A reflection on Proper 9C: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
A few months ago I drove from Tucson Arizona north through southern Utah and then east to Chicago, over 2000 miles of driving. Along the way I visited family and places where I have an ancestral connection. My family, on both sides, were pioneers who travelled west in the late 1840’s to settle Salt Lake City and northern Utah. One of these, my great, great, great, great, great, grandfather was named George Washington Hill. He was born in Ohio, moved to Missouri where he met Cynthia Utley Stewart, and after some time asked her to marry him. She refused telling him that she was a Mormon and reportedly said, “You don’t want to marry a Mormon.” He persisted and finally she relented and married him. He later converted and then led his new family on the journey west in 1847. Cynthia and George had nine kids – so somewhere out there I have a lot of cousins. A few of them have written biographies of George, which can easily be found and read on the internet if you Google him. (He’s not the George Washington Hill that shows up in Wikipedia who earned a fortune in the tobacco industry)....
The drive through Arizona and southern Utah takes one through some desolate land, of sand and rock and not much else, land that is now, sadly, Indian reservation. George fought against moving the Indians to reservations, or so the story goes. He loved them, worked closely with the Shoshone and Nez Perce tribes. Knew their language, and according to one family journal I’ve read, he created the only translation guide for English speaking people to learn the native language. Family lore has him baptizing thousands of Native Americans. His pale skin and red hair, a family trait inherited by my mother and my brother, earned him a special name, Inka-pompy, which means “red-beard” in Nez Perce.
I don’t know if it’s accurate but many of the stories from the mid-1800’s, when the Mormons and the Native Americans lived together in northern Utah, describe a shared life. According to these stories theirs was not the life of cowboys and Indians fighting over control of the land. Instead, it seems they worked together to build community. One of the primary ways my great grandparents participated in building community was through prayer, in particular healing prayer. Building community through the power of prayer is one of the fundamental ways we human beings manifest the peace of Christ in our lives and the world around us. Prayer is also fundamental in the transformation of those who come to know deeply the love of God. Our scripture readings this morning from 2 Kings and Luke focus on these themes: the healing love of God and the power of the peace of Christ to transform lives.
In 2 Kings Namaan is a powerful general and like many people of his stature he is a bit full of himself. Even when he is ill with a horrible skin disease he remains prideful and arrogant. It’s a bit surprising then that Naaman listens to the voice of an unnamed young slave girl as she directs him to Elisha, toward a source of healing. Less surprising is Naamans response to Elisha’s cure – bathing in a muddy river – who in their right mind would want to do that? But, eventually Naaman is persuaded to bathe and he is healed. This story reminds us that God’s healing and the peace of Christ come to us in unexpectedly ordinary ways – like a young girl and every day mud and water.
This story points us to look at how God speaks to us in ordinary ways – so ordinary that they are unexpected and perhaps overlooked if we aren’t being careful. The readings ask us to consider how God is reaching out to us through others, in ways we least expect, and how these people reveal the peace of Christ to us. The readings also ask us to ponder how we might be that love of God and peace of Christ to others.
The heart of the Gospel reading this morning conveys to us a similar idea – of transformation through the love of God and the peace of Christ in the ordinary. Jesus speaks of sending his disciples out - and today those disciples are you and me – sent out to share the Good News, in ordinary every day ways. Sent out too love generously, to help, to share, to grow in relationship with one another; and if what we offer is rejected our task is not to judge, but to let it be, shake the dust off our feet, and simply continue to share God’s love and the peace of Christ as generously as we can.
Our Gospel reminds us that the kingdom of God is an unfolding process – one that begins here in the life we live on this earth – and then continues into the life that is to come. The kingdom is a both/and kingdom which calls us to be attentive to the now while keeping an eye on the future. It’s a kingdom that requires us to not become stuck in safety, comfort, pride, or arrogance.
Soon the youth of this parish will travel to South Dakota to spend time working on an Indian reservation. The work there will be hard but the kids will learn a great deal. There will be a sharing of gifts – what the kids bring in terms of labor and hope to the people on this reservation – and what the Native Americans share with the kids in terms of their powerfully organic understanding of life and how everything is connected – earth, sun, life, God. It will be a time of mutual sharing of gifts – what the kids bring and the Native Americans offer – each learning and growing from the offering of the other. The love of God will prevail and all will be filled with a new sense of the peace of Christ. And, all of that gifting and growing and transforming from just being together and doing simple ordinary everyday things together.
Like the youth of this parish and their mission trip to South Dakota, the kingdom of God asks all of us to stretch ourselves in love and for the love of God...and in so doing prepare the way for the peace of Christ to come into the world anew this day, every day, in simple, ordinary ways.