demonic realm. (Hallelujah!) Why and how? Because the demonic is anthropologized, it is the human condition that is overcome and set free in the casting out of demons. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Setting free those who are encumbered with the mimetic lies of culture, those who are scapegoats, restoring their humanity is an element of what the peace message and mission of Jesus is all about. It is dangerous because the system, family, community or nation that depends on these scapegoats for their sacralized unity will defend their actions against their scapegoats and seek to ‘demonize’ their scapegoats, mythologize them. Jesus’ disciples conquer the mimetic messengers of evil, those who kill, lie and cover-up in the power of the One who brings real peace, the peace of forgiveness, mercy and love, the peace of the Cross, the Peace of the Resurrection. Preach Peace. Anything else is not the gospel of the kingdom.
No doubt the ‘Mission Discourse’ is a church creation. But that does not mean it does not reflect the probability of such a mission (albeit a very short one in Galilee, not in Judea). Clearly this mission is crucial only to the Synoptic tradition and almost surely functions to legitimate the Petrine circle, already troubled by ‘men from James’; wrestling with Pauline authority and unable to dislodge Johannine authority. Luke’s expansion to seventy-two disciples reflects both his use of large numbers as well as signaling the evocation of the elders of Israel under Moses.
Every day in the newspapers or on CNN or PBS or Pacifica Radio I read or hear about the influence the sacrificial Christian myth is having on public policy both foreign and domestic. It is not just the ‘war on terror’ that has been justified in the name of Jesus, but also the global market economy. We have labeled market economies ‘free’ and asserted that they give people an opportunity to ‘better their lives’ but someone always pays, there is always going to be someone, lots of someones, at the bottom of our economic pyramid. After all, hierarchy stems from mimetic differentiation. This is a crucial premise of ‘competitive markets.’ It is more than survival of the fittest, it is the creation of a humanity where the vast many serve the select few.
Were we created to be enslaved for forty, fifty, sixty, seventy or more hours a week? If you take all the time we spend working or getting ready for work, commuting and unwinding from working so hard, the fact remains there is very little time left over. Add to your job all of the work you do around the house, errands you run and things you need to do, time for sleep and very little time is left to you for you. How can we say we are not slaves? Yet, we proclaim upward mobility, luxury, and comfort as beneficial and so we continue to function as indentured servants of the economic element of the sacrificial mechanism, competition and rivalry which more and more frequently end in some kind of violence.
The gospel of success and the just war ideology are the mythic counterparts of the Christian gospel of surrender and the practice of peace. The war on terror is a war to protect American freedom, the American lifestyle, the American way of life. War used to be about resources, now it is about the ultimate substitutionary resource, wealth (in its plurality of forms, cash, metals, gems, oil, stocks, bonds and other monetary instruments). The business of war has become the war of business. It is this combination that is criticized as quintessentially American in the foreign press. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. Did we listen? Under the banner of an ideology, a Christian ideology at that, we announce the honor and glory of our just wars. What is happening to Christianity in America today?
We have the opportunity to clearly mark off the Jesus of the Gospels from the anti-Christ of far too many contemporary Christian theologies. If we do this, perhaps we too shall find ourselves conquering the demonic and rejoicing in the power of God. Wouldn’t that be something?
If our message could be boiled down to just two things, do you think it would be ‘peace’ and ‘the nearness of the kingdom?’ What is our mission and message if not this? When we go to church on Sunday morning do we hear peace? Do we hear how very near our God is? Are we ready to go out into the bountiful harvest? More importantly, are we preparing our people to go out and reap this harvest?
Some sermon thoughts…
This is one of those moments when we might be most effective modeling for our congregations the behavior commended by Jesus to his disciples, giving our hearers something to imitate rather than speaking to them of their mission.
Think of your listeners as the folks to whom you’ve been sent, enter the pulpit and say to them (in whatever way seems best) “Peace be to this house!” The peace you proclaim is the hidden reality of their lives. As children of the one Jesus calls Abba, this peace already resides in their hearts, but the demonic elements of their lives struggle mightily to keep it from them.
Tear away the veil, show them the peace that dwells in them, the peace that conquers their fears, the peace that leaves no need for violence. Show them just how close the kingdom is to them.
Then, perhaps, once they’ve caught the vision, help them to see how much they are also led to desire this for their neighbors and friends.
Let the desire do the rest.