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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - It's your choice - 2nd Sunday before Lent

You'll find the readings here

There's a chorus that was very popular at our after-school club when my children were at primary school. You might know it. With assorted enthusiastic gestures it invites hearers to

“Take my hand and follow me, to see the sea walker, the blind man healer, the leper-cleansing man from Galilee”.

Great – except that for most western children, “leper cleansing” means precisely nothing – so that one child was heard determinedly singing about “the double glazing man from Galilee”. Given the bad press which those who sell secondary glazing seem to enjoy, this wasn't perhaps the most helpful image...but it's fair to say that the emphasis on leprosy in the Biblical healings can seem to emphasise that these are stories of long ago and far away, stories that don't have much to do with us - which is a bit of a problem, given the theme of two of this week's readings, two lepers separated by centuries. King Namaan, remembered by name even today, is certain that he knows how he will be healed...But he is disappointed, even affronted, by the simplicity of the act he's actually asked to perform. There's a moment when his pride threatens to prevent his healing...when he almost cuts off his nose to spite his face and goes home, refusing to believe that anything but a huge and dramatic gesture will really work. He sets the stage with his elaborate gifts for his brother monarch, and expects to remain in the theatre of grand designs...but, just as he used an obscure slave girl, a prisoner of war, to bring Namaan to Israel, God wants to bring about healing through the small, uncomplicated every day task of bathing in the river. It demands both faith and humility for Namaan to strip off the layers of royal dignity and get on with doing what he is told...and I'm wondering how often, in holding out for the huge miracle, we overlook the simple, straightforward daily acts of obedience, the tiny changes in ourselves that add up to something huge.

Equally, how often do we feel too small to make any difference ourselves – so we sit on our bottoms and do nothing – because that way we can't fail!

We have a choice...

And in the gospel it's Jesus who makes the choice. The leper approaches him, overstepping the boundaries of the law...and presents Jesus with two options. He can ignore him, and concentrate on preaching God's love in the towns and cities – or he can touch the leper, render himself unclean, and stay out in the countryside – placed on the wrong side of the tracks by his compassion. It's a choice...and one that we are often wary of making. Jesus touches the leper, and so joins him in his place of exclusion and uncleanness – just another presentation of the truth of the Incarnation, of God becoming one of us...but we, on the whole, seem still to prefer to remain in our clean Christian ghettoes – we encourage people to join us there, but we expect them to come on our terms, and to turn into people “just like us”...(oh dear, can you tell that I'm just a little concerned about mission at the moment I wonder?)

Jesus heals the leper...and then gives him back his community by sending him “through the proper channels” to have his healing confirmed by the priest. The pariah is to be welcomed home..

That's where I'm heading this Tuesday...and you?


  1. I am going with the idea of beign made clean and restored to the community. ANd I have to ask, what makes people unclean and cast out nowadays?

    At least that is where I went with my early thoughts

  2. Hi Kathryn and all. I LOVE the story of you know Ambrose's sermon to the baptizands, on this text? It is on the simplicity (or paltriness, depending on one's mood) of the constituents of our sacraments, and the "Is that ALL?" response. He asks the newly-baptized what they thought when they saw the font etc. -- weren't they disappointed, let down, even scornful? Big three-year build-up, and then THIS? And then he talks about sacraments and the essence of sacrament and it's lovely.

  3. I'm going with the epistle reading this week. Really shaking things up in the pulpit as I preached Isaiah and the Psalm the last two weeks (to a congregation used to hearing the gospel reading preached).

    Thinking about running the race ... faith ... longevity of the task.

  4. I am preaching about Naaman, and my sermon title is "lesser is More"...and the offering music at every service is the Indigo Girls song Closer To Fine! I think I'm going with something about expectations...Naaman's expectations were not met, but in the "lesser" people and "lesser" actions there was more healing than in what he expected. Or something. Thank God it's only Tuesday...

  5. Hello RevGals!

    Somehow, at my church, we got a week ahead on lectionary texts which means that I preached Jesus cleansing the leper last week. Over at my blog, you can find:
    Initial thoughts AND
    Full-text sermon

    Hope this is helpful as you sermonize this week (I am preparing a lesson on the 3rd heading of the Belhar Confession [Reconciliation] for an evening teaching this week!)

  6. lol
    I've just been alerted on another list to the fact that this is one of the weeks in the year when the Church of England lectionary departs from the actually I won't be thinking about these passages at all ;-)
    Oh well - nothing is ever wasted!

  7. how come, BTW, we never get to hear the "house of Rimmon" part of the story, let alone the fate of Gehazi, or "How NOT to fundraise for theological education"....just askin'

  8. I think I'm going to hold up Naaman and the leper as polar opposites. I am struggling with the fact that we don't expect healing anymore and yet we so desperately want it and ask for it. As I feel that tension, I sense that Naaman's ability to hide behind his wealth and title has rubbed off on us. We find it almost impossible to fall on our knees and ask simply, "if you choose..." And I think that is because we want God in our lives but only in the way the works for us. To step out of Naaman's safe place and become the humble leper means we have to let God act as God chooses to act.

  9. Phew Kathryn. I was worried when I saw your reading and thought I had made a mistake and had to double check. Surprised over here we have John 1 again so close to Christmas so have decided to go with the Colossian hymn. So glad that in Christ all things are held together.

  10. I am using Naaman text along with the Gospel of Jesus cleansing the leper. Hmmmmmm
    I dont know much else.
    I do remember in my Southern Baptist Sundya School class, we had to "act out" stories a lot of one of the guys was excited to be a leper, as he thought he could jump/ leap around the room.
    i really need to work on some ideas.

  11. I played Naaman in a musical production one time. I was drenched, DRENCHED! with buckets of (cold!) water, off stage, for my baths in the river. 'Twas shocking.

    So Naaman's story to me always makes me think how SURPRISED! he must have been. Trusting, being healed, not always comfortable.

  12. Ohhhhhhh...I'm feeling sort of torn. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Naaman story. I love it. I don't remember if I've ever preached it. I feel like I have, but I don't know. I just love it.

    However, I'm on a roll with Mark and really want to finish out the first chapter. It's not often we get to work through a whole chapter of a Gospel verse by verse, so I want to stick with this one and finish it out.

    I'm not great at working with two texts at the same time, but maybe I'll give it a shot. I like your initial thoughts, Margaret, and might do some good thinking and discerning in that general direction. I haven't read them in conversation with each other yet; I've just read them separately. Maybe I'll do that next and see where I'm taken.

  13. Oh yeah - - after I work on my funeral for Thursday. Beloved 95 year old saint of the church. An artist. I'm hoping to get his son's permission to use some of his paintings in Power Point slides to "illustrate" the service. I've got much of it matched up already and I think it's SO COOL!

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  15. As a hospice chaplain and as a pastor to a mostly older group of saints, I see lots who haven't been healed of their COPD, cancer, migraines, bone infection etc etc etc. I struggle with any healing that is easy, or that is pleaded for and given. But Margaret, I really appreciate your words about humbling ourselves like Mark's leper and let God act as God chooses to act, rather than as we demand.

    That said, I love the Naaman story too, and had an experience like that when I finally went to a dr for migraines. He gave me a Rx to take daily and if a migraine came on, told me to "take 3 advil" and that will fix it...I thought, "3 advil?! these are migraines not a stubbed toe!" I went to fill the Rx thinking it must therefore be great for 3 advil to fix a migraine. they cost me $4. I thought he must have prescribed me sugar pills. Naaman came to mind, I went home, furious at the dr, took the pills, and voila! Migraines were gone.

  16. Mary beth,
    Why didn't they use heated water?
    Bless your heart.
    Thanks Margret and Nutella. Good starting point for me.
    Now back to my veggie lasagna and salad supper I am fixing for my family

  17. I to am preaching the Mark text and am really hung up on this idea that Jesus had a choice. A choice! No where else does it talk about Jesus having a choice in something. He made choices, but here someone GAVE him a choice... there is something here.

  18. Crimson Rambler

    Do you have a link to the Ambrose text or did you find it in a book?


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