Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 7 July 2019.
The Fashionable thing today is not to believe anything or in anything, especially in anything that is supported by evidence or any kind of institution. What is seen, heard, or felt personally may just about do, so long as it is not subject to any kind of challenge. The peer group rules, so long as it is the right kind of peer group.
Any kind of authority or historic body will be automatically distrusted, especially the church and the government unless of course it is of a ‘progressive’ persuasion.
But our lessons today are very much about how God believes in and trusts His people.
First, there is Elisha and Naaman. Here there is a strong sense of irony as Syria was a historic enemy of Israel’s (and here things have not changed down the millennia).
In this case the commander of the enemy army was seeking healing in Israel.
So having taken a slave girl in a raid on Israel, the commander was then persuaded to take her advice and to seek the healing of his leprosy from his foes.
So he obtained letters of introduction from his king and went off to present them in Samaria, which then threw the king of Israel into a blind panic. Is this an excuse for a war?
When Elisha heard about it, he was rather like a recent television advertisement: ‘Don’t panic, it’s only a request for healing’.
Finally, Naaman presented himself outside the house of the prophet Elisha and expected some kind of reception and ceremony.
What he got was insulting beyond words: ‘Go and wash yourself in the River Jordan’. Imagine a Londoner being instructed to wash in the river Kelvin – the reaction would not be so very different.
Had he been asked to perform a mighty deed – fell 100 trees, build a temple, kill 100 lions – this would have been no problem. Instead he had to do a work of humility and this was the mighty test of his worthiness.
It would outweigh any act of strength or courage or endurance. But Naaman complied and was cleansed and as a result he came to a personal faith on the God of Israel.
Then there is the account of how Jesus sent out the 70.
These were drawn from the outer ring of followers, and not just the 12 most intimate disciples. All were trusted with the message and were empowered with the Holy Spirit. All were authorized to preach and teach and heal, and indeed to pronounce judgment.
They might not have been fully qualified, they may not all have graduated from the appropriate bible college or have mastered the finer points of advanced biblical criticism.
There may have been parts of their lives that had to be made wholly right with God, relationships restored, sins fully repented and parts of their lives brought under the fullness of the gospel.
But Jesus was ready to entrust them with His commission, and send them forth anyway, even if it was to villages that should have been favourably disposed to Him and His message and ministry.
But they still had to go out relying on God, with no preparation or supplies or support. They would find their living and their shelter as they went out on the Lord’s commission.
Yet they indeed returned rejoicing – the message had been preached, the sick healed, evil spirits driven forth. Having set out in faith and obedience they came home rejoicing.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul stated simply that what we sow is what we reap.
If we start with God and stay with God, then we will inevitably end up with God.
If we start with self and stay with self, then the only thing we can end up with is self – for eternity. Think about it.
But there is something more, for he also wrote ‘Do not grow weary of doing good’. It is when the task is long and difficult, unnoticed and unthanked, that it is truly sacrificial, and Paul’s word is indeed that these works are truly part of the fullness of the gospel – so do not allow discouragement to set in.
But then Paul would find his boast and confidence in nothing but the cross of Jesus Christ. He would not rely on his own works, only on what God had already done for him in Jesus Christ.
The Point is that God believes in us, trusts us, empowers and authorizes us. Not fashionable, but true.
When we feel unprepared, unworthy, ill-equipped, vulnerable and exposed then this is the time when we most have to rely on the gifts that God gives. It means relying on the Holy Spirit as the occasion presents itself, and relying on God’s ongoing provision as we continue to step out.
But then God wants people who are willing to rest on His provision and not just on their own resources and learning. These will indeed serve us, but they can and will never be a substitute for God’s call and God’s provision for us.
For it is His task that is entrusted to us – not our own.