Year C, SUNDAY 14  

July 3-9

 

Luke 10: 1-11 & 16-20            (Sermon 1: “Serpents, Scorpions and Satan”)

Galatians 6: 1-17

2 Kings 5: 1-14.                                                                                   (Sermon 2: “The Healing of an Untouchable.”)

Psalm 30.

 

PREPARATION

 

Far be it from me to glory,

except in the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

God has turned my grief into dancing,

       cast off the hair shirt and clothed me with joy.

I shall never again take you for granted.

       God my true Love, I will thank you for ever!

 

       OR-

Grace mercy and peace be with you all,

And also with you.

 

God is light,

in whom there is no shadow or darkness.

God is love,

those who love are newborn from God.

God is Spirit,

and worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most holy God, in Christ Jesus you have shown us a light and love which is overwhelming. As we worship you, let us not be frightened by your glory but enraptured with your love.

In quiet confidence, may we take authority over all those negative influences that burden, handicap and seek to ruin humanity.

Empower us with your Spirit that we may be enabled to take charge of our own lives, without looking over our shoulder or fearing what lies around the next bend.

Through Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us confess our sin to one another and to God.

Let us pray.

 

Holy Friend, God and Saviour, please deal with us not as we would like but as we truly need. Bring us to self-honesty, to recognise what is good and to admit what is evil.

Enable us to sincerely repent of both our blatant sins and our secret ones. Do not allow us any self pity or wallowing in guilt, but help us to turn to you for forgiveness and cleansing.

Encourage us to accept that new beginning our promise, and to take the wisest steps to amend any wrongs done to others.

If we cannot put things right, give us the humility to pray for those who can. By your abundant grace, bring goodness out of evil and success out of failure.

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS AFFIRMED

Remember, my Friends, that if your conscience wants to keep on condemning you, God is greater than your conscience and knows and forgives all.  In Christ perfect love casts out fear.

The peace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Forgotten People

 

 

 

 

This is a bi-i-i-ig thank you, God,

            for people we often forget:

Those who sweep the streets

            or collect our garbage;

Those who clean our schools

            or cut lawns in the park;

Those who bake our bread

            or produce our bread and fruit.

Bless them and many more like them,

            please God.

Amen!

            Prayers For Aussie Kids”      Ó  B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers.

 

PSALM 30

 

God-Friend, I praise you for picking me up,

       for not allowing evil to have the last laugh.

I yelled out to you for some help

       and you have made me whole.

You picked me up from the gutter of despair,

       rescued me from those who treat me like trash.

 

Let the recycled people praise you, God,

       and give thanks to your holy name.

For your fierce discipline burns but for a moment,

       yet your grace lasts a lifetime.

Weeping may go on for a night,

       but joy arrives with the morning.

 

When all was going well I boasted:

       “I am surely set up for life,

I must be a favourite of God,

       immovable as a mountain”.

So when you hid your face from me,

       I was dumbfounded.

 

I cried out and pleaded with you, God,

       I made my complaints heard:

“What could you get out of my death,

       if I am lowered into the grave?

Can a body returned to dust serve you?

       Would I be any good to you then?

Please hear me, and give me another chance.

       Only you, God, can get me out of this.”

 

Since then you have turned my grief into dancing,

       cast off the hair shirt and clothed me with joy.

I shall never again take you for granted.

       God my true Love, I will thank you for ever!

                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012

 

AND SATAN FELL

 

After a life of strong ministry

       rich in faith and service,

I saw Dwight chose death

       rather than life-support systems;

       and Satan fell!

 

Rich with multi-cultural love,

       now bruised by a new grief,

I saw Rosalie hand out

       bulbs for Easter gifts;

       and Satan fell!

 

A shy, inarticulate labourer

       wearing op-shop clothes,

Ron gave more money away

       than anyone I had known;

       and Satan fell!

 

Cheerful as the sun, Carol

       displayed her faith

by the love and laughter

       she brought to each day;

       and Satan fell!

                                    From “Beyond Words”

                        ©  B. D. Prewer and JBCE

 

COLLECT

 

Divine Friend, your ever-living Son has given us free passage into a new life, where tears are turned to joy, and emptiness becomes an overflowing cup. Let no fear dismay us and no sin betray us.

Align us with your own Spirit, that the bedevilment of the world may shrink away before our love for you and our fellow human beings. Through the grace of Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: SERPENTS, SCORPIONS AND SATAN

 

Luke 10: 18-20

 

Jesus said: I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. Hear this! I have given you authority, so that you can walk on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the Enemy, and nothing will harm you. However, don’t be happy because evil spirits obey you; be happy because you names are written in heaven.

 

Plenty of vivid imagery here!  Satan falls from heaven like lightening. The disciples names are now written in heaven.

 

This is the direct effect of the loving work of Jesus: Evil loses its grip when those who trust Jesus receive and practice his kind of authority.

 

There is also a note of warning: Our surest happiness will not be in how effective our work for Christ seems to be, but in our own unearned (and unearnable) status as children of God. Here, as in Paul’s writings, faith in the free grace of God is the unshakeable basis of Christian joy.  Nothing is more important in this passage than this message concerning our status as God’s children.

 

NOW FOR THE AWKWARD STUFF

 

So far I have briefly dealt with the easy bit of this passage from Luke. Now it’s time for the awkward stuff.  What is all that about walking on snakes and scorpions?

 

There are inevitably some who take this literally. In their sectarian chapels they deliberately handle snakes, daring them to bite. Many of these worshippers have fingers missing, in some cases an arm or leg missing, as a result of untreated snake venom. It is not uncommon for a sect member to die while their fellow believers rejoice that their dying comrade has kept the faith.

 

To go down that track is both naive and in error. One should never read Eastern literature with Western literalism. Eastern people go in for pictorial language and often much hyperbole. Hyperbole, or colourful exaggeration, is the way teachers of the Middle East convey a deeper truth. Jesus used this form of speech often-: as when he spoke of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle; or again, that we must hate a father and mother before becoming his disciple; or again, if your hand offends you, cut it off, if you eye offends, pluck it out. It is never meant to be taken literally. When misguided folk do  take hyperbole literally, they miss the whole point of Jesus’ message.

 

Treading on snakes and scorpions is another example of hyperbole. Jesus is using exaggerated language to speak about the venomous nature of evil, and to emphatically state that evil shall not conquer his followers. I have given you authority, so that you can walk on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the Enemy. The enemy is of course Satan; humanity’s grave adversary.

 

Compare these scorpions and snakes with Pandora’s Box. All those foul creatures that spring out of the unlocked box are also symbolic of evil. It is not to be taken literally but as a vehicle for a profound truth about human affairs.

 

Or take that outstanding English writer of the last century, C. S.Lewis. In the story of his long spiritual pilgrimage from unbeliever to Christian believer, he tells about the day when he first gained a glimpse of what was going on inside himself:. He writes that under the veneer of his sophistication was “ a whole zoo of lusts”.  Lewis did not literally mean there was a zoo inside him. It was hyperbole to emphasise the chaotic confusion and noise of his inner life.

 

So let’s get this straight: Those who religiously handle venomous snakes are not holier, nor have a nobler faith than those who do not. What counts is the authority to tread down evil:  We are not to be bowed down by all the wickedness we see in the world.   We are not to shake our heads and moan to each other about things going from bad to worse.  We are not to participate in the cynicism of our society, but to take whatever positive steps we can to conquer evil with goodness. Our charge is to tread down evil in the name of Jesus; to help eradicate its venomous influence.

 

WHAT ABOUT EVIL SPIRITS

 

I am of the opinion that the same truth is contained is the second , and more controversial, aspect of Jesus’ teaching: namely that bit about having power over evil spirits.

 

There are some sections of Christianity which put much effort into praying over unhappy people and ordering unclean spirits to come out of them.

 

I will not say that they are wrong.  In fact, occasionally I have encountered evil in such a cruel and crazy form, that the person does appear to be possessed, and I have lamented my apparent inability to be of help except by prayer. There is a place for the ministry of exorcism. I tend to trust it more when it is done lovingly and quietly, without super-star billing and much trumpeting.

 

Nevertheless, I must be true to myself and say this: Jesus has liberated me from the need to fear or serve evil spirits. At his name, as it were, the host of evil spirits that primitive societies believed in and much feared, have been dissolved into oblivion.  Christ has delivered us from that kind of superstition. He has emptied my world of the demons.

 

‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,’ for this liberating Christ is with me.

 

I am mindful of speaking with some indigenous ministers from Papua New Guinea, some years back when the charismatic movement (so called) was making its first impact in Australia. They were puzzled at that time about the growing popularity of belief  in many devils. One of them said: “But that was what Christ delivered my people from, over forty years ago. The demons are now mere nothings as far as we are concerned.’

 

SATAN HAS FALLEN

 

Jesus said: I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. Hear this! I have given you authority, so that you can walk on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the Enemy, and nothing will harm you. However, don’t be happy because evil spirits obey you; be happy because your names are written in heaven.

 

As far as I am concerned, Satan has fallen.  We have authority to tackle venomous evil in its many forms, the snakes and scorpions of injustice, racism, greed, lust, hatred, apathy, self righteousness, war and  me-first-ism, that can frighten and dominate and cripple people.

 

I cannot stop myself rejoicing when I see these things being trodden down.

 

THE BEST HAPPINESS

 

But, let us all get back to the best joy of all:  However, don’t be happy because evil spirits obey you; be happy because your names are written in heaven.

 

Such happiness, such rejoicing,  is not something which is performance based, not a “productivity award.” It is the free gift of God. By God’s grace in Christ , our names are written in heaven. That should be our chief happiness. Hence St Paul wrote to the Galations, “Far be it from me to glory, except in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

 

Gently yet most firmly I say to each of you: Is that profound glory yours? Is that  your ultimate happiness? Anything less is not worth your trouble. Believe me, any other joy is not in the same league. Be happy because your names are written in heaven.

 

SERMON 2: THE HEALING AN UNTOUCHABLE

 

2 Kings 5: 1-14

 

Naaman was a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper.”

 

That brief sentence from the second Book of Kings says a volume.

Though he was a powerful figure in the Syrian army, commander in chief, a favourite of the king,  Naaman was reduced to becoming a social outcaste. He was a leper. An untouchabale.’

 

 

Here, at this point in my sermon preparation,  my imagination took off.

 

I pictured myself going with some friends to visit a restored Naaman in his up-market home in Damascus. I wanted to hear his story from his own lips. Servants received us, and ushered us into the office of this very important ‘man of valour.’ We felt somewhat nervous, and bowed respectfully, but he immediately put us at our ease. His welcome and his story I record as follows.

 

NAAMAN’S STORY

Said Naaman-

 

“Welcome, visitors from the land of.. er.... er... Ozstraliya? Please don’t bow down to me, my friends. Don’t be nervous..  I beg you, do not keep standing. Be seated here on this leather sofa.  I must admit that I have never heard of your country. it must be very far away indeed.

 

Take your ease.  You have come to hear my story; to receive my witness. I will try to make it brief, and I hope you will not go away disappointed. It happened this way.

 

When I was at the height of my fame and power, I contracted an awful disease. I still find it hard to use the “L” word. Yes I became an unspeakable “L”. A leper. The king was surprisingly patient and generous.

 

But no longer was I able to sit with him at his golden table for feasts. No longer did I go with him, arm in arm, to worship in the glorious temple of Rimmon. When he needed to converse with me, the king now had me fetched and made to stand at the far end of his audience chamber. 

 

Yet through the kings mercy, I was not suspended from duty. I ran the army from my confined quarters, officers reporting to me at an open window, and receiving my orders for the day. I wondered however, how long this state of affairs could last.

 

I was angry about my disease. Why me? How could the gods permit such an important person as I am to be afflicted with the unspeakable curse?  I fretted and had my servants take special gifts to the priests, begging them to say prayers for me to. Just to be sure, I asked for sacrifices to be made to each of our Syrian deities. Then I also instructed my wife and children made lavish sacrifices on my behalf.

 

The gods were not listening. The disease slowly but inexorably spread.

 

Then one day a glimmer of hope came. A message arrived from my wife, saying that a slave girl of hers believed there was a renowned guru in the land of Israel who could heal me. 

 

Visitors from far away, please understand that this created only a tiny glimmer of hope. Israel is such a backward country, an uncultured bunch of tribes and always fractious. The thought of help coming from there at first seemed preposterous.

 

I asked the king for permission to travel to Israel. He consented. What is more, he sent a letter of authority ahead of me; a missive destined to put fear into any king or holy man in Israel. Once I had made the decision to go, I was prepared to give it my best shot. I assembled a formidable body guard, dressed in full uniform and carrying banners. I ordered servants to load pack mules with gifts of gold, silver and exquisite Syrian clothing. I chose my elite processional chariot and set off for Israel.

 

An unpleasant journey. But I won’t go into that, except to say that in every caravanserai the fleas were rapacious, and the quality of wine as we neared Israel, became abominable.

 

I sent peace envoys on ahead of me. I found their so called “king” in a poorly designed, ostentatious edifice which he presumed to call a palace. He was terrified at my arrival; actually trembling when my request was made and while the royal letter was read and translated.

 

This king groaned aloud and ripped his robes. Protested that there were no miracles possible. Why had I come to torment him like this?  He whined and fidgeted and wrung his hands. My patience was running out. So he gave me comfortable quarters and played for time.

 

The news of my arrival, reached a Hebrew guru called Elisha. This fellow sent a messenger to the king, saying that their god, Jahweh, could heal my disease. I set off in my gold chariot, surrounded by my formidable bodyguard, and went to find this guru known as Elisha.

 

I arrived at his dwelling (little more than a hovel) dressed in my gold braided uniform and surrounded by my glittering soldiers. I wanted to make the biggest impression. My herald sounded the trumpet. Nothing stirred. My herald called out the guru’s name, and my soldiers drummed their shields with their spears. Nothing happened. I was furious! This was no way to treat a favourite of the illustrious king of Syria!

 

Just then a servant came out, a bow legged fellow dressed in hessian. He bowed down, then informed me that his master said: “Go and wash in the Jordan River seven times and you shall be healed.”

 

This was insufferable discourtesy! The guru did not deign to even come outside and greet me, let alone offer me the hospitality of his poor dwelling. No herbs, no ointments, no waving of his hands over me while he chanted prayers. Just a menial servant. Such insolence!

 

I cried aloud: “Damn you all!  Are not the sweet rivers of Amana and Pharpar that flow through Damascus far mightier than your piddling and muddy Jordan ? If washing in a river will effect a cure, why can’t I wash back at home?”

 

Beside myself with rage, I swung my chariot around, whipped the horses and, with my troops, circled the hovel making a mighty dust. All the while I plotted how I could best make this rude guru, Elisha, suffer for his insolence-- with maximum pain!

 

Then another wretch came out and stood by my chariot. “Esteemed Sir” he said, his voice wavering, “with the utmost respect, if the guru had commanded you to make some costly sacrifice, would you not have gladly done it in order to be healed? Why do you then get angry when he simply asked you to go and wash yourself in the Jordan?”

 

The impudence! A mere servant now dared to advise me; me,  the Commander of the armies of almighty Syria!  My Syria, whose king only had to sneeze and even Egypt felt a chill! What is it with these Jews? Do they all want to be hung out for the crows to peck their bones?  I glared down at the servant and spat in the dust at his feet.

 

Nevertheless, slowly the sense of what the wretch said filtered through my anger. I had come here to be healed, hadn’t I? What was the point of slaying these idiots in my rage, but then returning home still a leper? Although I had not seen any image of this god of theirs, this Yahweh thing, maybe he could still heal me. What had I to lose, except my dignity.

 

I gathered my troops around me and said: “Warriors of Syria, listen carefully. Hear me and obey if you want to go in living. I will do as this wretched little Jew asks. But if any of you reports my humiliation when we arrive back in Damascus, you will die, but not swiftly, I promise you.”

 

In silence we rode down to the Jordan. There I stripped and immersed myself in the alien waters seven times, just as the guru had asked. As I climbed back out of the waters I heard my men gasp. The leprosy had gone. I was healed. Utterly healed!  Yahweh had done the impossible, even for a disbelieving and alien Syrian. I knelt down on the bank of the river and gave thanks to this God who could do wonders.

 

On returning to the house of the guru, I was much more subdued. This time I was ushered into Elisha’s presence. Before me was a small Jew, clothed in a white robe that looked as if it had seen many summers.

 

More humbly than I had spoken for many years, I said to him: “It is all clear to me now, sir. There is no true God in all the earth except here in Israel.”  Then I ordered three of my troops bring in some golden gifts. “With honour to your God I give you this small token of thanks.”

 

Then Elisha shook his head and said: “By the living God I swear, I will not take payment for what Yahweh has done for you. All thanks belongs to him, not to me his mere servant.”

 

For a moment I was confused. What strange people are these Hebrews. Never before in my life had I witnessed a man refusing riches. Usually men demand reward before any service is undertaken. I began to realise that this God of theirs had the power not only to change and heal the flesh of a man, but also to change minds and hearts. I had been cleansed of leprosy, but this guru had been cleansed of the lust for wealth. Of the two miracles, this was surely the greater.

 

O how much I then wished to stay longer in this impoverished country and learn to worship Jahweh. Yet I knew I must return to my King and his service. Then a possibility occurred to me.

 

I bowed my head and said to the holy man: “ If you will not take my gifts, would you be willing to give me a gift. Can I have enough of the soil of Israel as can be carried by two of my pack mules, so that I can take a little of your land back to Damascus for prayer. For I declare that I will never again worship any God but Yahweh. At the rising of the sun and at its setting, I will kneel down on the soil of Israel and give praise to your God who does such great wonders.”

Elisha looked into my eyes, then nodded and smiled: “Your wish is granted,” he said.

 

I looked down and said: “There is one more favour. When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon, he often asks me to go with him arm in arm, to bow down in worship there. On my life, I cannot refuse. Will Jahweh pardon his new servant in this matter?”

 

“Indeed yes.” said the man of God. “Ours is a pardoning God, whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting on those who trust him. He who has made you whole will continue to do so. Go in peace.”

 

And I did.

That is my story. Visitors from the far land of Australia.”

 

AFTER THE STORY

 

Then in my imagination, I visited Naaman after his return to his homeland. On the first evening,  as it was near sunset, we went with Naaman to his small plot covered with soil from Israel.

 

There we knelt down with him and gave thanks to the God of wonders who heals the diseased and broken,  and grants pardon upon pardon to all who serve him with love.

 

Then I thought I heard a voice saying to us: “Your sins are forgiven, also. Now go in peace.”

 

And we did.

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Thankful people are the happy people.

Let us pray.

 

Thanks be to you, most wonderful God, for all good gifts around us and within us.

Thanks for those mercies which nurture or heal us.

 

For life, health, food, drink, warm clothes and comfortable houses.

For family, friends, good neighbours and enemies who pray for us.

 

Thanks for curiosity, laughter, playfulness, and the ability to learn.

For truth, courage, beauty, mercy and forgiveness.

For hospitals and libraries, theatres, parklands and cathedrals.

 

Thanks for our Christian heritage: the Bible, the sacraments, and church fellowship.

For the prophets, the martyrs, the evangelists, the scholars and the saints.

Above all else, for the son of Mary: Jesus our Brother, our Messiah and Saviour,

by whose grace our names are written in heaven.

 

As we freely thank you, so may we also serve you willingly and cheerfully. For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Let us affirm our Lord’s command to love others, in the same way that we love ourselves.

Let us pray.

 

On this cool winter’s day, we pray loving God,

for people whose eyes are so clouded by misfortune

that their eyes cannot see anything bright about life.

 

We pray for:

       the insolvent farmer or the deserted mother,

       the workless hard worker or the rejected social misfit,

       the neglected child or the dejected mentally ill,

       the prisoner sighing or the drug addict dying,

       the persecuted Christian or the despairing atheist.

 

God our helper, be to each of these an inner warmth and light,

and bless all those kindly hands that reach out to them this day.

Through Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

                                                                                                Adapted from “Brief Prayers” Vol 1

 

SENDING OUT

 

May God implant in you that quiet trust

which can transform self criticism into growth,

       knock-backs into courage,

       suffering into compassion,

       and happiness into praise.

Amen!

 May we glorify God with our whole bodies,

which is a most reasonable worship.

 

In the name of the Holy Trinity I bless you:

       The Holy Three be around your head,

       The Holy Three be around your heart,

       The Holy Three be around your spirit,

       One God, the Holy Three, by night and day.

Amen!

                        ( From a Celtic blessing.