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Sermon for 4th July 2010, 6th after Pentecost

Our first reading today is about Naaman the Syrian, a national leader, the commander of the Syrian army. we hear about his illness and his journey of faith and healing.

It is interesting that in Australia there has been some interest in the faith of our leaders – Kevin Rudd was shown as a regular church goer, and often gave interviews after church. Christina Keneally has studied theology and we heard on television how her understanding of the Christian faith affects her views on gay marriage and adoption. Tony Abbott is a Roman Catholic and many of us would be aware of the activities of the Christian Lobby Group who met with Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott to make their views known. And now it appears that Julia Gillard, our new Prime Minister, does not identify with any religious group.

I think it is interesting, too, that today is the Fourth of July, American Independence Day when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. The United States of America has always prided itself on its Christian heritage and many Presidents have boldly proclaimed their own Faith in Jesus Christ. So perhaps it would be good to reflect on Naaman the Syrian and his encounter with Elisha the Prophet.

First of all, Naaman lived in Damascus with his family and attended worship at the pagan temple with his master the King. The bible says that the King of Aram would go into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on Naaman’s arm, and when the King bowed, so also would Naaman. It was simple, if Naaman wanted to keep his job, he had to worship with his master the King in the temple of Rimmon in Damascus.

But after he came to visit Elisha and was cured of his leprosy he declared, “Behold, I now know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.” Naaman no longer worshipped Rimmon, he worshipped the Lord God of Israel. So he took with him, back to Damascus, two mule loads of earth so that when he prayed he could pray to the Lord God of Israel, as he knelt on the soil of Israel. He would not stop going to the temple of Rimmon with the King since that was his job, but he asked God’s pardon for doing his duty, since his heart belonged to the Lord God and not Rimmon.

Now we can turn to the Gospel, where Jesus sends seventy people, two by two, to visit the towns where he himself intended to go. His instructions were simple – take no purse, bag or sandals, and don’t stop to talk to anyone on the road. Say, “Peace to this house!” and accept their hospitality if they welcome you. In the towns, too, if people welcome you, accept their hospitality, heal the sick in that town and say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” And, even if the towns reject you, still tell them that the Kingdom of God has come near.

There are three connected groups here. Firstly the Christian Leaders of Australia, Prime Ministers and such; and the Christian Leaders of the United States of America. Secondly there’s Naaman and Elisha, and thirdly there are the Seventy messengers sent out by Jesus.

They are all judged by what they do and not by what label they carry. The Christian leaders of the nations; and the Muslim leaders as well; are judged not by whether they say they are Christians or Muslims, but by how they behave. In Saturday’s paper, Julia Gillard said, “Do not judge me by how I got here, judge me by what I do. Naaman asked Elisha not to judge him because he bowed down in the house of Rimmon, but to accept him because his heart was true to the Lord God.

In the same way, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Christina Keneally and Julia Gillard will be judged, not by their declarations of faith, or lack of it, but their actions will show us if their hearts are true to the Lord God. When Jesus sent the seventy people out, two by two, he did not tell them to declare the Lordship of Christ. He told them to bring peace, to accept hospitality, to heal the sick and then say, “See? We have just shown you that the kingdom of God has come near.” And those who are ready to accept Jesus Christ will turn to him and be saved; they are the harvest which is ready to be gathered in. As for those who do not accept, they are to be left to God – but even to them the kingdom of God has come near.

St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, is talking to ordinary Christians like you and me. All that God requires is a sincere heart, a true heart like Naaman’s. Paul urges the Galatians to be true to Christ crucified. “Make no mistake! You can’t fool God!” he says, “If you pretend to be a Christian when you don’t mean it, be warned, it will end in disaster. But, if you sow to the Spirit, as Paul says, if you sincerely desire to follow Christ, if your heart is right, then you will succeed and all people will see that Christ is at work in you.

This is how evangelism works; this is how we are judged by those around us; not by the labels we carry for they tell people nothing. Christian mission shows the Holy Spirit at work when true hearted people who love God and other people work together for the good of all, and especially, as St Paul says, for those of the family of faith.

Let us pray today for all the leaders of the nations, those who make and administer our laws, especially those who profess to be Christians. We pray that they and we may be true to God in our hearts so that the works of the Spirit may show in our lives so that you may be glorified in Jesus Christ our Lord and that those who have eyes to see may see the Christ-light in our lives and turn to Christ and be saved.

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