Crows Nest Uniting Church
Epiphany 6 • 15 Feb 2015


2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Mark 1:40-45


Rev. Chris Udy


If you want a place in the world,
we’re told,
it's not what you know,
it's who you know,
it's not what you do,
it's who you do it to,
and it's not what you say,
it's who believes you.
 
We know – everyone knows –
that keeping children in punitive detention
damages every aspect of their development,
but both major political parties have colluded
to maintain a policy
that relies on the abuse of children
to deter refugees from seeking asylum in Australia
This week, Professor Gillian Triggs,
presenting a report
from the Australian Human Rights Commission
was smeared for telling us a truth
that politicians don’t want told.
 
This week we also saw
a moment of genuine principled compassion
when all our federal political leaders
unanimously supported an appeal
for the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran.
Tanya Plibersek spoke movingly
about her husband’s conviction on drugs charges,
and about their three children
and his years of distinguished public service
that the world would have missed out on
if he’d been arrested and executed in Indonesia.
 
And this week we heard
that there’s been little progress
in closing the gap between Indigenous Australians
and the rest of the population
on employment and health and life expectancy.
The Prime Minister expressed
his profound disappointment
at Australia’s lack of progress on these measures,
but when he was asked
what effect there might be
of stripping half a billion dollars from the budget
for programs aimed at the development
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
eleven MPs, including seven ministers,
walked out of the chamber in protest.
 
It's not what you know,
it's who you know,
it's not what you do,
it's who you do it to,
and it's not what you say,
it's who believes you.
 
The readings for this week
pick up the theme.
Naaman the general had leprosy 
but he knew someone -
one of his wife's servants -
who told him she knew someone,
who could cure him.
Naaman also knew the king of Aram,
who gave him a letter
to the king of Israel ...
and so Naaman's alliances and connections
led him to the house of Elisha the prophet.
 
His expectation
was that Elisha would come out,
recognise how well connected his visitor was,
call on his connection with God,
wave his hands about a bit,
and heal the Aramean General -
but that's not exactly the way it worked.
 
Instead, Elisha sent out a messenger
with an instruction
to go and wash in the muddy Jordan river,
and after Naaman's servants calmed him down -
because he was affronted -
that's what he did - and he was healed.
We didn't read to the end of the story,
but after his healing,
Naaman returned to Elisha,
thinking that Elisha
had been the source of his healing,
and wanting to reward him 
to confirm his friendship
in case he needed his help again.
But Elisha refused the gratuity,
and Naaman slowly came to understand
that God needed neither lobbyists nor consultants;
that God's loyalty and healing
weren't for sale, and couldn't be bought.
 
It's sad that some of us still live
as if God's favour is something we can only keep
by doing things we think will keep God happy.
There are Christians so terrified of judgement
that they spend every day
fulfilling duties and obligations -
doing what they desperately hope
is the right thing -
but missing out on life's delight
and unable to feel true joy.
They seem to feel like soldiers under orders,
when really we are called to be
like children unwrapping a gift.
Even more sadly,
there are people who have given God away entirely,
angrily rejected God’s companionship and blessing,
because they were sure
they were doing the right thing -
living obediently -
certain they’d done nothing worthy of blame,
but something still went wrong.
They understood their relationship with God
as something of a bargain - an alliance -
protection insurance -
and when illness or sadness or struggle came along,
as it usually does in a broken world,
they thought God had betrayed them,
and they filled up with bitterness.
 
But the friendship God offers isn't commercial.
God can't be hired
like a barrister or a dentist or a radio announcer,
and nor does God want that from us.
God isn't interested in business contacts
or expedient friendships 
the friendship God wants is comprehensive -
God's welcome and acceptance is for all of us,
every part of us,
our work and our leisure,
our wealth and our poverty,
our strength and our illness.
It fact, it's only when we bring
every part of who we are to God
that God can work in us for healing.
 
In Mark's Gospel we read today
about a leper who came to Jesus   -
a dangerous thing in itself   -
and said "If you choose, you can make me clean."
Most Rabbis would at least have avoided him,
and might even have had him driven off 
because, as we'd have found
if we’d read all of Naaman's story,
lepers were considered cursed 
and under God's judgement. 
 
But Jesus didn't reject the leper,
and before the man was healed,
while he was still obviously ill
and possibly contagious,
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.
It was while he was holding on to the man,
that Jesus said "I do choose, be made clean"
and immediately – again, Mark's favourite word -
immediately, the leprosy left the man
and he was clean.
 
The healing stories of the Bible
can sometimes be difficult to handle.
All of us have heard
of people already struggling with illness
who've prayed faithfully for healing,
or gone to healing services,
and heard the message
that if only they'd believed a little more,
then God would surely have healed them.
So then, on top of the symptoms of their illness,
and grief for the health and life that they've lost,
they've come away from church or prayer
with extra burdens of guilt and fear,
drawing the conclusion
that because their faith was too weak
they bear the blame for their illness;
God's friendship has been denied them,
and everything about them is wrong and cursed.
 
Illness of any sort is isolating.
It takes us away from work and family;
the connections and friendships
that give our lives meaning
are harder to sustain and enjoy,
and people are often impatient or too frightened
to enter into conversations
about pain or disability.
 
So, left to ourselves,
grieving what we've lost,
it's easy to blame and accuse,
and when there's no one outside we can target,
we turn our anger within.
We blame something within us 
some part of us 
for our suffering and our illness 
dumping our resentment on some personal weakness,
or some natural hunger,
something we have done or left undone ...
and slowly our bodies and souls unravel,
one part fighting against another
as bitterness and loneliness fragments us.
 
So - before he did anything else,
while the illness was still obvious and unresolved,
Jesus reached out and touched
the skin of the man with leprosy 
touched that part of the man
where the illness was most obvious,
and had done most damage
and most needed healing.
Then he said - "I do choose 
be made clean."
He didn't say "I cleanse you",
or "Illness, depart",
he said "I choose - be made clean" 
and the healing that had probably begun
when the man with leprosy
first hoped that God in Jesus
might choose to heal him,
then continued
with Jesus' touch,
and in his choice, and with his words.
 
The idea of health that Jesus offers us
isn’t just relief from the symptoms of illness.
What Jesus offers is sometimes described
using the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’.
It’s a word that’s both a greeting and a blessing,
and it means peace, wholeness, integration 
all parts of a body or a community working together.
Illness is the opposite of shalom;
illness is division and separation,
conflict and fragmentation - 
and the way to health
is reconciliation, forgiveness, resurrection.
 
When God calls us
God welcomes and accepts us -
every part of us - and all of us -
and God’s welcome and acceptance allows us
to find healing.
When, instead of fighting
within and between ourselves -
instead of trying to live in quarantine -
when we listen to and understand
those parts of ourselves
most damaged by our illness,
and accept that those we'd like to reject
are also part us - part of the whole,
we're on the way to healing.
 
God's choice is the key to wholeness.
Where we, with our limited vision,
think we have to choose a few
at the cost of the many -
choose our mates or our sponsors
or the members of our party, or race, or religion -
choose people like us,
or people we think we'd like to be  -
where we make those closed, limited, excluding choices,
God's choices are open, inclusive, unlimited, 
and by God's choices we find ourselves
in company we might not have chosen,
but with people who have something we need
if ever we are to find true health and cleansing.
 
It's still who you know, not what you know 
still who believes you, not what you say 
but when God chooses us,
as God always does,
the payoff will never be a party line,
or a proprietor’s business interests,
or the power and wealth of one nation
over another -
God's gift to all God’s friends -
and all God’s children -
is healing and wholeness,
company, communion,
peace - ‘Shalom’ -
and an inexhaustible stream
of forgiveness and grace. Amen.
 
God calls us into community
and into God’s healing purpose.
In baptism we are chosen as God’s children.
Wash and be clean.