Inter-Dependence Day

A Sermon Shared with the People of St. Matthew’s, St. Paul, July 7, 2013
Andy Barnett


Happy “inter-dependence day”[i]!

As a country, we just remembered July 4, 1776,

That formative day in our nation’s story.

Did you have chicken, ribs, potato salad, strawberries, ice cream, and cornbread?

Did your family bring chairs to the band concerts and fireworks?

What a day to celebrate!

But, what are we celebrating?


237 years ago we celebrated independence.

We celebrated freedom FROM England’s empire.

The bulk of the colony leaders

Fought a war to write their own destiny

But not all the writers wanted to split from England.

In fact, many leaders within the Anglican church

That would become the Episcopal Church

Resisted the independence efforts.


So fireworks and canons celebrated freedom FROM Great Britain

But we found it much harder to celebrate freedom TO govern ourselves.

Freedom FROM a much maligned foe? 

It was easy to jump on that bandwagon.


But freedom TO build a more perfect union?

Freedom TO live in community with so many strong opinions?

Freedom TO become our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper?

That’s tough!

In America’s story, it led to civil war and years of strife.

And as the Arab-Spring sweeps across the middle East

As Egypt’s military sends the first elected president to jail

And the world wonders whether that’s a good thing

We are newly aware, perhaps evenly acutely aware

That we depend on each other.


That, like it or not, the world is “hot, flat, and crowded” in Tom Friedman’s words.

That “I am because you are” in the South African concept of Ubuntu.

And so we say, happy inter-dependence day.

That’s the reality the founding father’s faced in

Philadelphia’s sweltering State Hall and the years that followed.

Happy inter-dependence day!

That’s the reality we face in a “hot, flat, and crowded” Arab summer of 2013.

Happy inter-dependence day!


That’s the reality we hear in today’s Scripture.

Commander Naaman has some inter-dependence to navigate.

He’s the mighty commander of a vast army.

He’s like Chuck Norris mixed with Vin Diesel.

This muscle-man wins wars like it’s his job,

But his skin rots before your eyes through the terrible disease of leprosy.

Despite Naaman’s military might, Walter Bruegemann calls him an “invisible nobody”

Naaman’s so powerful he gathers a vast treasure to buy, in Bruegamman’s words

“The best available health care, no doubt anticipating a private,

Luxurious room for his period of confinement[ii]


But it turns out the un-named little people

Build the connections that would make him well.

God is the real actor in this story,

And God’s providence is hard to predict, impossible to control.

Power, wealth, and military might may even blind the leader’s to God’s action,


But the “invisible prophets[iii]” see it coming

They show us the “extraordinary power of ordinary faith[iv]

And it all starts when the Israeli slave girl- one of war’s female victims-

Tells the Arameans of Elisha the prophet.

So Naaman storms into Israel with money and an armed guard.

He bangs on the king’s door.

And the  king is so upset at the presence of a sick outsider

That he tears his clothes in the ultimate gesture of grieving.

Has God ever surprised you with a gross nobody at a very inconvenient time?

[Happy inter-dependence day!]


Elisha hears about all of this on Facebook and sends a text message.

“Hey King!  What’s with the torn clothes? Send this guy to me and I’ll take care of him.”


Now at this point Naaman’s probably confused and losing hope,

But he dutifully gathers his robes, picks up the caravan and camels over to Elisha’s place.

Through a messenger Elisha tells him to wash in the Jordan River

But Naaman’s pride gets in the way.

Naaman is about to reject God’s providence when the servants convince him to try Elisha’s cure.

He was expecting a wand, or at least a personal visit

from this doubtfully holy guy

And God’s promised providence is a little too lowly for him.

At this point, I’m thinking of Mary’s song (Luke 1:52-53)

52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

Have you ever turned up your nose at a blessing in disguise?

When was the last time someone turned you back around

To face your own holy challenge from God?

Has anyone ever called you to show the courage you forgot you had?

[Happy inter-dependence day!]


Naaman dips in the Jordan and his stinking, wrinkled, scarlet skin

Becomes clean like that of a young child.

He sings with the psalmist[v]

2: O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.

12: You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13: Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Naaman’s story shows the “extraordinary power of ordinary faith.”

It shows the power of people on the sidelines to move the story forward.

And today’s gospel shows Jesus’ vision of the gathered Christian community.

The Jesus movement is explosive!

Crowds gather by the thousand to hear him and to be fed.

That’s one of the reasons the authorities take him out

But it’s also exactly how Jesus wants the movement to work.

The gospel writers speak of 12 disciples, but they don’t even agree on the same names.

It’s quite likely that the early movement

Luke describes had more than 12 devout followers, including women.

In fact, today’s passage shows just how broad the movement has become.

Jesus commissions 70 people to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.

And 70 is an important number, signifying “fullness and wholeness[vi]”.

70 rabbis translate the Septuagint in 200 BC

70 elders share Moses’ prophecy and leadership (Numbers 11:16-17)

70 times seven- that’s how many times we are to forgive.

As Sarah Dylan Bruer writes,

“Jesus sends out seventy as workers for the harvest, to proclaim that God's rein has arrived, that the accuser of humanity has fallen. Jesus sends out seventy -- a number of fullness and wholeness -- to exercise authority over every spirit and every condition that oppresses God's children.[vii]

It’s a big deal that Jesus sends out 70

Because this whole, full number tells us he’s looking for an active crew

To make real his mission of reconciliation and restoration.

And if we’re looking for an action plan,

Jesus makes his mission clear in the home-town synagogue.

He stands up and recites from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18)

[Happy inter-dependence Day!]


If his mission is clear, so too is his vision for the gathered community.

Jesus sends out 70 people to proclaim that God’s reign is near.

Sisters, and Brothers,

We too are being sent as Christ’s hands and feet.

We too are empowered, like the invisible prophets in Naaman’s story

We may be on the sidelines, but we can still move the story toward justice

Like Naaman’s servants, we too can say, “Go for it. Jump in.  Take a swim.  Let God lead.”

Maybe we even give that advice to ourselves.

Like the girl in Naaman’s story, we can show people where to get well.

They’ll thank God for the rest of their days.

Like Elisha, we can tell the king “That’s not a gross nobody, that’s a child of God. 

Welcome her in. Care for her. Help her get well.”

As the gathered body of Christ,

Jesus calls sends us to

“bring good news to the poor

to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18)

We are all surprised by God’s providence

It’s impossible to predict, difficult to control

Yet we know God goes with us “to the end of the age.”


So on this inter-dependence day, we sing the psalmist:

2: I will exalt you O Lord

12: You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13: Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Happy inter-dependence day!

Thanks be to God!

Alleluia, Alleluia.


Works Cited


[i] Sermons that Work, Independence Day, Chittenden, Nils.

(Accessed July 1, 2013)

[ii] Bruegeman, Walter.  Testimony to Otherwise: The Witness of Elijah and Elisha

[iii] ibid

[iv] Next Sunday Worship. Baxley, Paul A. “The extraordinary power of ordinary faith.” (Accessed July 1, 2013)

[v] The Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. Psalm 30: 2, 12-13.

[vi] (Dylan’s Lectionary Blog)

(Accessed July 1, 2013)

[vii] ibid.