2 February 2003

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In the Name of God Father Son and Holy Spirit Amen

To get hold of the reading today and to appreciate what is the good news in them we do need to give some thought to what it is we are reading.

It could be a historical account of miracles worked by someone from a bygone age. That’s just like reading these stories a bit the way we buy lotto tickets: “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone like him would come again today and just make everything work properly again.” That’s one way of reading it, probably the most common way of reading Holy Scriptures, common in the western world.

Another way to do it is to see the Bible as the living word of God, it’s the living word of God which speaks to everyone, everywhere, in every age, for eternity, at every moment in all time for everybody, directly in the word of God. In which case it then begs the question: well then, why worry about lepers? There are very few around today, in Beaconsfield at least. And so we then start to look and we think: maybe it’s not a story about lepers, maybe we are not reading… maybe that’s not the point of the story.

At the time it was written, leprosy was a death warrant that wasn’t understood, but it was fantastically visible, you could see the person decay before your very eyes. It was horrible to see and the chances are, if you got too close, you would get it too. So this is a story about visibly being able to see someone dying, someone suffering. Someone’s unhealthiness, and how that is then addressed.

The account in Mark is superb, because it is the leper that initiates the action. The leper came to Jesus, he has a real need, he is dying, he is no longer welcome, accepted in his community. Hospitality is something that he will no longer encounter. He’s got a real need and yet he goes to Jesus and he demands nothing and he asks nothing, and he says, ‘If you choose, if you choose you can make me clean’. Let’s pause in there and just quickly recount how we pray, how many of our prayers are asking, demanding, controlling; how many of our prayers are directed towards telling.

The leper, the one marked for death: ‘If you choose, you can make me clean”.

In Jesus he knew, he knew the embodiment of the divine. That’s the start of his health. The start of his health is faith in the divine. And trust in the divine unfolding. “If you choose you can make me clean.” And he was made clean. Made whole, made new. Given his innocence, forgiven, healed.

And then we get that wonderful – why did he say  - what Jesus says: ‘Now see that you say nothing to anyone but go show yourselves to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses demanded as a testimony to them.’

Jesus does not now want a large song and dance made out of it. Because you see it wasn’t Jesus that worked the miracle, it’s got nothing about doing supernatural things with a few selected people. If that’s what it’s all about, then it is a fantastically unfair way in which the Divine operates. It is not about wonderworking.  Now again the church has often seen it this way and tried to hook us all in to this wonderful healing ministry of prayer. Think again. If we truly, truly, truly believe in the ministry of prayer, why don’t we spend our lives down at the emergency section of Freo hospital where we can do some good? As they wheel them in we could all just lay hands on, heal them and out they go again.

It’s good for us to get real with where our power lies. If we’ve got the gift of healing then we are called to use it, not called, though, to sit in small groups and pretend that we have it. Either we use it or we discover where our faith and trust in the Divine truly is.

The reason Jesus didn’t want anything said is that it’s not about working miracles, it is a story about someone dying, someone unclean, trusting in the Divine and finding help. The miracle is with the leper, not with the Christ. The miracle is with the leper. We, we hold the key to unlocking miracles, the key being our knowing and trusting in the Divine.

Jesus, of course, and the gospel writers, in putting the narrative together in Mark, would have been well aware of the first story that we had, the story of Naaman from the old Hebrew scriptures. Another story with another leper. This one is quite different. Who is this guy Naaman? Well, he is the commander of the Army, he was a great man who was in high favour, he was a mighty warrior.

Looking good so far, but he suffered from leprosy. With all that he was, he suffered, he had needs and his woundedness, his dying, was visible again. Formerly he was one of those people who on the inside looks good but when you look at them from the outside you think, looking good, going nowhere. One of those people that self within has the power to achieve and in fact has a record of achievement, to do anything. And all of a sudden he’s a leper.  How is he going to address that? He can’t address his visible death.

Now this time in the story and fantastically cleverly, new life comes through the voice of a young girl. And again we need to just be aware of the context. We’re talking, now I can go back to the adage that children should be seen and not heard, we now need to go back another few generational sets where young girls had about as much worth as the doormat. They were chattels. This isn’t just a young girl, she’s a slave girl, a servant girl, just in case you haven’t got the point this is someone who is worthless. Not only that, we’ll hammer that home, she’s a slave and a servant, she’s got no value, just in case you haven’t got the point she is also a slave and or a servant to a woman  - not even worthy enough to serve a man.

You’ve got the point now, this is someone fantastically worthless. The lowest of the low holds the key, holds the key to life, for the commander of the army, the great man, the one in high favour, the mighty warrior. The one who thought, “I am nothing to nobody” holds the key to life.

As the story unfolds, (and it is actually worth reading again, take it home and read it again slowly), if you look at the unfolding of the story, once the girl has spoken in verse three, we then get, first of all, Naaman. He went in and told the Lord what the girl from the land of Israel said; the King then… once the King gets involved in the action, we’ve then got a wonderful story about the mighty rulers sorting out a problem: “Ah, we’ve now heard, we’ve got the key, now let’s go and sort it out.”

Read it through quietly and think about weapons inspectors when you do it. And all the poncing around that’s going on, of rulers trying to sort out and unlock a problem. It’s so similar to the action in this story here. The story unfolds and what we find is kings and rulers who cannot behave with any sense of trust, who cannot find any place to stand in faith, they are so filled with their own sense of knowing, that they disregard the true power that comes from the girl, the servant slave, the slave of a woman, from the lowest of the low.

They disregard that power and at the end of the day it looks as though the whole thing is going to come unstuck, even when the reports are in and … all you’ve got to do is go in the river and watch, it’s like “Oooh, no, no, there’s something else in this, I mean, if you really meant it, what you would do is you would come out and you would wash me and you would wave hands and…”

And at that last moment, when all is lost, the servants step in again. In Verse 13, it is his servant who approaches him and says “Why don’t you do it, if they ask you to do something?” The common sense of the servant speaks and brings about health and wholeness. It is the servants who save the day.

The two stories are so well connected, the miracle that we hear of in the Gospel, it is our miracle. It is the miracle of the leper, it is the miracle, therefore, of those who know that they are wounded, those aware of their mortality and those who are prepared either by circumstance or choice, to show their woundedness and their dying to others.

The old testament and the gospel stories are about the power we have that is born out of our weakness, it is a power to transform, to heal, to make clean, to make whole, it is the power of creation, the power of the divine in us all.

The Lord be with you.