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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Movement for change

Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

Only one in 10 of the lepers who were healed came back to thank Jesus for his healing and, as a result, many sermons have been preached from this passage (Luke 17. 11 - 19) on a perceived lack of thankfulness in our lives.

There is, however, a simple reason why only one came back and that is that their healing didn't happen instantly but only as they did what Jesus had told them to do and went to see the priest who could confirm that their leprosy was healed and readmit them to the community.

All 10 did as Jesus said, all 10 were healed as they did so, nine continued to see the priest as they had been told to do, while one returned to thank Jesus before then continuing to see the priest. Like Jesus, we can certainly celebrate the thankfulness of the one who returned but there are also significant lessons to learn from the fact that the healing of the 10 occurred as they were obedient and as they were travelling.

As human beings we often find security in sameness, in repetition, and in things remaining the same. The result can be that we also remain the same and do not change. Change inevitably involves disruption and movement; something different needs to happen in order that we change. That is what Jesus calls these 10 lepers to experience. Having been ostracised by society because of their condition they have understandably banded together to support each other on the edge of society. We find a similar experience repeated today, for example, among those who are homeless in Central London.

In Jesus' time, to make the journey back from the edge of society people had to be examined by a priest who had to confirm that their condition had been healed before they could be readmitted to society. That is what Jesus tells them to go and do but it is significant that they have not been healed yet at the point that he tells them to go. He tells them to go, to move, to make a change but they are not healed until they have begun to make the change and are on their way to see the priest. This is why they don't all thank Jesus; they are not with Jesus when the healing comes.

As well as being willing to make a move, to change, they have also had to trust in Jesus and in his instructions. It would have been easy to say, 'I'm no different, I'm not healed, therefore there's no point in going to see the priest.' They could have stayed where they were in what had become familiar and safe for them. Instead they all set out on what was risky undertaking where they could have been exposed to ridicule, as if their healing had not occurred on the way, they could have gone to the priest and have been turned away in disgrace as delusional lepers.

There will be points in all our lives where our experience will be similar. We will have been in one place or one role or one way of doing and being for too long and we will be stagnating as a result. Something has to change in order that we grow and develop on new ways and in different aspects of our lives. Sometimes we recognise the situation and choose to change, sometimes the change is forced on us. However it begins and however resentful we might sometimes feel, the only way for us to experience growth and develop in this situation is to make the move and accept the change. While we may not be thankful at the time, often, with hindsight we can see that change was actually good for us.

Having support in making that change - here the encouragement of Jesus to make the move and the benefit of being part of a group as they do so - is clearly very significant. I mentioned earlier the experience of rough sleepers in London and there is a specific way of supporting that group of people as they make the journey back into the heart of community. Home for Good matches a former rough sleeper moving into accommodation with a volunteer in that person's new community who can befriend and integrate the person where they now live. Those who sleep on the streets find community there and often find the experience of moving into accommodation one that is isolating. Having someone to befriend them and overcome that sense of isolation can be vital in making the change. The Passage, the charity which runs Home for Good, is specifically looking for volunteers from City to become befrienders in their local areas.

Whether we are those needing to make a change or those able to support others in doing so, the key is recognise that movement and change needs to occur if growth, development and healing is also to come.


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