SERMON PREACHED AT THE CHURCH OF St FRANCIS,
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12th 2012
(SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY)
2 Kings 5.1-14
1 Corinthians 9.24-27
Translators can have a remarkable influence on any passage we read. A man comes to Jesus, suffering perhaps from leprosy as such, or perhaps from any of the states that drove people to and beyond the outer edges of society and were simply lumped together under the catch-all label ‘leprosy’. A man came to Jesus from the outer fringes of society, and Jesus was, depending on the translator, moved with compassion (moved to the bowels), or deeply angered. Perhaps there’s little difference, but on the whole one translation tends to favour gentle human action, the other great and programmatic systems that launch an offensive on the corruptions of society.
We manse-dwellers, or perhaps just this one, see it increasingly rarely in our experience as the church is pushed to the amnesia segmernt of society's memory: ‘a man came to the rectory door’ … perhaps some rectories or vicarages attract more through traffic than others. When Anne was curate in Kempsey in NSW her unit, marked for all to see with a huge cross, was directly opposite the railway station. Kempsey was conveniently half way from Sydney to Brisbane. A ticket purchased by Queensland or New South Wales police or other agencies could ensure a troublesome person was despatched a reasonable distance from the heart of metropolitan Sydney or Brisbane: Kempsey could deal with them. They often arrived hungry and drunk, expecting a hand-out of food or, better still, cash from a door with a cross on it. Anne lived alone with a big, faithful, black and very growly German Shepherd cross. Food perhaps: cash no. But is a plateful of sandwiches to a dumped vagrant the same as a healing touch for a leper? “A man came to the rectory door”: did I or Anne give him a fish or a stone?
The truth is I don’t know. I have helped many individuals and families over the years, as Anne has, with food. Occasionally I did help with non-cash financial solutions. I remember only too well helping a desperate Murri woman escape from a hell-hole of domestic violence on NSW’s north coast, helping by arranging train fares to Cairns where she and her children could start a new life. Did they? She spent her last night on the Coast embroiled in love with the man who had beaten her so badly. Was this a healing touch for a leper – or was I stung by a fluent liar? I will never know. The leper wasn’t lying to Jesus, but I am not Jesus, and in any case, leprosy is not always as obvious today as it was in the first century. Is loneliness leprosy? Is HIV/Aids leprosy? Is domestic violence leprosy? Is mental illness leprosy? Who are our lepers?
Jesus touched and healed. He traversed the barriers that ensure a desperate man was inescapably trapped in loneliness and despair. When we do try to touch and transform lives we often find the owners of the lives prickly and ungrateful. That at least hasn’t changed: this man ignored the one request Jesus made of him (‘tell no-one’). On another occasion when Jesus healed ten lepers only one bothered to return to say thank you. In any case, perhaps all were later in the Good Friday crowd, crying ‘crucify him’, as Jesus was tried by corrupt and biased human courts, as love always will be. Perhaps like Naaman they wanted something more spectacular than a mere river to dip in.
I work more on the principle that hopefully as I stumble through life offering a smile here and a sandwich there then perhaps there might be the occasional life touched with Christlight, perhaps even nudged towards a journey of faith and faith-filled transformation. Perhaps the young children of the Murri woman I sent to Cairns have seized the new opportunities life gave them, topped their years’ grades, entered into university or a trade which may never have otherwise opened up to them. I doubt it, but I like to dream.
Perhaps that’s all we can do. Years ago Keith Green (I think it was) sang ‘make my life a prayer to you’. I live surrounded by organizations that do marvellous tasks of touching lepers – of transforming unjust structures in society, rocking the consciences of the powerful players of Canberra or Darwin – but I have little to offer them. I set about dreaming the dreams of God, blundering along hoping that in the grace and purposes of God a life or two is touched with Christlight: ‘I will hold my Christlight to you, in the night time of your fear’, as kiwi songwriter Richard Gillard wrote in “The Servant Song”. Often I forget to do even that – sometimes the batteries of my Christlight run flat. But, while I am no athlete, I stumble on in attempt to complete the race, finish the fight, whatever the metaphor might be, and hope that in the grace of God the leprosy of a human life or two is touched.