Sunday 9

1ST SERMON

MORNING HOLY COMMUNION                  TRINITY 20          Preacher: Fran Powis

2 Timothy 2 verses 8—15              
Luke 17 verses 11—19

Opening Prayer

Being marginalised is very painful. I am sure we have all been side-lined and neglected at some time in our lives, whether it was at school when we were the last in the group to be chosen for a team game or later in life, having applied for a job and been interviewed but not offered the post, such situations can damage our self- esteem, and make us downcast for a while.

But how did the lepers in our gospel reading feel at being outcast from society for a lifetime because of a skin disease. Leprosy was a term used for many types of skin disease; regardless of whether it was contagious or not, all sufferers were banished from towns and villages, they had to beg for food and call out a warning so that no-one could accidentally touch them.

In this parable Jesus did not touch the lepers who were calling for pity. They stood at a distance, out of his reach, and he had the opportunity to demonstrate his powers, not needing direct contact.

Only priests had the authority to pronounce a leper clean and no longer contagious, so that they could then be readmitted into society. Jesus directed the lepers to show themselves to the priest, they had to have faith in Jesus’ commands as they moved away and obeyed him. As they walked away they were cured.

Only one of the ten returned to offer thanks to Jesus and praise God, it is worthy of note, “and he was a Samaritan”, a foreigner, one of those despised by the Jews for not being worthy of recognition, they too as a race were marginalised and ostracised.

I think most people have noticed that I can’t sing very well!! At school I was told that I couldn’t sing, that my singing was flat, I couldn’t play the recorder either but that is another story. For many years I mimed during school lessons and at church services. Then there came a time when I read and believed that God is happy if we make a joyful noise in praise of him; if that is the case how unhappy he must have been at the lack of thanks of the nine lepers who did not say ‘thank you’ to Jesus.

We very often meet with ingratitude in our daily lives, from the person who scowls if we hold a door open for them, the driver who looks unbelieving if you offer to let them into a stream of traffic, if we stand aside to allow people to proceed before us, today the good manners we were taught as children don’t apply and seem alien in today’s world. This is very sad and alienates people, reducing contact with those we meet in the street; the less contact we have with people generally, then the more people will feel lonely and ostracised.

This is not how God intends us to live our lives, he wants us to communicate and feel part of his family, loving and caring for each other.

Paul who had persecuted the early church in his life as a zealous Pharisee, who had stood by and watched as Stephen was stoned to death as the first martyr, Paul himself was imprisoned later on and treated badly, some might say that was no more than he deserved for what he had done to others in the past, but God does not work like that.

God spoke to Paul and turned his life around and Paul went on to spread the gospel to many, right up to the present day when much of the New Testament comprises his epistles which were saved that we might learn from them. Letters that were written as instruction and encouragement for those who were suffering at the hands of others.

The circumcised and uncircumcised were brought together to know God through Jesus Christ. Those who ate certain foods and those who didn’t were brought together to know God through Jesus Christ. Those who were marginalised, the non-Jews, the Gentiles, were welcomed into God’s presence through Jesus Christ.

Jesus died that we might all be welcomed into God’s kingdom, that we all might have our sins forgiven. Jesus shows us the way, through faith, be it ever so small, that all may be welcomed.

Yet today we still have those who are marginalised, leprosy has been cured by anti-biotics, but there are underdogs, pariahs, the socially unacceptable, we all know misfits, those with few social skills, those who are shunned, whether unemployed, homeless, immigrants or those of ethnic origins, in some areas people who believe in God and worship him are considered old fashioned, or irrational. The physically handicapped can be ignored and their carers spoken to instead, and mental illnesses can terrify some people.

My step-father is in hospital at the moment, he has a blood clot on his brain, possibly caused by a fall some time ago or maybe due to the use of anti-coagulant medication following the fitting of a pacemaker two years ago. He is suffering from periods of confusion that are getting more frequent which to him are very real and very frightening. He was initially found a bed in the respiratory ward, this is no longer appropriate but they don’t know where to put him as he doesn’t fit any other category. My sister and I know they want to discharge him to free up the bed but he is not fit enough to go home and look after himself. He is occasionally disturbing other, sick patients, most of the time he is a model patient, he is aware of these changes to his personality, and he is becoming marginalised.

We have to follow Jesus’ example and relate to today’s outcasts. Jesus encouraged those in need to approach him and speak to him, then he built up their self-esteem, then he forced them to believe that a cure was possible, finally Jesus told the lepers to show themselves to the priest, to have faith in their cure and confidence in Jesus’ word that they were now worthy of meeting people, and being treated with respect.

In a nutshell, if we give to those who are side-lined, a listening ear; self-respect; hope and confidence, this will allow us to follow Jesus’ example and his instruction to ‘go and do likewise’.

On Wednesday Carol and I spent the day at a preparatory meeting for The Women’s World Day of Prayer to be held on the first Friday in March next year. Carol and I led the Bible Study on ‘Am I Being Unfair to You’ based on the reading from Matthew 20: 1-16 of the vineyard owner who chose to pay his workers one denarius for their work whether they worked one hour or more or a full day. Those who worked a full day and had agreed the rate for the day felt unfairly treated, those who worked for only one hour received enough wages to allow them to feed their families, which was fair to them. The landowner, God, gave out of his generosity and his wealth to help those who had not been chosen to work for a full day, the marginalised.

The Collect for today reads, ’God, the giver of life, whose Holy Spirit wells up within your Church: by the Spirit’s gift equip us to live the gospel of Christ and make us eager to do your will, that we may share with the whole creation the joys of eternal life’;

In being ‘equipped to live the gospel and eager to do God’s will’, we are being prepared to share with those who have not, or join with those who are marginalised and treated as outcasts.

Tom Wright’s bible study for Lent this year looked at the leper who returned to Jesus, from the view point of a disciple, he says, “One of them is coming back—and he’s cured! Something’s happened to him! Jesus was giving them a test of faith, and he’s passed it wonderfully.

So here he comes, running up to us and falling down in front of Jesus, praising God at the top of his voice… and his accent gives him away. He’s one of “Them”. He’s a foreigner. A Samaritan. Typical. Just when we thought we had Jesus figured out—he’s the Messiah for the Jews, right? - it turns out he’s pushing the boundaries, opening the gates to all the other lot as well. But what’s he saying? ‘Your faith has saved you’? Well, but don’t I have faith too? So has my faith had that effect? How would I know?     Perhaps one sign might be if I started to see things the way Jesus does…”

Let us pray.
Gracious Lord, teach me to see with your eyes of compassion, and teach me to love people with healing and welcoming love.

Amen.