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Reaching out in Solidarity
Susan in SanPedro

“Open our eyes, O Sanctifier of life, to the hurts and needs of others that challenge us to ministry. Teach us to see where our own abilities and resources — and the world’s deep hunger — meet. Loving God, open our eyes.”

These words from the Prayers of the People we’ve been using in the 10:15 service -- that we all used last week at the Annual Meeting -- have sort of haunted me all week. What are the “deep hungers” around us -- and where do my abilities and resources meet them? And do I really WANT God to “open my eyes” to them ... or am I afraid of what I might see? Of being overwhelmed -- going where I don’t want to go? I found myself dwelling on all this as I mulled this Gospel lesson for today: and in the end, I found great comfort ... and some more challenge. Comfort in that it was precisely those “hurts and needs of others” that challenged Jesus himself to the fullness of the ministry he was called to: Challenge in looking to see where I am called to “go and do likewise.” Our gospel this morning is from Mark; and of the four gospels, it is Mark who offers us the “fast forward” approach to recounting Jesus’ ministry. Let’s look for a moment at this first chapter of Mark: it STARTS with Jesus meeting John and being baptized. Then WHAM: Temptation in the Wilderness (2 verses) ... he begins his ministry, calls disciples, casts out a demon, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and is surrounded by a crowd of people seeking healing ... all before the first chapter is even over!!! Exhausted by these experiences, he retires to a deserted place to pray ... and when his disciples find him, he says, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there ... for that is why I came out.” Sounds like he’s pretty clear about what to do next: “Enough of this healing and miracle working: I don’t want to get “pidgeon-holed” as the healer of the day. Let me get on with the work I came out to do.” “Open our eyes, O Sanctifier of life, to the hurts and needs of others that challenge us to ministry.” That challenge, for Jesus, was right around the corner. The very next verse says, “And a leper came to him, beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him and said, ‘I choose. Be clean.’” And he was. “Teach us to see where our own abilities and resources — and the world’s deep hunger — meet. Loving God, open our eyes.” Jesus had both the ability and the resources to meet the deep hunger of the leper yearning for wholeness ... but he had to both open his eyes and stretch out his hand to do so. To open his eyes to how this healing part of his ministry would be a vehicle of God’s grace rather than a distraction from the work of proclaiming the Kingdom. To stretch out his hand and touch the untouchable ... the unclean: to cross boundaries he’d been taught never to go near. You see, “leprosy” was a big deal in first century Palestine. Yet the diagnosis was about as general as it could get. Basically any condition of the skin considered abnormal was leprosy by the terms of the age. Any rash, any patch of dry skin, any physical discoloration, …you name it, if it was on the skin, it was leprosy. For all we know, the only thing this man needed was a lathering up with Vaseline Intensive Care lotion and a good night’s sleep. Yet the label of leprosy meant a whole lot more. Leviticus 13:45 & 46 gives us the instructions for dealing the conditions labeled as leprosy. The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. In short, according to Levitus, leprosy was a social death sentence. Cut off and completely cast out—this man was living dead. The leper was physically ostracized—placed outside the community. The curse of leprosy was the loss of one’s humanity -- according to the letter of the law. Yet moved by his great compassion, Jesus entered into his world of isolation and spoke to this man. “Yes, I do choose!” -- and he reached across the boundary the law had set -- risking becoming “unclean” himself in the eyes of his community. This was risky business ... a challenge to the very fabric of the culture. We can look at many of these purity codes -- these rules and regulations in Levitcus and elsewhere -- with some bemusement from 2000 years away. Yet they were the building blocks of Jewish society ... Hebrew culture ... Israel’s identity. If was widely believed that afflictions such as leprosy were manifestations of God’s displeasure. Start touching lepers ... healing them, no less ... flew in the face of that theology and their tradition. And who knew what would happen next! It was precisely the kind of behavior that the religious establishment would not tolerate: would stop at nothing to end. Imagine the mobilization that would occur if word got out about this healing: there’d be the 1st Century equivalent of a Proposition on the Jerusalem ballot to make sure that lepers stayed lepers -- and outside the city walls where they belonged. Let the people vote -- that would settle this issue once and for all. Yet Jesus didn’t see “an issue” -- he saw a child of God, diminished by a stigma he has the power to cure: and so he did. Jesus had both the resources and the ability to meet this man’s deep hunger: both for physical wholeness and return to the community. Jesus stood in the midst of this man’s life-less hell and restored his humanity with the simple power of human touch. Jesus liberated him from the prison of rejection and graciously gifted him with that which should never have been taken in the first place: his humanity.

Yes, Jesus told the now-former-leper to “go and tell no one”: to buy some time so he could get on with the work of proclaiming the Gospel? To give himself the chance to continue to “process” this experience and figure out where it fit in his ministry? We don’t know: Mark doesn’t tell us. What he does tell us is that the grateful man couldn’t keep the good news to himself: and Jesus was once again swamped by those seeking the healing he had both the resources and ability to offer. “Open our eyes to the hurts and needs of others that challenge us to ministry. Teach us to see where our own abilities and resources — and the world’s deep hunger — meet. Loving God, open our eyes.” We all have different abilities and resources ... different from each others’ and different at various times in our lives. But there’s sure enough “deep hunger” out there to go around. And that’s OUR call to ministry. For though we live in very different times than Jesus did, many of the needs are not so different at all. We are still faced with those who place themselves in our paths -- as individuals and as the church -- yearning to be whole and seeking a community to support them ... not exile them. Like Jesus, we have to decide ... to choose ... to reach out. Opportunities abound. The Ministry Fair coming up in March will offer over 85 workshops on various ministries throughout the diocese. Check out the table in the parish hall. The vestry will be exploring a program called “Sharing the Ministry” -- designed to enable all parish members to explore where their gifts are and how best to use them. Stay tuned for more on that. As Alan mentioned in his Annual Meeting Sermon, we are gearing up to offer new and exciting programs for our youth and children: calling some of the best and brightest of our parish leaders into this important work with the next generation. Our abilities and resources can be as varied as serving on a Diocesan commission or giving a shut in a ride to church. Some of us have time. Some of us have money. Some of us have patience. Some of us have vision. When we pool those resources -- when we open our eyes to where God is calling us to reach out in compassion and love -- then we truly take up the ministry of Jesus on earth ... then we live up to our call to be the Body of Christ.

The apostle Paul likened it to running a race. The ministry of Jesus Christ is a ministry of compassion and love that involves constant, focused effort. This ministry demands that we sometimes challenge the powers and principalities that seek to dominate and eliminate the humanity created in God’s image in any one. Yet, like the healing power of Christ’s touch, the simplicity of human touch -- the act of physically and emotionally reaching out in solidarity with another’s pain -- is the beginning of a powerfully compassionate ministry of healing, of love and liberation.

That is the work we have been called to do. May the God who has given us the will to do these things, give us the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.