Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Sermon for the 4th Sunday After Pentecost (Year C)
July 7th, 2019
“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.”
I spoke a bit last week at the beginning of my Sermon about the way that our church year is structured.
That the first six months of the year (From Advent to Pentecost) focus on the story of our salvation. The second half of the year focuses more on how we are supposed to live in the light of this –How are we meant to be disciples of Jesus’ knowing all that we know about what God has done for us?
The church tries to teach this to us through what we call the Lectionary – the Lectionary is the order of how we read the bible in church every Sunday. Believe it or not I don’t just what we’re going to read – we as a church submit to following this pre-defined order of readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the Psalms (poems of praise), one from the Epistles – letters the apostles sent to the growing church – and one from the Gospels, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.
These readings which we hear each week often have something in common. Something like a common thread which runs between them, a theme that you can pick up and see, the core thing that they’re communicating to us. And my job as the preacher is to read them, meditate upon them, and God willing come up with something sensible, true, and not-heretical enough to preach to you each week.
Sometimes these threads are easy to pick up and sometimes they aren’t.
Today is a day where the connection might not be so clear, and we may be feeling bogged down by what was a lengthy first lesson.
The story itself is long but the gist is this:
Naaman is a great warrior and head of the armies of the King of the Arameans, a group which lived in and around what is now modern day Syria.
But strong as he was Naaman suffered with Leprosy. Now his wife had a slave girl captured from Israel who said to her that if Naaman could only go there and be with the Prophet in Samaria (Who we learn is the Elisha we heard of last week) then he could be cured.
Naaman speaks to the King of Aramea who writes to the King of Israel and sends Naaman out with payment. Naaman eventually winds up at home of the Prophet Elisha who sends out a messenger and tells him to bathe in the Jordan seven times – not quite the kind of healing Naaman had travelled, nor the King of Aramea paid for. Naaman’s expectations are flipped on their head, “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!”
Yet he does it and is healed.
I think the sub-text, the message of this story is this: God may have prophets in the world, but God can act powerfully and fully where and how God pleases – Naaman wanted the ritual, and the handwaving and the abracadabra moment, but God chose to heal him without the power of the prophet Elisha present.
In some sense the main characters of this story are the unnamed slave girl, and the unnamed messenger whom Elisha sends out to bring words of good news to Naaman.
And not only that, but the healing is offered to an outsider – one who is not an Israelite. God’s healing is offered to both, to all; something we hear echoed in the Epistle today, “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”
And hear in the Gospel today how a very similar thing is happening to those Jesus sends out in to the world.
Jesus here sends out seventy people in pairs to go into every hamlet, village, and town to preach and spread the good news. People who in the Gospel go unnamed – not the 12 closest to him, maybe some others that we’ve heard about throughout other parts of Gospels – but all ordinary folks and followers of Jesus.
He instructs them before they leave and tells them the dangers they will face, how to handle people who reject them, “Go on your way,” he says, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The work will not be easy, those who receive them stay, those who don’t, wipe their feet off before them as a testimony against them.
And the 70 return, overjoyed and seemingly surprised at the power with which Christ had imbued them, they said, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" As if to say, “I can’t believe it! Even I have been given power to do your work!”
And so the unnamed messengers who brought that news to Naaman, much without the help or assistance of the prophet, are just like those seventy disciples who went empowered by God to bring others to know Jesus and the work he was doing.
And I think a constant temptation in our lives – especially in our faith – is to think that we’re not the ones. That there’s nothing special enough about us, there’s nothing remarkable enough about us, I have nothing to give, I am not important or worthy enough, I am not one of those who can do things in the church, or invite people to church, or have an impact on another person coming to know Christ.
But these stories remind us that this is simply not true. It reminds us that we don’t need to be Christ or Elisha the great Prophet in order for God to use us for good things. Heck, we don’t even need to be one of the 12 apostles! The characters in these stories who went out and did the work of spreading the good news, of bringing word of healing to Naaman don’t even get named in the Scriptures.
Because at the end of the day whatever it is that the Lord is calling you to do, however it is God wants you to bring the good news to the world, you will be empowered to do it because it won’t really be you doing it. Just as Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
The reason we hear these readings today is to remind us that it is not for “them”, the special, the smart, the skilled, the ordained, the holiest-seeming, to do God’s work in the world. But God uses all of us, even the most ordinary and unnamed, to make his Love known in the world.
May the LORD give us hearts and minds to remember this, to know it, and to deeply desire to leave the doors today and to be his instruments in the world.