This post contains the bulletin, music, and sermon from Sunday’s service.
GATHERING MUSIC When Peace, Like a River ~ P. Bliss
WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Colleen Coughenour, liturgist
Grandfather, Look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation Only the human family Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones Who are divided And we are the ones Who must come back together To walk in the Sacred Way.
Grandfather, Sacred One, Teach us love, compassion, and honor That we may heal the earth And heal each other
PRELUDE Rejoice greatly, o my soul, and forget all misery and torment ~ G. Boehm
CALL TO WORSHIP Pat Mathes Cane
We join with the Earth and with each other, With our ancestors and all beings of the future, to bring new life to the land, to recreate the human community, to provide justice and peace, to remember our children, to remember who we are. . . We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving Mystery, for the healing of the Earth and the renewal of all Life.
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
2 Kings 5:1-19a and Mark 1:40-45
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
SERMON If You Choose Rev. Kim P. Wells
A recent issue of the New York Times [1/24/21] included this story entitled “A House Divided” in a section called Tiny Love Stories. These stories are submitted by readers:
Years ago, I was in Wisconsin visiting Mom. One night, slightly intoxicated, my brother laid
into her and me with hatred of the president she and I supported. Stunned, we left. Politics have divided our houses since. Mom called one recent night: My brother has the coronavirus. Shaken, I debated reaching out. Would he want to hear from me? Next morning, I heard about a congressman whose son had died by suicide and the support he got from Democrats and Republicans during the insurrection in Washington. I texted my brother and his wife with inquiries, well wishes. Only his wife replied. [Wendy Lukomski]
This short, heart breaking story cries out with the desperate need for healing in our society. There are so many divisions and conflicts that are sapping our life. Draining our energy. Causing damage and harm. Yes, there are political divisions. We are also beset by the the ravages of centuries of racist policies. I read an article this week about the deep divisions within the environmental movement between large, white-led environmental organizations and usually smaller movements led by indigenous people and people of color. There is the
ever present hostility between the haves and the have nots. There are divisions based on ethnicity, language, culture, education, and class. And all of these things have social impacts, spiritual impacts, as well as physical impacts. The opioid crisis and
addictions are demolishing lives and families. People continue to suffer from mental illness exacerbated by many factors in contemporary society including lack of access to needed
treatment. The cases of HIV/AIDS are on the rise among people of color here in St. Petersburg. And on top of it all, we can add our need for healing from Covid and the many inequities this pandemic has exposed.
Here we are, with all our technology and medicine and social science, and we may be in as much in need of healing and restoration as people at any time in history!
In the two stories we heard this morning, we see a God that desires to be an agent of healing in the world, in the human community. We see the Divine intention toward wholeness and restoration. We see the power of God directed toward healing. And this commitment to healing is not just for the healing of one group of people, one tribe, or nation, or religion. And it is not just directed toward people who may be considered worthy in some way.
First a look at Naaman. He was a general in the army that had just vanquished the Israelites, God’s chosen people. Naaman had prisoners of war from Israel as slaves in his house. And yet the God, with a soft spot for the lowly and forgotten, is also dedicated to the healing of the high and mighty Naaman.
And in the story from Mark, a man with leprosy came up to Jesus. What do we know about someone with leprosy? They have had this frightful condition inflicted upon them as divine punishment. That’s why someone had leprosy. They have sinned. They were bad. They were unclean. And yet, God is dedicated to the healing of this person with leprosy.
So neither Naaman nor the person encountering Jesus have any reason to be favored. To get special treatment. They are social outcasts because of their condition. Isolated – think AIDS, or Covid. But they are not outcast with God. The healing power of the Divine is channeled to these two very different people, showing us God’s intention for the healing of
all of humanity. While these stories are very different, in both we see the a God of love committed to universal, unconditional healing, wholeness, and well-being for all of creation.
In these two stories, we also see two very different responses. Let’s look at that for a moment. Naaman is prestigious and powerful. A person of privilege. From the upper echelons of society. And he hears from his wife, who hears from her serving
girl, a spoil of war, an Israelite, that there is a prophet in Samaria. The implication is that this
prophet can heal Naaman’s leprosy. Well, Naaman must have been desperate, or his wife must have been persuasive, because he pursues this source of healing – this nameless holy one, in another country, the country he has just defeated in war. Naaman is humbling himself, groveling, really, to even entertain this idea. But he does it. Off to Samaria he goes. Probably begrudgingly. He gets past the idiot king (no wonder they lost the war!) who doesn’t even realize they are looking for Elisha, and finds the prophet. And what does the prophet do when confronted by this auspicious official from the conquering Empire? He sends a messenger out to Naaman who tells him to wash 7 times in the Jordan River. Well, Naaman can’t get over the affront that this prophet didn’t even appear personally, didn’t
give any incantation, or waving of the arms, or sacred chants. Naaman, accustomed to special treatment, is insulted. Offended. He’s ready to turn back for Damascus with his largesse in tow.
The servants intercede again. They soothe his wounded ego and national pride. And they get Naaman to head to the Jordan River. Where he immerses himself 7 times. And sure enough, he is healed. Cleansed. His skin is restored like that of a youth! Then, Naaman dedicates himself to the God of Israel, taking dirt from Samaria back with him to Syria so that he can worship the God of the land of Israel.
Yes, things turn out ok, but Naaman is not exactly a willing participant in this healing. He has to be nudged along. His pride, and power, and prestige, and privilege threaten to get in the way of his healing. They are obstacles to his being made whole. And his humble servants help to guide him toward the healing and relief he so desperately desires. They help him over the hurdles erected by his sense of self importance.
In contrast, the healing in the story from the gospel of Mark is very different. The person with leprosy, an outcast, ritually unclean, socially unwelcome, has heard about Jesus. And he goes up to Jesus of his own accord, no nudging or urging required, and he presents himself, in his humility and vulnerability, with complete trust, and then leaves the rest to Jesus. IF you choose. . . If you are willing. . . And the power of the God who desires the healing of all of humanity and creation, works through Jesus to heal this person with leprosy. This man is willing, eager, accepting. There is no pretension or hubris or self importance in the way. He’s not concerned about the optics of this episode. He simply surrenders in trust. And goes on his way rejoicing.
And notice Jesus. The healing occurs when Jesus touches the person with leprosy. First of all, by touching someone who is ritually unclean, Jesus risks making himself ritually unclean. He also risks getting the dreaded disease of leprosy which was thought to be highly contagious. Regardless of all of this, Jesus touches the person. This touch could contaminate Jesus. Instead, what happens is it uncontaminated the person with leprosy. Instead of making Jesus unclean, it makes the man with leprosy clean. The divine power of healing reverses the expected outcome. What is spread is healing not sickness. Community not isolation. Wellness not suffering. Reconciliation not separation.
However we may image God or conceive of God, our tradition is grounded in a God of Love that is focused on the healing of humanity and creation. And we can resist that healing and allow obstacles to get in the way. We can allow our money and privilege to insulate us from our need for healing. We can let our status and pride make us resistant to being made well. We can make the process harder. Like Naaman.
Or we can get on board, trust, surrender, like the person in the story of the healing encounter with Jesus. We can help facilitate the healing of the divisions and conflicts and pain in our lives and our world.
This Black History month, we have much to reflect on related to the healing of racial policies in our country. Locally, Rev. JC Pritchett, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance here in St. Pete, sent out several documents this week from the archives of the City. One was a letter dated March 24, 1936, from a committee appointed by the Mayor to, and this is a quote, “recommend a district for the segregation of the colored people” of St. Petersburg. The letter outlines the suggested area and includes a map with the area blacked out.
Later this year, a memorial will be dedicated to those who were lynched in Pinellas County. There were two documented lynchings and there is additional information implying that there were others. John Evans was lynched in St. Petersburg on Nov. 12, 1914 just by Tropicana Field and Parker Watson was lynched en route to the county jail in Clearwater on May 9, 1926. The memorial will bear witness to racial terror in Pinellas County.
These are just two examples of extensive racist policies and behaviors that have caused immeasurable pain, damage, and devastation to this community and to our nation at large. How will we heal? I am not meaning to imply that the process will be easy or painless. The process of forgiveness, of atoning, of changing attitudes and policies, of speaking the truth, of creating equity, of redressing past wrongs, of transformation, of letting go of false narratives, it’s a messy business. But it leads healing.
I have had to deal with a messy physical healing in my own life and I have had to learn first hand that healing can be fraught. I had surgery on my heel Aug. 24 and was supposed to be up and running, literally, by Oct. 24. Well, It’s February 7, and here I sit before you, confined to a knee scooter and likely facing a third surgery. It has also been a mind-bending education in the disfunctionality of the health care industry. This journey has been a daily reminder of the difficulties of societal healing and transformation. Yet, the process must be undertaken, step by step. I asked my doctor what would happen if I did nothing to address my heel situation. She told me it would result in amputation. There is no other way. We must pursue healing. In the stories that we heard this morning we are assured that God, Divine Love, Spirit, is dedicated to healing; our physical, social, and spiritual healing as well as the healing of creation. The healing process is part of the flow of creation, of life. At the heart of the universe is the power of healing and restoration! Naaman and the person with leprosy who encountered Jesus engage the healing process very differently, but the God of healing at the center of both stories, is constant, persistent, and unrelenting.
In the face of racism, the climate crisis, covid and all the rest, we have so much trauma to heal from, why would we want to resist in any way? We need to learn to embrace our vulnerability and humility and accept the paths of healing that are being opened to us and shown to us. Because we can’t afford the time, the energy, the effort, the cost, of resistance. We must choose the healing path for ourselves as individuals, for our communities, for our nation, and for the web of life.
Make no mistake. God is moving toward healing. Regardless of our stance. Jesus is the vaccine of unconditional, universal Divine Love. And he wants to save us. And make us well.
When the man with leprosy appears before Jesus, he declares: If you choose, you can make me clean. Moved with compassion, Jesus responds, I do choose.
Embraced by the God of healing, are we going to resist, like Naaman? What will we choose?
UNISON PRAYER Rita J. Donovan, adapted
Lay your hands gently upon us, let their touch render your peace, let them bring your forgiveness and healing. Lay your hands, gently lay your hands.
You were sent to free the broken-hearted, You were sent to give sight to the blind, You desire to heal all our illness. Lay your hands, gently lay your hands.
We come to you through one another. We come to you in all our need. We come to you seeking wholeness. Lay your hands, gently lay your hands
MUSICAL OFFERING In You We Live ~ HKJ
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory I look to thee in every need HKJ
Prayer of Dedication Anonymous
How would it be if just for today we thought less about contests and rivalries, profits and politics, winners and sinners, and more about helping and giving, mending and blending, reaching out and pitching in? How would it be?
MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER Balm in Gilead ~ African-American
COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Our Father-Mother, who is in the heavens, may your name be made holy. May your dominion come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us today, the bread we need; and forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors; and do not put us to the test, but rescue us from evil. For yours is the dominion, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen
*POSTLUDE Basses et Dessus de Trompette ~Clérarmbault