Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany 15 February, 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Epiphany 6B February 15, 2008 Textweek

II Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; I Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Two stories of healing lepers: one from the Old Testament, one from the gospels. They’re two quite separate stories obviously, so we could explore them because each one offers so much. I think however, they also offer us an opportunity to ask, What is going on when we read the Bible? What is that about? What do we think of the Bible as? There are these two accounts and they’re miles apart. In the mainstream Christian and Jewish tradition the Old Testament is a summary of the story of the people of Israel – it’s more than that obviously, it’s a library – but if we had to sum it up we’d say this is the book that tells the story of the people of Israel. The gospels, on the other hand - very clear what they summarise – they give us a summary of the life of Christ. So we’ve got the story of the life of Christ and the story of the people of Israel, and they both contain incidents that have got the healing of leper in there. I guess it’s pretty easy to see why they’d pick events like that, there must have been a lot of lepers around in those days, and the other thing is, healing is one of those classic faith miracles; it really does underline that that’s someone of faith that they can heal.

If we go that way to the Bible, already we’ve created a distance; we’ve separated ourselves from it, and I think it’s that distance that keeps us away from an encounter with the living word of God. There’s another summary of the Bible and that is that it contains everything, everything necessary for salvation, that it is the story that holds every other story. There’s not a story told or a story written or a story lived that is not held in the story. And I think it’s helpful if we could pause and discover for ourselves how do we approach the Bible – what is it I seek, what have I been told about it? Because there is an entry point and if that entry point is that it is the story of the people of Israel, I will stay one step removed from it. The people of Israel, rather than being God’s chosen race, are there to illustrate the relationship between the Divine and humanity. To push that even further, the whole narrative of the people of Israel is to illustrate our own relationship with the Divine. Our life, our movement towards God is mirrored or paralleled in the unfolding of the people of Israel – their story is our story. When they seek to escape from Egypt, that’s us growing up from the bonds of slavery, no longer children of masters but rather seeking to come into our own. The story of the people of Israel is our story; it is so important to feel that invitation that says don’t treat this book as holy and see it over there, but rather see my life and myself in it.

As we follow the ups and downs of Israel, so we follow our own ups and downs in relation to God. Likewise the gospels – real tricky one this is for Christians - as we follow the narrative of Christ, we follow our narrative: Christ calls us to follow me. What he’s saying is, read the gospels, and live that; don’t mimic it but see that this actually is your story. ‘I come to reveal the Divine in you – live in this way.’ We’re invited to find ourselves as the Body of Christ when we read the gospels.

So the two incidents we hear today with the lepers, they also are an invitation to us. And they ask us to look beyond the incident of another – ‘oh that’s the story of the people from ancient times, what was his name, Naaman, that commander?’ It’s not his story at all; it’s there as a part of our movement, part of our unfolding. And what is it therefore that they seek to illustrate? The Old Testament reading – if you ask yourself, who is this commander, what we find is that through him we’re given a perspective of life lived by the powerful and wealthy. It’s easy to see how those riding the wave of Wall Street with ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold, think they can buy solutions that will see them through life. ‘I’ve hit a problem, let me take ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and sort it.’

In that same story we’re invited to hear where the wisdom comes from - where is the voice of creation, the divine voice - and it comes from a captive young girl. Naaman the commander is on course for death; it is the voice of the servant girl that creates new life and if we shift our focus from Wall Street to ourselves, we’re invited and affirmed: invited to speak new life into being, rather than to be enslaved by a path that is determined by wealth and power. We live in a culture that honours wealth and a culture that honours power, therefore, our life, we take on that story, we can’t help it, we live it, we breathe it it’s all around us; and if you miss it then every 5.3 minutes you’ll get three more minutes of it delivered from the television; in between every track on the radio someone will call you back to an orientation towards power and wealth and in so doing, make you feel insignificant in the whole scheme of things, because of course you don’t have that power and you don’t have that wealth. How do I know that? Because the cultural story is there is always more: push, push, push, come on. That first narrative in the Old Testament is an invitation to participate in a completely different paradigm or worldview.

The gospel incident - healing the leper again - is quite different, and it also affirms us and our path into wholeness. Let’s pause for a moment and look at the part that Jesus plays. He’s not yet superman as many Christians think he is; he’s still trying on the outfit. So he heals the leper and says, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone’. If this really was a story about the miracle of healing and that miracle of healing has just been demonstrated, would he not have said, ‘Look at that. Now go and tell everybody’? We can fix anything - if you can heal leprosy, there is nothing else that cannot be born into wholeness. Clearly it’s not about the miracle of healing at all. It’s about a movement, and the unfolding and the revelation of the Christ. Yesterday Isaac and Mungo came here - they’re going to be baptized next week. We spent a bit of time trying to get some sort of handle as to what it’s about and we went up to the font and looked at the stained glass window of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Stunning question – why did Jesus need to be baptised? And if you look at the italics in brackets underneath the question, it’s ‘because I thought he could do everything’. Why? His journey was our journey, our journey is his journey, there is an unfolding. It’s interesting when you hear again now that Old Testament reading, ‘Go, wash in and be clean’, then look at the image of John the Baptist and you think, hang on a minute, do those words belong to that picture? And we begin to see that actually those are stories of unfolding and movement in life.

The other player in the gospel story is the leper, the outcast and there's a parallel there if you like, with the captive servant girl. When we were looking at lepers we were looking at the lowest of the low - these are deliberately kept out of society and they’re seen with great fear that if I touch them I too might become like them. To be a captive servant, young female in a foreign land is pretty well like being a leper. But once again what we find is the movement in that gospel story – what brought rightness into being; it wasn’t Jesus, it was the leper, the leper initiated the movement into wholeness; the leper initiated a new movement, a new direction.

Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama this week have both gone to their respective parliaments arguing that wholeness can be restored with ten talents of silver and with six thousand shekels of gold. In the book of life we’re invited to look beyond that, we’re invited to seek another path. Our voice, our orientation to the Divine, our movement towards the Divine will determine the life that unfolds. Now is the time for us to participate in a new movement to recognise the leprosy of the culture, and to hear in these words that it is from the bottom up, it is from the ordinary and the every day, it is from the ones who think they do not have power that the voice of wisdom will be found and that wholeness will be restored and that begins with those simple words, ‘Wash and be clean’. It begins by truly experiencing our baptism.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris.