Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Dude, Chill.”
Sermon, Year C, Proper 9, July 7, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

These are two very different texts, the Old Testament and the Gospel. The story of Naaman and the sending of the 70 by Jesus. But there is a connection. A connection that I see in there, and it has to do with simplicity and trust, detachment and vulnerability. They show up in both of these stories.

I think we who are a people who like to over complicate things, or always want things to be bigger and better, more majestic than the last time. We like things to be dramatic or world-shattering. We who mistrust, sometimes, that which is simple, which seems too easy, too simple. Or we who have inflated egos that demand far more than what is simple. We would do well to listen to these lessons, and to learn from them.

Naaman has leprosy. He is a warrior, and he has leprosy. And no one has been able to cure it for him. Though the text does not say that he has been searching for a cure, or trying to have this healed, I think it is implied here that he has probably spent years trying to have this taken care of. And nothing has worked. None of his own people have been able to do anything for him. So I would think that he has tried many times, and he is probably getting pretty desperate, he and his king and those that rely on him. And so he hears this servant girl, a Hebrew woman that he had stolen on a raid. He was often in battle against the Hebrew people. He hears from this servant girl about a prophet of her people, and of her god. These people that Naaman has been battling against. And he figures it’s worth a try. Why not? I’ve tried everything else that is around me, why not give this a shot. It’s worth a try. And his king agrees, and so off he goes to meet this prophet. And here is where we might listen closely. He is first greeted by a lackey of Elisha. Elisha was the one that took over from Elijah, and we read the story of Elisha’s calling last week.

Naaman is first greeted by this lackey, this assistant, an associate, an apprentice. He’s greeted not by the big guy himself: Elijah. And so this kind of cheeses Naaman off. He is a big important guy. He is big and important and he is certainly more important than just getting an assistant. He ought to get the “real” guy. Like the big money folks that get to talk to the head of the bank, not one of the lower people. Or the celebrities that get to talk to the chef at the restaurant just because they are celebrities and famous, and maybe they get a free meal because of the advertising that their presence there will bring. Even though some of the lower people that don’t get to talk to the chef know more about food and would have a more interesting conversation.

I remember when I was at McKinsey, the consulting firm, we had a Director that would often call his secretary if he had to stand in line at the airport. He would call the secretary and say, “I’m standing in line. There are people ahead of me.” Like, how dare they be ahead of me? And she would say, “Are you in the first class line?” And he would say yeah. And she’d say, “Do you think the people in front of you might also have first class tickets?”And he’d say yeah. She said, “Then what am I going to do? Stand in line! You have to live with it. They are also important people. You don’t get to go ahead all of the time.”

And so Naaman is upset at being mistreated here. This is a complete breach of protocol. He has a letter from his king to the king of Israel, he ought to be greeted by the prophet himself, not by a lackey. And certainly not a lackey that just gives him a message that doesn’t even say “Okay, come meet the prophet.” He says basically, “You’re never going to meet the prophet. Just do this, and go off.”

And then there is this second offense in the message which just says to go to the Jordan and wash. Nice and simple. But Naaman will have nothing to do with it. Go wash in the Jordan. he finds this completely intolerable. He says he could have washed in the waters back home, where the water is cleaner, and where he would at least actually get clean and washed. Naaman wants something complicated. This is not big enough for him. It is too simple. Too simple.

He is so determined that things have to be a certain way that he’s willing to disbelieve the simple path. He’s come all this distance, at great expense. He probably has a huge group of people with him, so he has had to bring food and provisions for all of them and the livestock. This has been a long trip. He has invested a lot of time and effort in the hopes of finally getting rid of this leprosy. And yet, when given such easy instruction, he would rather walk way than to take the risk of believing that this might work.

He wants it to be more complicated than it is. And he doesn’t want to accept that it is not complicated. And I wonder how much healing have we walked away from because we did not think it should be so easy to find it. Or to have it. Or how much healing have we refused to give to others because it seemed too easy for them. because it wasn’t demanding enough on them for us to offer them healing. But with God it IS that easy! Especially forgiveness and reconciliation. For being loved and included in God’s plan. Just ask for it. That’s it. Just ask for it. Actually you don’t even need to ask for it. You have it. All you have to do is believe that you have it. And even if you don’t believe that you have it, you have it anyway. Trust that it is there. That is all it takes. It is not complicated. So give it a shot.

And then with the disciples here and the rest of the 70 that Jesus sends out are given simplicity as a way of life on their mission and on their journey. Jesus says, “Take nothing with you. Be fully reliant on God. Trust that God will make sure that you get whatever you need. And when you go into a town and go into a house, give them peace.”

Give them peace.

“Say to them, ‘Peace’. And while you are there stay in one place. Don’t be busy. Eat the food that they give you. Eat whatever is set before you.”

Jesus is telling them to detach themselves from their religious traditions and their cultural norms, their expectations, what they have been culturally and socially conditioned to expect. He is saying to detach yourselves from all of that. There is a lot of stuff you don’t need to worry about. Don’t worry about the dietary laws. Just be good guests, and eat whatever they offer, even if it’s not Kosher. They are going into Gentile areas, so they are not going to be finding much Kosher food or living here. And Jesus says, “Don’t worry about that. Don’t worry about staying in a Gentile home or eating with them. It’s okay. Don’t worry about what your culture says is right, do right by God. Do what God wants you to do.”

And then they have this evangelistic message to offer. Sometimes we are afraid of that word, evangelism or evangelistic. But the message here is very easy. “When you go into a town, give them peace. Bring your peace. Heal the sick. Tell them that the Kingdom is near.”

That’s pretty easy. And merciful. There is nothing here about forcing them. Or convincing them. Or trying to be eloquent. Or to weave some incredibly detailed and irrefutable argument about why they ought to believe or come to know Jesus or God. There is nothing here about threatening them. He tells them not to act higher than the people around them. Be equal with them. Be who you are supposed to be. Peaceful, kind, healing, and present, and let God do the rest.

Let God do the rest.

By giving up their stuff, by going out with out anything, I think there is less chance of them relying on gimmicks or thinking that it is their own cleverness that has helped them out. Leave it to God.

And if the city doesn’t want you, then leave. As simple as that.

Last week we had the message in the story of the city that did not want to receive Jesus and so James and John asked, “So should we then send down fire upon the city and destroy it?” Jesus says, “No!! That’s completely against everything I’ve taught you the last couple years. Why would you even think of that?” And so there is here, “If the city doesn’t accept you, just leave. Don’t worry about it. Let it be. God will take care in God’s way.”

There is also another thing here in this Gospel lesson. It certainly is about the disciples, the 70, being sent out to deliver this message in towns. But the disciples are going out with nothing. They went out with nothing. And they are going to towns that they don’t know, to meet people that don’t know them. They are going in as, basically, the homeless stranger who has nothing. Strangers in a strange land.

So what does that say about us?

Who have been the strangers in our midst that perhaps were messengers from God, but we didn’t listen? Or didn’t want to listen to. Who have been the strangers who have come to us who had nothing that we turned away or refused to show hospitality or refused to listen to their story? Simply because they were different, or didn’t meet our expectations of what a messenger ought to look like. I think we see this in our street ministry. Meeting with people we don’t know, who don’t have much, if anything, but who can tell us amazing things about God, about love, and about grace. So often God speaks through the least of these, the stranger. Our cultural norms and traditions will say that they are not respectable and that they shouldn’t be listened to, or that they are not important, or not part of God’s plan.

But what does Jesus say about how we should hold our cultural conditioning and rules?

Most of the time he says to let it go. Don’t worry about it. Do what is right in the eyes of God. Let it go. Be peaceful. Be a healing presence. Be inviting. Be loving. Be merciful.

And let God take care of everything else.


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