Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Podcast

The Gospel = Food

A large crowd has gathered in recent days to watch the sporting spectacle of spectacles. Some 27 million in the UK but around 1 Billion of us worldwide tuned in to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Over a few weeks some 10,000 athletes, representing 204 nations will compete for sporting greatness. Years of training and self denial will boil down to simple questions such as: who will be the fastest, most agile, the strongest, the most accurate... The olympic spirit is about competing fairly and equally, but it is ultimately about who is the best in each respective event. It is about defining one person or one nation as better than all others.

The remarkable opening ceremony itself was about defining what it means to be British. Moving across the grand sweep of history from agricultural to industrial, to technological. From being white caucasian immigrants to becoming a nation that thrives on a diversity that makes our communities and feeds our culture. Britishness, like the winners of the soon to be awarded gold medals, is constantly defined and redefined through changing circumstances and the roll of the years.

This morning we meet a man from  a nation now more known for it’s political and conservative Islam, who instead of defining His people God’s people, as somehow better, more religiously worthy, just somehow more because they are precious to God, redraws the map, casts the net wide, replants the family tree and welcomes all of us.

I love the story in this morning’s Gospel. People are gathering because Jesus is becoming a spectacle - not meant negatively. His ministry was just that - a visually striking public show of the life and presence of God in the world which was available to all people - not just to those who thought they deserved or earned it. This crowd, like so many others, has seen Jesus heal the sick and other miracles. There is a buzz about the man.  They gather expectantly to see for themselves the spectacle of God in Jesus.

They also come with more pressing practical needs - food. They came hungry, but there’s an obvious problem - how to feed so many, because not even 6 months wages could give each a little morsel?  Yet there’s a poor boy with his rolls and pickled fish...

Jesus takes something very ordinary and does something extraordinary. Yes he feeds a large crowd with so little food, but as importantly, in his hands, what is freely offered by the poor, the outsider, the excluded is made the vehicle to demonstrate the grace of God to all: rich or poor...

The crowd come expecting a sign from God in Jesus and they get one, but they misunderstand it and see it as conclusive proof that Jesus is who they have been waiting for, the Messiah King of God, who liberate them from Roman rule, and return things to a place where they were once before between them and God.

The disciples are not in a much better place. They leave Jesus to have some time on his own and make their way to Capernaum across the lake. A storm builds far from the shore, and they see Jesus walking on the water towards the boat and they are terrified - of the storm? Of Jesus defying the laws of nature?? The disciples’ pressing practical need is for safety and reassurance. Jesus takes an ordinary situation and does something extraordinary - yes he walks on water, but more remarkably His words, His presence, provide the peace they need. The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ actions and want to take him on board for his own safety or to try to contain this encounter with God.

Friends it seems to me that there is a very real risk that we over spiritualize these stories - yes they are demonstrations of the extravagant grace of God in the feeding of so many with so little. Yes they are about reminding us that this Jesus has something of the Living God about Him. Yes there may even be hints at the life sustaining importance of the Eucharist as Jesus takes, gives thanks, breaks and shares the loaves and fish.  But aren’t they a little simpler to understand? There are some very real and practical needs here - for food, for reassurance, but there is more. As the crowd is physically fed, spiritual questions are raised - who is this man? Is He the prophet? Is He the Messiah? As the disciples cry out in fear for their lives, they are reassured by the presence of Jesus Himself.

Over the next few weeks certain people will define and redefine themselves as the fastest, the most agile, the fittest, strongest, most accurate in our world. But we each constantly define and redefine what it means to be British, to be a good parent, to be an Anglican, how to sort our country/society/world out, over against our past and over and against others.

At the heart of this story stands a poor boy, surrounded by a crowd from the largely Gentile communities around Capernaum and all are fed. No one is excluded, no one group is defined by Jesus in this crowd. There’s no ‘you can because you’re poor’ or you can’t because you’ve misunderstood God.’ All are fed by God - physically, but their spiritual appetite is whetted too.

There are some hungry people within our communities, there are lonely people, the depressed, the sick, the sad, the bereaved, the frightened who long to have very practical needs met. Jesus uses what a poor boy has to do that with the crowd. Do you not think that He can use what we as generally speaking, well adjusted, middle class, adults have to do the same? There are people in our communities who need safety, who need reassurance, a kind word, a little simple human compassion and support. Jesus speaks these words of peace that reshape the disciples’ world, and we try to keep him in the boat, in Church...?  If Jesus can use the gift of a poor boy to feed a community and the doubt of His closest companions to build a church - he can use you to meet some very practical needs in our communities with actions that define and redefine what it means to be human, to be cared for, to be respected, to be loved by God - and it is these sorts of broken fragments of lives, of our community that Jesus gathers to himself so none are lost. I don’t have the time? I don’t have the money? Neither did that boy but he gave what he could.  I am frightened what might happen? So were the disciples.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was once accused on underspiritualizing the Gospel - reducing the Good News of God to glorified social work. he said: ‘...I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread...’

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Disagreement to Discipleship

Here is my sermon from my visit to Mill End Baptist Church - based on Phil 4:2-9. You can listen to it here

I heard recently a story about Trevor Huddleston. Trevor Huddleston was was an Anglican priest, and later a bishop and later Archbishop, who served a significant amount of his ministry overseas - especially in Africa. Now it’s important for a sec to put Trevor Huddleston in context. He was born in Bedford in 1913 and trained for ordained ministry at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, near Leeds. Mirfield still trains men and now women to serve God’s church as priests and deacons. It was and is a very high church, Anglo-Catholic college and students would be expected to wear their cassocks all day - in the lectures, in their student rooms and especially in chapel. The central drive of the training that people who go to Mirfield get still is a focus on leading people in worship - especially in the daily sharing of communion and working tirelessly to support pastorally the poor and downtrodden.

So you can imagine Trevor Huddleston, later in a parish, kind of a characture of an Anglican cleric of a bygone era, swanning around in his black cassock all day every day, faithfully praying for and pastoring the people in his care.

In 1943, he felt called to serve the church in the heat of South Africa. So this tall, thin, creamy skinned man, donned in this thick black cassock went to live with the poverty stricken, politically oppressed people of Sophiatown. The ministry to which he was called remained unchanged. Each day he would make his way through the community from his home to the church to say his prayers and to lead the daily communion service. As went he would pass people in the street, on their porches and in their gardens. He paid no attention to who it was ok or not ok for him to greet. As he walked by he would raise his wide brimmed hat and wish whoever he walked by a cheery good morning or good afternoon.

Near to the church was a house where a woman called Aletta lived with her family. She was a domestic worker and earned what little she could by taking in washing from other families in the Sophiatown community. All too aware of her humble lot, not too long after Trevor Huddleston had arrived in the town, she found herself in the garden one day as the new priest made his was to church.

As he neared her house, this tall well spoken Englishman, looked over the wall into the meagre yard where she was hanging our someone else’s curtains. He looked her in the eye, doffed his hat, and wished her a hearty good day.

The simple act of him recognising her humanity made a huge impact on her nine year old son who was playing in the yard that day. His name is Desmond... The now retired Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, described that meeting as ‘...the biggest defining moment in my life... I saw this tall, white priest in a black cassock doff his hat to my mother...  I didn't know then that it would have affected me so much... it blew your mind that a white man would doff his hat.  And subsequently I discovered, of course, that this was quite consistent with his theology that every person is of significance, of infinite value, because they are created in the image of God.  And the passion with which he then later opposed apartheid and any other injustice is something that I sought then to emulate...’
Writing to the Christians in Philippi, Paul says at the end of the section we hear today, keep doing what you have seen me doing. Keep emulating the way of life I have set for you in the pattern set for all of us by Jesus Christ, keep faithfully following Him. I guess the encouragement for us us is, you will never ever know what seeds your Christian living will sow for someone else. You have no idea what impact your kind word, your offer of a lift, your simple act of recognising a fellow human being will have on them in God’s timing for the furtherance of His Kingdom.
Now for those of you who don’t know me, I’m married and I have 3 kids. Most of the time our kids are fabulous, but there are days when they are quite frankly a nightmare - there I said it. They become a seething bundle of bickering, infighting, whinging, selfishness which I am sure the good Lord allows them to be to test my patience, and to remind me, in my brokenness how much I need His grace and His patience with me!

Anyway there are days when you can feel the fighting rising in the air like an emotional thunderstorm, just waiting for the first fat raindrop of an insult to begin to kick the storm off. Know what I mean? Welcome to parenthood, but no-one tells you this stuff. They tell you, oh, being a parent is a gift, you’ll treasure those moments, they grow up so quickly. They never told me about these sorts of days where I arrive having to do something like a school assembly and be all lively or a visit grieving relatives having just had to deal with my kids who have been having a doozy of an argument.

Paul, has heard that it’s been a bit like this for the church in Philippi. There has been some heated disagreement, we don’t know what, but he urges Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. We don’t really know who these two women were, but Paul describes them as struggling beside him in the work of the Gospel. They were in leadership.

Bearing in mind that Paul is writing a letter that will be read to the whole community, it seems a bit harsh for paul to name and shame these two women doesn’t it? By naming them he is drawing the attention of the whole community to their disagreement and reminding the women that they set the standard of Godly living as leaders. To be a leader says Paul, is to accept responsability beyond private preference - remember Jesus’ words? Not my will but yours... The way you live should set the standard, especially in leadership.

Paul also expects the church to play a part in healing their relationship. That’s the nature of the partnership to which church leaders are called. Paul refers to this when he writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:1-6) where he encourages the whole church to play a part in resolving difficulties amongst fellow believers.

But Paul is asking for more than an apology here. He is looking for these women to be of the same mind in Christ.  He asks them to meet, despite their disagreement, where they do stand together - their common bond through faith in Christ.  Paul reminds us that as Christians we are not left to figure out our disagreements by ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran pastor) in his book The Cost of Discipleship put it so well when he reminds us that because Christ is our Saviour and Lord, and because of His radical intervention in our world and in our lives, we now have mediated relationships with each other because of Christ. Christ stands between us and our neighbour us us and God and puts He  puts our case forward so well, in such a way that reconcilliation or agreement is the only outcome. It is not possible for God the Judge not to reach an uncertain verdict in our case - because through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as He puts forward our case, we are reconciled to each other and to God. This should have a huge impact on the way we deal with any disagreements in the church friends.  We are reconciled to God in Christ, so we should reconcile to each other because of Him.

I’m going to skip past the radical nature of the community that is called together in the church here in Philippi because of Christ’s intervention in our world and in our lives. There is a co-equality, a mutuality, in the church, because of the way that Christ sees us, the way He loves us. He doffs his hat to us all - young or old, male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free as Paul would write later. As a result, and to re-emaphsize the new thing that God is doing and to mark them out as a different community to the male-dominated world around them, women are called into positions of senior leadership in the earliest churches - as an Anglican whose General Synod is prayerfully debating whether women should be bishops in the church, should really take note of the earliest of churches...

Paul goes on - he encourages the Christians in Philippi and Mill End to rejoice in the presence of God amongst us. To give thanks for the new thing that He is doing in our lives. Just as the Philippians have seen how Christ has and is continuing to transform the lives of Lydia and then the Jailer who imprisoned Paul and Silas so we should rejoice at the way that He is transforming all of our lives still.  Do make time and space in our daily living to thank God for the people He is making us to be in Christ? Do we have opportunity to share some of that good news with others in our community - to give testimony to the goodness and grace of God?

The gentleness for which the Philippian Christians  are renowned, is not a soppiness but rather an unflapability that comes from a sure hope in the return of Christ. As you know the nearness, the presence of Christ Himself amongst you says Paul, let that overflow into the way you pray - ask and it shall be given you, as Jesus once put it. Paul refs back to Matt 6 - Jesus says, don’t worry, trust God and He will surpass the need you have. Live and love in God this way, says Paul, and God will give you His peace - the sense that all is right with the world and with God, the Shalom, the completeness of all things in God - and it will stand vigilant watch day and night, like a sentry over your lives, drives, thoughts and motives. Sounds good doesn’t it?

But I wonder, do we live like that? We live in an anxious world, in very anxious times - not least of all will Andy Murray do the seemingly miraculous. Many people, maybe even some of you are anxious - will there be more month at the end of the money? Will I still have a job next week? How far will my pension go in real terms and over how many years? Can I continue to afford to live here? Not only that, but being a 21st century person is tough - it requires us to make thousands of day by decisions about how we behave in any number of situations. Those decisions paint a picture of the sort of person I real am, deep down, my character. Now it’s easy, comparatively speaking to sign up to big, world-shaping aspirations like world peace and justice, but all too often we’re like Linus in the Peanuts cartoons who once said “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” The small scale choices we make in the supermarket, on the motorway, in the office, at home and at a thousand other forks in the road express or diminish the big ideals that win our respect.

For this reason, Paul calls the Christians in Philippi and in Mill End for that matter, to actively chose and be responsible for specifically choosing ways of living that honour the big ideals we aspire to - to Godly living might be another way to put it. Rob Bell in his book ‘Velvet Elvis’  describes what Paul’s getting at well when he said:

‘...  As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way. The kind of way that Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live.
This isn’t irrational or primitive or blind faith. It is merely being honest that we are all trying to live a ‘way’.

I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live.  I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live.  I’m convinced having compassion is a better way to live.  I’m convinced pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live.  I’m convinced listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to live.  I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live.  This way of thinking isn’t weird or strange; it is simply acknowledging that everybody follows somebody, and I’m trying to follow Jesus...’

What about us?  Paul says to us - think about your own life and work out as you shop, drive or spend time at the office, what it means to live lives that are honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and praise-worthy. In other words, God being present with us has to cash up. He needs to be visibly tangibly present in our lives, and we can practice living that way.  Whilst these character traits are straight out the textbook of a Greek life-coach and they’re not specifically Christian, those who live this way, Paul infers, live lives within the boarders of the Kingdom of God. He is encouraging us, as those growing to spiritual maturity, to work out with these character traits like weights at the gym.  He is encouraging us each to begin to be responsible for our own discipleship.  He says, look I have taught and shown you much about what it means to follow Christ, now it’s your turn.  Try to live lives, with Christ at the centre, that by your true and trustworthy dealings with one another, by the way you honour one another in love, by your seeking after justice and pure lifestyles make others go - wow, look at guys - I wonder what drives them to be the sort of people that they are, because whatever it is they have got, I want. 

St. Jerome tells the well-loved story that Saint John continued preaching even when he was in his 90s.  He was so enfeebled with old age that the people had to carry him into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher.  And when he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long sermon, his custom was to lean up on one elbow each time and say simply: “Little children, love one another.”  This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his deathbed.  Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out.

Every week, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, with the same message: “Little children, love one another.”  One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?”  And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

Those values that Paul lists, are about living out in our the love the God has for each one of us in Christ.  Living out those virtues needs practice, they should become as much part of our spiritual disciplines as saying our prayers, studying the scriptures and fasting. It’s easy, comparatively speaking to be honest in our daily dealings, but loving - hmmm we find that strangely hard to do - even or perhaps especially with fellow Christians. Instead we stumble into conversations and important moments in odd places and on seemingly insignificant occasions not really sure of how to act or speak. Yet how we are to know how important our good morning or raised hat might be many years down the line coupled with lives lived with Christ at the centre?

Paul sets the Philippian Church and example of Godly leadership and living.  Live out those character traits, try them out and keep doing all that you have seen me do says Paul.  He has such a great love for Christ’s church that he longs to see the grace of God at work in our lives more and more. This is Paul saying, not arrogantly but actually in great humility, even if you can’t work out with these life traits, if you don’t understand everything I have taught you, copy what I do and you’ll get the drift. This is Paul the mentor, Paul the personal trainer, Paul the Discipler prepared to go the extra mile with the church in Philippi and Mill End, the people he intimately calls beloved - much loved - ensuring that we understand the purpose of all of that he teaches, all that he has shown, all that he lives is not just a better way to live, but the way to live Christ’s Way as God’s people together.  Do all of this says Paul and the God who brought all things into being with the words ‘let there be light’, the God who rested on on the Sabbath day, the God who answers the longing of an anxious age, the God of Peace Himself will be with you. Amen.

Sunday Podcast

Adopted - like a locket returned...

Susan Gamble was shopping at an Internet auction when she saw a U.S. Army Air Corps locket. Since her boyfriend collected World War I memorabilia, the locket caught her attention. The locket was from the WWII period, but it was gold and the bid was only three dollars, so she took a chance. She won.

A couple of weeks later, the locket arrived at Susan's Pennsylvania home. When she examined the locket she found an added bonus that wasn't mentioned in the Internet auction. The sixty-year-old locket contained two photographs: one of an attractive young woman and the other of a man in uniform. The photos appeared to be original to the locket.

Excited over her purchase, she showed it to her father who immediately asked her, "When did Grandma give you this?"  She answered, "Grandma didn't give it to me. I bought it off the Internet from an estate sale in Georgia."  As he pointed to the photographs, her father said, "Well, that is your grandmother, but that's not your grandfather!"

Susan's grandmother Elaine lived in Oklahoma. Susan and her father already had a trip planned to visit, so they took the locket with them. Elaine Gamble was shocked to see it. It was hers.

Elaine was nineteen in 1942 when she gave the locket to her fiance, Charles. His parents flew in from Colorado for the Saturday wedding. But Charles didn't attend. He left Elaine standing alone at the altar. A few days later he called. He was obviously drunk and then a woman came on the line to tell Elaine that she had stolen Charles. Elaine said, "I told her she could have him." It was her last contact with him until the arrival of the locket.

Susan graciously returned the locket to her grandmother. She has no idea who the seller was, but she described the whole ordeal by saying, "It's just beyond belief."

According to tradition, the letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome, about 62AD. Paul addresses hostility, division, and self-interest more than any other topic in the letter, so perhaps his primary concern was not about what to believe as a Christian, but but how to live as one.

In the section we hear today, Paul goes back to basics. He reminds the Ephesian Christians and us that God, in and through Jesus Christ: has chosen us to be His people, we are adopted, we are redeemed, our sins are forgiven, He makes known His plans for us and all creation, He offers us His inheritance and marks us as holy by the presence of His very self in the Holy Spirit. This all encompassing passage should leave us in no doubt that becoming a Christian is not about assenting to the virgin birth or Christ’s resurrection like it was some sort of political slogan. Becoming a Christian is about acknowledging the lengths that God goes to be in relationship with us are enormous. There were no lengths, no costs that God would not bear, no amount of time used that God would not go to to express His love for us and for us to love Him too.  Being Christian is living and loving in the light of these actions of a loving God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we are "destined for adoption." He uses that phrase quite deliberately because it describes the intimate love of God the Father, who aches with love.  He recognizes that His family is not complete.  He already has children but there are others still missing out from experiencing the love and care not just of any family but His family. Adoption is about bringing together a disperate family of ages, genders, races and sexes, all bound together, all encompassed by His love. Story: Martina and Richard...

Adoption here is a belief that we are supposed to belong to God and God will reclaim us. Just as the locket made its way back to the rightful owner through a series of unbelievable events, we discover our destiny as we make our way back to God through Jesus Christ in the unusual way of his death and resurrection. It sounds beyond belief, but it is really grace -- we are forgiven and brought back to God and this is what Paul means as he writes to the Ephesians and us using this phrase ‘in Christ.’

As adopted children ‘in Christ’, every experience is reframed, from our most bracing joys and cherished achievements to our besetting temptations, our most anguished regrets, and our most wounding losses. "In Christ" we are joined to the power and presence of God Himself and no longer have to make our way in the world alone without hope or meaning. "In Christ" we are knit to others who will cry over our dead with us even as they help us sing hymns of resurrection. At the same time, being "in Christ" is no sentimental togetherness. You’ve heard the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ to describe family ties - Christ’s blood shed on the cross is eternally thicker, for through it, we are bound together with each other and with Him.  But like all family relationships this means sticking with each other, supporting one another in love through the good and not so good alike.

Do you know where your life is going?  Where you are headed? Do you know where you come from? Where you roots lie?  Friends we live in an age where many of us can’t easily answer those questions because of uncertainty at work, because our relationships are stretched, because we live in what many call a mobile population, because we may not know even the next generation up in our own families.  Many of us are looking to connect ourselves to the past - look at the rise in interest in genealogy - where do I come from? Even our family histories become something to study - what did you do during the war Grandad, it’s for my history homework...

Many of us are are looking to connect ourselves to the future - look at the rise in self help books and life and career coaching where is my life going? But at the moment it might be more pressing and fundamental than that.

Paul remind the Ephesians and us this morning that our lives past, present and future fluctuate and change but they only begin to truly make sense when see life not as about assenting to particular political slogans, or about decisions that may or may not affect our present, or even something we do alone, but life is something to be lived and loved because of a God who loves us no matter what, searches us out no matter where we’ve been or where we are and brings us back home.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sunday Podcast

Healing is God's business

This morning we meet Jairus, a senior figure in the Synagogue.  He comes and kneels before Jesus and begs him to heal his daughter.  This is a man, by the sheer nature of his position in Jewish society will have had everything he ever wanted and the rest was at his fingertips.  We can only make assumptions about his thinking, but chances are - his daughter fell ill, so he will have tried the local quacks, they also will have prayed and nothing seems to have worked.  He will have heard about Jesus - who would not have heard about this man?  For Jairus, this is the family's last resort.  A man of position of humbles himself and begs Jesus desperately for healing because he know he can.

Sheila, the mother of a school friend of mine, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.  Following her diagnosis she tried conventional medicine; she tried complementary medicine - both to no avail.  She refused to accept her situation; she believed that she could not die.  In complete desperation she turned to a form of spiritualism - and spent thousands of pounds on a healer who told her that she would be healed.  Sadly , Sheila was not and she later died bitter and deluded.  Jesus saw the same ‘I have tried everything’ sort of desperation in Jairus’ eyes.

This story is interrupted, rather rudely by another.  You begin to get a sense of what being Jesus in the crowd must have been like - as requests for teaching and healing come one after another - people vie for his attention.  Jesus stops the crowd, someone has been healed, he feels power go out of him.  The woman in question was, like Jairus,  desperate.  Having been hemorrhaging for 12 years - she was ritually, religiously unclean, a social outcast.  She couldn’t ask Jesus for healing, she could not speak to him, she could not even look at him, but she knew that Jesus could heal her.  She is so desperate that she risks making Jesus unclean by touching him.  We can only make assumptions about her thinking, but chances are - she fell ill, so he will have tried the local quacks, they will have prayed and nothing seems to have worked.  She will have heard about Jesus - who would not have heard about this man?  For this woman, Jesus is the her last resort.  A woman, a social outcast risks touching Jesus, longing for healing because she know he can.

Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter, “What’s the worst illness you’ve ever seen.” Mother Teresa didn’t have to think for even a moment. The reporter thought she would say AIDS or leprosy. But she said, “The worst disease is that of being unwanted.”  Jesus crosses the same social and religious boundaries and shows that this woman is not only wanted, but she is loved, forgiven and healed.

Then, as Jesus prepares to go to Jairus’s house just as he is told that his daughter is dead and to let Jesus get on.  Jesus is not to deterred.  You can only imagine what would have been going through Jairus’s mind - why did he take so long with this woman when he could have been at his daughter’s bedside?  Nevertheless Jesus goes to the house, and goes to where Jairus’s daughter was.  He touches her gently, taking her by the hand and tells her to get up, raising her from the dead to the bewilderment and astonishment of those in the room.

Paul Brand, a doctor in India, touched a young leper and said, “My son, you are going to get better.” The young man sobbed and sobbed.  Paul said, “You don’t understand. You’re going to get better. We’ve discovered some new medications for leprosy and I’ve found the right one for you.” The young man sobbed all the more. His sister finally said to Dr. Brand, “He isn’t sobbing because of what you told him. He’s sobbing because ever since he got leprosy nobody has touched him.”

Jesus knows how oppressive illness is.  He has seen families who believe they are beyond hope.  He has sat and talked with those who society or religion say are unclean, to be avoided, ostracized - the outsider.  He has seen desperation in countless eyes.  These healings are not dependent on the faith of the individuals involved.  They depend only on the touch of the love of God, in his Son, Jesus.
The issue of healing is an emotive one especially when it does not seem to happen.  We assume at our peril that if after prayer we do not get better, that prayer has failed.  Look at that women, she had waited for twelve years to finally be free of her condition.  I say that, not to duck the difficult issue, but because our instant world expects instant results.  It expects God to act just like that ‘click!’  God does not answer to our beck and call, but according to his loving and gracious will.  Like Jairus and this woman, God only gets called in as a last resort, but all too often gets all the blame and none of the praise!

Healing is God’s business.  Jairus and the woman hoped that Jesus would and could act in love and compassion.  This is often how we react - we ask Jesus - politely because we are Anglicans whether he would mind awfully healing so and so...  we come to Jesus as our last resort or as a fail-safe to the work of doctors.  Yet as 21 century Christians, we know how Jesus responds to requests for healing in the gospels.  No one is turned away.

In desperation, many people are looking for meaning, for peace in our world, and for healing.   Christ offers that touch of healing still - as Christians, do we seek it as our last resort? Because we make it as our first port of call.  Other people heard of Jesus’ ministry as stories like this morning were told as gospel, as good news.  We can only do the same, if we have experienced it for ourselves.  Amen.