EMMANUEL UNITED CHURCH
Into A Far Country July 3, 2016
2 Kings 5: 1 -14 - Luke 10: 1 -11, 16 -20 Rev Dr George Hermanson
We know the United Church is in a process of imagining what it means to be a national church. We are in a time of asking hard questions of what it means to be a congregation. It does not stop there, for individual christians are asking what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? We are trying to navigate these questions in a time unrest.
As a society we are faced with difficult issues. The Brexit referendum is not limited to Europe: it is part of a much larger process of the confusion that underlies the crisis of “manufacturing democratic consent” in our societies, of the growing gap between political institutions and popular rage, the rage which gave birth to Trump as well as to Sanders in the US. We have the rise of outrage of those who feel left out, to moves to narrow nationalism and distrust of the “other”. Signs of chaos are everywhere – Is this a reason to despair?
In such times we worry. We often seek for just the right information to move into a far country. Planning becomes our default position. It becomes the narrative that determines our sense of that it is crucial to deal with life.
Planning is big on our agenda — for we want to make the best use of our time and we want to arrive without too many distractions. In business, and life, there are those who are called life coaches. They sit down with us and lay out what they think is necessary to build a life or a business. It is an expanding business. Churches seek out those who will help them grow, as if there is a technique that provides a simple solution, a silver bullet for what ails us.
The unspoken desire is we can plan our way into the future. The irony is planning can be a dead end-the best laid plans is a phrase that reminds us of that. It turned out that over planning is not necessary for each day provides new experiences that we have not planned on. In fact, planning almost makes us miss the unexpected.
I do not believe the mission of the church will move forward without creativity and innovation. Early Christian leaders were willing to improvise when a way seemed to close before them.
The answer is clear: persons who are open to the prompting of the Spirit of God, who is always transgressing boundaries, find creative ways to bear witness to uncontrolling love.
Our texts speak about a time of dislocation and switching loyalties. Kings speak about how to live in a far country. They are about healing, acceptance, hospitality and the common good. The vision of an uncontrolling God preached in them restores the community’s well-being and overcomes those attitudes, practices and programs that drive a wedge between people.
Naaman finds a path to healing from an unexpected source, a Hebraic slave girl, who testifies to the love of her God. Naaman encounters an unexpected healer, Elisha, a Hebrew, who points the general to an unexpected action, a dip in nearby and rather undistinguished Jordan River.
Naaman is initially angry at the prophet for suggesting such a simple healing. But, once again, the general receives counsel from an unexpected source, his servants. Inclusion and restoration of the stranger, the enemy general into the protective custody of God, these are the values that matter. The alien belongs to God.
God seeks healing in every circumstance and virtually any encounter can be a source of personal transformation, embracing body, mind, spirit, and relationships. God’s aim at healing is both intimate and universal.
When we say “yes” to Christ’s question, “do you want to be healed?” a lively and expanding world of healing possibilities opens up for us. Most of these are, like the Jordan River, right in front of us.
This deep seeking is a trust in the uncontrolling love of God who is experienced in human relationships Such seeking awakens us to new life and possibility for transformation.
Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus’ followers going out into the world with no safety net. They are sent out into a far country without backup plans. What they do have are symbols of holy hospitality. It is not about food handed out at the door. It is a recognition of the truth of we get by relaying on the kindness of strangers, ( Blanche Dubois in a street car called desire.)
In our texts we get a wider sense of a world community — no us against them — we are all moving to a far country where those things that divide are broken down.
The public space is also personal space, a shared reality. The symbolic and actual eating together evokes an attitude of hospitality. “Whenever you enter a house, eat the food offered.” This is an act that heals — redefines hospitality. The old idea was one could only eat proper and sacred food. Now what counts is openness to the otherness of reality. The companions of Jesus are sent out into a far country with only one attitude — inclusion.
This is the attitude of seeking well-being for others and that seeking heals not only the other but oneself. We know what heals is care of the other, and that care also heals us.
Shaking the dust off is a metaphor for not holding onto hostility. For we know we can load down our shoes, our spirits, with negativity and it can block us. There is an expression that if we drink the cup of resentment we poison ourselves. Move on, don’t hold on to hostility, turn it into hospitality. Patrica Farmer offers this “We believe that instead of shrinking back in despair or approaching the world with raised hackles, we need to widen out in love, compassion, inclusivity, and full-bodied joy,”
We too have the authority to heal and offer hospitality. These words — “ I give you the authority.” It is handed over to us. It is not borrowed power nor temporary authority. It is ours.
We have all that is needed for the journey into new locales and strange places. We can move into the far country for we are companions in the journey of healing and restoration. We are those called. No longer live out of a society of fear, envy, and anger. We have been touched by love. We have been restored by grace so we can go out to sow grace and to help the world reap well-being.
Our stories tell us that we live in a house of freedom — freedom from the domination of the past, freedom from ideas that imprison. When we take these gifts seriously we can create a world of peace and beauty. We are those who can move into the far country.