Sunday, July 3, 2016

Do Something Difficult

Do Something Difficult from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Luke 10:1-11, 17-20
1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in parts 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 near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11Even 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.’

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demon 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.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

II Kings 5:1-4
1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour 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.

15Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before  him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant." 16But he said, "As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!" He urged him to accept, but he refused.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Two hundred and forty years ago, a group of great men gathered to approve and sign a declaration that King George III was not the rightful ruler over 13 colonies on the eastern coast of North America. They drew on their education in philosophy, especially the principles of Enlightenment movement, as they declared to the world that the injury done by their far-away king was beyond bearing.

This long weekend is a celebration of human freedom.

But human freedom is a dim reflection of the sovereign freedom of God. We forget that sometimes. We forget that God is free to love, and work through, anyone he chooses. Including, on more than one occasion, a foreign conqueror.

"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." This story begins with a foreign conqueror: a mighty warrior who is not from Israel. He's from modern day Syria, and serves the Syrian King. Even though he is not of the covenant people, even though he doesn't live in the promised land, even though he doesn't follow the Instruction given at Mt. Sinai, God is still with him. He came into favor "because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram."

The freedom of God is not bound by tribal divisions or by national boundaries. It's not like God changed sides, the covenant with Israel is still sure. God is free to go beyond the covenant, but the promise remains. ”The story of Naaman, like those about Ruth and Jonah, fights against the tendency towards exclusiveness which infects God's people in the form of racism or nationalism.” These stories pop up throughout scripture to stretch us when we think we’ve figured out how to put boundaries around God.

Even before our story beings, God has already been active in Naaman’s life, giving victory to Aram through Naaman. But as blessed as Naaman is, there’s a problem. “The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.”

Providentially, as he was out winning battles on behalf of Syria, he conquered part of Israel, and enslaved a young woman who knows that there is a prophet in Israel: Elisha.

So we have a foreigner who successfully led an attack on Israel, who has a dangerous disease that excludes him from polite society. There’s not much else we can give this guy to make him an outsider. Yet when he hears about Elisha, he gets up to go and be healed.

To put this in contemporary terms, imagine the uproar if a refugee from Syria was seeking medical attention here in the United States to get treatment for the Zika virus. Except he’s not a refugee, he’s a top general for the Syrian army who recently took over a US military base and heard about his treatment options from a POW.

The fact that we’re even talking about this guy is bizarre. There’s no way that the God of Israel is going to help this guy out. The king of Israel doesn’t have an answer for him, and tears his clothes in grief that the king of Aram has sent this guy here to pick a fight.

But God is free to go beyond Israel’s territory. The LORD doesn’t belong to any one nation or people, he’s free to do what he wants, even pick Naaman as the leper who will be healed. "Israel is elected, this suggests, not to the exclusion of the rest of creation, but in order to provide a concrete witness to God.” Elisha, the man of God, hears about him and sends word to the king, “Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

Let the foreigner, the conqueror and enslaver of our own people, who has a terrible disease come to my own home so that he can be healed. God is free to choose the ones we call outsiders, let him go to Elisha, the man of God, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.

But maybe, if God is free to heal Naaman, God is also free to work through a sinner like me. Maybe, if God is free to choose the foreign conqueror with the dreaded disease, who serves foreign rulers and bows to foreign idols, he can also choose a sinner like me. Maybe, if God is free to testify to foreign lands through an enslaved Israelite girl, God can also give me the courage to witness to his sovereign love.

So Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, and the prophet cannot even be bothered to meet with him, sending out a messenger instead with instructions to bathe in the Jordan seven times. ”Naaman is said to be a 'big man,' and he expected his cure to be a 'big deal.’" So these simple instructions given by a simple messenger are offensive to him. After all, we read earlier in this passage that he brought a bunch of cool stuff to buy his healing. Naaman’s ego gets in the way, thinking that he deserves more attention. He’s got this kind of Aramean exceptionalism thing going on.

He wants Elisha to come out and cry out to the sky, he wants the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, the grand march that parades before the people so they know how important Naaman is.

But while God can work through grand gestures, he is also free to choose smaller things, like cleansing water in a river. God is also free to speak through Naaman’s servants, giving him wise counsel to actually listen to the instructions of the man of God, even if they seem easy.

God is free to go beyond the boundaries we create for ourselves, to invite the outsider to join us. We see Naaman’s conversion as this passage comes to a close, he has seen the power of the LORD, and his riches and his military strength cannot pay for the gift he has been freely given.

God’s grace is freely given, even before we have the capacity to respond in faith. We, as God’s people, have been given a taste of that freedom, which finds its fullest expression not in boundless independence, but in service to the LORD who intervenes in the world and changes the paths of individuals and communities.

So this long weekend as we celebrate our national independence, moving through the course of our human events, let us not forget that God doesn’t work for us. God is free to work among whomever he chooses, even Naaman. And we are free to respond to God’s grace. I wonder how that will look in your life?

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