The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 7 July 2019

Track One:
II Kings 5:2-24
Psalm 30

Track Two:
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8

Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16
St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Background: Healing

Many of our churches offer opportunities in the Liturgy for the Anointing with Oil and the Laying on of Hands. The readings today involve a scriptural background for such practices, but what are our present thoughts and theology as we look at the need for healing in our time? Last Sunday we had a visitor who experienced what seemed to be a psychotic break during the liturgy. She grabbed hold of the Baptismal Font, wouldn’t let go and demanded, “I want water!” That she took that position at that place and with that demand is a signal to all of us of the importance of baptism as we talk about and attempt to effect healing. In the Church of England’s web pages on healing a comment is made about the importance and integral nature of Baptism in healing, “Baptism points to the way in which God in Jesus Christ is overthrowing an order of life corrupted by sin and death and bringing to birth a renewed creation, a creation alive with the healing presence of God’s Spirit.”[1]The font becomes not only a place of healing but a reminder that we are always in need of healing. 

The important thing in this remembrance of baptism and our desire for healing is that it is not only an individual need, but the need of the whole community and society. Baptism is a part of the community’s Liturgy, and it is a witness to our inter-connectedness and relationship. The person who interrupted the Liturgy with her need was not out of place, for all of us gathered there had our own needs of healing and wholeness. The question we might ask when presented with another’s ills is “What has contributed to this illness? How am I a part of this? How can I be healed and heal?” The young girl in the first Track One reading got it, and the Seventy that are set out in the Gospel would need to know it. Indeed, even the passage from Isaiah (Track Two) sees a Jerusalem in need of healing and comfort. 

Track One:

First Reading: II Kings 5:1-14

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. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And 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. He 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." When 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."

But 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." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But 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! Are 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. But 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'?" So 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.

In the prophets as well as in the so-called historical writings we can see a drift toward a more universal image of the world and the God who rules it. Here the author sees YHWH as giving a victory to Namaan, the Aramean general. A social reality is the context in which this healing story takes place – a young captive will invite the foreign general into the saving graces of YHWH. It is not only healing that she desires for him when she invites him to “be with the prophet.” The implication here is that he will be in subservience to the prophet of YHWH.

The text calls it “leprosy”, but it is probably not the classic leprosy, but rather a skin disease that caused the loss of pigmentation. Nonetheless it is a disturbing situation for Namaan, and he looks to his king for advice. In this story we see the intricacies of inter-regnal diplomacy. The message form Aram causes some distress in the court of Israel, which now leads us to the prophet Elisha, and his simple demands of Namaan to “wash and be clean.” (See the comments on Baptism and Healing in the Background above,) The simple thing is difficult for Namaan – as it is often for us.

Breaking open II Kings:
1.    What need do you have for healing in your life?
2.    Who will help you with that?
3.    Whom do you need to heal?

Psalm 30 Exaltabo te, Domine

     I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
     Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
     You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
     Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
     For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
     Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
     While I felt secure, I said,
"I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."
     Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
     I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10    "What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
11    Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
Lord, be my helper."
12    You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13    Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

This is a psalm that was written for the “Dedication of the House,” perhaps the Temple or an altar. It celebrates being “lifted up”, being healed or being saved from death. The verb that indicates being lifted up is the same verb that used when one draws water from a well (a deep pit). The irony is that the notion of “the Pit” is how Jewish literature described the descent to Sheol, or death. There is a sense of bargaining in the psalm, “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?” The remainder of the poem is certain of God’s grace – that the author has been saved from death for life. The closing verses are a thanksgiving and celebratory dance.

Breaking open Psalm 30:
1.    Have you ever felt as though you were at the bottom of a well?
2.    What was the situation?
3.    Who lifted you up?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14

Thus says the Lord:
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her--
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.
For thus says the Lord:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;

and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,
and his indignation is against his enemies."

The images here are quite moving, the sucking infant and the mother providing both nourishment and comfort. Jerusalem is both the mother and the infant in this psalm. The infants who suck at her breasts are those who are repatriated to the ancient Jerusalem their home. Back from their exile and difficulty they relax and take comfort in her. Comfort is the notion that began Third Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort my people,” and now it is the idea that closes the material. The text also sees Jerusalem as not only the provider of comfort but the recipient as well of the comfort that God gives. “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” 

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.    What is the role of nourishment in healing?
2.    How have you nourished others?
3.    How is the Eucharist nourishing?

Psalm 66:1-8 Jubilate Deo

     Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
sing the glory of his Name;
sing the glory of his praise.
     Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! *
because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
     All the earth bows down before you, *
sings to you, sings out your Name."
     Come now and see the works of God, *
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
     He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
and there we rejoiced in him.
     In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
let no rebel rise up against him.
     Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
     Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.

The psalmist revisits the event at the Sea of Reeds and uses it as a theme of thanksgiving for the deeds that God has done. The initial verses invite both praise and thanksgiving, “Be joyful in God.” At verse five we have the general theme – God turning the sea to dry land. It is the cardinal event for Israel, one that is repeated over and over again – with Joshua at the Jordan and with Elijah and Elisha at the Jordan. There is a profundity in verse 8, “(God) who holds our souls (our very essence) in life.” What God does in ancient times to save God’s people is done over and over again for the same people.

Breaking open Psalm 66:
1.    When has God saved you from the impossible?
2.    When have you seen the impossible in the lives of others?
3.    How were you helpful to them?

Second Reading: Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16

[My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.]

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised-- only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule-- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Paul continues his discourse on how we are to live in our community of faith. It is a lesson in personal and community responsibility. The choice that needs to be made is whether our works are “of the flesh”, or are “of the Spirit.” That is the choice, and he asks us to “not grow weary” in both doing and choosing that which is right. He understands that there is a question of both bride and boasting. Of what shall we be proud? Shall it be our works or our ritual acts? No, Paul sees his pride in bearing the cross of Jesus Christ. It makes for a new way of living in which the old is “crucified” and the world is made new. Following a recurrent theme in these readings, the world is healed so that we might live in peace and certainty.

Breaking open Galatians:
1.    Of what might you boast?
2.    Of what are you truly proud?
3.    What have you given up in the world?

The Gospel: St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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.'

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Here Jesus uses the theme of the harvest to model and describe the mission to the world. He appoints seventy workers to go out “into the harvest” to spread the seed of the message. Leave it to Luke to expand the company of sent ones, apostles, from the symbolic twelve of Israel to the seventy (the number of perfection multiplied by 10). This perfection of ambassadors will be met with difficulty, however. Some of the difficulty is demanded by the sender, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…” Other provisions are made with the realization that not everyone will receive these messengers with good will. So Jesus asks them to stay where they are welcome, and to leave from those places that reject them. It is the reality of the world. There are no stipulations about where these messengers are to eat. What the Law had described is forgotten. Anyone can host these messengers of the Gospel. This is pure Luke – the universalism of the Gospel. 

When the messengers have a mistaken notion of their success. They are proud of their experience as exorcists. Jesus wanted something more, namely their success in announcing the Good News. Jesus one ups them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.” The messengers need to take their own message to heart, and to rejoice in their names being included amongst the saved.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In what ways are you a messenger of the Gospel?
2.     How do you state the message of the Gospel?
3.     What is Good News for you?

General Idea:              Comfort, Healing, and Baptism

Image One:                 Connecting water and healing (Track One: First Reading)

Image Two:                 Connecting nourishment with healing (Track Two: First Reading)

Image Three:              Healing and God (Psalm Track One)
                                      and Healing and the Community (Psalm Track Two)

Image Four:                Being Sent out to Heal (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller



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