On Sunday February 23rd Rev Tim Hurren from St Peter’s Church led worship at Wesley Chapel. We began worship as we sang ‘All Heaven declares’ and then Tim led the opening prayers using responsive prayers from our Methodist Worship Book. Our organist Judith used the piano for most of the songs from our own songs of worship collection. After the prayers we sang, ‘Majesty, worship his majesty’. The Old Testament reading was from Leviticus 19v1,2, 9-18 which gave examples of leaving gleanings for the poor in the community; they had to keep the laws in particular loving their neighbour as themselves. We then remained seated as we sang the prayerful, worshipful song, ‘Purify my heart.’ Mark 5v24b-34 was read which described the healing of the woman suffering from haemorrhages, when she just touched Jesus’ clothes.
Tim began his sermon by saying that the church in the West is not standing up for justice and love as called to do in John 3v16, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all that believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life.’ We are to share that justice, love and acceptance which God gave to us through Jesus. Jesus stands today with his hands tied behind his back and waits for us to set him free to serve and love others.
In the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Gibbon explored the seeds of destruction. He cited the rapid increase in the divorce rate and the breakdown in home and family life. Secondly the higher and higher taxes contributed to the decline and then the mad craze for pleasure and sports. The building up of gigantic armaments did not solve the internal problem. The decay of religion and faith was replaced by the importance of warning and guarding the people.
Jesus on the other hand told his followers to be like salt and light in the community, to stand out and shine for justice as David Hunt had explained a few weeks ago. God had promised Abraham that he would bless him and his family and make him into a great nation; a nation that in its turn would bless everyone on earth. Our rich society is complicit in setting today’s values.
Jesus provides a way out through believing, and doing actions and words. The context of the gospel reading was that Jesus had just met a mad man who he had healed and freed, when on his return he was asked by the president of the synagogue Jairus to come and heal his very ill daughter. Jesus hardly had time to think and was in the rush of the crowd who surrounded him with their many needs.
It was in that crowd that the sick woman touched him; that took some courage as she was ritually unclean as no doctor had been able to stop her flow of blood. She knew not to draw attention to herself and the jostling of the crowd provided the perfect cover, she thought, to touch Jesus’ garments. However Jesus is aware that power has left him and much to the woman’s horror, he wants to know who had touched him! She is a woman whose whole life had been blighted by her illness and she felt shame and hid among the crowds, hoping to slip quietly away. Jesus knew that her touch was different and insisted that he wanted to know who had touched him. At last the woman emerged in trembling and fear and faced Jesus, feeling exposed but Jesus assured her that her faith had healed her and at last she was at peace and restored to the community.
All disease at that time was regarded as a curse which cut the people off from society; they were excluded from the worshipping community. Tim reminded us of the work pioneered by Andy and Susie Hart in Tanzania, when they drew out the disabled people who were hidden away in families with no hope of supporting themselves; those hidden disabled people such as the profoundly deaf were, and continue to be supported through the training supplied in the Neema Crafts. The shame that the families had felt meant that disabled children were hidden under the bed when visitors came.
Anyone who touched those who were unclean would be contaminated and defiled as it stated in Leviticus. If anyone touched such a woman they could only be accepted to worship at the temple if they made a sacrifice for their purification. What Jesus had done was to call her daughter and welcome her back into the family of God. If the woman was spiritually contagious she would have made Jesus unclean in touching him? However when the power of Jesus healed her, his contagious holiness, which was a sign of God’s Kingdom on earth, gave her hope and restored her to the community. Jesus gave her a new identity and reconciled her with God.
God wants the church to be contagiously holy as Jesus was. Power must flow into us before it can flow out to others. We may have plans and expertise but unless we receive God’s power all our efforts will run out of steam. The early church was a provocative and inspiring. Tim reminded us of the properties of salt and light David Hunt had expounded to us before; salt was to preserve and flavour and light to be seen to shine. Jesus’ disciples were called to change the world through the example shown in the beatitudes. We need to stand up in society today for justice and support the vulnerable and poor. We may be the only ones of faith in our place of work or at home, but God did not call us to be secret disciples. We need to be salt and light in our communities to make a difference through the power of Jesus in our lives otherwise the church is not living up to its calling.
Do we feel like lights in our communities lighting up the way for others? Are we pointing people to Jesus in a world needing healing and hope? Are we helping people live well? Are we helping people to see clearly? Our chapel with its modifications will become a centre for varied and vital Christian life and worship. We have the opportunities to be there for a woman, a man or a child in need and become channels of love, healing and hope for them.
After Tim concluded his sermon in his challenge to us we sang ‘Beauty for brokenness.’ Tim then led the intercessions before our service was concluded as we sang, ‘There is a redeemer.’ It was a challenging and worshipful service.