What are you preaching? Peace or Profit?

Posted in christian, Faith, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on October 8, 2016

28th Sunday ordinary time 10-9-16 yr C 2 Kings 5:14-17, Psalm: 98:1-4,  2 Timothy 2:8-13, Luke 17:11-19 

Today our Old Testament reading is about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, and Elisha, the prophet of God. The story is 27 verses, the entire 5th chapter of the 2nd Book of Kings.  But, we only get 3 verses in the Lectionary.  I would guess that most people are not familiar with the “rest of the story”, and it is a fascinating story.  Some of these ideas came from Walter Brueggemann, a well known author & scholar of the Old Testament, and I thought they were worth sharing.


Naaman was highly respected by the King of Syria, for he was a skilled leader and very successful in battle.   BUT, he was “a leper”, with repulsive sores and flakey, scaly skin.  It would cost him his military/political career and his social position if he didn’t find a cure.


In an ironic twist, Naaman’s wife had a slave girl from Israel, captured in a raid, and this slave knew of the miracles done by the prophet Elisha.  So the King of Syrian gave Naaman a letter of introduction to the King of Israel, and Naaman set off, loaded with 10 silver coins, 6,000 gold pieces and 10 expensive sets of clothing, a fortune really, to buy his healing.


Well, the King of Israel tore his clothing in despair, thinking this must be an excuse for the Syrians to invade and destroy Israel, because clearly, no one could cure leprosy.  But Elisha heard about the ruckus, and suggested that the king send Naaman to him.


When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s door, Elisha didn’t even bother to come out. He just sent someone else to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the muddy old river Jordon.  Naaman was infuriated.  He was certain Elisha would at least wave his hands over him, say prayers, and invoke the Israelite God to cure him.  So Naaman was in a rage, “We have better, cleaner rivers in Damascus, I could have stayed home and washed in a river!”  He turned to leave, but his servants reasoned with him.  “It’s a simple thing to do.   You would have done something difficult if he told you to, why not at least try?”  He did, and he was not only healed, but his skin was as smooth and clean as a child’s.


Now, no story is complete until you place it in the culture of the time, and in the Middle East then, you always had to reciprocate for any favor.  So Naaman returns to pay Elisha.  And Naaman even adds a confession of faith, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”  Elisha refuses any payment.  No co-pay, no professional fees, no deductable, no monthly premium, no bill to be sent in the mail.  And then, Naaman has a curious request – could he please take 2 mule loads of dirt, so he can worship no other god except the Lord, on Israeli soil, at home, in Syria.   People equated worship with a physical and geographical place, and Naaman wanted some of that “place” to take home.


He also added one little caveat to the deal. He would still have to enter the Damascus temple of the idol Rimmon with the King, and he wanted forgiveness in advance for bowing down to that idol for social and political reasons, with the understanding that he believed the Lord was the one true God.  Now, what do you suppose Elisha’s reply to that was?


Elisha said, “Go in peace.” “Go in Peace”?? That was not what I expected.  I was waiting for a fiery, “If the Lord is God, bow to HIM!!  Why would Elisha be so calm about pre-planned idolatry from this man whose life has just been saved by God?  I find it amazing.


Elisha was not in the business of selling health care, after all. He was in the business of peace.  He brought peace to Naaman, who came knowing only fear and death.

Elisha brought peace to many people by healing a dreaded disease; he contributed to the common good by overcoming suffering.

Elisha brought peace because now a powerful and well known leader has confessed that the Lord is the only source of power and healing.

Elisha contributed to a step toward peace between Israel and Syria.  If more people did that, our world would be a different place today.


Elisha gave us all a reminder of the abundance of God’s love and healing, which is freely, abundantly given to all. Elisha, like God, did not hire a staff that counts our failures or the times we feel we must bow to some idol.  God does not barter for peace.  The peace of God, like rain, falls on the just and the rest of us.


Finally, Elisha chose to remain free to move on in peace himself, not bound by any missteps by others. He had God’s work to do; he would focus on the good & not concern himself with judgments.  He would stay free to let God’s spirit move as and when it would.


My grandchildren tell me they don’t like Christians because they’re in your face and pushy about their religion, but yet don’t seem to know much about their faith. It sounds like the Christians they meet aren’t in the peace business.  Are they looking for some kind of paybacks, such as increasing church attendance and donations?  Are they unfamiliar with the work of God’s Spirit?


Even if we were the only ones in town in the peace business, the only ones who seem interested in freely handing out the sacraments without barriers, feeding the hungry, distributing laundry baskets, and caring for the elderly, that’s all right. We can be the only ones who end every encounter with peace, who move on to the next encounter without noting the failures of our brothers and sisters.  We can affirm each other, complete with those idols we each cling to.  We can spend less time and effort worrying about our scales and our flakey-ness, and focus instead on something constructive.


Peace is the gift that heals us all, but peace spreads by our contact with each other, one at a time. Then we are ready to praise and worship the God of love and healing and peace.


July 26, 2015 Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity Parish

Posted in Called, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on July 26, 2015

Get to the Point

Posted in christian, Christianity, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 24, 2015

17th Sunday Ordinary Time, 7-26-15, 2 Kings 4: 42-44, Ps 145, Eph 4: 1-6, John 6: 1-15


Most of us have heard this Gospel many times, and learned that it is a kind of shadow, a figure of the Eucharist that comes later in the Gospel. And we have an even earlier shadow or figure of this back in 2nd Kings, with Elisha. We started today with the prophet Elisha, having “20 barley loaves made from the first fruits” to fed 100 men. “Bread” was typically round like small pita bread; the ground grain was mixed with water and baked. 3 “loaves” was a normal meal for one person.  

Scholars think this gathering of 100 was a gathering for the prophets of God of the time. It was in the spring, possibly around Passover. Barley is the grain of the poor, the first grain to ripen in the spring, just in time for those who have exhausted their winter food supplies. Out of that 1st ripe barley of the new crop, (the first harvest of the season was called “first fruits”) loaves were made and given to the priests. At God’s direction, Elisha had the 20 loaves distributed, and the miracle was that everyone ate their fill, with bread left over.

 There are often key words that help us move beyond the story line and find the deeper message. For example, our Gospel says: “The Jewish feast of the Passover was near.” It sits there, seeming a little off topic, a little odd, but the writer did that to catch your eye, or your ear, and make you ask, “So what?” 

Well, here’s what. Passover is in the spring, usually just before Easter. Only in spring was there green grass where the people could recline to eat as in our Gospel.   Remember that Jesus and the apostles celebrated a Passover meal on what we call Good Thursday. After the meal, Jesus went to the garden to pray and Judas betrayed him. Jews still celebrate Passover every year with reading the Exodus story, wine, unleavened bread, and the unblemished lamb– all that is Passover. Passover and Crucifixion, the necessary preludes to the Resurrection, all are at the heart of our faith. 

The entire 6th chapter of John has a Passover theme. In fact, John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” in John 1:29. Jesus goes to Jerusalem in chapter 2, for Passover, and that is when the cleansing of the Temple occurs. Our lectionary spends 5 weeks on this chapter of John, working carefully though what is called “The Discourse on the Bread of Life” talking about Moses and miracles, food and faith, and body and blood. This is “heady” stuff that some theologians spend years on, writing books on, trying to understand the details and fullness of it. 

I enjoy all that detail, but for today, I think it is more important to ask, “What is John trying to do here?” and “How does this impact my life?”   I recently read an article by Fr. Dennis Hamm, a Jesuit, and I would like to share some of his ideas with you. Fr. Hamm says that the point of this Gospel is not to just tell us how some people were fed one day nearly 2000 years ago; and that this chapter from John was not meant to be an exact recording of the event. That frees us from worrying about the other 5 similar but slightly different versions of this story in the other Gospels. Many of us grew up thinking it was a word-for-word report, but it’s really more like an icon suggests Fr. Hamm.  An icon is an artistic work, drawn or painted – or in this case written – for the purpose of encouraging meditation and prayer, a way to open us to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. To fulfill its purpose, this reading must connect us to the past, ring true in our lives and worship today, and lead us toward the future with hope. It is to lead us to the living and present Jesus, alive and available to us, who travels with us on a journey to freedom and gives us spiritual food as we go. 

Talking about Elisha and Passover make it clear how this reading is solidly based in the Jewish salvation story. The intersection of Scripture and Tradition is a great place to start a journey. But as Christians, we have not only a continuation, but also an explosive salvation story, for Passover links us to the resurrection of our Lord. John’s point is that, yes, Elisha was a prophet, but Jesus exceeds Elisha in every way, in numbers, in power, in teaching, in divinity, in rising from the dead. Our living Lord exceeds Moses in every way. Jesus eternally leads all mankind, not just one group, and has love instead of law; he is our manna, his mountain is heaven, and his destination is the kingdom of God, not a country. 

The danger, of course, is to draw the wrong conclusion. If our vision of Jesus is just a magician who will fix what is wrong in our lives and fill our stomachs, there’s a problem. If we want to cozy up to the political power of the moment, we have not only missed the point, but we’ll be disappointed. Reducing Jesus to an earthly king is so distorted and divisive that Jesus fled from those who would try to twist his message to increase their own status and control. In the darkest periods of church history, people have tried that, always with disastrous results. 

The purpose of this multiplication of loaves and fish is to show and tell us who Jesus was and is now, to keep us active followers of Jesus, and to feed our souls while keeping us hungry for more teaching, learning and prayer. Without this ongoing relationship with a real Jesus, our stomachs will never be satisfied, much less our souls. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the way to fullness of life  

Homily October 13, 2013 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion, scripture by Fr Joe R on October 8, 2013


I have always thought that the story of the ten lepers came down to the idea of gratitude. However, when I see the story of Naaman the Syrian which was also read today, there is a certain thought or similarity that comes to mind. As part of the human family, we tend to be cliquish or tribal or even exclusive. We all tend to think we are an “in” group or exclusive. Israel was the only worshippers of the One God and all foreigners were unclean and to be avoided. Even today the concept remains in many Christian denominations that if you are not a member of our church, then you can’t be saved. Thus salvation is found only for our own kind.

In the two healings today, the focus turns on two men, one a Samaritan and the other Naaman from Syria. Elisha and Jesus both healed the foreigners, but only after they went and performed some activity. Naaman had to plunge 7 times into the Jordan, and

10 Lepers

10 Lepers

the Samaritan was sent to the priests with the other nine for confirmation that he was clean. Only by plunging in Naaman’s case and walking away in the Samaritan’s case brought about the healing. As we read, both men returned with much gratitude and new-found faith. Such faith and gratitude was lost on the nine in the gospel, as apparently they simply went on with their lives returning to family and friends taking their healing in stride.

A real lesson is here for us to consider. Certainly, Israel was the only people who worshipped the One God, and they were the ones Jesus was sent to. In his time on earth, Jesus certainly remained in Israel to preach and teach them. But when Jesus met non Jews, He certainly was hospitable and even welcoming to them. Even in his parables, the hated Samaritans were seen as being human and even capable of doing good things. Jesus first came to Israel, but his arms were open to embrace all people, especially when he was ill received by those who should have recognized him and believed.

So both Elisha and Jesus met and showed real compassion to those they met and encountered. Both men bestowed the gifts of healing and faith. They asked for nothing for what they gave wasn’t theirs but God’s to give. They both said go and believe. Well, I tell you today, each of you has received this gift of faith. That gift you can bestow each day, each encounter if you are a true disciple and give yourself. The reward is in the giving and in the seeing and understanding that God is working through you.