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Pentecost 4 Proper 9C RCL July 7, 2019

2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Our opening reading introduces us to Naaman, a military commander, a man of great courage who has earned military victories for his king. Naaman has everything he could want, success, fame, and fortune, but there is one problem. He has leprosy.

Here we must stop and realize that this does not mean that he has the terrible Hansen’s disease, the affliction we know as leprosy. In biblical times, any disease of the skin was called leprosy. Still, though it wasn’t fatal, this malady was a source of great distress to Naaman.

As it happens, the army of Naaman has taken captive a young woman from the land of Israel. This perceptive young woman has become the maid to Naaman’s wife, and she tells her mistress that the great general should go to see the prophet in Samaria. The young woman assures Naaman’s wife that this prophet, who is none other than Elisha, can cure Naaman’s illness.

Naaman gets a letter of introduction from the king, packs up a great deal of money, and a wardrobe full of clothes, and goes to the king of Israel. The king is confused by the letter, since he is not able to heal people, and he thinks Naaman is trying to start a war with him.

Elisha, the prophet, hears that the king of Israel has torn his clothes in distress and sends him a message indicating that he can offer help. Naaman shows up at Elisha’s house with all his horses and chariots, but he is deeply offended because Elisha does not come out and meet him. Instead, Elisha sends a message telling Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan seven times and he will be healed.

But poor Naaman has been slighted, and he works himself up into a rage. Once again, the little people, the servants, bring wisdom and compassion into the situation. If the prophet had told the hero to do something very difficult, they reason, something that demanded a great deal of courage, Naaman would have done it in an instant. So why not just try this simple thing? Naaman washes in the Jordan and is healed. In two instances, it is the simple, everyday ordinary people, the servants, who offer wisdom to the great commander.

So often, it is ordinary good folks who are the heroes. I think of our remembrance this year of the 75th anniversary of D Day and of our gratitude to the people Tom Brokaw has called  The Greatest Generation. They saved us from the horror of Nazism.

In our gospel, Jesus sends out seventy disciples to teach and heal and preach the good news. They go out into a hostile world, like lambs among wolves. They travel light. They go to the first house where they are welcomed and eat what is offered them. They share God’s shalom with the people. They spread the Kingdom of God. 

This is the model for how we share the shalom of Christ. We go out two by two, We minister in community. We support each other.

In our reading from Galatians, Paul tells us how to restore someone who has gone astray.  He tells us to be gentle and to bear each other’s burdens. We do this all the time when we share problems and ask each other to pray for us. This means that we never have to deal with any burden alone. We help each other to carry burdens. There is great power and love in this one truth.

Then Paul goes on to say that what goes around comes around. If we spread love and joy and healing, those things will come back to us. When a community is centered in the fruits and gifts of the Spirit, those gifts grow in the community and they are there to share with others outside the community.

Paul also addresses a problem that is plaguing the community. Some people are still saying that, in order to be a Christian, people have to be circumcised. Paul is reminding them and us that becoming one with Christ is a spiritual matter, not a physical matter. If people want to join the new faith, they do not have to follow the dietary laws, nor do they have to be circumcised. We are called to follow the law of love.  Love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. Our neighbor is everyone, because everyone is a child of God.

What are our readings telling us today? First, the story of Naaman reminds us of the importance of everyday people. I think most of us feel that we are ordinary folks. We aren’t kings or queens or generals. God loves ordinary folks like us every bit as much as God loves people like Queen Elizabeth, Colin Powell, or Pope Francis. In the story of Naaman, the little people save the day.

Secondly, we do ministry together. Community is everything. We go out two by two or in a group. That way we can support each other in ministry.

Thirdly, how important is the quality of gentleness, gentleness with each other when we stumble or when someone makes an error. And what a great gift it is to bear each others’ burdens. By sharing and praying and helping each other, we can lead and guide each other through things that would swamp us individually.

There are many other things to glean from these readings, but a fourth one is that, as Paul says, our Lord has brought in a “new creation,” and the key to that creation is love. No one is beyond God’s love. God has created a big family, a family in which we respect the dignity of every person. These readings remind us that any person can be a source of healing and wisdom.  Amen. 

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