Sunday February 11 2018

2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45

Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

You can listen to the Sermon online here:

In the name of God, creating ,redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

A leper* comes to Jesus begging him, and kneeling* he says to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity,* compassion, anger at the plight of the man, [some translations of this Gospel of Mark have it], moved at the very depths of his being…Jesus* stretches out his hand and touches the man with leprosy, and says to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ And immediately the leprosy* leaves him, and he is made clean. (Mark 1:40-41)

The leper knows who Jesus is and calls out to him. Jesus sees his suffering, knows his pain, observes his exclusion, and heals and restores and brings to life this child of God. This dymanic, the cry of the one who suffers and God’s relentless hearing of that cry, is woven into creation … woven, perhaps, not only for the struggle of individual human beings. The possibility of God’s healing presence is also here for our planet.

JennySermon11FebDavid Attenborough, the naturalist and broadcaster who understands and loves so many things about our planet and has inspired many of us through his television series to love a little more his great love, has made a new TV series Blue Planet II. It will be shown here soon. Reflecting on that series, David Attenborough has spoken about the health of the planet and the bird and animal life with which we share our home. He speaks about the effect of plastics on the environment. “We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young and nothing in it. The albatross parent has been away for three weeks gathering stuff for her young and what comes out? What does she give her chick? You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. The chick is going to starve and die.”[1]

One newspaper article further explored the theme: “Should you ever travel to one of the many uninhibited islands that dot the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans, chances are you’ll find plastic bottles littering the shore. Even if there’s nothing else to be found there, civilisation’s obsession with plastic waste is having a profound impact on every corner of the globe. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the globe, fuelled by our insatiable thirst for bottled water.

The annual sale of plastic bottles will soar to a staggering one trillion by the end of this decade — a 20 per cent increase. Most of those bottles end up in landfill, where they take a significant time to break down, or in the ocean. One scientific report in January found the equivalent of a garbage truck worth of plastic bottles was being dumped into the ocean every minute. What this all means is an imminent environmental crisis that some experts predict could be just as dangerous as climate change.”[2]

Each one of us have seen pictures in social and news media of whales with their stomachs choking in plastic bags, of birds with their stomachs filled with tiny and less than tiny pieces of coloured plastic that they are enticed into believing is food. We have seen photos of sea shores covered with plastic bottles. What does God see as God looks upon our planet from the sky? A white film of plastic on the shores and seas that were to be a safe home for sea life, for human life? A white film of this substance that threatens to choke us…. A white film not unlike leprosy, perhaps, on the planet?

Does the planet cry out to God …”If you choose, you can make me clean”?

A number of biblical scholars in Adelaide, including Norm Habel and Vicki Balabanski, have developed what is known as The Earth Bible Project. This project involves reading the bible from the perspective of the earth, viewing the earth as a subject in the biblical text, acknowledging that the earth may have a voice in the biblical text and listening for the cry of that voice, the wisdom of that voice and listening for God’s response to that voice. We know from the creation account in Genesis that God created the earth and all the animals of the earth and the fish in the sea and the plants upon the earth and that God views all these things as good, as very good. We know that God loves all that God has made.

Does the planet cry out to God …”If you choose, you can make me clean”?

And can we doubt that Jesus gazes on the planet with pity and compassion and raging anger at what has been done to her and replies “I do choose, be made clean.”

And yet …God has no hands but ours didn’t someone once say …

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Teresa of Avila whispers as we wonder how Christ can heal our beautiful earth.

But the problem is so vast, isn’t it?

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man … {and} though a mighty warrior, [this great man] suffered from leprosy.* Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ (2Kings 5:1-3)

What is fascinating in the story of Namaan the army commander that we heard read as our Old Testament reading this morning is what Elisha the prophet asked Namaan to do to be healed of his leprosy. And what is even more fascinating is how this mighty army commander responded to Elisha’s instructions. ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ Elisha sent his instruction to Naaman. Namaan is offended that the prophet has not waved his hands over him crying out in the name of the Lord. Namaan’s servants say to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So Namaan goes down and immerses himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh is restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he is clean. (2Kings 5:10-14)

What is interesting is that Elisha the prophet did not even meet Namaan to help this healing to take place. Namaan was not asked to do some great and difficult thing but was asked to do be vulnerable and to do a simple thing, a humble thing. To know himself powerless and yet to play his part.

Is that what God is asking of us? As we imagine the planet plagued with the leprosy that is this plastic.

Does the planet cry out to God …”If you choose, you can make me clean”?

Can we, like Namaan, know ourselves powerless and yet play our part?

David Attenborough says in an interview[3] “Plastic manufacturers happily say when you’ve used it throw it away, discard it. There is no away. Plastic is so permanent, so indestructible that when you’ve cast it into the ocean it does not go away. … I am certain that when people understand the consequences of what they are doing that they will care for the rest of the world in a profound way … There are simple things that we can do. …”

There are simple things we can do, David Attenborough says in faith, sure that when we understand we will care in a profound way. The story of Namaan the Syrian commander would have us wonder if we might we know ourselves powerless and yet play our part …

Could we in our cathedral commit to supporting each other as we explore what simple things we could do to help care for our planet, perhaps as a part of our 150th birthday celebrations, could our imagining of our future involve an imagining of our playing a small part in bringing about a healed planet …

In all these things we are not alone.

The man with leprosy in our gospel reading sensed the presence of Jesus and it was to Jesus, God’s Son, that he cried out “If you choose you can make me clean.”

And Jesus, moved with pity made his reply. His spirit is with us. If, as David Attenborough says, when we understand we will care in a profound way, that understanding, that care, that healing of how we see the needs of the planet will come from God. If, inspired by Namaan the Syrian, we can embrace our powerlessness and yet still play our part, that embrace, that action, will be blessed by God. May we pray with the leper, “If you choose, you can make us and our world clean.” May we hear God’s reply, “I do choose, be made clean.”