Scripture for Sunday, 3 July: 2 Kings 5:1-14 (Elisha and Naaman the Syrian with skin disease); Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (Jesus sending out 70 disciples, “like lambs amongst wolves).
Someone sent me an e-mail during the week asking – pleading! – for the sermon to avoid, “Brexit, Spanish politics, and the Somme.”
Trying to avoid contentious subjects left precious little to consider for the week. Giant panda Xin-Xin has given birth to twins, which are apparently pink for about a month until their black and white fur grows, but that does not on the face of it have much to do with the readings for today.
The story of Naaman and Elisha does have some interesting messages for us, especially about prejudice: Naaman is inclined to pre-judge what he is told to do and how he is told to do it because he regards himself as superior. He has to learn humility and vulnerability – listening to the voice of his servants, and bowing to Elisha’s seemingly odd instructions, taking the risk of appearing to be foolish. Nevertheless, he does comply, and is healed.
Vulnerability and humility are qualities greatly needed by the 70 sent out by Jesus to prepare the way for him: a world in which they are like lambs amongst wolves. When he sent them out in vulnerability, he was only sending them to do what he was already doing, openly preaching and practising the good news of God’s kingdom, relying only upon his faith in God to see it through.
Those seventy disciples, and even more the physically and emotionally besieged members of the early church must indeed have felt like lambs among wolves: it is a lot to ask, for someone to let go of their defences, to put aside what they carry with them to protect them against the repetition of past hurts or the risk of future ones.
Modern disciples can relate to this. A world that sees potential threat and danger in every corner is going to treat with suspicion a church that preaches the message of tolerance, forgiveness and compassion to all, including those who are perceived to be enemies. Yet that is what Jesus asks us to do – which means that we, too, must overcome prejudice, walk with humility, and take the risk of living in vulnerability – and, as a typo in my notes said, loving in vulnerability. That is exactly what Jesus set out to do: to love in vulnerability.
We cannot try to channel God’s grace for our own benefit or personal gain. We cannot pre-judge people and exclude or discount them because of that pre-judgement. We have to honestly try to set aside our intrinsic tendency to judge, and be open to love our neighbours as ourselves. Even if we are situated like sheep amongst wolves. Or tiny, baby pandas into a threatening world. After all that, I am drawn to wonder whether Jesus would have said something about baby pandas if he were around today. After all, they are very vulnerable.