18th Sunday After Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from God who is powerful and gracious. Amen
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart
the psalmists exclaims this morning
and goes on to extol why whole hearted thanksgiving
is appropriate for God,
Great are your works O Lord,
Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever,
you have shown your people the power of your works
and so on and so forth,
painting a picture of a powerful God
capable of anything,
one who should inspire awe
and even a little fear
as the Psalmist concludes “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
we start to become wise
when we realize how little power we have,
how limited our understanding of what God is capable of is.
And yet, as humans
we seem to frequently both expect great displays of power from God,
and miss or almost miss them when they occur
because God who is gracious and merciful and full of compassion
rarely acts as we humans expect,
namely in the same way that we would do something.
In fact it’s usually the opposite,
God frequently uses power
in ways we least expect
among the people we think don’t deserve it,
that is the grace of God,
forgiveness, mercy, salvation,
given because of the goodness of God
not because it is earned or deserved
And we’re generally okay with that
when that grace is directed toward us,
but it seems to really upset us
when others, especially our enemies
are on the receiving end of grace as well.
In fact that’s the key to grace
It’s for everyone
I was at fall theological conference earlier this week
and Bishop Maas reminded us all that
“It’s not grace until it upsets you”
(he used slightly stronger language than that).
God extending grace in the world
Will invariably upset someone
Take the story of Naaman,
God’s grace and mercy are on display
but in all the unexpected and dare we say wrong ways.
Naaman is not an Israelite,
in fact he’s spent a good amount of time
waging war on the Israelites
and has been successful enough to take captives as slaves,
and yet it’s that small girl from Israel
whose faith in the power of God
suggests that the prophet in service of the God of Israel
could heal her captor.
And Naaman who must be really itchy
decides to give it a try
and sends a letter to the King of Israel,
who thinks, this is a trap
another way to provoke war
why else would he write?
but Elijah the prophet tells the king to let him come,
and so Naaman comes in a great display of wealth
to meet this supposedly great and powerful prophet,
and what happens?
Elisha doesn’t even come out of his tent,
he sends a messenger telling Naaman to wash in the Jordan river seven times,
and this upsets Naaman,
he was expecting a display of power,
a great show at the very least
and all he gets is a messenger
telling him to go wash in a piddly little stream,
and he throws a temper tantrum
refuses to do as Elisha instructs
until his servants point out to him
that if the prophet had told him to do something difficult
he would have done it,
so why not try doing the easy thing that was actually instructed.
And seeing sense in that
Naaman goes and follows the instructions and he is healed.
He almost missed being healed,
witnessing the power of God
because the way God chose to work
didn’t seem powerful enough,
let alone the fact that from the perspective of Israel
he was an enemy of the people of God,
he certainly didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of the grace of God,
and yet God acted with power, and grace.
It’s not grace until it upsets someone.
Equally potentially upsetting is our gospel story for today.
Jesus displays the power and grace of God
and even though it’s Jesus,
it’s still not what we expect from God
On the way to Jerusalem
Jesus passes through a boarder region
between Samaria and Galilee.
Remember in the Bible Samaritans
are the stand in for everyone
that we think doesn’t deserves the grace of God.
So Jesus is traveling through Samaria,
the proverbial wrong side of the tracks
and he is doing it intentionally,
there was a route from Galilee to Jerusalem
that avoided this region
As Jesus approaches a village in this borderlands
ten people with leprosy approach him,
in a place that is already on the margins
these are the marginalized,
those with leprosy were excluded from community life,
they were taught to keep a safe distance from everyone
because they were considered religiously unclean.
and even more than that,
logic of the day said
that these people were sick
because they were being punished by God
for something they had done,
even God doesn’t like them they were told
the people with leprosy call out to Jesus for mercy.
And Jesus see them.
and responds with mercy,
he heals them,
not with some flashy display
but by telling them to go show themselves to the priests,
And as they go they are made clean.
These people that conventional wisdom says
do not deserve the grace of God
And then one out of the ten
sees that he has been healed,
he recognizes God’s mercy at work in Jesus
and he turns back praising God with a loud voice and thanks Jesus.
And the punchline of the story
is that the one who gets it is a samaritan,
a leperous Samaritan, two strikes against him
and yet he is the one that returns and praises God.
Now to be fair
if I was one of those other nine
and I saw I was healed
I would continue to follow the directions of Jesus precisely,
he said go and show the priests
and that’s what I would do,
which makes it all the more upsetting
that the one who is praised
is the one that doesn’t follow through on the instructions.
See how easy it is to be upset by the grace of God?
And yet This is our God,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
love so great that God became human,
and walked among us preaching and healing
even though God knew
that it would eventually lead to a brutal death on the cross
because that way of life
would be so upsetting to those in power,
or at least what passes for power among humanity
and even then
death could not contain God
and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.
All so that we would no longer be tormented by the finality of death.
This is our God,
the one who offers mercy first and asks questions later,
Who extends grace to all,
even and especially to those who don’t deserve it,
grace that often goes unnoticed by us
and upsets us when we do,
grace that causes us to proclaim
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.