One of the Seventy. July 7

One of the Seventy

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

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

Catskill United Methodist Church; July 7, 2019

 

Naaman is a big-shot, the general of the army of Aram, fresh home from victory in the field. He should be set for quite a while, cheered by his neighbors, deeply appreciated by his king.

 

Instead he is miserable, because he is in pain. The text says he suffers from leprosy; scholars agree that the Bible links many skin diseases together under the medical terminology of leprosy, but any of them can make the sufferer really unhappy. His great success in battle and the political power that success brings with it do him little good in his struggle with leprosy. He is brought low by his suffering.

 

In his home, as one of his spoils of war, lives a young girl, serving the family as a slave, whose home was originally in Israel. We aren't told her name, but she notices Namaan's suffering and tells him of Elisha, a prophet in Samaria, part of the kingdom of Israel, whom she's sure can cure him of his pain. Excitedly Namaan goes to his king, who is eager to help his famous general, and the king sends a letter to the king of Israel. Can you imagine the terror in the heart of Israel's king when he gets a letter from a neighboring country, delivered by a celebrated general of the army, asking to heal the general of leprosy? The king of Israel doesn't know a cure for leprosy! This is a set-up; he'll fail to heal General Naaman, and Aram will declare war for his failure. He rends his garments in despair; he rips his robes in public, so the people will know that this subsequent war is beyond his control. Therefore, word gets to Elisha in Samaria, who offers his services, his power, his connection to the one who heals where mortals cannot. “Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

 

Namaan and his entourage go to Elisha's house. They are met not by Elisha himself, but by an unnamed assistant. “The prophet says, go wash in the Jordan river seven times and you will be cured of your leprosy.” Simple instructions for a rather miraculous cure, actually.

 

However, by this time Naaman is caught up in the pomp and propriety of the whole thing. Instead of being thrilled at the prospect of a cure, he is insulted by Elisha's lack of respect. “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!” Add to that the insult to his Aramean identity by insisting he wash in the puny Jordan river instead of one of the great rivers of his own land! Naaman is ready to walk away from this whole crazy expedition. One more unnamed servant enters the story, speaking wisdom. 'Just do it. You'd have done something difficult for healing. This is simple. Just do it.' Naaman recognizes the wisdom, washes in the Jordan seven times, and is healed. Happy ending.

 

The point of the story is not only about the power of Elisha and through him the power of God. It's about the lack of power of those whom we expect to wield it. The big wigs in the story don't do much at all. Two kings and a general are the celebrities. The story seems to be about them, but the people whose wisdom changes the course of the action are the servants, the nobodies, the people whose names we never actually learn. The servant girl in Naaman's household tells him of Elisha; the unnamed messenger carries Elisha's prescription to the general; and the general’s personal servant punctures Naaman's pride with a reminder that he's really just looking for healing not a burnished ego. People like generals and kings often pay little attention to the common people who surround them. Here in this story, the common people, the servants, are essential to the happy ending that finally happens. God, through Elisha, works healing for this very important person through the actions of apparently not-so-important people, who turn out to be important after all. God's ways are not the ways human culture expects them to be. Why Israel? Why the Jordan? Why servants? To expand the concept, as we are wont to do with scriptural stories, why is Jesus born in Bethlehem, in a stable, no less? Why does he not travel beyond the limited area of ancient Israel? And to keep the questions coming, Why us, now? Why Catskill? Why are we counted among those who matter, who might change the course of history for the good, for healing, for love? Aren't there better people for the task somewhere? Aren't there those who are more equipped to make a difference? People who are wiser, greater in number, closer to the center of action than the middle of Greene County, New York?

 

If we were writing the story, we might not have included the servant girl as the source of the advice that led to Naaman's healing. If we were writing the story, Elisha would have met Naaman at the door and showered him with the pomp his pomposity demanded. And if we were writing the story, Catskill United Methodist Church would be packed with people every Sunday and our opinions and thoughts would influence the great happenings of our city and of our nation. But we aren't the authors of this story of life; God is. And God rarely makes things happen as we expect. God use non-powerful people in powerful ways. God casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the humble and meek.

 

In today’s gospel story, we watch Jesus sending the disciples out to the people. Listen carefully, and you’ll notice there are not only twelve disciples who are sent. There are seventy. Seventy people being sent to heal the sick and proclaim the good news. There may not be seventy people in total worshiping at the three churches in our charge this hot summer Sunday morning.

 

We know that Jesus preaches to crowds and that he feeds them when they are hungry. In this story in Luke, Jesus uses the crowds, or at least a whole lot of them, to spread the news into the world. They are to go to the villages, the little villages, the hamlets of Galilee. We don’t know the names of these seventy disciples, followers of Jesus who were deemed prepared enough to be trusted with the task of bringing Jesus’ healing and power. We assume they had been part of those who have been traveling with him. And we are told that they came back joyful, enthusiastic and excited at how the power of God had used them to make a difference. That’s us, friends. That’s where we find ourselves in these texts today. Unnamed in the text, but essential to the plot that unfolds. Jesus still needs to get the word out to the world. We are Christ’s disciples. We know that things happen in the world beyond the power and expectation of the bigshots. We know that the lives of those of us who don’t make the cover of Time magazine are still tinged with wisdom and compassion, power to love and patience to endure. And we know that that’s how God seems to act in this world, through people and places that may be overlooked at first glance. We are the seventy, sent out in Jesus’ name, to heal, to love, to forgive, to offer grace to a hurting world.

 

The history of the Christian Church is told too often as the story of priests and kings, scholars and theologians arguing over property and ideas. But the church has endured because the people have claimed the gospel and shared it – with their friends, with their families, with their children and their children’s children’s children. Even today, the research is overwhelming: people come to church because someone – not the pastor – invites them and welcomes them when they show up. That’s living and sharing the gospel. That’s what the seventy did. This church is here because of you, not because of me. And this church will continue to be here for another two hundred or so years at least because you live the gospel. Because you love your neighbor. Because you welcome the stranger and tell the story and offer your heart in Christ’s name. You are the seventy, sent out in Jesus’ name, filled with the power and love of Jesus, to transform ‘the earth into a world of justice and of peace.’ CNN, the New York Times, and the book of Second Kings may never know your name. But your love will build the kingdom of God, and your name is written in the Book of Life. Amen.

 

 

2 Kings 5:1-14

5Naaman, 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. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5And 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. 6He 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.”

 

7When 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.” 8But 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.”

 

9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11But 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! 12Are 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.

 

13But 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’?” 14So 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.

 

Psalm 30 (UMH 762)

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me

to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”

By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain;

you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:

“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned my mourning into dancing;

you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

 

Galatians 6:1-16

6My 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. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.

6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If 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. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

11 See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It 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. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May 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.15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

 

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

10After 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. 2He 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. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain 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.8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11“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.” …

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’