s118g00 Somerton Park 13/2/2000 Sunday 6 + Harvest Festival

" ... he ... touched him, and said to him "I do choose ..." Mark 1:41

I crave the indulgence (for a brief period) of my American friends when I begin by saying that actually it is not self evident to me, "that all men are created equal" - to quote the words of the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen United States of America on July the 4th 1776. Perhaps I will earn some pardon when I immediately add that the St Louis Rams (the victors of the "SuperBowl" Monday week ago here) would hardly think of themselves as equal to every one else - they would, with considerable justification, regard themselves as very special - even if only for a time. Of course I have no difficulty with the Declaration of Independence. I do indeed believe that all are created equal. I suppose it is an example of "un-realised eschatology" - something we believe "should be" and "will be" but we still have to work towards now to make it a present reality.

For God's blessings seem to me to be clumped in places and scarcer in others. So while I heartily agree that all people are created equal, it is not immediately obvious HOW everyone is created equal.

Obviously not all people have an equal amount of wealth expressed in monetary terms. To quote the master "the poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26.11).

We are not all Einsteins, Newtons or Freuds. We are not all Beethovens or Shakespeares.

There are some people who only have to throw a plant into the ground and it flourishes, whereas after dutifully reading the gardening manuals I carefully plant some hardy thing, only to find it wilts and dies within days.

Others have a particular affinity with animals. They are happiest in the company of their cat, dog or horse. I was conducting a funeral recently where one of the mourners, a young person, I would suspect with cerebral palsy, had a little dog on his lap. I could but be delighted and amazed.

Others, particularly of the female gender, seem happiest as they are suckling their latest progeny - they radiate their joy. I suppose there are such things as proud fathers too.

And others find that their computer systems work first time, without crashes and lost data, and my frustration almost boils over !!!

But, more than this, it is clear that people are not created equal even in terms of dignity. Historically women have been considered nowhere equal to men. The fourth of the 10 commandments leaves out one key person who was allowed to work on the Sabbath day - the wife - to provide the meal for the menfolk. And the 10th commandment is in order of importance. The house of the neighbour is more important than the neighbours wife!

The situation of the prostitute, so often forced upon a woman through circumstances quite beyond her control, has always been viewed as a lesser individual. In Nazi Germany - the Jew, the Gypsy, the physically and intellectually disabled and gays were not considered of equal dignity with true "Aryians". In Australia we have a long history of prejudice against the indigenous people of this land and each and every new wave of migrants from wherever.

Most recently, we have been focusing on the "illegality" of the boat people coming to our shores in recent times, that they are "jumping the queue" and we disapprove of the money made by the "people - smugglers" who bring them. Yet each and every one is a real person and is demonstrably in far more desperate straights than those seeking entry to Australia by legal means. Australia has benefited enormously by the new migrants who have come to these shores over the years. There is no one in this congregation who is not a migrant or who is not descendent from a migrant in the past. Actually perhaps it would be me, as a fifth generation "Adelaidean", who could probably lay the best claim to be most "Australian" here.

For some people, again quite beyond anything the individual could determine or precipitate, life is short and "unfulfilled". I think of the orphans of those killed in the earthquakes in Turkey last year. I cannot even begin to contemplate the suffering which must still be going on and which no amount of money donated to the relief agencies will do anything to assuage. Or those killed in the air crashes in the United States recently.

Some people "do it hard" and some do it seemingly easily.

And so we come to this leper whom Jesus met. Again, however he contracted the disease, the "roll of the dice" of life, did not fall his way. He was not to blame for his leprosy, he did nothing to deserve it. He was not equal to others in any discernible way - the leper was shunned by the whole of society.

And Jesus chooses, to touch him.

And is not this the "mystery" of the incarnation - that Jesus comes and chooses to touch humanity - you and I and all people - as we really are - with our talents and all our perceptions of our own unworthiness.

One of the common perceptions of people who have had a robbery in their home, is that they feel the place has been defiled. Those who have been the victim of a sexual assault consider themselves "unclean". Those females who were not virgins when they married, or who were single mothers, considered themselves as lesser individuals - or were often made to feel so.

Jesus chooses to touch the leper, because it is precisely the leper who needs so desperately to feel being touched, of being accepted as he was.

One of the first things one does when one meets someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is (if one is male) to shake their hand, (if one is female) to give them a hug. (This is not meant to be sexist). It is that physical contact which is vital. It denotes acceptance as they are - that they are not contagious.

Inequality it seems must have been created by God, to give us something to do, to give us something to share, for us to reach out, as Jesus reached out, to express his solidarity with all people.

It is the least we can do. Unlike Jesus we may not be able to provide healing, but human companionship is a good second - best.

I was reflecting recently the most valuable piece of knowledge anyone can ever learn is that Jesus comes and touches us and all people, what ever education we have received or not. The greatest political statement is that Jesus comes and touches us and all people, rich and poor, the "well to do" and the "down and out". The greatest religious truth is that Jesus comes and touches us and all people, despite all our own sense of our uncleanness and unworthiness. The greatest healing is that Jesus comes and touches us in our distress.

The elusive nature of HOW we are "all created equal" is ONLY that Jesus comes and touches all.

Last year I happened to be called to a home where the wife had died. The husband expressed some disbelief that a minister should wear jeans; and then said (with what amounted to religious fervour) that he was not religious and that I wouldn't convert him. I responded to say that I wasn't religious either, and I didn't want to convert him. Such a response from a "man of the cloth" rather shook him.

I was asked to conduct his funeral recently, and I explained in the little homily that Jesus, contrary to popular belief was not crucified by the people who didn't go to Church. Jesus was crucified by the people who did go to church, because they were put out that Jesus visited those who didn't. I explained that Jesus touched the lives of ordinary people, the leper of today's story, and like this man considered himself to be, and if Jesus was crucified for doing that then, obviously Jesus would be helping ordinary people like him get into the kingdom. He had Frank Sinatra singing "I did it my way" as people paid their last respects at his coffin.

And I reflected afterwards about the fervour of his original statement of faith: "I am not a religious person ..." He had perceived that God cannot be on about making us more religious, and we in the Church have to hear the truth which lies behind this perception. If in being religious we deny the central truth of Christianity that Jesus was crucified by the religious people for associating with others who weren't, we have lost the centrality of the gospel for ALL people.

I have heard a number of clergy say to me over the years, they find it most difficult to conduct funerals for those who were not "Christians". For me it is a statement of my faith to do so.

And so, for me, it is only Christ, who chooses to touch our lives and the lives of all, who shows us how all people are equal in the sight of God and the truth of the foundation statement of the United States becomes clear. And what a great truth it is too, and Americans are deservedly proud of it.


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