Sunday Worship – 14th February 2021

Prelude in F Major BWV 556 by JS Bach
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Call to worship
As we join in worship in our homes, we remember that we do not need to seek God out in order to meet him. God is no further than the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open the door and let him in. As we meet together now Lord, we ask that we may be fully aware of your presence. May we feel your nearness, and have our eyes and ears and hearts and minds opened so that seeing and hearing and meeting you, we have our love for you renewed. This we ask for your name’s sake. Amen

StF 34 – Hymn – O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
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Prayer (Adoration)
Loving God, our Lord and king, we rejoice that we can come and praise you.

We praise you, God our Father, for you made the universe and all that is in it;
You created us in your own image.  We rejoice in your power, God the Father.

We praise you, Jesus our Saviour, for there is none like you. You came to earth and revealed the Father’s love.  We praise you for your birth, life, teaching and death upon the Cross; we praise you for your glorious resurrection and ascension. We rejoice in your love, God the Son.

We praise you, God the Holy Spirit, for You are the source of all goodness, beauty and truth. You lead and guide us in our daily lives and are with us now as we worship. We rejoice in your presence, God the Holy Spirit.

So great and gracious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we praise you and rejoice, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Introduction
Mark’s gospel starts with Jesus teaching in the synagogue and follows it up with three healings. The man in the synagogue, Peter’s mother in law and the one we will be looking at today, a leper.

Since the New Testament healing is about a leper, it is no surprise that the Old Testament Reading is also about the healing of a leper.

Reading
2 Kings 5 v1 to 14
2K 5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

2K 5:2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.  3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

2K 5:4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.  5“By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents n of silver, six thousand shekels n of gold and ten sets of clothing.  6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

2K 5:7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

2K 5:8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”  9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.  10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

2K 5:11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.  12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

2K 5:13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed’!”  14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

That story is a very complex one.  Within it are wars and rumours of wars: God heals an outsider, not just through Elisha, the man of God, but through a slave girl, obviously a captive who has been well treated and is seeking the best for her captors. Lots to make us think. It is a story that tell us that  peoples can solve their problems if they share knowledge and care. So this seems an appropriate point to pray for the world in which we live.

So, I will suggest some thoughts for our prayers and we will gather them together in the hymn ‘Beauty for Brokenness’ by having some thoughts, then some verses from the hymn: back to thoughts and back to verses and so on…….

StF 693 – Hymn – Beauty for brokenness
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Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
For ever and ever. Amen

Reading
Mark 10 v40 to 45
M 1:40 A man with leprosy  came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

M 1:41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

M 1:43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:  44“See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”  45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Thoughts
Now, as you may remember from last week’s lesson, if you had the lectionary lesson, Jesus had been getting a name as a healer. He had healed a demonic in the synagogue, Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever and other, unnamed folk brought to him. Now, according to Mark, v 39 ‘And Jesus went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons,’  All this was in the background as the leper approached Jesus.

As I said earlier, it is not surprising that the Old Testament the healing of Naaman  is linked to the Marcan story of the healing of a leper.  God’s healing links the two. But there the similarity ends. Naaman is a Gentile, a high up official, who talks with kings. The leper Jesus heals is at the other end of the social scale. And this is an interesting healing compared to many others recorded in the gospels because  the leper’s words have been remembered because they are different, “if you choose, you can make me clean!”

No cure was then known for leprosy but the contagious touch was known and so lepers were ‘cut off from society’.  No connection, social, religious, family, in order to stop the spread of the disease.  It caused untold heartbreak for family and friends. Recognise anything like this in our modern world?

However, since leprosy covered a range of skin diseases the person often recovered and on proving it to the priest offered sacrifice to God, which was conclusive proof of cure and they gained re-admission to human society.  Those of you who have been around some of our old churches will have had the ‘leper squint’ pointed out to them: the little slot in the wall where a leper could stand outside the church and peer in to the service, but could not take part.

Having a disease or health problem was frightening in the ancient world. No known cures so isolation was the method of choice for dealing with the problem of contagion.  As we know only too well with the Covid disease, separation and isolation adds to the problem of dealing with the disease, it causes stress and mental worries and more for both the family and the person concerned. Jesus was sorry for the situation in which the leper found himself.  The leper surprisingly asks Jesus to choose whether he will heal him or not!  The crowd waited, probably at a bit of a distance for fear of the disease, to see what happens.  The leper has left the decision with Jesus, “If you choose.” The ball is in Jesus’ court.  And Jesus moves and touches the leper!

Jesus ef­fects the cure and tells the leper to show himself to a priest.  Thus the leper was able to return to his family and community.  As we have seen, in our time with COVID, the issue is not simply that the disease is painful, the isolation and lack of social interaction compounds worries and leads to mental and other health problems, plus financial worries as well. The priest would assure the Jewish community that the person was no longer was unclean. Today it is the scientists, the doctors and the politicians who will tell us when we can re-join society and be together once more.

In this COVID crisis I have been much impressed by the response that has been undertaken by all the folk in our Church community at Bath Road.  A Newsletter, Checking by ‘phone elderly neighbours and family to see they are OK:  checking all the housebound.  But I don’t have to tell you that.  You know what the problems are.  I suspect that at St Andrew’s and Rodbourne, you, locally are undertaking many and varied little tasks for those around that help them around through their difficulties at this challenging time. Probably you are also being helped yourselves by others.  And if one thinks about it, similar constraints apply to single parents striving with barely adequate benefits and no family support, to bring up children in ‘normal’ times. They are isolated.  And the elderly living in an oversized house without family to support them and the homeless and many others who are on the social fringes of society.

So, this story makes us ask, what are we doing to help include today’s isolated people in our fellowship and our community?  And then, what will we continue to do to include them not just in the present  time, but on into the future when things revert to something more ‘normal’ but the help is still needed.  The leper said, “If you choose.”  do we now choose  to reach out and touch someone today for Jesus?   Will we continue into the future?

Let us pray
For this, I want you to look at your hands.  Now, clench them into a fist:
Lord, as we look at our closed hands we remember times:

When we have closed our hands in anger:
When we have refused to help or ignored folk in need:
When we have used our hands to destroy:
When we have rejected the chance of reconciliation;
When we have spurned the offer of help from others.

Now, open your hands, palm upwards;
Loving God, as we look at our open hands we remember those times:

When we have greeted someone who was alone or a stranger:
When we have comforted a loved one, a child, a friend:
When held in trust the hand of another:
When we have touched a hand because there were no words to express what we felt;

Lord Jesus, remind us that our hands, like yours must be open, ready to stretch out and heal the hurts of those around us.  Grant us the power and strength to serve as you served.  For your name sake we ask it.  Amen

StF 566 Hymn – Take my life and let it be
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Benediction
Loving God, as we rise now to go about our daily tasks, may your blessing,  grace and strength go with us that we may serve you and our neighbours day by day. Amen

Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring by JS Bach
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