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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


5th June 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity II

Have you ever been to one of those prayer groups where people are asked to think about who or what they want to pray before the praying begins? We are used to thinking about whom we want to pray for. We name people in our notice sheet; we may want to pray for ourselves. But what should we pray for in this service of anointing?

I guess we should be asking for God's grace, which means that we should be seeking to know more of him, to know him in all his fullness. Christian healing is all always about this, it goes beyond our physical needs and conditions to the spiritual, to the very core of our being. It is about seeing things in a different way than previously, in God's way rather than ours.

For what should we pray? Our readings are there to inform our prayer. Today they involve that movement from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from self to God. We can ask for that too. Let's look at them more closely.

  1. Abram. The story of Abram is always a challenge to us, especially as we grow older and cling to the familiar. Abram was 75 when he received his call to leave and to move on to a new country. God's promise was that he and his barren wife Sarai would have many descendents who would inherit the Promised Land. Abram obeyed the call as Abraham becoming a greatly revered patriarch. It is unlikely that most of us will face such a call in old age. Yet all of us are called to be open to new ways of seeing things even when we are old. In such ways we receive God's promise to the full.
  2. Matthew. Our familiarity with the story of our patron saint weakens its impact. Matthew's healing, for such it was, was also about movement. Jesus called him, "follow me". And he got up and followed him." Matthew was trapped in a corrupt way of life. He was guilty of extortion. He either collected taxes for the despised Romans and pocketed some of the dues or waived the tax but kept payment in lieu. The result was that he was rich but terribly alone. He couldn't see a way out. Others despised him and he despised himself. The call of Jesus offered him a way through. He sat down to dinner with other tax collectors and sinners. Only the self-righteous Pharisees were excluded. Like Matthew we have a choice. We can remain in the isolation of sin or join the party of salvation.
  3. The Leader of the synagogue. As a respectable "establishment man", he would have sneered at Jesus, dismissing him as a charlatan. Now he was in desperate need; his daughter had just died. His world had fallen apart. Like the proverbial drowning man clutching at straw, he turned to Jesus. At this point Jesus and the disciples follow him. There is movement but it was reversed. Once again the established order was turned upside down. The mourners, the flute players were dismissed; the daughter was restored to life. To receive Christ's healing we have to be wiling to abandon our preconceptions and our status in life, facing ridicule to receive the life he longs to give us.
  4. The woman with the haemorrhage. Chronic illness is isolating. It is often ignored by the healthy, youthful world. For the woman her haemorrhaging made her ritually unclean and therefore presumably unmarriageable and infertile. After twelve years she had presumably grown accustomed to her isolating condition. She had abandoned all hope of change when suddenly she saw Jesus hurrying by. She touched his cloak and was healed. That healing was completed when Jesus spoke to her personally. Physically healed her terrible spiritual isolation was ended by her encounter with Jesus.
What should we ask for when we approach the altar rail to seek healing? Our four biblical characters all found themselves in a very different place because of their meeting with God. In old age Abram found himself a father in a new country. Matthew found himself financially poorer but spiritually enriched. Life was suddenly more fun. The ruler of the synagogue had to compromise his establishment religion but received his dead daughter back to life. Bleeding no more, the woman with the haemorrhage was able to rejoin the life of her community once again.

What should we ask for as we seek healing and salvation; that by God's grace we may find ourselves in a different state, in a different place. It is never to late to receive God's transforming presence in our life. He always seeks to surprise us just as he did Abraham and the three people whose lives were transformed through their encounter with the fast moving ministry of Jesus.

Amen

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