... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 7 Year C, Message July 07th, 2013

God’s Presence Seen in the Contrasts

Text: 2 Kings5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:1-6,7-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20

A few years ago the rage in the print and artistic world was the 3D hidden image. I remember the first time I saw one of these pictures, the only thing I could see was a 24x18 print of small shapes and colours. It took some time for me to realize that I had to stare at one point until one eye seemed to go out of focus and then bingo the image appeared – it was a jet plane. Fortunately nature is not so difficult and images and shapes appear by contrast. Shapes colours, movement and even elemental medium separate and contrast the makeup of our world. Green meadows backed by purple mountains and canopied by blue skies point out the landscape around. The contrasts point out the magnificence and wonders of creation.

In like fashion the readings today by a study of contrasts point out the eternal truths of Divine presence. First of all, thematically, the readings point out the centrality of God’s being and actions in creation and the lives of humanity beyond the boundaries of “the people of God”. Second that this centrality and presence comes into focus only by the contrasts of the personalities and reactions of God’s people.

In the Gospel passage Jesus sends out the seventy like sheep among wolves. The very statement is a contrast, the normative being a wolf among the sheep. The reversal is subtle but compelling – the one invoking images of chaos, slaughter death and destruction, the other images of topsy-turvy, confusion change and newness. The contrasts continue as the missionaries are sent without purse without sandals without supplies relying on the generosity of the wolves. Yet we are informed that their mission was a resounding success. The stark contrast between the world as we imagine and the world that Jesus envisioned, witnesses to God’s presence and directing hand.

The letter of Paul to the Galatians ends with a two-fold section, the first admonishing true Christians to bear with one another and to share so as to work for the good of all. Then in what at first appears a paradox Paul seems to say that there is no difference between the old and the new. It is this juxtaposition that highlights the understanding of God’s intervention in Creation. In Christ Jesus God has again become central to creation and in the lives of humans. Through a chosen people Israel and a specific person Jesus of Nazareth God has gone beyond the Abrahamic covenant to envelop a wider community and bring into the faith a new beginning.

The Psalm in the most poetic fashion points out the dualities of despair and joy of suffering and celebration. Weeping may linger for the night but joy comes with the morning. Sorrow, terror and despair often assault us - even the faithful- and while we at times see ourselves as the victims of such disasters the wider scope of divine understanding shadows the present egocentric sphere. The author has come to see the wider picture and in that new found knowledge contrasts the old and the new, the world without God and the world with God. Seeing God’s presence even in the midst of death brings new life and the ability to testify to God’s faithfulness.

But by far the most poignant illustrations of contrasts pointing to God’s centrality in human affairs and the Divine working beyond the confines of human understanding appear in the Old Testament story of Naaman’s healing. Contrasts abound among the various characters and each juxtaposition highlights the actions of God in the lives of people and beyond. The comparisons between Naaman, the King of Aram, the king of Israel, Elisha, the Israeli servant girl and even Naaman’s servant serve to point out and contrast human and divine actions understanding and design.

At the outset we are told that Naaman, an Aramean and not part of the chosen children of Israel has God’s favour as a messenger of divine justice on an obstreperous Israel. However we also see the arrogance of this non-Jew pitted against the faithfulness of the inconsequential Israeli girl slave. On the one hand a man of power might authority and influence is guided by the quintessential person of powerlessness and insignificance. God’s presence and authority become known to Naaman and the King of Aram through a chosen child of Israel. Despite her insignificance – slave girl and captive – she delivers the most significant information for Naaman’s healing.

The failure of the powerful is further elaborated by the events of the King of Aram writing to the King of Israel and that King’s interpretation of the letter. It simply requested Israel’s king to see to the healing of a favourite military commander but becomes the cause of fear and despair among the elite of Israel. What we need to realize is that the King of Aram had been the means by which God had punished Ahaz the father of Jehoram who would have been the King of Israel at the time of this story. It now becomes obvious that Jehoram whose father had been killed by the King of Aram is now being asked to heal his enemy’s friend and he of course sees this as a ploy whereby his own life would become forfeit. He cannot fathom God’s presence in any of this.

Elisha the servant of the Lord intervenes sending a message to his king and bidding Naaman to journey to his place. The following scene is a contrast of human expectation over against divine perspective. Naaman arriving at Elisha’s dwelling anticipates a fanfare of welcome and a ceremony of miraculous healing. He is instead met by Elisha’s servant and a message to bathe 7 times in the Jordan. Oh how the mighty are received and treated! In great disgust Naaman spurns the messenger and the message. Fortunately another intervention! What Naaman cannot perceive his servants see clearly. They like the Israeli slave girl turn the fortunes around. Understanding God’s ways they convince Naaman to heed Elisha’s message and go bathe in the Jordan. The outcome is, of course, not only Naaman’s physical cleansing but more importantly his spiritual awakening and conversion.

Elisha’s actions of humility and relative shunning of the lime light are contrasts to Naaman’s expectation and bring into focus God’s presence. It is not Elisha who heals but God. God comes to Naaman through Elisha but not because of him. Elisha’s background appearance on the stage at this time serves to highlight God’s way of acting in human affairs.

Thus by the many and varied contrasts in human-human, master-slave, divine-human encounters we come to appreciate the eternal truths that God works beyond the constraints of human understanding and outside the sphere of personal or communal ownership of deity. Yet it is through the personal or communal relationship with God that God’s presence and actions become visible to the non-believing.

Such complexities seem to baffle the mind. But to the believer and to the one in a true relationship with God, that which at first seems impossible becomes crystal clear and in that clarity enables him or her to become the means by which God’s will is effected. May we become such means in our daily lives!

Amen