Year C — The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for June 2, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Dr. Lisa Bandel

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39
There are very few occasions in life in which “limp” is a positive descriptor. In fact, it is most often considered to be downright embarrassing, n’est ce pas?

The NRSV translates Elijah’s challenge to the people and their faith in God as, “limping between two different opinions.” Ouch!


This is not the only vivid language in this marvelous story, called by one of my preacher friends, “The God Contest.” At one point, Elijah wonders — quite loudly — if Baal might not be “indisposed” and unable to answer the prayers of the 450 priests who are calling on his name.


There is a good deal of violence one must deal with here; after all, this is an ancient text and such passages do not always translate neatly into our cultures or their sensitivities. But, there is no doubt when the episode is over that, “The Lord indeed is God.”


You can sure say that again! (which they did…)


1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
The alternate reading for today has Solomon praising God for God’s steadfast love for Israel — and, quite interestingly, praying for the “foreigner” who will one day come to pray at the Temple of the Lord. Solomon asks God to be sure and hear these prayers, so that “all the peoples of the earth may know” God’s name.

Now, the prayer may have been just a bit touched with pride on Solomon’s part. He was, after all, dedicating a magnificent work and wanted it to be seen in the best possible light. But, still…it’s a good prayer. 


Where are the “foreigners” among us today? How are we praying for them?


Psalm 96

The psalm’s language allows us to invoke praise to God for God’s great work of salvation — which is for all. All of the people and all of creation.

Galatians 1:1-12

This will begin a series of readings from Galatians for the next several weeks, so there is a chance for those who might like to do some serial preaching, examining the themes in the epistle. 

This text is one that must be handled with a great deal of care — IMO — so as not to come off as sounding arrogant. Paul is earnest, he is passionate, he is completely committed to his message. All of these qualities may have had him coming off as a bit pretentious in his time (and in our ears.)


But the privilege of preaching the gospel — and working to serve Christ and please God — must never be a source for superiority. May we stand for gospel truth, and do so in such a way that God is given “glory for ever and ever. Amen.”


Luke 7:1-10

There is so much that is unexpected in this story.

We do not expect a Roman centurion to be kind to his slave; we certainly do not expect the generosity that he shows to his Jewish charges, nor do we expect the kind things they have to say about their oppressor.

Jesus does not expect to find such faith in a Gentile — well, maybe he does, but he certainly uses the expectation of the crowd to good advantage.

And, perhaps most surprising of all, we most likely do not expect Jesus to heal the slave in the way that he does.

God is so very often the God of the unexpected — especially when it comes to grace!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Two of our lessons are about the inclusion of strangers in the household of faith, the acceptance of aliens and outsiders into the community of Christ.
The lesson from I Kings is a portion of Solomon’s prayer dedicating his temple. “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name . . . then hear in heaven your dwelling place.” Solomon wants his temple to be a house of prayer for all people regardless of races or genders or ethnic background.
WIn Luke we find Jesus responding to the needs of two strangers; two foreigners and aliens in Israel. The first is the centurion; the second is the centurion’s slave. While both were outsiders; they could not have been more different in status.
One is a powerful man, a leader amongst the people who had conquered and now ruled Israel. He is rich and powerful; it also appears that he is a good and generous man who has given much to the Jewish community. Verse 5 says, . . . for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” He is also humble; he does not consider himself worthy to ask anything of Jesus himself – first he sends the Jewish leaders, then he sends his friends.
The second person is a complete nobody in the Roman world. He is a slave, human chattel, a commodity to be bought and sold, used or abused or disposed of at will.
The amazing thing in this story is that the centurion cared about the slave, and the Jews admired and cared about the centurion and Jesus ended up admiring the centurion and healing the slave and all this happened in a world and among a people for whom none of this was even slightly normal behavior. It all happened because these people understood that the God of Israel is a loving and including God.
The Biblical story is primarily one of grace and inclusivity. Though there is much in the Hebrew Scriptures about being separate from those around us; there is much more about how all people, all nations, all genders and races and stations of people are welcome in God’s temple, God’s house, God’s community, God’s church.
At least fifteen years ago I was on staff for a week at a summer church camp. One day the bishop came to speak to the kids. He came out on stage wearing a Lutheran World Relief T-shirt and told us an amazing story.
There was at that time an LWR project in India to develop better agricultural methods and sanitation practices. (Before you assume this to be a western program, be aware that there are 1.5 million Lutherans in India and they were in charge.) The director of the project knew that the best way to begin in a new village was with a local person who was trained and then put in charge.
In one village there was a couple who had only one child. They had had six pregnancies and six years. All six babies had died in their first year of life. The parents believed that the devil had come and snatched their children away. When the seventh child was born, her parents named her “Garbage,” in the belief that if the devil heard the family calling her garbage he would not want her and she would live.
Imagine growing up being called Garbage by everyone, including your parents. She was an outcast in a village of outcasts; a nobody in a community of nobodies.
Until the Lutherans came to town. Garbage was the person picked to head up the program. Following Indian tradition she was given a title. And so it was that lowly Garbage became instead The Esteemed and Venerable Garbage. And with the change of name came a change of status. The one who was out was now in, the one who was low was made high, the one who was nobody became somebody.
That’s how God is with us and with all people. We label others as less than us or other than us; and God takes our labels and turns them into titles; God takes our fearful alienation and turns it into faithful reconciliation.
One of the things I always loved about church camp was how you could take kids out of their normal competitive and status seeking environment and put them together for a week in a place where they were all equal and the norms of behavior had to do with love, and respect, and acceptance and by the end of the week the star athlete would choke up as he gave a good-bye hug to the nerd with the taped together glasses and the beauty queen cheerleader would weep openly as she exchanged contact info with the girl with tattoos, nose rings and purple hair. The lines of separation had been erased in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That is who we in the ordinary, everyday non-camp church. We are a community of aliens and strangers whose names have been changed from nobody to somebody by the love of God. We are called of God to open our hearts and our lives so that, “. . . when a foreigner, a stranger, someone not of our people . . .” comes in our doors; they will not only be welcomed, they will be transformed.
Amen and amen.

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