July 3, 2022
In 2 Kings 5.1-14 the prophet Elisha heals Naaman of leprosy. (Naaman is not an Israelite. God’s grace extends to all people.) Elisha instructs him to wash in the Jordan river. Naaman is angry, since, if that’s all that’s needed, he could have washed in one of the rivers of his own country. But his servants convince him to wash, and he is healed.
Psalm 30 is a thanksgiving for God’s saving grace, and trust in the face of sorrow and challenge.
In Galatians 6.1-16 Paul talks about living in community. The point of God’s law is not for some people to be righteous, but for everybody to live together. Restore transgressors gently, and bear one another’s burdens. Pay attention to your own behavior instead of criticizing others or comparing yourselves to them. You reap what you sow: you set the tone of your own life. Work for the good of all. In verses 11-16 he summarizes the letter’s main point: that what matters is faith, not adherence to Jewish laws like circumcision.
In Luke 10.1-11, 16-20 Jesus is on his way toward Jerusalem. He sends out 72 disciples in pairs to go ahead of him to cure the sick and proclaim the nearness of the Reign of God. He coaches them to travel light, spread peace, and take nothing personally. Upon their return they rejoice at their success, but Jesus reminds them that the real joy is their relationship with God.
Jesus preaches a sermon on this text, in Luke 4, about the inclusiveness of God’s love. It nearly gets him killed. When wee don’t actually trust God’s grace we are fearful we are of sharing it, as if there’s a finite amount. We feel the need to be better, in some way, than others; we want to be “first.” (Remember last week when the disciples wanted to call down fire on some Samaritans for not accepting Jesus?)
Naaman expects some fancy rigamarole for his healing, and is disappointed by the simplicity and banality of Jesus’ instructions. Sometimes we have some fancy expectations of religion—complicated beliefs, strenuous disciplines—when in fact we can seek wholeness in ordinary, everyday activities. God is not inaccessible except through esoteric means; God is available in our ordinary experiences.
Again we encounter the theme of inclusiveness. Sin is distrust of God: we think we need to be good enough—that God’s approval is an earned wage, not a free gift. So we turn our desire for God’s grace into a competition. We think we have to be better than others, so we judge and compare. Paul corrects that illusion. The point of our faith is not to be good enough, but to love. So when people err we don’t judge them, we don’t punish them: we love them. Despite other texts that seem to encourage us to exclude “sinners” (as if we can judge), Paul says “whenever we have the opportunity let us work for the good of all.”
It might sound contradictory for Paul to say both “Bear one another’s burdens” in verse 2 and “All must carry their own loads” in verse 5. But what he means is your relationship with God is “your own load,” not comparable to anyone else’s; but you can help others in their struggles, and “bear one another’s burdens.” Rather than judging those who are having a hard time, help them!
Paul’s audience in Galatia is questioning whether Gentile converts have to adhere to Jewish laws to follow Jesus. Although circumcision isn’t relevant for us, Paul’s points are: one is that our actual relationship with Jesus and therefore with others is more important than external indications of “being a Christian.” like, say wearing a cross or having a fish sticker on your car; yet, if our own faith is authentic we won’t judge other people for how they show their faith, but help them be loving.
Jesus doesn’t keep the work of ministry to himself. He asks 72 others (that’s us) to join in. The tasks he assigns are to share christ’s peace, to offer healing, and to proclaim the presence of God’s Reign. He invites us to travel light, trusting that we need no more than love to be effective. And even when our message is rejected, we still offer peace and healing; we still include the very people who reject us in our vision of God’s Realm. And when people reject that message we don’t take it personally, or judge either them or ourselves. We “shake the dust from our shoes” and go on. We can’t do everything.
Imagine this is what you are sent into your daily life to do: to heal, to spread peace, to reveal God’s grace. And to take yourself lightly.
Jesus sends us out as “lambs in the midst of wolves.” We are not expected to be wolves. We are not to be manipulative or coercive.we will not expect to get our way, or assume our ways should dominate. In our gentleness and nonviolence we will be vulnerable. We may not prevail. Wolves may still be wolves. But we will not follow their ways. We will bear witness, extend healing, and work for justice.
The Reign (“Kingdom”) of God
Jesus sends us out to proclaim that God’s Reign is near. Jesus seems to have meant three things by the Kingdom, or the Realm, of God. One is God’s absolute sovereignty over all of life whether we accept it or not. This world is not ours, and not anyone else’s, no matter how powerful. It’s God’s. The Empire of God is a direct antithesis to the Empire of Rome. Whereas Rome oversees an Empire of domination and submission, a system of power, privilege and exclusion, God’s Empire is an Empire of Grace, in which everyone is beloved, and everyone belongs. (There’s that theme of inclusivity again.) The Empire of God contradicts all our human empires of domination, obligation, deserving and comparison. God’s Imperial Rule is the reign of love. Grace is absolute. This aspect of the Reign of God is eternal.
But there’s also a dimension in the present moment. When we choose to accept the absolute sovereignty of God’s grace we find deep peace and a sense of belonging and trust, and empowerment to live in harmony with God’s reign. We “enter into it”—we live in harmony with it. It’s like being in a marriage. The point of marriage is not merely to have said “I do” but to actually be faithful and loving and present to our partner. Jesus invites us to live as if God’s Reign is present, to live in harmony with God’s infinite grace and love for all people. It’s a way of seeing the world and living in it shaped by love, trust, forgiveness, healing, gratitude, generosity and justice. Moment by moment we tend to slip in and out of the Reign of God. Jesus invites us to keep returning, and renewing our faithfulness.
There’s also a third dimension. (Well, duh. We’re trinitarian, right?) It’s the future dimension, the “age to come.” Jesus sometimes seems to be referring to God’s ultimate hope for humanity, a world of justice and peace, that is still unfolding, that God is still working on—and that we are asked to help work toward.
So to “proclaim the Kingdom of God” is to live in a way that makes all this stuff real: to live in trust and gratitude, to offer healing and forgiveness, to work for justice and reconciliation, to include those who have been excluded, and in the words of the Methodist baptismal rite to “resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.”
Call to Worship
1. (from Psalm 30)
Leader: O Holy One my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
All: Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
So my soul will praise you and not be silent.
O Holy One my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
2. (from Psalm 30)
Leader: We praise you, O God, for you have lifted us up.
All: We cried to you for help, and you healed us.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes in the morning.
You have turned our sorrow into dancing.
You have beautified us with joy.
We thank you. We praise you! We worship you!
Leader: Holy One, giver of life,
All: we praise you!
Loving Christ, healer of our souls,
we thank you!
Holy Spirit, flame of love in our hearts,
we open ourselves to you.
We thank you for your love, we ask your blessing, and we trust your grace
as we worship you. Alleluia!
Leader: Holy Mystery, you hold this world in your hands.
All: The people, the places, are all in your heart.
We are your beloved, and we give you thanks.
The wholeness you wish for us you wish for all people.
We open our hearts to you as we worship.
Fill us with your love, that we may spread your love,
in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Eternal God, you have poured the clear water of your grace
into the pitcher of our lives.
Our cup overflows.
Stir up your spirit in us, that we may hear your Word
and be changed,
and bear your grace into this thirsty world. Amen.
God of love, you establish your Realm of mercy and justice, your Empire of Grace. Speak your Word to us now, that we may be formed in the image of Christ. Amen.
Gentle God, as your Christ gathered disciples together as a community, so you invite us to live in community with one another. Teach us how to love each other. Show us your way. Give us your Spirit, that the love we have for one another and for all the world may be your love alive in us: powerful, pure and infinite. We open our hearts to your grace. Speak, and we will listen. Amen.
God of healing and wholeness, we are broken people in a broken world. Give us the spirit of your healing, to be whole and to make whole this wounded world. Nourish in us the power to heal, to enact goodness, to do justice and love mercy. Jesus, walk with us as we go into this world to share your love. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
God of grace, we confess we are in need of healing.
Immerse us in your grace.
We are in need of forgiveness.
Immerse us in your grace.
We are in need of the faith to heal and to bless.
Immerse us in your grace.
Heal our hearts, forgive our sin,
and empower us to live the fullness of your love,
in the spirit of Christ. Amen.
1. Galatians 6.1-10. My paraphrase
My friends, if you see someone do wrong,
by the Spirit you’ve received
restore them with gentleness.
Help them out of that pit;
don’t climb into it yourself.
Bear one another’s burdens:
this is what the law is really about.
Don’t embarrass yourself
thinking you’re better than others.
Do work you yourself are proud of;
don’t fuss about your neighbor’s.
Live your life, not somebody else’s.
Those who are learning in the Word
should share with their teachers.
You might be deceived but God’s isn’t:
you reap what you sow.
If you sow desire you will reap more desires.
If you sow the Spirit, you will reap the Spirit,
and its eternal life.
So don’t grow weary of doing good;
don’t give up: the harvest is coming.
Whenever you have an opportunity
work for the good of all,
especially those in the family of faith.
Psalm 5 — My Paraphrase
O Listening Grace, hear me;
let the sigh of my heart lie against your chest.
Hold my cry like your child—
you who are Life and all Being,
the One to whom my prayers belong.
You hear me before my day dawns;
in the morning I put my desire in your hands
and I wait.
Evil is like darkness in your light;
in you my deadliness dies.
The closer I draw to you
the farther behind I leave my falsehood.
You see through our arrogance like glass,
and like glass you shatter our wrongdoing.
Your grace destroys our lies,
and our deceit evaporates in your truth.
Your mercy draws me into you;
your presence awes and awakens me.
Lead me, O Love, in your way of blessing,
despite those who would pull me elsewhere:
maintain the path so I don’t miss it.
There are those who are gushers of lies,
deep wells of hurt and destruction.
Their greed is a grave;
their fear is disguised as power.
Don’t let me fall for their deceit.
Let their disguises unravel about them.
Strip them naked of their lies
so that I can stay true to your grace.
Those who nest in you are safe forever;
our lives are songs of joy.
Surround us in your presence,
set free our joy in your embrace.
Your blessing is our inescapable gravity.
You hold us to you with love
as the earth holds us
and the air gives us breath.
[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Infinite Love, we thank you.
You create us; you claim us; you accompany us.
Though we are broken you heal us.
When we betray your love you forgive us;
when we are lost you lead us.
You judge the forces of evil and injustice,
and set us free from oppression.
You give us Jesus, and call us to join him
in the work of the healing of the world.
You invite us to his table, and so we come,
singing your praise with al Creation.
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He healed the sick and cast out demons
and enacted the Reign of your Grace.
He drew us into a community of humility and compassion,
in which we feed one another, forgive each other,
and bear one another’s burdens.
He was crucified by the power of domination,
but you raised him from the dead,
faithful to your covenant to be with us always in love.
(The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
healed by your grace, reconciled with you and one another,
and sent into the world to heal, to bless,
to cast out the powers of evil and injustice,
and to enact your Realm of Love,
in the name of Christ, for the healing of the world.
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending
God of grace, you have healed us with your Word. Now you send your disciples out, with the grace to heal, to bless, to spread your love. Give us faith to go, to trust, and to serve. In all we do, may your peace prevail, and peace be upon all whom we meet. We pray, and we go, in your name, in your company, and in your spirit. Amen.
Prayer after Communion
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. In this meal Jesus has modeled for us your Empire of Grace. Send us out into the world to share your love, to break down the barriers and boundaries that divide your beloved children, to work for peace and justice in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You companion us in our journeys and feed our souls with your presence and your grace. Send us out, nourished and accompanied, in your name, to love all people, to bear pone another’s burdens, to provide for healing, to proclaim your Reign, and to bring peace to every place you send us. We pray, and we live, in the power and the presence of your loving Spirit. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
One Tribe (Tune: Tallis’ Canon or The Water Is Wide/ Gift of Love)
We come with thanks, God, at your call,
to share our gifts in love with all;
for what to us you have supplied
is meant for all both far and wide.
The bread and cup from Jesus’ hand
exceeds the bounds of every land.
Your saving love, surpassing worth,
we share with every soul on earth.
Here at this feast we are, by grace,
one nation now, one tribe, one race.
All our divisions are erased.
We all are kin in every place.
The Table of your Grace (Tune: Channel of Peace)
This is the table of your grace.
We set it with the gifts that you have given.
You call us, one and all, to share your grace,
that in this meal we know your love.
You grant your presence in this meal.
Your blood and body, given for our sake.,
your humble, suff’ring service and your love,
that we may be your Body now.
The bread you give is not for us alone;
the cup is meant for us to take and share. So you
send us out, to a hungry world.
We rely on your grace to bear us on.
You send us in the Spirit’s power.
You give us strength to take the journey on,
to go and serve and heal and to proclaim
this Realm of Love in Jesus’ name.