Transformation by Invitation
Proper 9, Year C, RCL, Track 1, 2 Kings 5:1-14, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Many of us know what it is like to work in a garden, growing flowers, or vegetables, where the breezes blow, and the sun warms our faces. As novice gardeners, we soon learn that even a small garden takes a considerable amount of work. Just thinking about preparing the ground, sowing the seed, weeding the garden, and harvesting the produce. Thinking about this bolsters my understanding that this work is not for me. At least not at this moment in my life.
Christ equates the world to a field in which the harvest is ready and the laborers are few. In such a case, where we have an abundant harvest, I can imagine the workers could go into the fields and the picking would be easy. All of this ripe fruit just waiting to be touched, fall off the vine, and into your hand. As Jesus suggests, our community is the field. I believe it is true that there are some people out there, just waiting to make a connection with you, and be invited to come to church and strengthen their relationship with God. Working in a field is hard work. And I’m sure some of us bristle just at the thought of doing this.
Christ even acknowledges that this field, he is calling us to, is not exactly like the fields we see out the car windows and it's definitely not the Garden of Eden. No, this mission field is something a bit different; something with more danger. Jesus says he is sending us into the fields like lambs into the midst of wolves. We are expected to face danger, even to the extent that we could be devoured by others. I hope that we know that this danger is not a bunch of Hannibal Lectors hiding around every corner waiting to consume us for dinner, but the danger is likely to be what we fear more routinely.
I suspect we don’t talk about our faith, our religion, or invite people to church because we are afraid of rejection. We don’t like it when people say no. We sometimes take it personally and it hurts. The pain of rejection and the fear of not having the answers someone may ask might just be the danger Christ says we are to face. The reality is whether the person we invite comes or not, is not a reflection of you or this church. Whether they visit the church or not is up to how the Holy Spirit is working in their lives at this moment in time. All Christ is asking you to do is go into the field and pay attention to what is around you.
When Jesus invites us to join in this harvest, there is a sense of urgency. To me, this makes sense. When a crop in the field is ready to harvest, there is only a short time between when it is ripe and when it spoils. A zucchini goes from being the perfect size to the size of a base-ball-bat practically overnight. There is a short time between a tomato being ripe and it falling to the ground as a pile of mush. So, Jesus says, carry no purse, no bag, no shoes. Go, and go quickly, greet no one on the road.
I think we are encouraged to go quickly because we don’t know whom we might meet on our journey. If we stop and spend too much time talking with our friends along the journey, we might miss meeting someone who needs our attention, our help, or the person whose heart the Holy Spirit is stirring. Sometimes there is never the right time to talk about something. You can wait, or procrastinate and the right time never comes. So the right time is now. You just have to do it.
When I was in Texas, I knew a white couple who attended a black church. As it came up in a conversation one day, I asked how they chose that church. They said they were invited. As it turns out, a few years after they moved back to town, the first person to invite them to go to church was someone from this black church. So, they went, made friends, became involved, and never looked back. Eventually, they weren’t the only white people in that church. An invitation can be a powerful thing. An invitation from a stranger with the right timing of the Holy Spirit can be more powerful than trying to convince your best friend. Sometimes is just about being in the right place at the right time.
In Second Kings, we come upon a kidnapped, enslaved Jewish girl. The King of Aram likely abducted this girl as a spoil of war in one of his conquests of the declining Israelite state. When this servant girl hears of Naaman’s ailment, she says, you should talk to my priest. He’s a good guy and can help you. Now, let’s think about this for a moment. An enslaved girl suggests that the general of the army, that has been ravaging her country should go to her hometown so he can be healed by her priest. She is inviting the enemy to visit her people, to receive favor from her priest, and her God. Now we know from other parts of this story that Naaman is not Jewish, and he has tried many other ways to be healed. He is both a highly respected person of authority and a pariah due to his disease. For whatever reason, he accepts her invitation.
A lot is going on in this story, so we will pick up with Naaman’s entourage pulling up in front of Elisha's house. Naaman thought that he had God all figured out. He was convinced that Elisha would call upon his god. Recite some hocus pocus, “wave his hand over the spot” and hopefully but unlikely he would be cured. Naaman is extremely incensed when Elisha won’t come out himself. Instead, Elisha sends his servant with some stupidly simple instructions.
We find it takes a second invitation. Another servant invites Naaman to trust God. He says, let go of what you think you know and just give it a try. You have nothing to lose. You can’t buy your way to God. God doesn’t need to be complicated. God can be found in the dirty, muddy water of the Jordan just as easily as in the beautiful waters of your home.
We find that Naaman washes and becomes a new man. His skin is restored. His life is restored. Without this disease, Naaman can participate in the community again. Naaman now has faith in the one true God of Israel. In verse 15, Naaman returns to Elisha and says, “I now know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your slave.” Elisha accepted no gifts.
If I were to oversimplify this passage from Second Kings, I could say that a girl asks a man to visit her priest. He goes and has a transformative experience that changes his life forever. While this explanation misses many important points, this summary is still true. For it was only by her invitation that Naaman finds life in the community. And it is only through your invitation that more people will find life in this community. Don't be afraid. Meet new people. Tell them about your love for God and this place. For the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.