July 3, 2022 The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20

From St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for
the good of all …” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It seems that for many, the plethora of legal decisions handed down over the past few weeks
have been hard to process, let alone understand. Continuing gun violence while, at the same time,
weakening gun safety regulations; safe and careful choices for women and families, rights once
upheld by federal law, have been wiped away for people who are already in difficult circumstances
and hinder their ability to make prayerful, private decisions with the guidance of doctors and loved
ones. The ongoing political conniving that fosters suspicion, dread, and animosity towards people of
color or from different lands or of different religions, not to mention, the LGBTQ community, has, in
my opinion, been compounded by denials about climate change that is affecting the whole world. As
my colleague the Rev. Katherine Bush lamented this week, “all of these vast issues touch our lives
at a time when our lives are already full of worries about health and finances and relationships.”
It is with these circumstances in mind, that I find it rather uncanny (dare I say “providential”)
that on this weekend when we celebrate our independence from England, our right to self-
governance, and affirm the rights of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, our
scripture lessons draw us away from thoughts about independence and reaffirm our need for each
other, our need for community, our need to be in relationship not only with God, but especially with
our neighbor.

You know, a part of our history we often forget is that when the pilgrims first settled in this great
land they were much aware of their dependence upon each other, that their very survival depended
upon the entire community working together. So those first colonies came to be known as
“Commonwealths”: places where the good of the individual was inseparably linked to the good of
the whole. But today, it seems that to suggest any interdependence is a sign of weakness,
something to be shunned. No wonder our nation is focused and obsessed with an independence that
stresses our differences, rather than, working towards unity and oneness – working towards that “E
Pluribus Unum.”

St. Paul believed that the Church should be a model for what it means to be a true community:
a community that welcomes everyone – both friend and stranger, that works together, feeds
everyone and anyone in need, clothes the naked, and gives drink to the thirsty. And yet, Paul was
very much aware that the Church community is often divided within by those who tout their
superiority over various members, foster schism, and general strife. That was the concern Paul was
trying to address in his letter to the Galatians. In today’s reading, Paul suggests that the Church –
the Church herself - can get in the way of God’s mission of reconciliation in this world. See, when
we insist upon doing things only our way, or demand that everyone follow the rules as we alone
interpret them, Paul says we deny the redemptive faith we hold in Christ Jesus and hinder the
ability of the Church to proclaim the good news of the gospel – a gospel that calls everyone to unity
with God and each other in, and through, Christ.

As I study reports about why so many people are walking away from organized religion, I find
that the most common complaint about the Church today especially among young people is how
Christians treat other Christians. We speak about Jesus’ unconditional love and welcome and yet, to
quote a recent Facebook post, “treat each other like dirt.” Harsh words and yet, I think each of us
has experienced that same lack of welcome or exclusivity at some point in our own journeys of
faith. So often, people who are wrestling with theological controversies, are not responded to with
compassion, but rather by church members quoting scripture and using it like a weapon insisting
upon their interpretation alone rather than demonstrate a willingness to listen and be open to what
God might be saying to the Church through different voices. Now, we must always test the spirits to
discern what is truly of God, but such should never get in the way of encouraging others to speak
up and share their heart. After all, we need each other – warts and all – otherwise the Church
becomes just a mirror of our own selves, not the image and face of God Christians claim to be.

So, St. Paul says, if you think someone is in error or in sin, don’t throw scripture at them or scream
about rules or shout them down, but rather, return them to faith with what? Gentle compassion –
through soft words and kind deeds - because if we are truly honest with ourselves we must
acknowledge that we are all sinners and like those early pilgrims, we desperately need each other.
Then Paul goes deeper: He reminds us of the danger of thinking of ourselves as somehow better
than others, that somehow our salvation and justification before God came about through our own
efforts, our self-righteousness. Paul says the only boast we can ever have is the Cross of Christ
where, by God’s grace alone, Jesus died not just for our sins but the sins of the whole world, the
sins of those who are and do think very differently from us. Paul urges the Church be careful how
we treat each other; whenever we have the chance seek the good of all; besides, we might learn
something from that stranger or from that person whom we might consider less important than us.
That was Naaman’s experience in today’s reading from II Kings. He found that in listening to the
voices of those he considered to be of no account – an Israeli slave girl and his own lowly servants
– Naaman encountered God’s grace. In humbling himself just long enough to listen to and then act
upon the words of these underlings, Naaman experienced a healing and wholeness that changed his
life forever. Such is the gift of God to us when we set aside our feelings of self-importance, our
sense that “I don’t need anybody” and step forward into community, and embrace and value those
who are similar to us, as well as those so very different from us.

In my own journey of faith, it was in listening to the stranger, the person I thought not
important that I encountered Christ. I found grace in their words that changed how I chose to live. I
believe many of you share that same experience. We need each other in order to be the Church, to
be the true living body of Christ.

In our reading from the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus sends seventy persons on a mission trip,
sends them in pairs to towns ahead of himself. And there was incredible wisdom in so doing.
Sending them ahead enabled them to see for themselves the depth and ravages of human
suffering, to see and experience hunger, to actually get their hands dirty, to physically hold those
who mourn, to see firsthand how in Jesus’ name alone health and life can overcome illness and
death. Yet, it was in sending them out in pairs that taught them the value of community, the need
for interdependence, and the importance of working together for the common good. It was a
reminder that ministry and mission is always carried out in community. Remember: They were
instructed to take nothing with them so that they would learn how dependent they were upon the
kindness of strangers for food and shelter, that they need each other, and that life is lived most
fully in community. Being sent in pairs meant that when one faltered, the other could help. When
one was lost, the other could find the way. When one was tired, the other could carry. When one
was discouraged, the other could hold forth faith. That’s what the community of believers does for
one another – we hold on to each other, console one another, wipe each other’s tears, encourage,
and embolden one another, and even believe for each other. It is in sending the seventy out in pairs
that Jesus’ followers grasped that none of us is ever independent - we need each other.

So on this Independence Day weekend, I wonder if of all the gifts that Jesus imparted to the
disciples and the seventy missioners, the greater gift might just be that of teamwork and trusting
one another. Because when we work together, when we recall that God said it is not good for us to
be alone, when we see that our hope and welfare is inextricably linked to those around us, then we
can accomplish so much more than we could ever do alone.

Our collect this morning affirmed that keeping God’s commandments requires loving God and
our neighbor equally – there can be no other way. May God grant us the grace to be so devoted to
God that we are, indeed, united to one another with pure affection. In the words of St. Paul,
whenever we have an opportunity, let us work and speak up for the good of all. For in so doing we
offer our community, our nation, - offer the world - true freedom, liberty, and life as found only in
the Commonwealth of God where all – even me and you - are truly welcomed, all are valued, and
all are needed equally. O God, let it be so. Amen.