The Adventurous Lectionary for July 7: Transformation is Right in Front of You

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – Sunday, July 7, 2013

2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Galatians 6:7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Transformation emerges through a dynamic process of divine-human call and response.  Our openness and efforts make a difference to the quality and extent of God’s presence in our lives.  As scripture says, Christ is always standing at the door, knocking and seeking our attention and partnership in the quest for planetary and personal wholeness.  Whether and how we the open the door to God’s graceful, intimate, and visionary energy can make all the difference in the world.  This Sunday’s lectionary readings reflect on God’s call and our response, and how this affects the shape of grace and healing in our lives.

Sometimes what we need to experience wholeness is right in front of us and we don’t notice it or  we choose to ignore it.  This was the case of the great commander Naaman’s quest for healing.  Sickness is the greater leveler.  Our power, prestige, and wealth cannot insulate us from the indignities and inconveniences of illness, nor can they protect us from our inherent finitude and mortality.  Naaman has power, but he also has a skin condition that has changed his life.  His illness may not be life-threatening, but it is life-altering, serious enough for communication between Naaman and the King of Israel; important enough for the warrior to invest a fortune in his recovery; and critical enough for the powerful leader to pay attention to a lowly slave girl.

When Naaman visits Elisha, the prophet treats him as he would a regular person.  He does not come out to greet him, but simply sends him a remedy for his illness.  Perhaps, Elisha wants to remind Naaman that he, like everyone else, is made of dust; perhaps, the recognition of the human condition will open the general to the pathway to healing.   Naaman is initially upset; he expects a costly potion, a salubrious convalescence at a noted healing spot, or a thorough examination.  All he receives is the prescription to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River.  “Surely such a simple treatment can’t restore me to health,” Naaman fumes. “A serious illness requires a serious or at least costly remedy and surely not to dip myself in a common stream, used by the common people and their animals.”

Naaman’s anger is quenched by the wise counsel of his servants, “If the prophet had asked you to do something difficult, you would have done it.  But the answer may be right in front of you and free of charge, why won’t you try it?”  Once again the lowly – a slave girl and servants – are the source of wisdom to the high and mighty.  Naaman follows the prophet’s prescription and his servants’ counsel, and is restored to health.

Sometimes the solution to our problems is right in front of us, personally and as a community.  Sometimes what we need to get well is a simple change in diet, a natural medication, an energy treatment, an alternation in lifestyle, or a visit to our physician or other medical care giver.  Stress has been identified as a factor in a variety of illnesses in our time; yet many of us, including pastors, are stress-addicted and even boast about the multiple demands on our lives.  The same applies to diet; we eat fast food when we need soul food; we constantly eat processed food when we need to eat more simple, home-prepared foods.  Reaching out to a counselor, spiritual director, or holistic care giver can provide important relief and restoration, capable of transforming our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Sometimes, the solution to political problems is elementary, as Sherlock Holmes would say, but we fail to follow the most basic principles of social well-being: full employment, adequate housing, excellent education, support of families through health care, child care services, and safe communities, self-determination, and honest and community-oriented business and governmental practices.  At first glance, these may appear too labor-intensive, socially disruptive, and costly; but the cost of unemployment, disease, hopelessness, and over-stressed families is much greater.  I am not suggesting a particular social policy, but noting that the basics of a healthy society and community are obvious and, like Naaman’s healing, right in front of us, if we let of patterns of greed, individualism, and scorn of the vulnerable in our society.

{For more on healing and wholeness, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion); Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice (Pilgrim Press); and God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus (Westminster/John Knox)]

The question for us, personally, congregationally, and politically, is what simple remedies for our current malaise lie right in front of us, forgotten, ignored, or avoided?

The words of Psalm 30 describe the author’s experience of healing and transformation, possibly of a physical illness.  He rejoices in his newly-found well-being, grateful for God’s healing and sustaining presence.  Sometimes we are “better than good” following recovery from an illness, or we discover a new understanding of ourselves and our values as the result of surviving a serious illness.  Our morning becomes dancing!

In the Galatians passage, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of cause and effect from a spiritual perspective.  You reap what you sow,  Paul asserts.  Your values shape the course of your life – including your economic well-being, spiritual growth, family relationships, and living out of God’s vision for your life.  Paul is not describing an unbending karma.  In fact, Galatians celebrates our ability to choose our relationship to God and each other.  Simply put, our values and actions have consequences – they draw us closer or further away from God.

The central question for pastor, congregants, and the congregation as a whole is:  Are our choices and behaviors opening us and others to Christ or are they standing in the way of God’s generously given abundance?

Many congregations desire vitality and growth.  They may even describe themselves as friendly and generous, but their friendship excludes strangers and defined socially-deviant and marginalized people; moreover, their generosity is sporadic and neglectful of the most critical ethical and relational issues, right on their doorstep.  Other congregations succumb to the ways of the world – in/out, winner/loser, privileged/marginalized, us/them – and decline in numbers, energy, and positive influence, when a vast, unaddressed mission field surrounds them.

Paul also addresses legalism.  His cross-centered faith dominates his thinking.  Christ alone can bring wholeness and joy to our lives.  This is not determinism or predestination or a surrender of our personal and corporate agency, but Paul’s recognition that if we seek to align ourselves with Christ’s values, we will be spiritually healthy, regardless of our health condition, and congregationally vital, despite our numerical size or growth patterns.  Openness to Christ enables us – like God described in Lamentations – to be “new every morning,” living out God’s new creation in exciting, surprising, and life-transforming ways.

The Luke passage also deals with values and ways we should live out our vocation.  Jesus counsels persistence and non-attachment.  Your work is not about your success or achievement but faithfulness to God and the well-being of those whom you serve.  If people treat you as spiritual rock stars, be faithful, and let the power of God flow, enriching and deepening their lives and possibly even transforming their bodies and social standing.  If people turn their back on you, scorning your message, continue on your journey, letting go of any sense of failure or desire for revenge.  We are responsible for the fidelity of our message and our spiritual well-being; the rest is up to the gentle providence of God and the decisions of those to whom we minister.

The disciples return to Jesus, excited about their mission.  Jesus pronounces a victory over the forces of alienation, sickness, and oppression.  He also reminds them that what is most important is their relationship with God, regardless of their apparent success or failure.  If we are faithful to God’s vision for our lives, ministries, congregations, and the world, God’s power flows through us, regardless of our congregational statistics.

The answers are right in front of us and we need to train our senses for moments of divine transformation.  Healing is as near as the humble Jordan, or a changed lifestyle, diet, or response to stress, or a recognition that whether we live or die, we are in God’s care.  New creation is as  near as an embrace of God’s value system and recognition that alignment with God changes everything.  The secrets of success in ministry and congregational vitality are already in your neighborhood and as near as opening to God’s moment by moment vision, imperfectly yet persistently, and becoming, fallibly though we are, people of hospitality, fidelity, and generosity.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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