Unexpected Mercy

Sunday, July 7, 2019 Year C, The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, written for my home church, Sharon Community Presbyterian Church

It’s good to be home. The congregation gathered at Sharon Church is full of familiar faces from the beginning of my faith journey. My middle school Sunday school teacher was the liturgist this morning. I can’t count the number of people who hugged me before and after the service. In this place, I’m Jan’s daughter, and they let me be my own person too. Everyone is so proud to have raised a pastor. The pastor at Sharon Church doesn’t wear a robe, so I decide to wear a black dress and not the clerical collar I’ve been wearing this summer (Armor: Clergy Fashion). And like I said, everyone there is proud to have brought up a pastor, so earning pastoral authority by wearing clerical clothing isn’t such an issue.

I know that sometimes pastors reuse sermons when they are in new places. I have use the Period Sermon many times (I’ve already done it at Sharon Church). But I really like to write sermons and liturgy, so I wrote something new, based on the lectionary for this week. The pastor at Sharon Church, Rev. Becky Branch-Trevathan sent me the worship outline so that I could write/script the liturgy for the service, with the exception of the communion liturgy (we decided that it would be best to use what the congregation was used to). She gave me the communion liturgy she uses which she has adapted from A Wee Worship Book by Wild Goose Worship Group. I used the prayer for migrant children from The Presbyterian Outlook by Jill Duffield for the prayer before the Lord’s Prayer.

I’ve been reading “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates and “Church in the Round” by Letty M. Russell. Both women’s writings influenced the way I wrote about marginalized people in this sermon. This was a fun way to venture into more feminist theology without doing it overtly in the sermon.

The worship service was recorded so I’m hoping to get a copy to attach here, but if not here is the script:

Call to Worship

L:  Lord I praise you, for you have healed me

P: When I thought I would die, you renewed my life

L: I can not serve others if I do not take care of myself

P: You O Lord, are gracious to me, even when I am not gracious to myself

L: Even in my sadness, you have shown me peace and joy

P: O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Hymn of Praise— Great God, We Sing That Mighty Hand #265 (blue hymnal)

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, you pour out the spirit of grace and supplication on all who desire it.  Deliver us from cold hearts and wandering thoughts, that with steady minds and burning zeal we may worship you in spirit and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom we lift up our prayers and confessions together, in one voice, as one people. Let us pray…

Book of Common Worship p. 13

Prayer of Confession

Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, whose face is hidden from us by our sins, and whose mercy we forget in the blindness of our hearts: Cleanse us from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, that with reverent and humble hearts we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding you in our refuge and strength; through Jesus Christ your Son. Book of Common Worship p.60

Liturgist, please say: Lord, hear now in silence the private prayers and confessions of your people… (pause/count to 20) Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
Our righteousness is found in Christ alone, a gift of God by faith.  Beloved people of God, believe the good news: through the grace of Jesus Christ we are forgiven. (Phil. 3:9)

Thanks be to God!

Choral Response—Gloria Patri

Passing of the Peace

The glory of God reigns in each of us!

Let the peace of Christ within you greet the peace of Christ in your neighbor.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

And also with you!

Now, let us rejoice and greet each other with the peace of the risen Christ!

Children’s Message— Tami Shouse (Children’s Director)

Prayer for Illumination (Please offer your own prayer of illumination. It may be spontaneous or something from your life of prayer)

Isaiah 66:10-14a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

10 Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
    all you who mourn over her—
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
    from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
    from her glorious bosom.

12 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.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
    so I will comfort you;
    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
    your bodiesshall flourish like the grass

2 Kings 5:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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 Naamanwent 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.”  7 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. 10 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.” 11 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! 12 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. 13 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’?” 14 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.

Sermon: Unexpected Mercy

This is the story of a high ranking official on the victorious side of a war, coming to those whom have been beaten in battle not to make peace but to get help for his skin rash.  And he expects to be treated like a hero.  He rides in with horses and chariots and servants.  He expects a grand greeting from this healer, this man of God, this Elisha.  Maybe Naaman expects that his healing will be miraculous: a big shinnying miracle, the best display of the prophet’s skills and of his God’s awesome power.  Maybe Naaman expects that in order to be healed, he must do an epic task; that he will need to show his worth, his skills, and face a difficult sacrifice, like having his men, his protectors, his servants die while aiding him in his heroic odyssey to be well. 

But instead, he gets a message to go take a bath.

His response is rage.

His servants, probably out of fear of what he will do, work to calm him down.  Perhaps they were captured and enslaved Israelites too.  Perhaps they believed in Elisha’s God.  Perhaps they couldn’t see any harm coming from taking a bath.

Naaman eventually goes and immerses himself in the Jordan like Elisha told him to do and he is healed. 

And the only person Naaman thanks is Elisha. 

After he is healed, Naaman converts (sort of) to believe in Israel’s God.  He’s not willing to let go of all of his old ways. His conversion is incomplete.  There is a bit after the scripture we read today where he tells Elisha he is still going to go to worship with his master.  I guess he has to keep up appearances. Elisha tells him to go in peace. 

I guess if that’s enough for Elisha, then that should be enough for me.  Sometimes faith conversions are dramatic and sometimes they are done a little bit at a time.  And not in the ways we expect.  Maybe there is still hope for Naaman and those like him.

At the beginning of this passage we learn that God gave the victory to Aram, not Israel.  And I wonder, if the story of Naaman’s healing is why God gave victory to Aram.  But I’m not sure why it would matter so much that Naaman was healed.  His sort-of conversion didn’t lead to his changed behavior or changed life.  Or at least not that we know of.  But I think we have reason to hope that faith can change lives.  I think that there is hope for Israel and for all of those who find themselves in the margins of society. 

In the lectionary, this story is paired with what _________ read from Isaiah 66:10-14.  This text reminds us that all of those who mourned with Israel will get to rejoice with Israel.  That we will all be spiritually fed by Jerusalem, and by the God worshiped in Jerusalem, who will comfort us as a mother comforts her children. 

If I was to go back and look at where Israelites are featured in this story we will find them in the margins.  They are the defeated people in a time where being defeated meant you were hardly people but plunder.  Anyone treated like an object instead of a child of God, is in the margins.

Our story features a young girl who had been taken captive from Israel and serves in the house of an enemy of Israel.  It is her unexpected mercy on her captor that allows for Naaman’s journey towards healing.  And there are Naaman’s other servants who made the journey with him.  They are not identified as Israelites, but they seem to believe that Elisha is a prophet, and that they bath he suggests will heal Naaman.   All of the servants are in the margins of the society of those that they serve.

Israel’s king is grieving.  He has lost and now thinks the enemy is trying to pick a fight with him over healing a man he knew he couldn’t heal.  The king isn’t feeling so king-ly, more like a dog that has been kicked when he was already down.  It’s hard to imagine a king in the margins of the society he rules, but he is grieving.  And those who mourn often feel empty, alone, and marginalized. 

Then there is Elisha, the prophet.  Prophets have complicated relationships, with kings, with their own protégés, and with other people.  Prophets speak (almost) exclusively from the margins.  Although, I wonder if Elisha sees Naaman, the Aramean, as an outsider, as a wounded one in the margins; and he heals him.

And I think that is the key.  The people of God are called to the margins to bring healing and restoration.  To uplift the downtrodden.  To bring comfort to the sorrowful.  And to set the captives free.  The people of God are not called to only believe, but to but their faith into action.  To love God and to love neighbor.

I wish Naaman understood that. He did listen to the voices of those in the margins, but only for his own benefit.  If he had really listened to them, if he had treated them as children of God, deserving dignity and respect, this story would have been much different.  Naaman had the power to free captives, to help others, and to work for peace.  So do we. 

I believe that faith in God calls us into a new way of living.  God’s call to love others as ourselves includes everyone, especially those in the margins of our society.  The way we are to put our faith into action is to be among the marginalized, listen to them, have compassion for them, have mercy on them, and bring them back into the center of our community. Then to go back into the margins and do it all again. 

Hymn of Response—#504 Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether (blue hymnal)

Celebration of the Lord’s Supper and Lord’s Prayer

(music: note the Sanctus in the communion liturgy; can play hymn #513 during the passing of the elements)

Prayer before Lord’s prayer should include a prayer for migrant children and their families by Jill Duffield published in the Presbyterian Outlook. 

Lord whose love is boundless, whose mercy knows no borders, whose grace cannot be thwarted by fences, walls or barriers, forgive us for attempting to hold back your compassion, contain your care and put limits on your kindness. You are the one who welcomes the little children. You proclaim that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. You are the Lord who admonishes your followers to feed the hungry and care for the sick, to bind up the broken hearted and welcome the stranger.

Lord, we plead for your Spirit of tenderness to overtake our hearts, our congregations and our country. Remove from us any impediment to doing justice and alleviating suffering. Show us your way that is the way of truth, abundance and life, your way that refuses to ignore the cries of the children, the pain of their parents, the desperation of those made in your image.

As those who follow Jesus Christ who told us to ask and receive, we humbly ask for wisdom, for courage and for the will to unleash the rivers of living water you place in our hearts. May your Spirit of comfort and gentleness envelop the children languishing in poverty, bring healing to those sick in detention centers and hope to those terrified in shelters.

Let loose through your disciples your Spirit who speaks truth to power, upends cruelty and arrests exploitation. Right now, help us to prepare a place for all your children, just as you prepare a place for us — a place of refuge and safety, a place of peace and welcome, a place where all know they are valued and beloved. Amen.

Call to Offering

1 John 3: 17-18 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 

Let us now bring forward our gifts, tithes and offerings.

Offertory—Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples—GTG #757 (purple hymnal)

Doxology

Prayer of Dedication

Gracious and Generous God, we thank you for all that you have given to us.  We ask that you receive our offerings as a token of our thanks and a promise that we will put our faith into action to show mercy to others.  Lord, give us the strength and courage to do your work.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen. 

Sending Hymn—Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above—GTG #645 (purple hymnal)

Charge and Benediction

Luke 8:19-21

Then his [Jesus’] mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 21 But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Friends, the word of God is this, that you love your neighbor as yourself.  So, let’s go out from here and do just that.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Benediction Response

Postlude

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