Thursday, 12 June 2008

Sunday 8 June 2008 Healing and Wholeness Luke 15:11-32 Melanie

We pray that God would meet us where we are and move us on to where he would have us be

Melanie refers to

Rembrandt was close to his death when he painted his picture of the Prodigal Son. It was probably one of his last works. It might not be too far fetched to see something of Rembrandt in the old father. A half blind old man, with a moustache and beard laying his large stiff hands on the shoulders of the younger son. What does the nearly blind father see as his hands touch the back of the returning son ?

He sees more than most of us -
An eternal seeing
A seeing that reaches out to all of humanity
He sees and understands how men and women throughout time are lost
He sees and knows the suffering of those who have chosen to leave home

His heart burns with a desire to bring his children home
How much he would have liked to talk to them
warn them against dangers they were facing
To convince them that they will find all they need at home
How much would he have wanted to hold them close
so that they would not get hurt.

But his love cannot force or push or pull.
It offers the freedom to reject that love or to love in return.
Part of that freedom is the chance to leave home,
to go to a distant country
to lose everything.
As father he has to allow this to happen
To let his children pierce his heart

From the place where love embraces grief, the Father reaches out to his children.
The touch of his hands seeks to heal.

The father's hands are at the centre of the painting.
Look at how the light is drawn to them
How each of the people standing and sitting
gaze on the father hands
It is in the hands that we have a visible sign of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing.

In many ways this is a self portrait of Rembrandt
Rembrandt the father who saw his wife, three sons, two daughters, and his two partners die. Rembrandt, like each of us, was created in the image of God.
He discovered through his long painful struggle, the true nature of that image
The image of an almost blind old man, crying, blessing his deeply wounded son.

Then there is the elder son – standing to the right in the picture.

He watches, withdrawn. He looks at the father, but not with joy. He just stands – stiff and erect, a long staff reaching from his hand to the floor.

The fathers hands are spread out, the son’s are clasped together, held close to his chest. The light on the Father engulfs the younger son. The light on the face of the elder son is cold, constricted. His figure is in the dark, his clasped hands in the shadows.

He is truly lost. He has become a foreigner in his own house. Every relationship is in darkness. He can be afraid or show disdain, he can submit or enforce control, he can oppress or be a victim. There is little choice for one outside the light.

Sins cannot be confessed. Forgiveness cannot be recieved, mutual love cannot exist, true communion is impossible.

Is there a way out ?
He needs light, but a light that can conquer darkness
and he cannot bring that about himself
He cannot forgive himself
He cannot make himself feel loved
He cannot bring himself home
He cannot create communion on his own
He cannot make true freedom for himself
That must be given to him
He is lost
To be found he needs to be brought home by the shepherd who goes out to him.

Then there is the younger son
we see him here returning
Coming back
But what about the leaving?

Leaving home in the society that Luke wrote about
meant abandoning community,
It was a radical tearing away and rejection of home.
it was a denial of God
Ignoring the truth that God has moulded me,
knitted me together
Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home
and must look far and wide to find one.

What are we searching for when we leave home?
A place to belong
A place where we fit
A place where we can find unconditional love.

Let’s focus again on those hands
Hands that have always been stretched out
Hands that give us the freedom to leave home
Yet, hands that are always outstretched to receive us back and words that are whispered
'You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests'.

A portrait
A portrait of Rembrandt
A portrait of each one of us
A portrait of humanity
A portrait of the love of God
What do we see as we gaze at the portrait ?

Sunday 1 June 2008 Healing and Wholeness: 2 Kings 5:1-19a, Luke 17:11-19, Bruce

The point about leprosy is that in bible times it was a death sentence. The prospect of catching it was so awful that the merest suggestion struck fear and loathing into all. If you had any kind of skin blemish or discolouration, it was probable that you would be cast out of society. Naturally, if it was a relatively minor skin infection, it might clear up of itself, and you would be held to be cleansed; hence the prescribed ceremonies at the temple, so that in Judaism, you could be pronounced clean. But if that did not happen, you were an outcast.

The case of Naaman is different. Either because the Syrians were more humane, but probably because he was a highly effective military commander, Naaman still had a place in society. Perhaps he was allowed to go out if he wore a veil, or kept his distance.

He seems to have been a man who inspired loyalty and affection in his servants and subordinates, and to have been valued by the king. Imagine Russell Crowe in full gleaming armour.

The author of Kings tells his story with irony and wit. This supremely powerful commander is helplessly in the control of his dreaded condition. Salvation comes to him through the love of a little servant girl, a captive from Israel – perhaps Naaman himself had commanded the raiding party that had captured her. The girl speaks to her mistress, Naaman’s wife; she speaks to her husband; he speaks to the king; the king sends Naaman off with gifts and a letter to the king if Israel, who panics. It is so obviously impossible for the king to cleanse Naaman of leprosy, that it must be an excuse to invade Israel!

Elisha the prophet hears of this and sends for Naaman. Comically, we can imagine Naaman fuming in the heat outside as messengers emerge from the coolness of Elisha’s house. And then his rug chewing rage at being commanded to go and dip in the muddy Jordan. But we also see touching devotion from his servants as they cajole the great man to go along with the prophet’s command.

So, no doubt with great misgivings and embarrassment, the great general dips himself into the river, and is cleansed!

We have approached this series of sermons about healing and wholeness with some trepidation. Perhaps all of us have had the experience of praying for someone to be healed or helped, but not seeing any obvious answer. We might also have been spoken to by people who have urged us to pray with faith, almost to demand from God that he answers our prayers; where is the place for allowing God to be sovereign if we can seem to take control? So, we seem to have two opposite feelings about prayer in general, and healing in particular, first that it might not “work”, whatever that means, or second that we might be presumptuous in expecting God to do what we want.

I find it helpful to note here that it is God who takes the initiative. It might have been an accident that the servant girl was there, with her brave testimony about the power of the God of her fathers, but I am happy to give him praise for that. Naaman is led to his healing and guided through it. All he has to do is obey and fall in with God’s will.

And then note the true impact on Naaman. He is changed in his heart as well as in his skin. From now on he is relationship with the God of Israel, and him only will he worship; he will stand on the soil of Israel and offer up praises. It might seem superstitious to us, but Elisha recognised this as true faith.

Here was a true wholeness, the peace of God entering a person’s soul. Kim spoke last week of the difference between healing and cure, of how God can bring his shalom into our lives even when the outward situation is still very difficult. Jesus mentions Naaman as an example of God’s grace, but comments that there were many other lepers around at that time who were not healed.(Luke 4:27); his hearers on that occasion were outraged and threatened violence against him.

So Naaman is made whole, truly whole. We wonder if that wholeness is in his new relationship with YHWH God, rather than the physical healing, but we know that the one seems to have led to the other.

If we return to Luke’s gospel, we see a similar dynamic at work. Jesus meets ten lepers, and commands them to go and show themselves to the priests. All ten are obedient and set off, even though as far as we know, they are still lepers. As they travelled, I wonder what sort of conversations they had had, and did they include the Samaritan?

As they travelled, they became aware that the leprosy had left them! Nine of them hastened to obey Jesus’ command and find the priest; after doing that, if given a clean bill of health, they would be able to go back to their families and homes.

One of them, however, does not obey Jesus completely. He turns around and goes back to thank him. So great is his gratitude that he throws himself in the dust at Jesus’ feet.

This poses a question for me. Jesus commends the returning cleansed Samaritan and says his faith has made him well, i.e. the obedience and the return to give thanks. What does this tell us about the other nine? Nothing at all. Perhaps they also offered fervent and heartfelt thanks and praise at the temple. Perhaps they remembered later and sought Jesus out to thank him. In parish ministry, we touch the lives of many people, and hopefully are a help and blessing to them. Only a few come back to us and make it obvious that they are giving praise to God. Our response is to give thanks that they have been helped.

But we can be the one who returned. We can come to God in all our need and receive whatever he offers us. We can seek to follow him even if the way seems strange or hard (why go to the priest to say you are cleansed, while you are still a leper?). We can give him thanks whatever he sends us. We do not make demands of God, but our faces are turned towards him, and we constantly say Kyrie eleison: Lord, have mercy. Who know what he will do?