Be Joyful, Proper 9 (C) – 2016

[RCL] 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Many of us learned to sing these words at summer camp.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (Where?)
Down in my heart (Where?)
Down in my heart
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay

Is this merely a child’s song, one for happy little campers, freed from care and concern? Is it only about superficial gaiety? Or could it be a song that prepares children to one day learn the deeper, more mature understanding of the value called “joy?” Regardless, joy, with a central role in today’s scripture readings, deserves our attention, especially at this moment in history.

The Psalmist demands of us: “Be joyful in God, all you lands!” More significantly, the Gospel account reminds us about the seventy disciples, sent out to spread the Good News of God in Christ, who returned successfully from their mission with a spirit of joy in their hearts.

No doubt, the seventy began with the expectant enthusiasm of aspiring novices, but they returned as seasoned ministers filled with genuine joy. Perhaps we can discover the quality and meaning of this kind of joy as we think through the guidelines and warnings Jesus set for them in the sending. As we compare what produced for them such joy, we can use it in our ministries as the current generation of Jesus-followers.

He sent them as lambs into the midst of wolves. It was a difficult, hostile world about which Jesus warned, one true to life in every time and place. The social environment included the usual crowd of bad guys, skeptics, Jewish fundamentalists, Samaritans, Gentiles, and Roman officials. In order to undertake the task they had to overcome their fears with courage and resolve.

Jesus told them to travel light – no purse, bag, or sandals. In order to get the job done, they would not have time to care about material possessions or to waste time on other distractions.

He ordered them, when not welcomed by a group, to wipe the dust off their feet and move on to the next place. The urgency of the moment would not allow them to linger in hopeless situations.

They went out among the people, dutifully accomplishing the mission. They were so successful that they returned in a spirit of joy. It wasn’t a superficial, child-like joy of children returning to camp, but a deeper, satisfying, inner joy of the soul.

As the current members of the Body of Christ, we are the seventy for our generation. Our mission is not unlike that of those mentioned in Luke’s Gospel account, and the guidelines and warnings are largely the same. The deep inner joy we can find in our 21st century mission for Christ can prove equally meaningful. As we follow our charge in the Baptismal Covenant, we seek to serve God’s people by offering to them the good news of God in Christ, both in sharing the truth and in the actions of care and love.

We, too, go out among wolves. We live in a world that is fearful, emotionally paralyzed, or aggressively angry as a result of a kind of shell-shock. Many of us suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by acts of terrorism, near financial depression, natural disasters, and unexplainable violence in schools and shopping malls. Far too many of us are driven by fear and self-defensiveness to over-reactive and destructive actions.

Perhaps the hardest example to follow from Luke is to take with us no semblance of purse, bag, or sandal. Many of us are disabled by fear of loss in the midst of an overly-materialist culture, in our desire not to give up anything of our substance, of not being willing to do without what we want and think we need. But we can easily see how the baggage of materialism can disable us from taking committed action.

Making sense of shaking dust off our feet, a practice of pious Jews during New Testament times, is also difficult. Many of us disdain the idea of giving up on any task. But, perhaps the application for us is to make the best and wisest use of our time and energy – a prioritizing intended to maximize the effectiveness of our call to carry out God’s work.

With all this in mind, we can follow these modern warnings and guidelines in our efforts for Christ and to find the deepest joy that life in faith can bring. We use the challenge from Jesus to the seventy as a model to move boldly into our everyday world, into the lives of those around us – our friends and neighbors, strangers and enemies, skeptics and unbelievers, the bereaved and disconsolate, the poor and victims of injustice, the hopeless and diseased – all who are in need of God. We move forward with courage and commitment in telling others about Christ, bringing them into the life of the Church, welcoming those who come anew into our midst, ministering to all in need, sharing with them what we have, so that they may be healed of their brokenness and find the same joy in the Lord we have found.

Above all, it is necessary to overcome the inherent need to avoid vulnerability. To leave behind fear of failure, the inclination to avoid acting because we are afraid we will be embarrassed or rejected or that it will be too time-consuming or too difficult or costly. We must grasp life with joy in Christ and seize the opportunity to be among the seventy for our generation.

We must go about this task with verve and commitment and excitement and joy. We will do well to emulate a bunkhouse-full of Texas cowboys who once said, “We loved working cattle so much that we would be awake in the night crying for daylight so we could saddle up and hit the range.” Can we, too, cry for daylight so we can get to work tending to the call of Christ to reach out to the world in love and sharing?

If we go at our task in this way, following a modern expression of the work of the seventy, we are certain to experience the same deep, meaningful, fulfilling joy found by our forebears in the faith. Not a superficial kind of happiness or delight, but the joy that takes root deep down in our hearts.

Can singing “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy” be an appropriate and affirming response to what we experience in the committed Christian life? Can it serve as a statement of Christian hope and faith that helps us remember that grace and love underlie the foundation of God’s relationship with us and God’s power and support as we go about our Christian ministries?

A final link for us with the seventy of old and Jesus’ instruction to them is found in his sending them out two by two. Like them, none of us acts alone in carrying out the mission and ministries of the Body of Christ. We are all in this together, and we take comfort in the partnerships we share in carrying out Christ’s charge to us as the seventy of this generation.

So there is no “I” but only “we.” Therefore, let us take to heart the words of the old camp song in the deepest and most meaningful understanding of joy, changing its words from “I” to “we” and “my” to “our.” Sing with me, won’t you?

We’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in our hearts (Where?)
Down in our hearts (Where?)
Down in our hearts
We’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in our hearts
Down in our hearts to stay

Download the sermon for Proper 9C.

Written by The Rev. Ken Kesselus

The Rev. Ken Kesselus is a retired priest living with his wife Toni in his native home of Bastrop, Texas, where he serves as the mayor and writes history book and a column in the local newspaper. He is a former member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and author John E. Hines: Granite on Fire.

Those called and sent are the baptized, not just the ordained, 7 Pentecost, Proper 9 (C) – 2013

 

July 7, 2013

2 Kings 5:1-14 and Psalm 30 (or Isaiah 66:10-14 and Psalm 66:1-8); Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

We are good at placing burdens on our clergy. One of the most severe is to expect them to be the chief, perhaps the only agents of parish growth. We await a new rector, ready to give a list of lapsed people, former parishioners who have strayed, or perhaps even the names of people we might think would fit in with the rest of us. Then we sit back and expect the new priest, who knows no one, has never lived here before, to get on with it. That’s what we pay the priest to do.

Consciously or not, our expectations transform our ideal of priests. We envision them as well-polished sales clerks, adapt at getting customers to buy. For our part, we make sure that the building looks spick-and-span, the sign welcoming, the doors open and the grass cut. It is so difficult to avoid imposing on our faith that which we have become used to in our secular lives. Few things impact us more than marketing. We are consumers all, bombarded with objects on offer at a price, most of which we neither need nor really desire. It’s important that we don’t start to think of our priest as the object designed to provide what we believe to be our “spiritual” needs.

Lessons like the one from the gospel today tend to reinforce all this. St. Luke tells of Jesus sending out over 70 disciples into the surrounding villages. They are to travel light, but are armed with special powers. When they return, it seems they had great success. So, we reason, as the disciples, or some of them, became Apostles, and as we think of apostles as clergy, who created bishops and through them priests and deacons, obviously this story is meant to inspire the clergy to do a better job for us.

People who write scholarly books about St. Luke’s gospel note that Luke alone mentions this story. Some think the number 70 refers to the non-Jewish nations, the “gentiles” evangelized by Peter and Paul and company. We read about their missionary endeavors in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s second volume of his history of Jesus and the first Christians. Others note that Moses called 70 people to assist him in his task of shepherding Israel as it moved through the desert. Perhaps both are true. Jesus sends his followers into “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the furthest parts of the earth.” Jesus created a team to assist him and sent them into the world. But was that team made up of clergy alone?

We continue to insist that these people were the first clergy. In this we are both right and wrong. We are right that among those called and sent were those who would be pastors, preachers, celebrants of the sacraments, those who led emerging Christian communities. We are wrong if we think that all those called and sent filled that description, or were rather like our full-time, paid, professional clergy.

Those called and sent today, as then, are not merely the ordained, but rather they are the baptized. Yes, this gospel is about you.

The gospel tells two things about every baptized Christian here today. The first is that the task of telling the Good News to others is given to us all. We may achieve that task in many different ways, quietly or spectacularly, verbally or by our loving care for others, but the task of showing Jesus to others is one of the chief reasons why we exist. That is not an exaggeration. We have to grasp the idea that each of us has been created, was born, for a purpose, and that purpose is in the mind of God and is more important than any other purpose we may take on.

The second truth the gospel tells us is that we have been “empowered” so to do. That’s an assurance and a challenge. We tend to absolve our passivity by muttering things like, “I’m an introvert,” “It’s not in my nature,” “I get embarrassed.”

The Gospel assures us  – and Luke later stresses this at the beginning of Acts – that we are all empowered to witness in the world and that empowerment is not the same as natural talent.

Imagine that you find yourself by a sick bed. Everything in you tells you to cut and run. You are extremely uncomfortable, don’t know what to say, feeling inadequate and close to panic. Yet you stay, maybe holding a hand and just sitting there. That action comforts and cheers the sick person. You have used not your talent, but the power given to you in baptism and reinforced every time you receive Holy Communion.

Perhaps you are in line at the store; an irate customer is yelling at the sales assistant. It’s not her fault. She is close to tears. When you get to her, your notice her name, speak it to her, smile and offer her silent comfort. In so doing you use the grace given to you in baptism.

You see, our second problem, apart from consigning the task of witnessing to the clergy, is that we don’t recognize spiritual gifts because we think they must be spectacular. Yes, the 70 were given the power to cast out evil, but to do so may merely be the offering of goodness and kindness, objective love.

That may sound trite. Practicing consistent, objective love, particularly toward people we hardly know, or are not like us, or are people that repel us by their actions is no trite or easy thing. It’s much easier to lump them in a convenient group, label them, espouse an all-embracing cause and keep one’s distance.

Jesus, present among us this morning, continues to call us, send us, and empower us. We all have a vocation to ministry. Perhaps this coming week, in our quiet times, when we have the opportunity to reflect, or even to pray, it might be good to consider what task, seemingly beyond of strength or talents, our comfort zone, God wants us to take on and embrace, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, who has lived within us, often unrecognized, since the day we were adopted by God in Baptism.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

Embodied in Jesus, Pentecost 6, Proper 9 (C) – 2010

[RCL] 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Today’s reading from the Second Book of Kings presents us with a strange and complex story. The main characters are the Aramean warrior Naaman, who has what our ancestors called “leprosy”; and the prophet Elisha of Israel, chosen successor to Elijah, who eventually heals Naaman.

The King of Aram and the King of Israel both appear as characters, but they do not drive the plot; the plot is driven by nameless servants, who matter a good deal more in the story than do the pair of kings.

First we are told that Naaman’s wife has a servant girl from the land of Israel. There would be no story if this nameless servant had not suggested that her master really ought to go see the prophet in Samaria who could cure him of his disease.

When Naaman arrives in Samaria, the chief city in the northern kingdom of Israel, he has brought with him all his horses and chariots, a quantity of gold and silver, and “ten changes of clothing.” Clearly he expects that healing his skin disease will be an expensive and elaborate production.

Again we have a nameless servant: a messenger from Elisha meets Naaman and instructs the warrior to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman is quite offended by this message; he thinks there are rivers back home in Aram that are better than the Jordan. Then we have more nameless servants. Indeed, if it were not for the courage and persuasive abilities of Naaman’s servants, the story would have ended right there, with Naaman “stalking off in a rage.”

The proud warrior listens to his servants, however, and immerses himself seven times in the Jordan, and just as the servant girl had indicated, Naaman is cured. The manner of the healing turns Naaman’s expectations inside out and upside down; the prophet Elisha is not even present, and there are no prayers, incantations, no laying on of hands, nothing one would have associated with healing at that time. But there is a powerful subtext to this story: the God of Israel has very strong powers indeed and can act directly and immediately without power brokers or mediators. Equally clear in this story, as in several instances with Elijah before this, is that God brings healing to foreigners as well as to the people of Israel. As St. Paul says several hundred years later, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”

The scope and reach of God’s authority and healing action is a theme echoed in today’s gospel reading from Luke. Having previously sent “the twelve” out on an exploratory journey, here Jesus sends out seventy of his disciples “to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” The seventy go out as the bearers of God’s power in much the same way that Jesus did. Just as Elisha did not need to be present with Naaman, Jesus does not have to be physically present with his followers when they go out in mission. In both stories, the mighty power of God to heal and save undergirds all the human activities involved.

This immediate presence of God’s power is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

Through the disciples’ activities, God proclaimed his presence and power. And this direct, immediate, self-proclaiming presence of God amazed and excited Jesus’ disciples. They came back from their missionary journeys “full of joy,” and chattering “Lord! In your name even the demons submit to us!” This reaction betrays the fact that they were taking the success of their healings and exorcisms personally rather than as bearers of God’s presence. Jesus’ response to this inflation of their egos gently brings them down to earth: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In the end, these readings are all about the amazing, even shocking capacity of our generous God to hand over holy stuff to human characters while remaining in the background. In the stories of Elijah and Elisha, we begin to understand that prophets do not act according to an instruction manual for blessings, healings, warnings, conversions, or curses. God grants them considerable freedom and initiative. We tend to think of prophets as “great communicators,” but Elijah and Elisha correct our insistent emphasis on the spoken word of God by the way they function as “great connectors.” Prophetic activity breaks through human boundaries, connecting the power of God’s presence to people beyond the land, and outside the covenant, of Israel.

This role of connecting the power of God to the people of the world is supremely and fully embodied in Jesus, but by derivation and gift, the role of connecting is ours as well. We do not all have the gift of being “great communicators,” but we can all be great connectors even if we don’t think of ourselves as prophets.

Like the nameless servants who drive the story of Naaman, our job is to be the connectors of God’s extraordinary, abundant, and life-giving power to those who need it. For love, peace, and justice, and for the repair of the world’s fabric, may the Lord make it so.

Written by the Rev. Angela V. Askew
The Rev. Angela V. Askew is priest-in-charge of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York.

Find rest, Pentecost 6, Proper 9 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm: 66:1-8; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her,” it says in Isaiah 66:10.
Shortly after the American Revolution, the newly constituted Episcopal Church of the United States devised a special set of prayers and lessons, called “propers,” to commemorate the Fourth of July and the newly won American independence from Great Britain. The Church encouraged the use of these propers each year on the Fourth of July.

Yet within a very short time they had fallen into neglect and were eventually abandoned by the Church. Why? Well, with few exceptions – Washington and Franklin come to mind – members of the early Episcopal Church were anything but enthusiastic about the Revolution and the break with England. According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, a modern compendium of propers and commentaries, the majority of the Church’s clergy had, in fact, been loyal to the British crown.

Staunch royalists, these clergy apparently would have sooner prayed for a tyrant king than for someone with the inelegant and business-like title of president. So rather than aggravate matters, the Church quietly shelved the new propers. It was not until the publication of the 1928 Prayer Book that a liturgy was again introduced for the Fourth of July. And the Church has ever since provided prayers and lessons for this important national celebration.

Issues of church and state have a long and complex history. In many cultures, realm and religion have been inextricably woven together into the very fabric of everyday life and thought. Such was surely the case with the people of ancient Israel, who understood themselves to be the Lord’s own chosen people. We today share their covenant conviction but have come to recognize that all nations have a part in God’s favor. We pray in the words of today’s Psalm, “Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”

Our Old Testament reading from the Prophet Isaiah calls upon us to “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her.” Jerusalem is, of course, the city of David. It is at the very heart of Israel’s faith and worship, and it comes to represent the core of the covenant itself. Even medieval cartographers centuries later instinctively put Jerusalem at the center of their maps, making it, in a sense, the omphalos or “navel” of the known world.

It should come as no surprise then that Jesus, in our Gospel account today, is on his way to Jerusalem. He sends the disciples on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intends to visit. But these seventy are no highly paid advance men. They are to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” For it is not political barnstorming that Jesus is up to here. He has come not to take up the duties of kingly power and authority but rather to proclaim, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”

There is a big difference between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God, although politicians of all ages have too often mistaken their own cause for the Lord’s. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard. Some still wrap themselves in the mantle of religion to curry favor and win votes. Nothing new there. The footnotes of history are filled with patriotic would-be messiahs ready to save their nations from all manner of perceived ills and threats.

Throughout Christian history, nation after nation has had the hubris to identify itself with the Israel of old and presume to think itself unique or more blessed than other peoples. But this kind of exceptionalism is a dangerous thing. The Roman and Byzantine Empires, in spite of their great splendor, are no more. America is not the Promised Land either, nor are we the Chosen People. Washington, for all its brilliance, is not the holy city of Jerusalem.

These quieter days following the Fourth of July celebrations of this past week may be as good a time as any for us to reflect on the state of our nation and to pray for God’s blessing upon our land. After all, our cherished separation of Church and state has never stopped us Americans from singing boldly, “America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

Paul tells us in our second reading that we should “bear one another’s burdens.” It is “the law of Christ,” he seems to imply, that we should care for one another, no matter our differences or background. This is equally an apt mandate of our civil compact as a nation. We are all in it together. The burden of one is the burden of all. “Whenever we have the opportunity,” Paul continues, we must “work for the good of all.”

Just last year, the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City installed a monument to the great Jewish-American poet, Emma Lazarus, who seems in some ways to have caught the spirit of our nation as well as anyone before or since. In her poem, “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, she welcomes the immigrant to our shores: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.” It sounds a lot like what our Lord himself might have had in mind as he proclaimed the kingdom of God throughout the land of Israel so long ago.

Our country today is much more diverse than it was at its foundation, and in this we are more blessed than many other nations of the world. Our Church too has become a haven to peoples of many cultures and assorted political stripes and views. The Lord welcomes and accepts them all. “Come unto me,” he bids his people in the familiar comfortable words from scripture and the Rite I Eucharist, “all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”

To be poor and “heavy laden” in ancient Israel was not a curse, for the entire nation had experienced exile and privation. Indeed, the anawim Yahweh, the “poor of God,” were considered to be among God’s most beloved. Perhaps to the extent that we as a nation continue to welcome among us the “huddled masses yearning to be free” can we hope to enjoy God’s favor and find rest for our own too often rootless souls.

Amen.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is priest-in-charge at Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church in El Cajon, California. He welcomes your comments at frankhegedus@hotmail.com.