CACINA

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.

Prophets and the Progression of Mark

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 4, 2015

14th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-5-15, Ez 2: 2-5, Ps 123, 2 Cor 12: 7-10, Mark 6: 1-6

Prophets and the Progression of Mark 

I hear two messages in today’s readings. The first message is about prophets and the demands of being a prophet.   Last December, Pope Francis offered a great working definition of a prophet: “A prophet is someone who listens to the words of God, who reads the spirit of the times, and who knows how to move forward toward the future.” He went on add a real zinger, “All those who are baptized are prophets…let us not tire of moving forward.” That’s us! We’d better look at this more closely.  

First, a prophet must listen to God. Next a prophet reads the spirit of the times, and finally a prophet moves toward the future. Just three easy steps! Ok! So, how do we listen to God? This isn’t news to us: we listen to God in the scriptures; we listen when we pray and we meditate; we listen when we study the teachings of faithful Christians; we listen when trusted friends and advisors talk with us. Naturally, this takes dedication. Listening to God is not just an occasional thought, but daily scheduled time of focused attention.  

The spirit of the times is found by stepping back from that one-sided, shallow political rhetoric & by disengaging from the sound bites used by those seeking to sell products or ideas. Reading the spirit of the times requires a sense of history, discernment, and attending to the undercurrents of our society. We pay attention to the bold events and the subtle ones, too. 

Moving forward toward the future takes willingness to change and re-create our life-styles, taking on new information, willingness to admit errors. It takes ending the pretense that we’re in control. We must let go of pre-conceived limits and barriers to make room for thoughts and ideas beyond our experience.   

Hmm, This is sounding very idealistic, isn’t it? It sounds like the diet I never go on or the fitness program I never get beyond day 2 with. Is it possible that I may be failing to listen, not reading the times, and resisting moving forward? Even worse than that, am I like the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day who God described as “rebellious, hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Later in that passage from Ezekiel, God told the prophet he would find the people to be like scorpions, meaning Ezekiel would face bitter and painful opposition. If you want some other, more contemporary names, think about how Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero were treated as prophets.  

Of course, the people of Jesus’ time knew about prophets. The saying, “ A prophet is not without honor except … in his own house” was common in both Jewish and Greek literature even then. Could we write this off this bad trip back to Nazareth in our Gospel to a little jealousy? Why should our neighbor be given a gift of healing or wisdom or teaching? Who does he think he is? But, they are astonished at his teaching. His wisdom and power for mighty deeds are quickly acknowledged. Then we find the real problem. If Jesus is simply a carpenter, just a guy from the neighborhood, and his divine authority is denied, where, then, does the teaching and wisdom and power come from?  

If the people of Nazareth do not believe this supernatural power comes from God, then is it from evil? Are “offended” because they assume he brought something deceptive or dark to them? Are they that blind? Jesus was amazed at their lack of belief. They were just like Ezekiel’s people, stubborn, refusing the evidence standing in front of them of the power and presence of God. That is why Jesus could not perform any mighty deeds there. The people of Nazareth rejected the blessings of God because they would not listen, they refused to read the spirit of the times, and they would not move a single inch into the future, as if their feet were in cement. It is an appalling and painfully sad story of eternal love distorted and distained. It is a warning to those who will not listen or read or move. It is in stark contrast to Jesus telling the woman in last week’s reading, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace, and be cured of your affliction.” She had listened, read, and moved into the future.   

The second message in today’s readings is the continuing message of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes Mark seems like just a collection of parables, healings, teachings, miracles of Jesus, all one after the other. But that is not the case.   

Earlier in Chapter 3 of Mark (vs 6), the Pharisees have discussed killing Jesus for healing a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. They closed their minds to God, and told themselves that they, not God, were in control.   In vs 21 of the same chapter, his relatives are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind,” speaking of Jesus as if he were devil-possessed. In the very next verse, the scribes who had come from Jerusalem say, “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” That is shockingly hard thing to say. The scribes had blasphemed against the Holy Sprit, the spirit of God working in Jesus. Jesus responds, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”   

This is no flippant theological discussion, but rather a shadowing of what is to come. Mark is building for that day in Jerusalem when the leaders and people join together and call out, “Crucify Him!” Mark not only asks “Who do you say that Jesus is?” but he also asks if we can stand in faith as prophets when others will not.   

When we proclaim ourselves as Christians, we proclaim ourselves as prophets of Almighty God. We must be busy listening to God, reading the spirit of the times, and moving forward into the future.