A few years ago, I broke my ankle while mountain walking in Snowdonia. It was in the driving rain and wind, and I had no idea how to get myself back down safely to the car park. You can imagine my relief, when, having found our way to one of the mountain roads, a car appeared, and a helpful stranger stopped to offer assistance, and a lift back to our car.
I wonder if you can remember a time when finding help and support from someone else brought you a sense of relief and thankfulness?
I often think about how we as a church can be there for people in need. How we can be more inclusive, more welcoming. And how we can be there for those who feel like outsiders.
We can all have times when we feel like the outsider. I know there are times when I have made others feel like the outsider. The offer of healing is to be experienced today, but how can healing make space for the outsider?
We have two readings which contain people suffering from leprosy a debilitating condition, and one which people still suffer from today. The main defining thing about this condition in both accounts, and in history, is the fact that it led to being shunned and in many ways outcast from society.
This can be clearly seen in the gospel reading where we see Jews mixing with Samaritans. As we see in the story of the good Samaritan, they were not usually on speaking terms. This disease comes with isolation and suspicion and loss of community, as well as the loss of physical touch, and suspicion of them due to the sickness.
Many disabilities, additional needs and sicknesses today can lead to the same type of stigma and isolation. Even in our hyper connected world there are seemingly increasing ways that people are isolated mental health, mobility and learning needs. We are becoming more aware of these things, but we are also becoming more aware of their voices and many are speaking up, and rightly so, about the struggles which they face.
We have a job as the people of god to be an inclusive community — to listen to these voices. To find them and welcome them.
The healings we see in our readings lead to, not just physical wholeness, but a return to community. It is a glimpse of what God’s kingdom is all about — welcoming all, and all having a home within it.
The ten lepers are sent to the priest to be inspected by Jesus, and along the way they are healed. The priest plays an important part of the community. He is the gate keeper for what is clean and unclean. These men, in common with many of the people Jesus dealt with, were certainly considered unclean by the rules of the day. Jesus actively makes accommodation for those who are isolated, complex and in need and sees them as the loved persons they are. Not the condition, situation or social stigma.
When we view healing, we should do it in a two-fold action:
Firstly, with arms wide in acceptance of all people, and welcoming them in. There is no unclean, as our liturgy at Ash Wednesday affirms:
Almighty and everlasting god, you hate nothing that you have made.
However, secondly, we are called not just to welcome individuals, but to also challenge the systems that prevent acceptance and equality.
The offer of healing and wholeness is not just for those who sign up to the faith. It’s not the faith equivalent of getting into the business lounge at the airport, if you sign up and pay extra you get in. It is open to all.
In our Old Testament reading, Naaman was not healed because he signed on the dotted line and accepted a declaration of faith, but rather he came to faith because of his healing. As he proclaims,
Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.
It is through being healed that his eyes where opened to God, not through clever arguments or persuasion. We are told by Jesus to go in to the world and do what he did. The same goes for the offering of healing and wholeness — so that people’s eyes can be opened to the love of God.
As always, my caveat to this is that if there isn’t instantaneous healing when you are prayed for, there isn’t something is wrong with you. And it isn’t something wrong with the person who prayed that they are lacking in faith.
Nor are those who have additional needs broken. Sometimes finding wholeness may not actually mean physical healing, but instead finding God’s acceptance and affirmation of us, exactly how we are.
Because in the end where we find true wholeness is in faith in Jesus, in his resurrection and his promise of making everything new.
In our 2 Kings reading, unhelpfully, our lectionary cuts off an exchange mid sentence, between the King of Aram and the King of Israel. Joram is sent a letter as the man in charge — the man who looks like he would be able to make this healing happen.
Joram is distraught, because he cannot do what the King of Aram is asking. He cannot personally heal the General, Naaman. So, feeling threatened, he thinks the other King must be trying to start a fight.
It takes Elijah to step in and say that he can help. This is an important lesson for us. Healing is not just for the clergy, or those who look like they are in charge. It is for everyone. All can pray for the healing of those in need. All can welcome those in need for prayer.
We all have a very important role, as God’s people, to display God’s offer of healing and wholeness to all.
So how does this work out for us? How do we create spaces for healing? How do we bring people into community? We can do this through accepting spaces, and hold out healing hands and healing prayers.
Accepting spaces are spaces where all are welcome. We create these by listening to those in need. We create these by welcoming those who are different. We create these by seeking to understand before being understood ourselves, in the words of the famous prayer attributed to St Francis. By putting others before our own wants and needs.
How can we offer Christ’s gift of healing to all who we meet? How can offer the gift of full acceptance into community, and see everyone the way God sees them, as whole, loved people? Places where those who can have a voice speak up for those who are tired and need a voice that creates spaces for those to be heard and listens to.
We can also hold out healing hands — for some of you in the medical profession this will be more literal then others!
Those who are in the caring professions, those who care for those in need, those of us who are simply in the world, remember:
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.Colossians 3:23
Like Naaman, do the simple things. Use your abilities to bring healing, with the care and attention as if God were watching you — because he is with you! Set the example of good practise by the faith you have, even if that faith goes unsaid. Let your actions be distinctive in the way you show the same love and care that Jesus did to the outsider.
The third way is asking for healing prayers. We remember that we are not just flesh and bone, but are spiritual beings. And we remember that God is not just spiritual, but is active and working in our world. So we can pray for others for their healing and health.
This is not just the job of clergy! Jesus asks us today — what do you want? It is our choice how we answer.
The invitation is here today to find healing. To find personal healing in the sacrament, which all are welcome to receive, to find healing in our relationships with each other as we share the peace during our service, and as we share a cup of coffee afterwards.
The invitation is here today to be a healer for those have been broken by this world. To be a person who finds and seeks justice for those who are excluded.
The invitation is here today to pray for healing for those in need. Why not offer to pray for those in need wherever you find them?
God asks to be healers, so let us do it!