Thursday, June 30, 2016

Reflections on the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost, Year C, Proper 9

A depiction of Naaman the Syrian
These weeks, I have begun a series of sermons on the theme of what it means to answer a call from God. Calls take on many shapes and forms, as God's calls tend to be singular, and intended to God's purpose for us to be active in a situation God provides. Notice, please, that I don't talk about plans. Saying often that God has a plan entails a great deal of suffering for many. Why? For many suffer, and in that grief and pain to be "reassured" that God has a plan and that this current agony is part and parcel of it does much to alienate us from God and from any trust we might in invest in a sense of God calling us to any task, work or ministry. God too often comes off as seeming at best inconstant and at worse whimsical, mischievous in action.

The exploration of call being offered this Sunday flies in the face of God's call to us being vested in any earthly, human agenda...or subject to our evaluation and judgment. Because we cannot see the beginning or end of God's purpose for creation, what might we being to assume about God's particular calls to us...other than that they ARE and that we are asked to respond. Moreover, God's call to us is not based on any earthly suppositions or judgment we might make, or take, on the person or persons being called. It's not about worth. It's not about virtue. It's not about being "good" or "good at" anything.

It is about being called.

Another thing: even when called, our success is not assured. Jesus commissions 70 to go out and proclaim the kingdom, sending them out in pairs to the communities in the surrounding countryside. He sends them with direction, and with a remarkable piece of guidance about dealing with BOTH acceptance AND rejection. The early apostles are told to walk humbly into community, and to take what they are offered for their support while extending blessings. They are also told not to judge people who reject them, simply to not carry that rejection forward, and in fact to even knock the dust of those place off their feet.

The direction is to BE in the call, and remarkable things happen when they take that counsel.

How we struggle, though, with that summons to let go and to exist in a state of being called while also letting go do judgment, ambition, self-certainty, self-determinism and pride. Look to Naaman, a military leader who stood as a peer to kings, but also one who had fallen prey to leprosy. Seeking a cure, and following the counsel of his king he travels to visit with a man of God-Elisha-who is certain to heal him. After all, he is a great man. His king has provided support for the mission. Another king has offered referral. He is worthy, perforce.

Pulling up to the gate of the prophet, he must have been shocked when the man does not even deign to come out to greet him. On top of that, he receives direction to "go and bathe" in what seems to be little better than an old, muddy rivulet. Why the Jordan? Moreover, why does the man not even come out to greet him? Even just his personal guard could END this little community gathered around this purported prophet. Besides and more...the rivers of his own cities are mightier than this trickle.

We mock Naaman, but let's be honest: we have all stood in his shoes at some point. We have all been more certain of our worth (or our rightness) over and against another's direction. We have even stood in judgment over God's direction for us to act in a given moment, or be on our way to a given place when our agenda dictates another path.

Somewhere in the midst of this debacle, though, comes a faint light of real wisdom. The general's servant asks him that if the man of God had demanded a great price, or had ordained a great quest would he not have embraced it? Instead, he is only being asked to bathe in a stream a few times. So simple, and so basic. What is holding him back?

What holds us back?

Like Naaman....all God is often asking of us is to just say yes and to trust that what comes next will lead us more deeply into harmony with our calling, and into deeper clarity of God's purposes working in (and through) us more than we can ever ask for, or imagine.

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