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Sermon preached by Dr Sue McWhinney

Sermon for Sunday 13th October 2013, 10.15am, Choral Eucharist                           "Wholeness"

Readings: 2 Timothy 2:8-15 and Luke 17:11-19                                

Many years ago, a patient with AIDs asked me if I was afraid of examining him. He was so used to people rejecting him…… out of fear, and ignorance. They wouldn’t sit next to him on the bus, or stop to chat in the village. He was shunned because of his skin condition.

Leprosy in Biblical times had the same alienating effect. The term leprosy covers a number of contagious skin conditions that are not the same as the disease of that name today. If you have a strong constitution, you can read more about the details of examination and diagnosis in Leviticus ch 13 and 14. Under the Law of Moses the priest was the one to make the diagnosis, and pronounce people as unclean. They were then excluded from society, had to live on the margins of habitation as outcasts, and beg. Only the priest could verify a cure, and if so, there was a prescribed sacrifice to make before being restored to society.

Luke the physician wrote about two healings of lepers, and other powerful miracles, after careful investigation of the evidence he says, (1:1-4) from eye witness accounts. His key themes were that Jesus was the fulfilment of the law and prophets; that his ministry was one of teaching, healing, compassion for the poor and marginalised; and that salvation is for all people, Gentiles as well as Jews.

The lepers had clearly heard of Jesus’ reputation, and whilst conforming to the law by keeping their distance, they called out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Because they were unclean, shunned, isolated, they had to shout across the chasm demanded by a society that was fearful of catching leprosy. Unlike the healing of a leper in chapter 5, Jesus didn’t touch them, there was no sign, he just commanded them to go and show themselves to the priest, and they did, in faith and obedience….. or maybe desperation. Amazingly they were all cleansed “as they went”!

Nine of them we don’t hear of again, but one turned back. And he was a Samaritan, of all people! A foreigner (allogenes), a non-Jew. There were barriers in the temple in Jerusalem for preventing undesirables like him from getting any closer to the special areas reserved for Jews. Samaritans were despised, nothing good was expected of them; so the compassion shown by the Good Samaritan in 10:29-37 was a surprise. They certainly weren’t thought to deserve access to the God of the Jews, let alone be healed by him.

But this man (a double leper) did more than return to thank Jesus. He praised God with a loud voice, recognising that it was God who had healed him, rescued him; and in falling at Jesus’ feet to thank him, he was acknowledging Jesus as God. The other 9, who were Jews, didn’t see their need of anything more than physical healing; maybe that’s all they wanted to know about? To make the point, Jesus asks “where are they?”

Turning back to thank Jesus is a feature of Luke’s gospel, as is a chorus of praise from the crowd of onlookers who were filled with awe having witnessed the power of God at work.

In 7:16, the raising of the widow of Nain’s son, powerfully brought back to life, the crowd praised God.

In 13:13, the healing of the crippled woman, healed by Jesus’ words of authority, and laying hands on her, she stood up straight for the first time in 18 years, and praised God. Jesus had freed her from the oppression of her condition, on the Sabbath, and the entire crowd rejoiced.

In 5:25, the paralyzed man lowered through the roof was healed by Jesus when he forgave his sins. He picked up his mat and walked, glorifying God, as did the crowd.

In 18:43, Jesus healed the blind beggar at Jericho, saying “receive your sight, your faith has saved you”, and both he and the crowd glorified and praised God.

In Acts 4:21, also written by Luke, all the people praised God after Peter healed the crippled beggar in the name of Jesus Christ.

Luke includes all this detail to emphasise that in acknowledging God as being the powerful source of healing, in recognising who Jesus really was, the people in need have received much more than physical cure. They received salvation, forgiveness of sins, freedom from oppression; this is wholeness in spiritual life as well as in body. And the people who witness this powerful work of Jesus direct their praise to God.

Jesus said to the Samaritan, now released from the captivity and social exclusion of leprosy, whose life would never be the same again, “get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well (v19).”

The word translated as “well” also means whole, healed, saved.

What do we mean by the word “wholeness”? Jerry uses it in his News and Notes article about next Sunday. It is used to encompass a sense of spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing, life and freedom, a restoration of relationship with God, and also with others. It enriches life, is something we all need, and is a work of God. Indeed, wholeness is a central part of the ministry of this Cathedral.

When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4 (17-21), he was describing wholeness:-

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 favour.” Jesus then said “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The evidence for this fulfilment was seen by the crowds when Jesus healed people.

The location of the healing of the lepers (v11) was the border between Samaria and Galilee. Jews and Samaritans didn’t normally associate, but this group had to, because they were unclean. Leprosy broke down social barriers, as well as erecting others. There is also a border here between those who will hear Jesus, and those who don’t want to know.

These 10 were on the borders of wholeness, and exclusion. They all received healing, but only one actually crossed that border to wholeness, by turning back to thank Jesus, and to praise God publicly. Through faith, receiving the good news, he moved from being at a distance, to intimacy with God.

The wider context is that this healing took place whilst Jesus was “on his way to Jerusalem”, where he was to become despised and crucified outside the city walls, for the whole of humanity. The traditional people of God, the Jews, didn’t recognise him. He reached out to those outside, the marginalised, the alienated, and they were brought in to the kingdom of God, when they responded in faith. The gospel message of inclusion, of spiritual life and wholeness available for all, whatever their culture or social status, is only possible because of all that Jesus went on to do when he got to Jerusalem.

What is the message for us today?

We live in a society which judges worth and acceptability on external appearances. We can fear “the other” because they are different from us, socially, ethnically, in expression of faith. There are some who want to exclude “the other.” Isn’t this what the EDL demonstration was all about yesterday? Thankfully, many Bradfordians of all backgrounds stood against this by building a Peace Wall and praying together on Friday, saying “this is our space” we want to live together in peace….

The challenge for us as Christians, if we take the Gospel seriously, is that life in all its fullness, is on offer for all, including the lepers in our society, because in Jesus’s eyes “they are worth it.” The wholeness we have received is for sharing.  And if we feel, deep down, in the privacy of our own hearts, that we too are lepers, are we going to do anything about it, to call out to Jesus for mercy?

Maybe we could all take todays collect, pray and live with it every day this coming week, and come back next Sunday asking to receive more wholeness from God, to share with others.

I’d like to pray it again….

God our light and our salvation: illuminate our lives, that we may see your goodness in the land of the living, and looking on your beauty may be changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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