Focus: It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. —Joseph Campbell
Threshold Moment: (Video)
Gathering Music: How Can I Keep From Singing (by Robert Wadsworth Lowry) —Michelle Currie
Opening Prayer of Confession:
Lent developed into a season of intense inward reflection and confession centuries after the life of Jesus. Yet, as we will see, Jesus encouraged people to open up about their lives–to speak truth–no matter how broken. This is the beginning of compassion for ourselves and others. It is the beginning of healing. The Latin origins of the word “confess” is to “study and acknowledge.” This will be a season of studying how we can be a healing presence in our community. To do this, we acknowledge our need to restore our own Holy Vessels.
Let us pray:
Creator God, We are each fashioned by your hand in your own image, shapes and colors of diverse and immense beauty. And yet too often we have ignored the sacred nature of our physical lives. So many of us are tired and suffering, ravaged by months of disrupted rhythms and ailment. Our fragility has come into full view and we are frightened. We cannot fathom the proportions of loss and so we look away, sometimes even from our own needs.
Help us, Healer.
Show us our strength.
Forgive our inertia. Help us to move
one step at a time toward greater care.
In this silence, we sense and acknowledge our yearning for wholeness.
Words of Assurance:
Know this- God’s love and grace surround you…
No. Matter. What. You are a precious and holy vessel right now.
Christ’s light is a treasure given freely. For you, for me, for all.
Take a deep breath in to let this truth fill you…
and breathe out with the relief of assurance.
Opening Hymn: Heal Me Oh Lord (by Don Mohen) —Michelle Currie
Readings and Scripture: Passages from Rumi and Matshona Dhliwayo; Matthew 8: 1-4; 16-17 —Cris Hudson
Sermon: A Spirit of Healing —Rev. Paula Norbert
Music: Meditative Instrumental ~ There Is A Balm In Gilead (by Harry Thacker Burleigh) —Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People:
Closing Music: By My Side (by Jay Hamburger/Peggy Gordan) —Michelle Currie
Now go with confidence
as “Treasures of God,”
recovering your depth of love for all
and our joy of living in this world.
May the words of Jesus ring in your ears:
“I do choose you.”
And may the Spirit bring healing
to your soul and peace to your life.
Postlude: Go In Peace
Our Readings for Today
Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.
“True wisdom is like an ocean; the deeper you go the greater the treasures you’ll find.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo
An Ancient Word
Matthew 8: 1-4; 16-17
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
The Word of the Lord
Sermon: First Sunday in Lent “Treasure”
“A Spirit of Healing”
Rev. Paula Norbert
Scripture: Matthew 8: 1-4
1 When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2 and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 3 He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
– Matt 8: 1-4
In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today, we hear of Jesus’ compassion for a leper who somehow finds the courage to draw near to Jesus and ask for healing. Given the realities of this past year framed by a pandemic and the ways it has touched so many lives, we may hear this story in a new way. We know that lepers in the time of Jesus and, in fact, up to the 20th century were isolated, abandoned, and shunned because so many were afraid of them, afraid of contracting this awful disease. Can we even begin to imagine what it must have felt like for a person to live with this; can we imagine the deep yearning for some kind of miracle cure? Clearly, this man in the Gospel is so desperate that he breaks the laws of his day, which required lepers to stay far away from others, and he approaches Jesus because he believes that this man of Nazareth may finally bring hope and healing to his life. The marvel of the heart of Jesus is revealed here. He should be tending to the great crowds, but instead he focuses on a leper! The leper was despised, feared, shunned, a nobody: but he becomes the object of divine attention. This man was breaking the law, which forbade him to come closer than fifty feet to a non-leper or to exchange greetings with others. When this man’s faith broke through legal limitations, Jesus not merely spoke with him but touched him and brings healing to him, rebirth to his life. Let us Pray, Compassionate and merciful God, as we begin this journey of Lent, help us to heal from whatever has brought injury to our lives. Enable us to draw near to You in these days as we reflect upon our lives and pray for all who are in need of healing and hope.
It’s probably not too hard to recall a time when we felt left out of a group, felt like we did not belong, perhaps felt like we were not good enough. I think that nearly everyone has some appreciation of that experience and so we can feel some level of empathy with the man with leprosy. I’m guessing; however, that few if any of us have gone through something so dramatic as to be completely socially exiled, physically healed, and reintegrated into the community that, for so long, feared and shunned us. Can you imagine why this man would want to go back to the temple? The worshiping community, despite its shortcomings, must have offered something to him that he could not find somewhere else. What kind of hope and healing do we come to our faith community seeking?
Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, some close friends of mind in Boston became very sick with Covid, although thankfully they were not hospitalized. I recall a conversation I had with one of them in the weeks after the Mass CDC had cleared them as past contagious. My friend spoke about how fearful her friends and family were of coming into contact with her even outdoors and at a safe distance. The fear of Covid; the lack of information we all had at that time about how long someone would remain contagious and when someone was safe raised fear for so many. People who ran businesses were afraid to share a positive test with the community as they feared that people would stay away for a long time, if not forever. And I think one of the strangest things about this disease is that there have been large numbers of people who may have been infected but are asymptomatic and so everyone with whom we come into contact seemed like a possible threat to our health.
Back in the mid-1980’s I lived in San Francisco during a year of service work. As you may recall, the AIDS epidemic was rapidly moving across our nation and that city was very hard hit. In a time when so little was known, people were afraid of ‘catching’ AIDS. I remember an Episcopal priest I knew who chose to visit those with AIDS; it was an important part of his ministry. He would go into the jails and visit inmates there, many of whom were also suffering from AIDS. There was so much isolation and he was doing his part to reach out, to be a presence, as his faith inspired him to do. I’m sure that many of us can remember Princess Diana who visited people with AIDS in the hospitals and in Africa in those years. She would sit right down and hold people’s hands, pick the children up and hold them in her arms. She understood the power that her position allowed her, that while the press followed her she was able to witness to a more compassionate response to those who were sick and suffering.
In Africa, things were and have continued to be very difficult for those who contracted HIV/AIDS. I ran across a story about a Ugandan woman, Noerine Kaleeba, who would become an activist in this cause. In 1987, she was called to England because her husband, Christopher, had become very sick with AIDS while living there as a graduate student. She was able to bring him home and ended up being his sole caregiver because none of the Ugandan health workers would touch him. He died within a few months, but in her grief, she founded The AIDS Support Organization to help educate people in her country and reduce the stigma attached to AIDS. She also welcomed into her home dozens of children who had been orphaned. Twenty years ago, the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese chose to visit a leper colony during a state visit to Uganda. She was directed to speak at a safe distance from the ring of lepers. Like Jesus she broke protocol and walked over to where these folks were sitting and, together with her husband, shook each of them by the hand — or in some cases by the stump where the hand had been. Overcome by her gesture, they broke into a spontaneous response of joy: a moment of grace. Someone recognized their dignity and reached out to touch them.
When people are sick or suffering or in pain, it means a great deal when others reach out to be present to them. Most of us understand how isolating it can be to feel alone when you are sick, or to feel that others don’t understand what you may going through. All of us have the opportunity to provide comfort and presence for others, and as people of faith, we are certainly invited to follow the model of Jesus and reach out to those who may feel excluded for whatever reason. It makes a huge difference to individuals or a community in need when others recognize their suffering, in whatever form it takes.
We are well acquainted with the images of Bloody Sunday during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, and of March 7, 1965 and the infamous walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The attacks on those marching for Civil Rights were vicious and many were injured and bloodied, including John Lewis and so many others. People across the nation were outraged by what they saw that day and were moved to finally take action. Two days later, on March 9, 1965 – Martin Luther King Jr. led another march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That day, many people walked beside the original walkers and so it was that 2,000 people, more than half of them white and about a third members of the clergy, chose to participate in that second march. King led the march to the bridge and then, out of concern for their safety, invited the protesters to disperse. The march becomes known as Turnaround Tuesday. That symbolic action and the images it generated spoke to the conscience of the nation and made a strong statement to those who had been working for a long time for Civil Rights that they were not alone.
Our reading from Matthew invites us to think about what our communities offer to those in pain, those seeking healing and touch: how do we reaching out to those in pain? In what ways do we stigmatizing certain kinds of pain? How are we promoting physical health, wholeness, and healing? Jesus’ touch of the leper was an outrageous act. By doing it, he signaled that these people (likely a mixture of folks with everything from boils to simple eczema), were not outside of the kin-dom of God, nor ought they be outside of the love of the community itself. They are family, worthy of touch and inclusion.
The reading also invites us to reflect upon the ways our communities exclude others, the boundaries we create, and the boundaries we transcend. The leper was considered unclean. It does make sense that a community would fear a person with a skin disease. What if it was contagious? Communities create boundaries for good reasons, for self-preservation and to create a strong sense of identity and purpose. The problem is when our boundaries go unchecked and unquestioned.
Jesus crossed social boundaries in every imaginable way, as we hear often in the Gospels. Jesus teaches us that the boundaries we sometimes believe are helpful to us might actually cause harm to ourselves and to others. One of the important reasons that Jesus’ ministry and teachings took hold among so many of his day and in the centuries since, is that he shared an essential and radical idea: We are all treasured by God. We are beautiful. We belong. Perhaps part of our journey this Lent is to reacquaint ourselves with this essential message and to share it with others in our own lives. Much of the life and work of Jesus was spent with the ill and the disabled, and often with people like this leper who nobody wanted. In the mind and heart of Jesus, nobody is unwanted. Throughout our lives, Jesus calls us near and offers us the gift of love and welcome, asking only our love and the willingness to love others in return.