Our Lectionary readings today we learned at Bible study on Wednesday have a theme of Grace, as stated by the Herbert O’Driscoll study guide source, and at least maybe in the overall perspective of things. When we studied them, we could fairly easily see the idea of grace in the healing of Naaman story and also in the Galatians reading about following Christ in grace. Now, the Luke Gospel sending out the 70 disciples and the instructions given did not show us easily how grace is provided.
Well, I did some limited research into these readings for today, and found some different ways to look at them. I’ll provide those perspectives, and then come back to grace.
I always try to look at our Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley’s review of the weekly Lectionary when I preach to get the stewardship slant, and he came through again this week. He starts with reminding us of the definition of stewardship, “First and foremost, stewardship is about our relationship with God and God's kingdom. Faithful stewardship is a spiritual practice that forms our hearts in deep connection with God and God's kingdom. Too often stewardship is separated from the heart of this relationship and kingdom connection secularizing the theology of stewardship. The simple fact is that God sets the vision of the kingdom before us and send us out as baptized persons in Christ to live into this reality in the world. God doesn't tell us to do this work only if our purses are full. God sends us out to do this work with the resources we have at hand.”
Canon Lance continues with Luke’s Gospel, “Jesus sends out seventy of his disciples to do God's kingdom work in the world. Jesus doesn't tell them to go after they have a certain amount of financial resources, to go only if they make their budget. Jesus sends them out together to do the work relying on the resources they have at hand. Too often we limit our church's ministries with budget constraints instead of taking note of what Jesus has sent us to do and carrying out that work creatively in the world. Jesus sends his seventy out, gives them specific work to do and tells them to utilize the resources around them. It is important for us to know that resources are not just the church finances, but that we have been given access to much more for the work of God's kingdom.”
Lance also explains our Old Testament reading with stewardship tones: “In 2 Kings, the servant girl of Naaman's wife understood the life of faith and stewardship, reaching out to help her master to be healed from his leprosy through sending him to see Elisha the prophet of Israel. The king of Israel, stuck in a scarcity mindset, didn't understand the resources he had at hand to do God's healing work. So Elisha sent word to the king of Israel asking him why he had torn his clothes and asking him to send Naaman to him for his healing. Naaman wanted to complicate his therapy with his preconceived notions of what resources should be used for this ministry. Elisha utilized the resource at hand (the Jordan River) to do God's inclusive and healing work of this foreign commander.”
My second source of perspective comes from something called The Adventurous Lectionary, by Dr. Bruce Epperly, a theologian, spiritual guide, author, and pastor. He believes that our readings tell us that many aspects of our faith and its experiences are really simple, but we tend to make them really unnecessarily hard.
Dr. Epperly writes, ”The encounter of Elisha and Naaman is at the heart of today’s scriptures. It could be titled, “the healing you need is right in front of you,” or in a lighter vein, “healing for dummies.” Naaman is about to walk away from the whole healing thing, until one of his servants stops him in his tracks, “If the cure had been difficult, you would have done it. Why not take a chance on something simple and ready at hand?” Reluctantly, Naaman follows the prophet’s counsel, and he is immediately cured of leprosy. The simplest, most direct remedy is the most effective.”
He continues, “There are times we make the healing process more difficult than it is. While illness arises from many factors, a commitment to taking the first steps toward wholeness may be the tipping point from death to life and debilitation to activity. This is true for physical well-being, and also for our spiritual and emotional well-being, and even more so for our communal and national well-being. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you, but you want a better one. There are simple practices that lead to healing of body, mind, and spirit – exercise, intellectual activity, diet, stress-reduction – not to mention social and political issues. While the preacher shouldn’t point his finger at her or his congregants – the finger will point back at her or him – some simple solutions are obvious – stop smoking, eat less red meat, take a walk, take a day off, and so forth.”
In Luke’s Gospel, Dr. Epperly sees this perspective: “Jesus sends his followers out with a simple message: live in the now, don’t worry about success or failure, accept the generosity of others and let go of peoples’ negative responses. The realm of God is won one moment at a time. When we live simply, focusing on what’s really important, new creation emerges, and Satan, the powers of darkness, is defeated.
These passages are good news for preachers and congregations. They counsel us to be faithful to the Truth that presents itself to us, reclaim simplicity of spirit, put commitment ahead of success, and awaken to life transforming possibilities right where you are. An omnipresent God doesn’t need to be invoked; God’s creative energy is right here and now. Dust off your sandals, jump in the river, and be cleansed and renewed.”
The final thing that affected me my perspective this week is this simple message from Father Nathan Monk, who wrote: “Whenever someone tells me they’ve prayed, and it’s in God’s hands now, I remind them that they are the hands and to get to work!”
So, back to Grace! Grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as "the love and mercy given to us by God, because God desires us to have it, and not because of anything we have done to earn it". It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man – "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved". I believe that all of the perspectives I provided earlier smack of grace in major ways. Stewardship is our way of responding to that grace of God by using the resources provided to further His Kingdom--right here, right now. Looking at the opportunities and finding solutions to life’s situations uses that grace to find simple ways to move forward, not stumbling around trying to make it very complex, because we believe it must be. And, praying and then sitting back waiting for God to me is an affront to the grace provided by God and what we have been taught—to use whatever we have and be the hands of hope and help in a troubled world.
So, as Martha pointed out in our Bishop’s Committee the other evening, let’s ask if what we are doing is using our resources in the best way. Not in a negative sense, but how can we always be looking for how to best respond to God’s grace with all we have.