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Sermon for July 03, 2022 – Proper 9

Speaking of Life 4032 | True Boasting

Dealing with sickness can become expensive very quickly. Even for the characters in the Old Testament, health care was expensive and unpredictable. Listen to Greg as he shares the story of Naaman, a prideful man who becomes sick. Eventually, he realizes that there is only one true Healer who can fully restore him inside and out.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 4032 | True Boasting
Greg Williams

Have you ever had a medical bill that made you cringe? Regardless of where you fall in debates over how you should pay for healthcare, there is one thing everyone can agree on. Good care is priceless. This is as true today as it was three millennia ago.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the story of Naaman.

Naaman was a successful commander, competent warrior, and a well-regarded statesman. Yet the Bible reveals that he also suffered from a skin condition. In the ancient world, all dermatological conditions were lumped into the same category – leprosy.

Help for Naaman came through a young, humble servant in his home. She told Naaman’s wife that the Lord’s prophet Elisha had the power to heal.

We pick up the story in 2 Kings, where we find Naaman with a letter from his king written to the king of Israel:

So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:5-6

It seems that even in the 9th century BC, specialized health care was expensive! The wealth that Naaman brought with him was significant, enough to buy a large swathe of land.

The prophet Elisha heard about the letter and told the king to send Naaman to him. When Naaman arrived, Elisha sent a messenger telling Naaman to go bathe in the river Jordan seven times before he will see him in person!

This is the turning point in the narrative. Until this point, Naaman has relied on his own importance, resources, and power. But none of these things are considered in Elisha’s treatment plan. Naman is furious that Elisha won’t even see him and he leaves in a huff.

Fortunately, his servants intervened saying, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”

Convinced Naaman washes in the river Jordan seven times, and is healed!

Humbled and restored, Naaman wants to present Elisha with a gift, but Elisha refuses payment or privileges. Naman realizes the riches of God’s glory, and promises that any boasting he does in the future will not be of his own strength, but of the provision of God.  

The story of Naaman’s healing is the story of abundant Grace. It tells of how kings, generals, and warriors are powerless to change the things that really matter to us, but God’s grace is all-powerful. Naaman returned to Aram boasting in the one true God of Israel and the grace-filled deliverance God gave him.

Echoing these words, a millennia later the apostle Paul calls us to boast “in the cross of our Lord Jesus.” Like Naaman, we are powerless to heal ourselves – physically and spiritually. But we can boast in the one who restores us, redeems us, and fills us with grace. We boast in Jesus Christ.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 30:1-12 • 2 Kings 5:1-14 • Galatians 6:1-16 • Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The theme of this week is boasting in abundant grace. Our call to worship Psalm praises the glory of God as one who is with us through the good and the bad times. In 2 Kings 5 we read of the story of Naaman, who wants to pay tribute to Elisha for the healing he received from God but learns that his desire to declare God’s glory is all that is needed of him. Paul gladly declares in the book of Galatians that his only boast is in Jesus Christ and all he has done for him. Luke shares that when the disciples returned from declaring the coming of God’s kingdom, excited by the miraculous works they had done, Jesus reminded them that their true boast is in their own salvation.

No Time to Gloat

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

If you have ever watched a sport, played a multiplayer video game, or worked in a competitive field, it is likely you’re no stranger to the concept of showboating. Whether it is the athlete concocting an elaborate dance, a shrill voice declaring you’ve been “pwned” in your headset, or a colleague shamelessly sharing their promotion and pay increase with their new subordinates, there is one thing everyone can agree on – gloating is only enjoyable for the victor.

Many sports have rules against showboating – it is unsportsmanlike, a concept that can be traced back to wars and conflicts. Online gaming networks have rules against harassment that often cover unsportsmanlike conduct. Most workplaces would frown upon a superior vaunting their relative wealth. Yet again, these are all things some of us have or will experience regularly. Gloating is deeply ingrained in our sinful nature.

When the seventy-two disciples were sent out by Jesus to declare the coming of God’s kingdom, a group including fishermen and tax collectors, without formal training or experience, were thrown into the deep end of evangelical ministry. Let’s read the passage:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’” (Luke 10:1-11)

No time for vengeance and burials

It helps to consider the context of the seventy-two disciples in this passage. Though they follow and believe in Jesus, they knew they did not fit the mold of your average rabbi’s student. Our passage follows on the heels of Jesus being rejected by a local community. The twelve disciples wanted to call down heavenly fire to consume the village, and Jesus had to rebuke them. Then when he called for more disciples, he stressed to all of them the great cost of following him.

In these passages in Luke 9 and 10, Jesus is teaching his disciples a new way of responding. When Jesus is wronged, they want vengeance, and he rebukes their response. When he calls others, they are not ready to follow, and they lose out on the opportunity to become part of his ministry. Yet these seventy-two have passed that test, and now they are given power – the power to bless and heal and the power to speak against those who do not respond to the gospel message.

Even while Jesus tells them they are being sent out as lambs among wolves, like the amateur competing against the professional, he gives them power and authority. And the authority Jesus granted to them would have been unlike anything they might have expected. He told them to heal people while they fulfilled the role usually left to a prophet of proclaiming the kingdom. Alongside John the Baptist, they are proclaiming the coming of the Lord to the towns they entered.

Like Jonah to the Ninevites, the disciples have a single message to those who reject them – change and repent. It is important to note that they are told that their symbolic action is a warning and a call for repentance, just as Jonah’s warning to the Ninevites. This warning represents God’s sincere desire for people to turn back to him and be saved.

Gloating in another’s victory

But the real feather in the cap (or so they think) of the disciples comes in their report back to Jesus:

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:16-20)

The disciples are thrilled and excited. They have done what Jesus has done; they’ve declared the kingdom, healed the sick but there is something more… they’ve cast out demons! The amateurs have beaten the pros!

It is interesting that Jesus does not say anything positive about this experience other than to confirm the impact of their work upon Satan’s designs. There are many churches that have created identities based upon the casting out of demons, yet when it is done in Scripture, it is a non-event in the eyes of Jesus. In the presence of his sovereignty, the defeat of Satan was never in question.

When Jesus tells them, “I saw Satan fall…” he is highlighting three things. He is making a powerful statement about his divinity – no earthly human witnessed Satan’s fall. He is commending the work for the kingdom that the disciples have done – they are participating in the downfall of the enemy. And he is pointing out that the defeat of Satan is a done deal – overcoming the demons and gloating about it is akin to gloating over a defeated enemy. Though they participate in the downfall by casting the demons out, the disciples are not the cause.

Satan is the strong man that Jesus has already bound; the disciples’ power over the demons was never the point. In fact, the disciples sharing of the coming of the kingdom was a far greater act!

Rejoice in our heavenly place

Jesus calls on his disciples to rejoice in their salvation. This is the real cause for boasting and joy! The athlete who scored the goal, the gamer who defeated his friends, the colleague peacocking his promotion are all symptoms of misplaced pride. We were made to boast, but sin has twisted our boasting toward ourselves and not God. As the apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 6, we are made to boast in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.

Let us learn to boast in what really matters.

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W1

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July 3 – Proper 9
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “Lord of the Harvest”

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Program Transcript

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony—W1

Let me read our first pericope for this month, which is Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. (This month, we’re going to focus on the New Revised Standard Version.)

It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 9, which is July the third.

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

Jesus came to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. And in this particular passage, he’s authorizing a wider band of disciples to go out and do the same thing.

He’s not sending them out to be door-to-door salespeople, hocking magazine subscriptions and lawn care services. He doesn’t want them to look like moochers or give even a whiff of being profiteers. He is telling them to go and bring peace, Shalom, to all who will receive it. And the rest of their message is pretty straight forward.

The kingdom of God is near you. They are proclaiming a whole new way of life, a way to live and to be in this world, a whole new way to orient, not just this or that sideline feature to one’s life but everything, the whole ball of wax, every jot and tittle of one’s existence. Even when Jesus tells his disciples to wipe the dust of the rejecting town off their feet, he still tells them to conclude their comments with yet one more reminder that the kingdom of God is near. And who’s to say that we cannot speak those words through tears of love and compassion. And Jesus talked about “go on your way or as you are going,” like we see in the great commission in Matthew 28. See, I’m sending you out as lambs.

And this is what cruciform living is all about. Cruciform is just a word that simply means having the shape of a cross. It is a life that looks self-sacrificial, a life of laying down one’s life for the other. And he’s saying (as we saw in Acts 1, when Jesus said, you’ll be my witnesses) we know that word, witness in the Greek language, it literally means martyr. It’s to lay down one’s life.

You will receive power by the Holy Spirit, God with you, a God who understands what it looks like to lay down one’s life. And I’m calling you, I’m inviting you into that same sort of cruciform living. This is the missio Dei, which is a Latin, Christian theological term that is translated as the mission of God or the sending of God.

God sends us. He says, I’m sending you out. Jesus is sending us as he was sent by the Father. And as Jesus was sent, we also go in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what do we say to people? Peace! Peace to this house. Peace be unto you. Peace be with you. This is what we find Jesus doing. Even as we see in other passages, where he shows up and the disciples are afraid, or they’re not living the missio Dei in the moment as he would have them do, his first word is peace be unto you.

And these are the words that our Prince of Peace have given to us. And that means even in the face of great consternation, great suffering, and affliction.

Just this week, the week that I’m recording this particular episode, we’ve had another mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas [U.S.], and it was just devastating, wasn’t it? To hear the news, to see the scenes, to see the anguish and the grief of parents and grandparents and siblings that have lost loved ones, young children.

And it just gets me thinking, if these events have left us heartbroken and weeping, which they have, imagine what God must be seen and feeling. God, the Creator, who entrusts us with his creation, with one another’s lives (and with his own life, in a sense) today, the Creator and the created once again, stand together, weeping and broken hearted over this senseless loss.

I no longer see these tragedies as problems to be fixed or behaviors to be corrected. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are steps to be taken. Rather, I just viewed them as symptoms pointing to a deeper issue. And until we are willing to deal with the deeper issue, things aren’t likely to change. And the deeper issue is the human heart.

Whether by terrorist attack, through prejudice [and] discrimination against a minority group or political campaigns or in our personal relationships, the violence and mistreatment we perpetuate on each other first arises from an inner violence that poisons and fragments, the human heart. We need a change of heart.

We need a heart of peace. So where is the peace of God today? I think that’s a question many are asking. It’s a question I suspect God is maybe asking too. Where is the peace? It is a question that theologians and practitioners have wrestled with through ages and ages.

So, the question of theodicy—which ultimately is a question. Why does a perfectly good Almighty, an all-knowing God, permit evil? And I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. We live in a fallen world where brokenness is still running rampant in our world, but I thought I would share with you some quotes from Brad Jersak’s book, A More Christlike God. Here’s what he has to say about the question theodicy.

“What are we to make of the gaping abyss between the perfect goodness and infinite love of God over against the affliction, suffering, and evil in the world at large? How do they come together, if at all? This puzzle has recurred throughout the ages—ever since people became aware of the reality of both the heights of God and the depths of human misery. When I ask, “What is true about God?” and, “What is the character of the world?” the two realities don’t seem to match. The fundamental truth of God’s nature (which is love) seems irreconcilably incompatible with day-to day life in this world (which is affliction).

Rather than dazzling us with a clever answer, the Cross of our Lord arrests us. In a sense, it offers us an anti-theodicy. The love and the anguish—both present in the extreme—are astonishing. The goodness of God and the affliction of mankind is no mere problem, puzzle, or paradox. God’s love (a cross) and human affliction (a crucifixion) appear as a true contradiction. In bewilderment, we echo Jesus’ own cries, “God is good, but all is not well! Where are you?”

And the incarnation, (and by the way, that was end quote from Jersak’s book) the incarnation teaches us that God entered into the fullness of our affliction and experienced it unto death. And not just any death, but death on a cross. And it matters that our Lord who embodies peace, who in himself is Shalom, that we know that he didn’t stand off from some sort of antiseptic distance from our pain and sorrow and grief and affliction, but rather entered into the heart of our darkness.

What if a heart at peace is about loving our neighbor as ourselves, or more importantly, as Christ has loved us? It would mean that the other person, regardless of who she or he is, counts and matters as much as we do, which is the truth and the reality of who God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The heart of peace refuses to lump masses into unknown people with lifeless categories, such as Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, Muslim, whatever, which makes them objects to be dealt with or enemies to be defeated. A heart at peace encounters everyone as a person. It looks another in the face and recognizes itself.

So, tell me, what do you see when you look in the face of another? This is a good question as we ponder this particular passage for Proper 9, and as we go on our way, sent out as lambs in the midst of wolves saying, peace to this house.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life:

  • Naaman really wants to pay for the healing he received but is told in no uncertain terms he can’t. Why do you think Elisha stresses the importance of his healing being free?
  • Naaman was a successful general who had fought campaigns against Israel – why do you think God chose him to heal out of all the lepers of the time? Consider reading Luke 4:27.

From the Sermon

  • Why do you think we get tempted to gloat when we win in a competition?
  • We are often told “don’t boast”, yet Paul has told us that boasting is actually a good thing, when we are boasting in what Jesus has done. Given that context, how does that change how you think about showboating and boasting?

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