“What does the Lord require of us?” we have sung earlier in our service. What does God want us to do? How are we to live our lives? What difference does being a Christian, of listening to the stories of the Bible have in the way we walk in this world. It seems like such a BIG question. It seems like such an other-worldly question. It seems too difficult for a hot July Sunday when only the faithful find their way to church. But it is also the essential question for us all.
I think we sometimes create these impossible scenarios about how we should live—just look at Elijah and his “battle of the prophets”—I can’t imagine pitting myself against 400 other ministers in a deadly game of incite the fire from heaven onto your bull (if you missed this story, take a look at I Kings 19). But maybe we have gotten sidetracked by the spectacular. “What does the Lord require of us?” asks Micah. And the answer is--Simple things. Right things. Possible things. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.
Isn’t that what the seventy are asked to do as Jesus sends them out into the world (in our gospel lesson this morning)? Sent out, Two by two—so no one is alone, and no one can boast they did it ALL by themselves! And what are they to do? Fellowship with the people—eating what they eat. Bring a word of healing (as much as you can). Talk about how the kingdom of God has come near. Simple things. Right things. Possible things.
So, I imagined us being one of those seventy. Sent out, in the company of others, to eat, and heal, and talk about God.
I know we can eat with people—we as United have demonstrated that we know the healing power of food. We take time to fellowship over food. We take time to make sure others have food so that they can be nourished in body and in soul—this very week we will be at St. Andrew’s AND at Christine’s kitchen, and next week will start our July work at the Food Pantry. We have a good jump on the directive towards food mission.
It’s that healing directive that gives me pause. These disciples had no medical training that we know of. Were they providing miraculous healings like we’ve seen on TV, “In the name of Jesus …!”? Maybe. But I like to think that their healing had more similarities with the words of Naaman’s slave girl, and the words of Naaman’s other servants (in our first reading for the day) than anyone touting supernatural happenings.
Remember, Naaman was a great general—not of Israel, but of Aram (Syria)—an adversary of Israel. And in these back and forth skirmishes, “spoils of war,” or captives were taken. So this is how an Israelite girl comes to be in the household of the Syrian general Naaman. Remember justice, mercy, walking with God? Remember “out of the mouths of babes”? This slave, this little girl, whose name is not recorded, sees Naaman’s affliction with leprosy. She doesn’t revel in it (thinking “it serves you right, you nasty person who removed me from my loved ones and made me work for you”). No, she offers that it’s too bad Naaman doesn’t live in her country, because there is this prophet who could cure him. A word of healing.
She didn’t try to do something she couldn’t. She didn’t claim she could accomplish healing herself. She just passed along information. She just acted with mercy (even though she was not in a situation that was just). She walked humbly with her God.
And Naaman, after hearing about it from his wife, takes her advice (although I do notice that he takes a reference letter from HIS king, insisting on this healing, as well as ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments—so a bribe AND a threat!) And off Naaman goes to the King of Israel (not the prophet that the little girl has suggested).
Fast forward to Naaman getting to Elisha, that prophet, and lo and behold, NOT getting the response he wanted. As Naaman says “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!” In other words—“where is the pomp and circumstance”? “Where is the razzle-dazzle?” “Where are my 15 minutes of fame?” And Naaman gets ready to pick up his toys and go home.
And his servants (again not named)—his underlings, the people who have had to deal with adversity first hand, the people who have had to see less justice, less mercy, and who are not followers of God that we know of—
His servants say a word of healing, a word of gentle admonishment, a word like “Really?” A word as simple as “If you had been asked to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not try the easy thing?”
This type of healing is something I think we all can imagine. This type of healing is something we all can admit is possible BY US. This type of healing is how I picture the seventy sent out by Jesus affecting the communities that they visited. A gentle touch. A caring word. A show of solidarity. An unfailing support in little things. Justice and mercy and walking with God in small, seemingly unspectacular, every day kindnesses.
That is the message I get from the passages we read this morning. We are sent out, from this place every Sunday; we are sent out, from our homes every day. And we can see it as a grind, or we can see it as an opportunity. Jesus sends us out, not just to the important jobs, not just to the glamourous jobs, not just to the well-paying jobs. Jesus sends us out to our work, whatever that may be, in our world.
Maybe we are like the slave girl of Naaman. Maybe we have no power and no prestige and really no place in the world. We are sent out anyway—to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
Maybe we are like the servants of Naaman. Maybe we can only whisper to those who have power. Maybe we can only lift up “what ifs.” Maybe we can only unveil truth or quiet tantrums or perform our invisible magic in the shadows. We are sent out anyway—to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
But I notice that this is not a suicide mission. This being sent out is not intended to try our patience or our resolve. There are some who do not want to participate in justice. There are some who cannot understand mercy. There are some who do not wish to come anywhere near the path of God. We shouldn’t take it personally.
In such cases we are to move on. Not before trying. Not before spending some time and energy and love. No, We are to say our piece. We are to eat and talk and be in fellowship. We are to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God as best we can. But if we are not received, then we are to move on.
I invite us to find ways to answer that question, “What does the Lord require of us?” as we move through the summer of 2019. Join with others in helping to provide a meal at Christine’s kitchen or St. Andrew’s, or help stock a shelf during the low months at the Food Pantry. Join with others in standing against the deplorable conditions in our detention centers by participating in the nationwide vigil on Friday night (held in our area in Glen Ridge). Come early the next two Sundays to dream together about what we could/should/might do as United in the coming year and in years to come. I’m sure you have ideas or projects that lie close to your heart. Share them with others. Offer words of healing, opportunities for service, experiences of the divine in our everyday life. And draw strength from today’s biblical stories for your work, in your way.
Whether you are a general or a little slave girl,
Whether you are a prophet or a disciple,
You are called
You have a mission
You are sent out
Let us all a way to live with justice and mercy and humility,
Let us a way to walk hand in hand with others
And with God.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.
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.’
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “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.”