This one didn't get a title.....
Sermon by Jonathan Firme
Whenever I come up here, I wonder, “Am I in the right place? Do I belong up here?” There are people, luckily not in this congregation – that I know of, who think not. Some believe that you have to have training, or the right this or that to do this job, or to do other things in life as well. When I have these feelings of doubt, I remember that Jesus did not recruit the best and brightest to do his work on earth. The disciples were not trained, not looked up to, were not considered by many to be worthy of doing the work of God, but they were. So, I continue to practice, and I urge all of you to do the same. If you let God determine your worth, you will always be worthy.
Let's begin with the reading from the gospel. Another story from Mark. This time, Jesus has healed a leper. I think, by now, we all understand the role lepers played in society in biblical times. The leper was the least important, most cast out person. Barely a person at all, the absolutely least worthy. The lepers all lived together, on the very outskirtiest part of town. They were unclean, and simply by being around them, you too would become unclean. There were no two ways about it. If you spent time around the lepers, you contracted leprosy, became ill, your parts began to come off, and you died.
That sounds like a lot of churches that are facing financial difficulties. Their membership drops, they disconnect from the community, they start cutting programs, and they die. Some do, anyway.... not us!
Then we have Jesus. Jesus, who can heal people without even touching them, decides to touch this leper. Not just touch him, but heal him. This goes against everything. It breaks every rule in the book! Remember? You spend time around them, you become unclean, you die. It does not work the other way around.
If I take my Jeep out into the desert and drive through some fantastic mud holes, my Jeep gets dirty. When I come back to town, my Jeep does not get clean because I drive on clean streets. The clean streets get dirty. The Jeep sits in the driveway, and chunks of mud fall from it, and Jean's shoes do not clean it up – they get dirty.
But Jesus – clean Jesus, touches this man and Jesus' clean rubs off onto the leper. Of course, we know that Jesus was the healing messiah, so we might expect it. It seems as though the leper expected it as well. After all, he told Jesus, “If you are willing, you can clean me.” It is almost like saying, if you are who I think you are, prove it. We know that Jesus was challenged in this way more than a few times in his ministry, but was this the first, and Jesus took the leper up on it? He did it under the condition that the leper would not tell anyone, but of course, he did. He told everyone. This changed everything in Jesus ministry, as crowds began to follow him everywhere.
Well, that is the breakdown of the story. Not being a theologian or a historian, I can't get into it much more than that. I can share what I think it might mean for us, here in Rock Springs. I don't feel too bad sharing this story, because I do believe there are a few in the audience who have not heard it. I think I once promised not to use it in a sermon again, but I figured you have heard this leper story more than me recounting our troubled recent past, so maybe I would be let off the hook. It really is a great story, and it just keeps getting better and better. So, two weeks before we, hopefully, hire a new full time pastor, on Healing Sunday, get out your rulers, because we are going to draw some parallels.
We, here in this church, this church itself, had leprosy. If you are visiting today, please do not leave, because I think we are better. We HAD leprosy. We were shedding out connections to the community. Being up here on this hill never seemed further from town. Even our own faith community, the UCC, seemed to be waiting for our obituary to show up in the Rocket Miner. The disease threatened to force us into cutting off parts of our self like music, Sunday school, various services, a pastor, a secretary. Luckily, we had the collective common sense, and strong enough faith to say to God, “If you are willing, you can heal us.” And he has.
You see, Jesus did not heal that leper because he was bored. He did not do it just to prove he could, because he told the guy to keep in under the table. He healed that leper simply because the leper had faith enough to recognize Jesus could do it, if he was willing to. Jesus could sense that , “The force was strong in that one, “ and basically rewarded him for it. Before you can receive healing, you have to have faith that you can be healed, then you need to ask for it. If we did not think it would help, we would not raise people up for prayers. We wouldn't spend 2 minutes on joys and concerns. And, if we don't have the faith that God can heal, it wouldn't matter if we spent 2 days on joys and concerns. It is a two way street. Even George Michael once proclaimed, “You gotta have faith.”
It is because we are truly a community of faith, an assembly of believers, because we suffered through not having a pastor at all, suffered through a couple of my sermons a month, that God sent Steven to be with us. Even though many others lost faith, we knew that, if God was willing, we could heal us. Once Steven arrived, there again, we had to have faith that that Steven, with his video clips and stage production services, could help heal this congregation. And he did.
So, here we stand, and sit, and stand again, on Healing Sunday, two weeks before the rest of us meet Kay Grice, the person who, the search committee believes, will lead us into the next chapter in our wonderful history. Personally, I believe too. How could I not? In the last 5 years, my faith has been on such a ride. It started growing exponentially when I first got here and met all of you. Like a tiny sunflower seed developing into a huge flower and stalk. My faith has withered and fallen, like the kernels on that flower that dry up in the sun, and fall to the ground. My faith has been growing again, using the very stalk it came from to feed off of, growing twice as mighty as it was before. I have believe that the prayerful considerations, and the difficult deliberations, the meetings, emails, phone calls and, literally, hundreds of pages of profiles and recommendations that our Search Committee has gone through will result in our further healing. We said to Wanda, Sharon, Jean, Annie, Mark and Rob, “If you are willing, you can heal us.” Thank goodness, that perfect blend of personalities said they were willing. Now, their hard work has brought them to someone to whom they felt they could extend that invitation; “If you are willing”
We don't know how many people that leper talked to, but I don't imagine he asked many people to heal him. If he saw people at all, he probably was reduced to begging for some food. However, when he saw Jesus, he asked to be healed. Though it really wasn't a question. It was more of a statement of fact. “You could heal me if you are willing.” Jesus could have said, “Yep”, and kept moving. Reverend Grice is willing,and I have faith.
There is one little catch to our gospel story. The leper disobeyed Jesus. He was specifically told not to speak of this healing , but to show himself to the priests. We don;t know if he showed his healed self to the priests, but we do know that he sang like a bird. He shouted it in the streets, telling anyone who would listen, and probably some who wouldn't. Did Jesus misjudge this man? Did Jesus make a mistake in healing him? By retelling the story of his healing, he certainly made it more difficult for Jesus to do his job. Jesus became a rock star. He couldn't go anywhere without a crowd after this, and everyone wanted healing. Just exactly what he wanted to avoid. I don't have an answer, but it deserves some thought. Jesus was fully human. This was right at the start of his ministry. I know it would be hard, impossible for me to keep quiet about it. I can't even stop talking about how proud I am of this congregation for pulling together over the last few years. A lot of you have made some very significant changes that have helped us tremendously, and I am proud to be part of your family. Jesus lit a fire in this leper's soul, just as he has in my life, and I can't keep quite about it. Nor should any of you. This is a great congregation to be a part of, and we should go out and share our story with everyone. Go, tell it on the mountain! Hark! The herald angels sing! I love to tell the story.
And I truly do. I love to tell the story of a little group of believers. A remarkable group of people who have made a terrible, and terrific journey together. They picked up some more people along the way, quite often, people who felt they did not belong anywhere. Forced into some difficult changes, their faith tested in the likes of Job. It is the story of The First Congregational Church of Rock Springs. They put all of their eggs into one basket and lifted it up to God saying, “If you are willing, you can heal us.” And he did.
I love to tell this story.
And when we are in glory,
We will tell this old, old story,
of Jesus endless love.