So I don’t know what I can say about these snakes and scorpions. The other day – at the start of the summer season – I went into my shed to find a snake warming itself on my storage container. It was hotter in the shed at that point, then outside. I did not immediately think about my authority to tread on the snake – instead I screamed and slammed the door – and decided to do my gardening later.
I now announce myself every time I open the shed door – but of course, have never seen the snake again. More afraid of us than we are of them, right.
So – snakes and scorpions and demons. Its not surprising to me that these apostles – meaning the ones sent out to proclaim good news – point not to the people they met, but to the supernatural things they did. We often look to the externals as proof of our life with God. We want to prove ourselves to the people we want approval from! But Jesus redirects their focus – and maybe ours – its not what you do or accomplish – that isn’t the source of joy.
The source of joy is deeper and more consistent than that. It’s the connection with God. The awareness of this connection – this kingdom within you that you always have access to – that is always there, that will never leave. That is what you carry with you – that is what you bring to others – that is what you offer as good news.
Not with a proclamation of power – but with a word of peace – peace be with you.
Did any of you ever do telemarketing? When I was in college – back in the 80s – I lived near Fenway Park in Boston. My roommate, once a month, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and all day Sunday – she took the bus and the T into Cambridge to call people on the phone and get their credit cards for something or other.
And she made good money – because you got paid hourly, but then commission on the number of sign-ups. And she said, you should try this Arianne – its easy – you just talk to people, listen – and then persuade them, that they need this. So I went for the training – thought it was great I got paid for that – and then went for the first night of calls.
I lasted three phone calls – and then took the headset off – and said thanks, no thanks. I can’t do this. Now, no judgement on my friend – I don’t remember what we were selling and it certainly seemed legitimate to me at the time. I just couldn’t do it. For me it felt like I was pretending too much – there was nothing of value to whatever I was talking about. And it felt inauthentic to pretend to a stranger that there was.
When we hear a gospel story like this morning – Jesus sending out apostles to preach the good news – is that what we think Christians are called to do? Go out and sell salvation? Door to door. Maybe you’ve been in that situation – most likely the ones opening the door, since we’re Episcopalians. And no judgement for people who feel called to go door-to-door, but personally I've felt uncomfortable on the receiving end and it would feel inauthentic for me to proselytize in that way. Because its just not what I hear Jesus sending those 70 out to do.
Jesus sends them ahead of him – to do what he does. To meet people where they are. To offer a word of peace. To listen. To accept their hospitality if they offer it – and if not, to shake the dust off their feet and move on.
He doesn’t say anything about converting people. He says – let them know God is near.
And its not said to provoke fear - quite the opposite - it is the the source of our joy. The peace within us that surpasses understanding. The peace we often overlook because we are too busy, or too consumed with the thoughts in our heads – or the perception we want others to have of us.
The two characters in this morning’s lesson from Kings who share good news in a similar way, simply by being authentic to who they are – are the nameless ones. The ones who have no power – except trust in a power greater than themselves.
The first is the servant girl. Namaan – the main character you might say – is the commander of a major army, a mighty warrior – but all that power doesn’t make him ritually clean. He has leprosy – which by the way – isn’t exactly the same as when we hear it in the new testament – or Hanson’s disease which is how we refer to leprosy now.
It’s a skin condition of some sort – the Hebrew word is different, but translates the same. Regardless, it’s a condition that sets him a part – not in a good way. One assumes it was uncomfortable at least – but more uncomfortable would have been the stigma. Skin conditions meant he was unclean – not allowed to eat with the kings or worship with the kings whenever it appears.
So his wife’s servant – who had been captured in a battle with Israel – says, I know the prophet who can heal him – because I know the God who says all are made clean. That was courageous – a risk to share that word of peace with the one who controlled her life.
And that leads to Namaan’s king sending word to the king of Israel – heal my commander. But this terrifies that king (the books of kings are all about the idiocy of kings by the way, and the prophets stepping in to point to the true king). Who does not have the power and believes this will be his end.
But Elisha the prophet hears of the king’s distress and says – chill out. I got this. Send Namaan to me. And we have another example of the externals – Namaan makes his way to Elisha with his shekles of gold and talents of silver – and horses, and tanks – I mean chariots – and ten suits of finery. So much stuff to prove how much he deserves this healing.
I just picture Elisha opening his door – and Namaan being like – look at me! – and Elisha completely unimpressed says, hi, peace be with you, now go wash seven times in the Jordan. And without fanfare, closes the door!
Which is why Namaan freaks out! Furious at how he's being treated. What? No special healing prayers or deference shown even. Why would he go wash in that puny river Jordan – when he has those major rivers of Damascus to bathe in. He’s so prideful – the epitome of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
But thanks be to God for him – there is another nameless servant – probably a boy – who says, hey, if he had asked you to do something you considered worthy, something that was a challenge – you would’ve done it. Why not then when its something simple?
Peace be with you. It can cut through our resentment, pride, arrogance and frustration. A simple phrase to connect us with what we already have, always have. What if you said that in your head this week at the start of each day to yourself? What if you said that before engaging with others each day – in your head if you feel silly saying that as a greeting.
What if you said that before opening the paper – and listening to the voices of the people, especially the children right now – who are begging for our attention?
Jesus said – my peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you – I do not give peace as the world gives – but give you the peace of my Father in heaven. We are all God-carriers. We all have access to this peace within ourselves – for ourselves and for others. Or as the prophet Moses said, The kingdom of God is very near – on your lips and in your heart. Amen.