Who’s up for a summer journey? Isn’t that what we do in this season? We pack our things and our families; we jump in the car; and we head off. So, the summer of ’22 can be the journey of a lifetime. It will be a journey of exploration and learning and ultimately a journey to discover what’s at the heart of our faith.
Now, it’s a long journey, to be sure, but we can break it up. We can take this journey in stages, as the old joke goes. Instead of seeing it as a nine-week journey, let’s think of it in terms of five shorter stages defined by our traveling companions. They will take us on this journey of discovery. These companions are called prophets, and they have a propensity to take us to the edge, even when we don’t really want to go. Thus, the title of our series is “Prophet Margins.”
Not all that we will see, both outside and inside, will be comfortable and easy. Prophets have a frustrating propensity to speak uncomfortable truths. And the rest of the world—even the rest of the people of God—has an even more frustrating propensity to not listen to them when they speak.
What might we learn if we took the risk to listen? If we took the risk to let these holy ones of God become our traveling companions on our summer journey? We might be troubled, and we will be, but we might also be lifted up. We might be challenged, but we might find reasons for hope, or we might find a renewed vision that inspires us for all the journeys we make.
So, what do you say? Are you up for a journey this summer, a journey to the edge of our faith? Then you’re ready for “Prophet Margins.”
Stage 1: Elisha at the River’s Edge
When you sit down to eat, what does your mom ask you? “Did you wash?” It was about hygiene to be sure, but it was also about preparation. The question was about whether you were ready to join the family, to engage in conversation, and presence and enjoyment and connectedness. Were you ready to join in or would you continue to hold yourself apart? Would you dip your toes in the water or stubbornly remain dry?
Our text is about obedience and about submitting to authority, but it is also about recognizing the voice of God in the voices of others. Naaman had little reason to listen to Elisha, except that he listened to the voice of the refugee girl whom he made a servant in his house. What does it take to hear the voice of God? To whom do we listen?
In the story, the foreign General Naaman is invited to wash in the River Jordan to be healed of his leprosy. His willingness to do so is at the crux of the text. Perhaps in worship, there could be a handwashing ritual as folks come forward for Communion. This is the first Sunday of the month, when many churches in our tradition celebrate Communion. There could be something as they step up to receive—a basin and towel perhaps. Handwashing is sometimes substituted for foot-washing during the Holy Week services. But handwashing could be borrowed this week as a sign of submitting to the cleansing power and presence of God.
There could also be anointing and prayers for healing that accompany the theme this week. As a sign of solidarity and of faith, we can lift up the brokenness of the world in which we live and invite the healing Spirit to guide us into paths of wholeness and strength.
This first stage on our journey with the prophets is one of obedience and the willingness to hear the voice of God.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.