Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 3 July 2022.
• First Reading: 2 Kings 5: 1-14 (The healing of Naaman)
• Psalm 30
• Epistle: Galatians 6: 1-19 (Whoever sows to the flesh will reap destruction, whoever sows in the Spirit will reap eternal life)
• Gospel: Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 (72 sent out to villages He would visit)
One of many strange things about today is the pursuit of celebrity for its own sake, like a kind of commodity. It is as if celebrity was its own reward, regardless of the intrinsic or at least, the generally recognizable merit of what has been achieved.
And then there was Naaman – commander of the Syrian army and a historic enemy of Israel. And yet for all his power and position he carried a desperate secret – the leprosy which threatened his own life and that of his household.
For him there was a new set of challenges and all of them affected his exalted position in the household of Syria.
First, it was to be told what to do by a slave, taken as booty from a raid in Israel. And yes, this slave was a serving girl, and not even a fighting or working slave.
Next, it was to take his situation to the king of Damascus and ask for leave to visit their own enemy as a petitioner, rather than a warrior. This was going to demand some serious grovelling.
After that, it was the offhand way in which he was sent to and received by Elisha: no reception or welcome. No ceremony or refreshment. Only a message sent by his servant – not even the prophet himself – to go and take a bath.
And not even in a great river with fierce currents. The River Jordan – not too unlike the river Kelvin – and pretty unprepossessing at that.
And yet … the great act of courage was there to be performed: again he took the advice of his servants – and this time it was to be an act of humility and self-abasement. No heroics or mighty deeds. No valour in arms or combat. No booty of battle. Only a bath.
And not even a quick in and out dip – this was to be a serious commitment, one bath and six repeats. No room for doubt or managing the message.
But this was where the healing lay – and this was where he received it. From then on he would worship the Lord God of Israel, even if he continued to observe the rites of the court deities.
Naaman would be a changed man – healed of leprosy and yet given a heart to believe in God. And a lot had to go before he would be able to find it.
Then there is the story of how Jesus sent 72 disciples off to announce His coming.
He would be coming to preach the gospel in the villages of the land and the disciples were sent out to ensure a welcome, and report back.
They were going out to places that should already be expecting the Messiah to come so they would not need to prepare. These villages should be reasonably well disposed towards Jesus so the disciples should be ready to accept whatever hospitality they had.
They were to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God and they had authority to heal and to exorcise.
This time they were to go out just as they were, perhaps with their hesitations in speaking out about Jesus. Unsure of their welcome, maybe hesitant in healing the sick. But Jesus had placed His trust in them and had entrusted His message to them.
Whereas Naaman had trusted in his standing in society, these disciples had next to nothing to rely on, except that they were going out to their own kinsfolk and people. They would be held back only by their own doubts.
Even if some villages rejected them, Jesus had prepared them for this and in verses excluded from the gospel lesson, Jesus pronounced some severe judgments on unbelieving cities. Even their rejections would be part of the ministry of those disciples.
And then there is Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.
Now life was about the long haul. It would have its own temptations and failures, its disappointments and frustrations.
But Paul warns the church that it can live for itself or for the name and purposes of Jesus. Its members can live for themselves and all their physical and emotional appetites, or they can be moved and empowered by the Spirit of the Lord.
They could live for themselves or for the Lord. And to live to self would be draining and futile. It would leave them embittered and resentful. At the end there would be nothing with which God might be honoured.
They could live sowing their lives in the flesh and they would reap only the fruit of that unredeemed and corruptible flesh.
Or they would live in the spirit – in the presence of Jesus in all things, knowing both His power to save and yet His grief on the cross. It would be definitely fulfilling as they discovered themselves by emptying themselves.
And so in all this mission to the life of Jesus they were called upon not to be wearied in doing good – in being the hands and feet and heart of Jesus as the situation required.
Paul’s boasting was in the cross of Christ – not even in his own successes, the churches founded and the souls brought to salvation.
His glory lay in being poured out for the Lord – far more than any achievement in life.