Simple, Humble, New Life - Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - July 3, 2022
Scripture Readings: 2 Kings 5:1–14 | Psalm 30 | Galatians 6:1–16 | Luke 10:1–11, 16–20
“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.” (Luke 10:19-20).
Happy Canada Day weekend!
I hope we all had a chance to enjoy some rest and relaxation this weekend, as well as take time to reflect on what it means for us to share in the life of this country. To be thankful for the many blessings we have, and often take for granted… as well as sharing in the pain from our nation’s far from perfect present and past… and to take part in the healing work that’s still to be done.
These days, so like many aspects of our common stories, Canada Day is complicated. A reminder of both the good and bad that’s sometimes hard to navigate. But this complicated situation is not necessarily a problem. Actually, I think it’s a gift! Inviting us to practice humility… to learn to love both our Country and all our neighbours in this land, without putting it up on a pedestal, and puffing ourselves up with pride.
Much has been said about the problem of pride. And we don’t need to look very hard to find it at work in our world, tearing peoples and nations apart. Now by pride, I don’t mean a stable, positive sense of self. The experience of reflecting with joy and gratitude on all that is good in our lives. Sometimes we use the word pride in that way… but the pride that I’m talking about is the self-focused worldview and way of life that cuts us off from those around us… that sense of superiority that tempts us to despise anyone who’s not like us: people from other countries or communities… anyone outside of our ‘tribe’… or anyone who stands in the way of ‘my will being done.’
Think of the devastation brought about by the violent Nationalism of the past century and it’s bloody wars… or the senseless destruction of Eastern Ukraine today, by the powerful leaders of their Russian neighbours who seek their own glory and gain at unspeakable cost to millions of people, slain or displaced, or starving as the result of disrupted supply lines. This is all pride’s handiwork.
Of course, there are plenty of ways pride causes problems in our own lives, much closer to home: ruining relationships… tearing apart families and communities… and creating so many obstacles for the healing work of love in the world.
We all know pride is a problem. But it’s not an unstoppable one. In fact, our Scripture readings today from Second Kings and the Gospel of Luke offer a path forward away from pride, and all of the problems it brings.
Starting in Second Kings, we heard the story of Naaman the Aramean: a man of prestige and power, a successful pagan general… who also had a serious problem he could not overcome. Naaman had leprosy, skin disease that in those days felt just like a death sentence. A curse with no known cure.
I know some of us have faced these kinds of serious medical scares, either ourselves, or in the lives of those we love. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, and knock us right off our feet, and suddenly make us aware of just how little control we have… how fragile human life can be. Here is this great man, completely powerless to rescue himself. But in that moment of weakness, and fear, and desperation, an unexpected voice speaks up with a powerful word of hope.
His wife’s slave girl, a young Israelite captured on one of Naaman’s military raids, points to the God of Israel as the source of healing and new life he needs. “She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! [That is, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.] “He would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3). At this word of hope, Naaman jumps into action, and with a message from the King of Aram, he races off to Samaria laden with treasure to pay for his hoped for miracle.
Unfortunately, Israel’s King is clueless when Naaman comes expecting to be cured. He panics, expecting his powerful neighbours to be preparing an excuse to invade. It never seems to cross his mind that he should look to the LORD God as a source of new life for Naaman. But thankfully, the prophet Elisha doesn’t doubt the power of God, and calls the King to send Naaman to him and find the healing he needs.
So Naaman visits the prophet, expecting some grand ritual and spiritual spectacle… only for Elisha to dismissively tell him to go and dunk himself seven times in the muddy waters of Jordan. Actually, Elisha doesn’t even bother to meet him face to face. The prophet sends word through a messenger. Not at all the grand spectacle Naaman felt he deserved.
Full of wounded pride, Naaman was filled with rage!
“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?” (2 Kings 5:11-12).
He doesn’t believe his salvation could be so simple… that his condition could be overcome without any fanfare or dramatic display of divine power… just wash in this no-good river. Insulted that the prophet didn’t even bother to show his face… and just gave his prescription through an assistant and sent him on his way. Naaman was not prepared to be treated this way… not willing to stoop down and be treated like some powerless nobody. Even if in the face of his leprosy, that was what he was: powerless.
Naaman’s pride almost made him turn away from the source of healing and hope he desperately needed.
But again, he is put back on track by those lower and wiser than himself. 2 Kings 5:13-14 “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.”
Despite his resistance to doing the “simple thing” in obedience and trust, Naaman relents, and listens to the prophet’s instructions… and finds new life. His salvation is freely given in simplicity and humility. No fanfare needed, only the willingness believe and follow.
This story reminds us that God’s new life is offered to us all in simplicity and humility, calling us all to let go of our pride in order to receive it as the gift of love that it truly is. To let go of our expectations of what God’s power at work looks like, and learn to believe and follow the Lord and find in Him new life.
But notice, this story also reminds us that Naaman is not the hero of the story. He would have given up long ago, if it wasn’t for those easiest to ignore, but who knew where to find true life: a young victim of war, human trafficking, and exploitation was the one who first shared with Naaman the word of hope that brought him life. His own servants, those with now power or authority spurred Naaman on to listen to the prophet humble himself, and believe… bringing about the healing Naaman desperately longed for.
In short, God loves to use simple and humble people to share His new life with others. He doesn’t rely on exciting spectacles, but works through the genuine faith of ordinary everyday people who truly believe in His power to save. As Christians, simple and humble servants of Christ, we don’t need to spend our energies pointing out how great we are, or how much we can accomplish… even if that’s what the world around us might want or expect. No, our work is to hold onto, and point others to the real source of new life, and to invite them to believe, and share this new life with us as well.
Which leads us to the Gospel of Luke, and the story of Jesus sending out seventy of His disciples, to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and the New Life that comes with it.
It wasn’t going to be an easy mission. In Christ’s own words, He was sending them out “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3). They were sent out simply and humbly… with one companion, but without much else… having to rely on the hospitality and welcome of strangers, while racing the real possibility of repeated rejection. And yet, for all who would receive them, they were to freely share the gift of God’s New Life and signs of Christ’s Kingdom: healing the sick, sharing God’s peace, and as it turns out, freeing folks from the spiritual powers of darkness.
Verse 17: “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’” The disciples themselves were amazed that the power of the Spirit of God they’d only ever seen at work in Jesus was also at work in them! The demonic forces of evil that bound up people’s lives in misery were fleeing from them! Can you imagine their excitement? To sense God’s victory over evil through you?
Of course they were excited. And for good reason. They were experiencing the Kingdom of God up close and personal. And for what it’s worth, Jesus Himself affirms the good work they were doing, depicting their share in His mission as the overthrowing of the devil. Luke 10:18-19 “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.”
But He quickly goes on to redirect His excited students to what matters most: to sharing in the life of the Kingdom of God, and sharing it with others. “Nevertheless,” Christ says, “do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).
Christ gives His disciples real power over the forces of darkness, sure defenses against their schemes and tricks and poisons… not to be a source of pride, but as a remedy against it. What He gives us is the New Life of the Living God, sharing in His holy love, which all the powers of the devil cannot overcome.
God’s Spirit worked through these disciples to powerfully share the Good News and New Life of the Kingdom, as ill equipped and vulnerable as they all appeared to be. But the focus was not meant to be on their own power, or the spectacular things they were able to achieve. Their mission was to share in the life of the Kingdom, and sharing that life with all who would receive it.
And this has been at the centre of the Church’s mission ever since: to simply and humbly share the New Life Christ has shared with us, displaying the full power of God when He laid down His own life… allowing Himself to be utterly despised and rejected… a lamb silently led to slaughter… brutally beaten down, then lifted high on the cross… all so that God’s New Life would break in through His broken body to heal our broken world… to overcome our selfish pride with God’s saving, self-giving love.
It may not look like what we expected or imagined, but the New Life of the Kingdom that Christ Jesus freely offers in simplicity and humility, is truly the source of healing and hope that everybody needs.
Our own stories are all different… and are still in the process of being written… but how are they drawn into the story of the New Life of God’s Kingdom?
Maybe we’re being asked to let go of our pride, or our ideas about what God’s work should look like? To be willing to believe and follow the simple and humble ways God offers Himself to us, and opens up our hearts to receive His healing and hope?
Maybe we are being asked to speak up and point someone in our lives to the source of all life? Even if we feel ill equipped, and vulnerable, God’s Spirit can still works wonders!
Maybe we’ve been distracted by other aspects of the Christian life… caught up in exciting projects… or worried about some other pressing matters? Maybe God’s calling us today to refocus on what matters most, and empowers everything good in us: sharing in the self-giving love… the New Life of God in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord. However God’s Spirit is speaking to us today, may we all be willing to listen: and let our pride go, letting God’s love do it's healing work in and through us. Amen.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School