A sermon for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C Proper 9). Also in the news today, the humanitarian crisis in detention centers and camps holding asylum seekers and other immigrants to the United States, including children; the Women’s World Cup Final; and the July 4th weekend. Readings include the healing of Naaman, Paul’s admonition not to become weary of doing good, and the sending out and return of the seventy by Jesus.
The seventy returned to Jesus excited and amped up, saying, “You should see how we owned the forces of evil! How we slayed in the name of the Spirit! We are on fire!”
And Jesus said, “Yesss. Awesome. You are amazing. You are undefeatable. I know, I know that the way of love wins (because, ahem, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life). I know that you have it in you to do great things.
“But, not to rain on your parade or anything, but … don’t peg your faith, your hope, your sense of self too closely to the score. It is more important to endure.
Do not become distracted, even by your own indisputable awesomeness, from the way of love.”
This morning’s readings contrast the thrill of the grand gesture against the quiet satisfaction of doing the right thing, come what may, do or die, in a world that may or may not reward it. They encourage us to stay strong, to stay the course, knowing that whether or not the world recognizes it, the reign of God is not far from us.
So Naaman is angry that his healing miracle is not more splashy (pun intended) – but Elisha is more interested in witnessing to the word of God than in pandering to the preferences of an imperial commander. And still, Naaman is healed, when he decides to submit to God’s way, because God is merciful, when we look to them for loving kindness.
Jesus sends the seventy out “like lambs among wolves,” travelling quietly, preaching generously, refusing to be distracted from the way of Jesus into arguments, disputes, or discouragement.
Paul counsels gentleness, and warns against the weariness that comes from setting one’s sights on showy achievements, rather than the steady work of simply doing what is right and loving, for the good of all people and the glory of God.
This is not to discourage grand gestures, and there is certainly a place in our worship for God to celebrate the achievements of the gospel, especially when we have been granted a part in them – what joy! But the way of the gospel, of the cross and the resurrection is walked one step at a time. Sometimes it runs uphill. Sometimes it is dirty, dusty, full of stumbling blocks. Sometimes, it requires assistance, like Simon of Cyrene stepping in to help Jesus with his cross – “bear one another’s burdens,” Paul advises, even as each carries their own. Sometimes, it requires a Sabbath rest in the quiet darkness of the tomb, awaiting resurrection. Sometimes, seemingly insignificant actions build to big rewards.
I read a sweet story recently about a woman in British Columbia who waved every day out of her front window to the schoolchildren going by. It was perhaps the smallest and simplest of gestures, yet it conveyed the message that every child of God needs to hear: You are seen. You are recognized. Your presence matters. You are loved.
The story hit the papers because in May, Mrs Davidson moved from her house to an assisted living facility, no longer on the children’s route to school. Before she left, hundreds of the students she had greeted through the years gathered on her lawn to blow her kisses and wave their signs of love and gratitude to her. Who knows how many times a child had set out on a day that didn’t feel so good, that loomed like a forbidding mountain before them. Who knows how many times they had pegged their hope, their encouragement on seeing that wave, that smile, that small gesture of acknowledgement, the love that would keep them going, one foot in front of another, giving them courage to face the day to come. Through small and faithful gestures of love, Mrs Davidson had taught a generation of children that there would always be someone watching for them, waiting for them, caring about them, their lives, their feelings, their seasons; and they delighted in her affection, and their own love grew. What a parable of God’s loving care for God’s children.
Of course, it isn’t always so simple. Last summer, you remember that while I was visiting General Convention, some hundreds of us travelled to a detention center in Texas holding immigrant and refugee women, many separated from their children. We prayed, we sang, we preached (even better, Michael Curry preached). About half the group or more defied the limits of our event permit, broke away from the pack, and walked the road to the front of the detention center, and waved to the women inside. The imprisoned women described through their contacts later the strength they derived from being seen, being loved; those waves of love mattered. Yet we know that so many of them, or other women and men like them, might still be separated from their children; that they are suffering in squalid conditions unbecoming of one made in the image of God; and that we continue to fail miserably to sustain their children in the knowledge that they are deeply and deservedly beloved.
“The enormity of the challenge is daunting. It is easy to feel helpless to make a difference. While we cannot do everything, we can do something,” Bishop Curry said this month. We can call those representatives who, on our behalf, are elected to organize a righteous, respectful, and human response to those seeking asylum in this country, and call them to account where that response is unacceptable. Where we find opportunity, we can share our resources with refugees resettling in our local communities. We can always pray. We can promote, with our lips and with our lives, in actions large and small, with faithfulness the dignity of every human being made in the very image of our God.
Do not grow weary, Paul advises. Do not pin your hopes on the glorious accolades of empires, splashy success stories, Jesus warns; but don’t give up. As labourers in God’s fields of justice, and of mercy, hoe a straight row, feed the good seed, and do not get tangled up in the weeds. Do good wherever and however you can, for the love of God.
Jesus tells his disciples – and you are his disciples – “You are indisputably awesome. You have infinite potential to love and to be loved. You have great power over all of your adversaries, the serpents and scorpions that bite and sting. Their poison cannot contaminate you, who are sustained by the blood of Christ. Your names are written in heaven.
And even when it seems that no one is paying attention, when no one will hear you, your love, large or small, is not wasted. Let your peace return to you. For in Christ, in love, in fierce righteousness, justice, and in peace, the kingdom of God draws ever near.”