But We Promised

2 Kings 5:1-14
5Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” 8But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Psalm 66
1Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; 2Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
3Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah
5Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
6He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him, 7who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah
8Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, 9who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

Galatians 6:1-16
1My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads. 6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Good morning, St. Matthew. We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging the hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so we pray.

Holy Lord, you have made promises to us from the moment of our creation to this morning, but we, who are not very good at keeping our promises, do not know how to trust you to keep yours. Yet never once have you failed in your steadfast fidelity, and you keep coming back to us, with a continual grace that allows us to begin again, no matter how often we fail. We are, however, held by those promises we have received from that grace and we ask for the Spirit’s power to live into them.

In Your Holy Promising Name, we pray. Amen.

Our Gospel this morning has one of those Biblical quotes that seems to have made its way into the culture without context or understanding – “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Most of the time when we hear this, it’s because there’s some big job and we can’t find the staffing to pull it off. But Luke’s quote doesn’t end there, it continues – “therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The full Gospel quote tells us that Jesus is not talking about “cross my heart and hope to die” promises given in human power – rather he’s telling the disciples – “I know what I am asking you to do is not in your power to accomplish so ask for Divine help – and it will be given to you.” In short, Jesus is making a promise to equip the disciples and us for the journey. Now be clear, we are being called to fulfill our side of the promise as well and actually do what is asked of us – but we will not be alone; God will be with us every step of the way, because God’s promises are everlasting mutual covenants.

As we celebrate the day the United States officially became a nation, I have been thinking a lot about the promises that were made that day, and what they intended. And let’s be clear, they were promises – the men gathered there that hot July day had not yet solidified into US citizens – they were still a collection of English colonists casting a vision of what they hoped to become. So they made promises to the future; promises to live into a better version of government, a better understanding of human agency, a promise to be a nation based on merit and equal opportunity. I grew up on those promises, and I will tell you honestly they are a part of my being – they have formed the woman I am.
Now we come to point that is difficult to articulate. Because we as US citizens are a nation based on promises, and we who are Christian walk in a faith based on promises – we have sometimes confused the nature of those promises. But God’s promises are different than human promises. The promises that were made in Philadelphia were promises that were things that humans wanted to do, that humans wanted to accomplish. The promises that Jesus gave us as believers have nothing to do with one nation – they are promises made to all people regardless of nationality, heritage or orientation. The founding fathers and mothers may have felt they were walking with angels in the promises they were making, but they would never have imagined they had those angels’ exclusive blessing. The nation they sought to create was fashioned from human ideals – not from Divine ordination.

This is important because it speaks to the concept of will – the United States is about imposed human will, not the receiving of God’s will. Dr. Matthew Tan, who pilots the project Awkward Asian Theologian, is the Dean of Studies at Vianney College Seminary in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga in Australia. He publishes weekly reflections on faith and in his recent post, he talked about the importance of how we understand human will. He comments on an author’s insight into the nature of being human and how that nature impacts our view of the world. He writes:
one corollary that Snead did pick up on was an account of the person that was, from its inception, dependent upon others. A person depends on another in order to be conceived, to be raised in such a way as to develop one’s own will, and to live, move and have being in the world.
The reason (Dr. Tam) found this anthropology of original dependence significant is because it dovetails with a particular stance towards the world and those in it, …. This was a posture encapsulated by the Greek term Kenosis or self-emptying. If you are dependent from the outset, the only way that one can be in the world is through a divestment of self, which is most tangibly expressed in the act of submission to another. What this creates … is a set of belongings that are not the result of (a) social (human) contract: (rather it is a faith based) belonging to another and to God. These (Divine) forms of belonging, … are not impositions and limitations on my desire and will. Instead … (they are) a recognition of our original dependence, and kenotically submitting ourselves to it, is the key to their very fulfilment.
The reason why (Dr. Tam) found this significant is because … the idea of a disembodied will (disconnected from the Divine) has baked into it, a particular stance on the world in which the will is imposed upon the world and others within it. If one begins from this premise, every act of belonging to another can only be seen as an imposition and curtailment of one’s own desires and will. Society and ethics in this vein, then is more a management of competing sets of wills, rather than the joint working towards a flourishing society.

Did you catch that? In the human world, where we make human promises, they are done with an understanding of imposing OUR will onto the situation. Anyone who ever said, “If you just do (whatever) I PROMISE I will never (or always) do (whatever) again!” has participated in this kind of promise. That’s a promise full of ourselves and firm in its belief that we have the power to control outcomes. It’s not that these promises are bad or wrong – they just aren’t a faithful promise, because they do not include God. The promises that Founding Fathers made were in this category – an attempt to impose a certain order that they believed to be good on the world. They were very clear that the promises of state and the promises of faith were to be separately undertaken. It’s important again to say these types of promises can do much good – if we follow through. The making of a promise tells people to trust us – breaking our promises tells people we are not to be trusted. I will leave it to you to ask the hard questions about how many feel they cannot trust the promises made in 1776, and the work we must undertake to make sure those promises are available to all citizens of the United States.

Let’s pivot now to those Divine, covenantal, promises – the ones that are about being emptied of our will in order to accept God’s will. The prayer that Jesus gave us states, “Thy will be done as it is in heaven” – so we are not looking to exert our will but rather to be incorporated into God’s will. To do so, we have to be willing to move from an assertion of self to an emptying of self – and this is only possible with God. Trying to live this life in the context of human promises is both dangerous and abusive because on the human side, we are each about the exertion of our will over someone, and as Dr. Tam states, “If one begins from this premise, every act of belonging to another can only be seen as an imposition and curtailment of one’s own desires and will.” But in a God based promise, we can yield because we can trust the one making the promises.
Now it takes the Spirit to step in and make us brave enough to trust those Divine promises. Without that Spirit, we are Naaman in his ego saying, “Take a bath? What kind of BS promise is that?!?” Naaman is looking to see Elijah’s angle, to try and figure out how this is going to cost him. But when he comes to let go – to understand that all that is asked of him is to enter into God’s promise and take a bath – and is startled to find that in covenant life, he loses nothing and gains everything – but first he had to trust the promise.

Likewise the 70 disciples enter into the covenant promise by trusting that God will provide literally everything they need for the journey – all they have to do is enter into it. And we are told that when they came back from that journey of trust, that kenosis where they dared to let go of themselves and their power, they are filled with joy and amazed that even the demons obey them – yet they are reminded that it’s not THEIR power that’s at work but God’s!

Finally, on this morning of promises, as US citizens, it’s right to give thanks for the ones made 246 years ago, and to fight to make them real for all people in the US. That is a good fight, that is good trouble. But as believers, let us empty ourselves into the covenantal promise of God and say with Paul: 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!
That is the Divine promise that will save us; so we pray Come Holy Spirit, empty us of our petty self-centred, self-serving power that we may be filled with your life giving, neighbour serving, covenantal promise of grace. Amen.