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Sunday service 3rd December


Good morning

Let us come before God in prayer, let us pray.

Father, may my words help us all to have a deeper understanding of your plan for us.

Amen


Today is the first day of Advent.

Advent is a time for re-birth, for re-engagement and for re-affirmation.

It can feel strange to be thinking of the hope of new beginnings as we head into the darkest time of the year, but maybe the most important time to be reminded of the light of hope, is when it is getting close to the time of greatest darkness.


Today, the theme is HOPE.

I was particularly struck by today’s New Testament reading ….

A large crowd was gathered around Jesus, as was so often the case.

A really sick man was desperate to see Jesus, hoping beyond hope that he could meet him and ask to be healed. This man had leprosy, a terrible skin disease that still affects people in the world today. In Jesus’s time though, most people believed you had it as a punishment from God. So, a double whammy for this poor man; he looked and felt terrible AND he must have done something so wrong that God had punished him.


Imagine today, trying to see someone famous, surrounded by fans and curious onlookers and paparazzi, and bodyguards.

But this man was so ill, so afflicted by a skin disease, and so determined that his life could not go on the same anymore that he knelt before Jesus, and said …

Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean

What a leap of faith that must have been for the man to call out, what trust he had, what incredible HOPE he must have had, and what courage, to venture out and speak in front of thousands of people. Everybody would probably have looked down on him with disgust at his illness, and sneered at his assumption that he could barge to the front, especially as this disease was obviously a punishment from God for all to see. They would not have wanted him to come anywhere near them.

But this next bit is the bit that really spoke to me, grabbed me in the heart …

Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘I do want to’ he answered.

I find that incredible, truly uplifting, truly awe-inspiring, truly humbling.


I’m sure we can all think of times when we have felt unclean, as this man did. When we have been afflicted by some disease or condition that insinuates itself into all aspects of our lives, day and night.

Sometimes it can be obvious to all, like acne and rosacea and psoriasis, or maybe we have a growth or a lump protruding on our face, obvious for all to see. Or maybe it’s vitiligo or alopecia. The list is endless, but these are all common afflictions, and all are obvious, and all are things that can cause terrible distress to the person, just like the man in the New Testament story.


I really love watching medical programmes on TV, gory hospital ones like 24 Hours in A and E, and other ones like Dr Pimple Popper and the Bad Skin Clinic. I was reminded by some in the worship group that some of you, who are maybe just a wee bit older than me, might have watched programmes like Emergency Ward 10 or Dr Finlay’s case book. Sadly I never saw them!

However, I find it fascinating how people’s lives can be transformed by these medics, in what is sometimes a very simple procedure. Maybe you watch these programmes too.


I actually wanted to be a doctor when I was at school, but my grades just weren’t quite good enough. However, these days I do get to offer unsolicited advice to my poor mum, who is exceedingly tolerant of me, most of the time!

But on a serious note, it is clear to me that many, many folk carry the burden of how they look and feel in today’s society, like a heavy millstone around their neck. I think social media has made it so much harder, as we are constantly reminded through our phones and through adverts on the TV and in magazines, just how we ‘should’ look, or if we spent all this money, on how we ‘could’ look.


But the man in today’s reading was really no different, even though he lived over 2000 years ago.

People judged him, made him feel ostracised, made him feel isolated and worthless, made him feel like a failure. He had probably tried various lotions and potions sold by the herbalists of the day. Maybe they worked a bit, maybe they made things worse. But he still had HOPE. Hope for a better future, hopefor release from the daily struggle of his affliction.


And this man did pay attention to what was going on around him. He did know that there was this guy called Jesus, who seemingly healed people. It must have been so hard for this man to think,

shall I venture out and risk all these folk looking down at me and calling me names and shunning me, just to catch a glimpse of Jesus.

But he did make this leap of faith. He still had HOPE. He did go out.

He risked people stoning him to death for daring to show his shame publicly. He risked the possibility that Jesus might actually have seen the leprosy as a punishment from God, and agree to him being stoned to death.

But his real act of faith was believing that Jesus would heal, rather than condemn.

Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean

And then to hear Jesus reply …..

I do want to

What a wave of relief must have filled that man’s soul, what a sense of acceptance. Truly incredible.


I’ve already mentioned some of the visible ailments that people suffer from today. But many of us and many of those we know, suffer with hidden ailments. Maybe they are physical, maybe psychological, maybe both. We keep these to ourselves, perhaps because we are embarrassed, ashamed, fearful of being judged or shunned, or thought of as ‘not good enough and not worth knowing’.

Maybe we suffer with the state of our lives; our marriage or our finances, or family rifts, the list is endless.

I know I have previously suffered with stuff in my life, for years. But I did always have hope. I had hope that God would hear my prayers, and I really did pray an awful lot. When nothing in my life changed for the better for ages, I did sometimes think, is God really listening? Does he really care?

I sometimes worried that he wasn’t going to answer my prayers, that maybe the life I had at the time, was ‘it’, and that maybe I should just get on with it.

I had some folk telling me that all this God and Jesus stuff was a waste of time, a fantasy and that I was clutching at straws.

I had other folk, thankfully, in this very church, who were steadfast in their commitment and love and understanding and prayers and support.

They helped me to keep in with the HOPE, they helped me to keep my faith, and to understand that God’s timescale isn’t the same as our timescale.



And although we may well ask in our prayers for healing, to be rid of whatever is afflicting us, God just might have alternative plans for our healing.

Maybe the illness will not be cleared up instantly, or maybe not at all.

Maybe whatever is causing us distress in our lives will not completely go away, ever.

But this shouldn’t mean we need to give up hope.

God’s plans and solutions are not always what we think they should be. God can think outside the box, God has no constraints on his solutions, God has an infinite number of pathways that we could follow that will help us.


So what do we do?


Firstly, we keep going with HOPE.

We should never give up on the belief that God’s desire for us is founded in love. God will always forgive us and will always love us. Whatever we have done that we feel is wrong, will neverprevent God from healing us, in whatever way he feels is best for us. Always believe in HOPE

Secondly, we must keep praying every day. And it’s OK to ask others to pray for us too. There can never be too many prayers said for someone.

Sometimes we may think, ‘well, I will pray for others, but I’m not asking others to pray for me, what’s the point, I’m not important enough’.

But you are, we all are. We are all God’s children; we are all known and loved by him. We are all worthy of his helping hand.

Thirdly, look to the people God has put in your life. The people who are always there being supportive and positive and caring and non-judgemental. The people who love you just for who you are. This is one of the ways God can bring healing, through the gift and power of others.

Maybe you are one of these special people, helping to heal someone you know. Sometimes we call people like this, angels. Maybe you are one of God’s angels for someone right now, maybe you realise this maybe you don’t.


We all know that life isn’t fair.

Some folk have more stuff, more money, more luck, more opportunity, better health – they seem to have it all. But we have our faith. We have a God who loves us. We have the teachings of Jesus to help us. We have the knowledge that if we reach out to him, and ask for help and healing, he will say ….

I want to

We just have to be prepared that it might be in a different way to the way we envisage this help.


The focus for this first Sunday of Advent is HOPE. When we leave here shortly Lord, help us to carry HOPE in our hearts, HOPE for a brighter future for everyone.


Let’s close this act of worship with a prayer.

Let’s bow our heads in prayer.


Prayer

All knowing and all loving Lord

You know what ails us, you can see right into our hearts, day and night

You know our physical pains, our mental turmoil, our anguish over family or friends or some of the many terrible things we hear about and worry about on the news.

We pray to you often when we are happy and thankful and contented.

But we call out to you in earnest when we are feeling low, when we feel we cannot go on with something, when everything we have tried has not worked. When we are in danger of losing HOPE.

In a moment of silence, we pray for ourselves, for the thing that comes to mind right now, that is troubling us the most.

5

Lord, hear our prayers and send your healing spirit to each of us.


Lord, there are people we know and care about who need your help too. In a moment of silence, we bring their names to you.

5

Lord, hear our prayers for those we love, and send your healing spirit to them.


Lord, in the news there is so much tragedy and war and hurt and dishonesty amongst people and destruction of the earth and the animals and plants you created. Lord, hear our individual prayers as we each pray for the thing that currently upsets us the most.

5

Lord, hear our prayers, and send your healing spirit amongst everyone and everything that is broken.


Lord, help us to keep believing in HOPE, HOPE for a more peaceful and brighter future. Help us to remember that when we call out to you, you do reach out to us, you do touch us, you do heal us.

We ask all of this in Jesus’s name

Amen

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