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Sermon and Liturgy For The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
Leviticus 13.1-2,44-46; Psalm 30; Mark 1:40-45
"He Stretched Out His Hand...."


READING:  Leviticus 13.1-2,44-46; Psalm 30; Mark 1:40-45
SERMON :  "He Stretched Out His Hand..."

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or06su 869000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC. 

   Portions of the Call to Worship, Prayer of Invocation, Prayers of
   The People, and the Prayer of Dedication are adapted from those
   found John Maynard's (maynard@sympac.com.au), "Prayers and Litanies
   for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, Year B" as sent to the PRCL List,
   in February 2000.  The children's story is almost entirely that of
   Charles Kirkpatrick as found at "www.sermons4kids.com", February
   2003.  The sermon is indebted to both the words and the thoughts of
   Jude Siciliano, O,P. In "First Impressions Vol.1 Sunday 6B
   02-13-00".  The Michael Kirwan illustration is based on a story by
   Colman McCarthy in, "The Little Way: Dorothy Day Catholic Worker",
   Vol. 17, no.3, Fall 1999, page 3.  The Eucharistic prayer based on
   that of Nathan Nettleton in his "Eucharistic Preface for The Sixth
   Sunday after Epiphany, Year B" (www.laughingbird.org), 2000.  


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP 
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  It is good to sings praises to our God.
P  It is right to sing unto the Lord, 
   for the Lord is gracious and kind.
L  He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
P  He determines the number of the stars, 
   and gives all of them their names.
L  Great is our Lord, and abundant in power.  
   His understanding is beyond measure.
P  The Lord lifts up the downtrodden.  
   He answers all who call on His name.
L  Praise be to the Lord - now and forever.


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
Almighty God, You have appointed our Lord Jesus Christ as mediator of a New
Covenant.  Give us grace to draw near with full assurance of faith.  May we
rejoice in our continuing covenant with you and forever praise your name
and walk in the love you pour out upon all who call upon you.  Amen.


* HYMN:   "Come, Let Us Sing of A Wonderful Love"                  - VU 574


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Hope For The Hopeless"
Object:   A bottle of Calamine Lotion
Theme:    When you have nowhere to turn, turn to Jesus. 
Source:   Charles Kirkpatrick "www.sermons4kids.com", February 16 2003, by
          permission.  Some changes have been made to the story and to the
          prayer.

   A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you
   are willing, you can make me clean."  Filled with compassion, Jesus
   reached out his hand and touched the man.  "I am willing," he said.
   "Be clean!"  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
   Mark 1:40-42

Do you know what this is? It is a bottle of medicine called Calamine
lotion.  Calamine is a medicine that is sometimes used to help stop
itching.  Have you have ever had the chicken pox???   

When you have chicken pox, it starts out like a cold; you feel lousy, have
a runny nose, and run a fever.  Then, all of a sudden, itchy red bumps
start to break out all over your body.  The itching is drives you crazy,
but you can't scratch, because that just makes it worse.  It is a very
uncomfortable feeling, but it isn't hopeless.  Rubbing on some calamine
lotion may help to ease the itching.  In a few days, the sores go away, the
itching stops, and life is back to normal again.

During the time when Jesus lived upon the earth, there was a terrible
disease known as leprosy.  When someone had leprosy, they were covered with
sores all over their bodies.  Unlike chicken pox, these sores didn't just
go away.  When someone had leprosy, it was hopeless, because there was no
cure.  To make matters worse, other people considered them to be unclean -
and no one was allowed to touch them or to touch the things they touched. 
They were isolated.  Many people believed that those with leprosy got the
disease because they had committed some terrible sin.

One day a man with leprosy came to Jesus.  The man knelt down before Jesus
and said, "If you will, you can make me clean."  Jesus looked  at the man
and he felt love and compassion for him.  He reached out his hand and
touched the man and said, "I am willing, be clean."  Immediately, the
leprosy left the man and he was cured.

Sometimes, we may find ourselves in a situation where we are uncomfortable,
like when we had the chicken pox.  But there may be a time in our lives
when we find ourselves in a situation that seems truly hopeless.  When that
happens, where can we turn?  How do we find hope in a hopeless situation? 

We can turn to Jesus.  No situation is beyond the power of Jesus to help
us.   He who was not afraid to touch the leper and who healed him, he who
was even able to raise people from the dead - is able to help us.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Jesus - you came to bring hope - to the hopeless.  When we feel
   like giving up - when we see no where to turn - help us to remember
   you - help us turn to you - and trust in you - and do all you ask of
   us.  Help us to hope in you.   Amen

   Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
   come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this
   day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but
   deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Amazing Grace"                                           - VU 266


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
 Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries      
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM LEVITICUS 13.1-2,44-46
   (NRSV)  The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:  When a person has
   on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it
   turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, he shall be
   brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.

   The priest shall pronounce him unclean; the disease is on his head. 
   The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let
   the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip
   and cry out, "Unclean, unclean."  He shall remain unclean as long as he
   has the disease; he is unclean.  He shall live alone; his dwelling
   shall be outside the camp.

L  This is the Word of The Lord.     
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 30 (Voices United 757 & Sung Refrain)


A READING FROM MARK 1:40-45
   (NRSV)  A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him,
   "If you choose, you can make me clean." 

   Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said
   to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"  Immediately the leprosy left
   him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away
   at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go,
   show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses
   commanded, as a testimony to them."

   But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the
   word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed
   out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

L  This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "O Love, How Deep!"                                       - VU 348


SERMON:  "He Stretched Out His Hand... " (Mark 1:41)

   Let us Pray - Creator and maker of us all - bless the words of my
   lips and the meditations of our hearts - grow thou in us and show us
   your ways and inspire us to live by your truth.  Amen

Once upon a time, far away and long ago, there was a sales person
travelling down a very rural road.  

   Feeling lost, and spotting a girl of about 12-years-old by the
   roadside, he asked, "How far is it to the Robinson Farm?"
   
   "Well sir," said the bright young lady, "if you keep going the way
   you are headed, it's about 24,996 miles.  But if you turn around,
   it's about four."

Once upon a time, far away and long ago...."   

That's what it sounds like in today's reading from Leviticus.  At that time
people made a direct connection between a physical ailment and sin.  If a
person was afflicted with an ailment, in this case leprosy, it was presumed
to be punishment for some sin the person or parents had committed.

So sickness - especially a sickness like leprosy, carried with it a double
whammy - not only were you and all that you touched presumed to be
physically contagious - and those to be avoided - but also you were seen as
morally or spiritually inferior - as cursed - and therefore to be dealt
with cautiously indeed....

The community, after all, needs protection, not just from the possibility
of physical contagion, but from moral corruption as well.  

So it was, once upon a time, far, far away and long, long ago those with
leprosy or any skin disease that might turn out to be leprosy, were
expelled from the community.  We read in Leviticus today, that lepers were
to "dwell apart", that they were to live outside the camp of the people. 

To live where they are not allowed to touch, to hug, to embrace
those they know and love.

To live in such a way that anything that they touch, or carry, or work on,
can only be shared by others in the same position as they.

To be utterly dependant on the charity - provided at a safe distance -
of others.

To have to announce their presence to others,
their danger to others,
by crying out "unclean, unclean" whenever they draw near.

When lepers - or those suspected of leprosy - recovered from their disease, 
they had to go through elaborate rites of purification so that they might
rejoin the community - and in rejoining the community recover their
identity, their sense of being one of God's people, their sense of being
loved and of being worthy of being loved.

One commentator has suggested that maybe one reason Jesus responded the
leper's cry in today's Gospel story is because he identified with the man's
condition. 

   Jesus too would be an outcast from his family and people.  He will,
   in effect, be declared "unclean" and cast out of the city to be
   executed.  

   When he, at the end of his ministry, is "examined" by the priests,
   he will be found to be unacceptable, to be not a true member of the
   people, to be not worthy of either God's love or the community's.

   Just as the lepers dressed like corpses in their "treatments",
   ritually dying and being reborn, so Christ will die, and be wrapped
   in a shroud, and after a period of time be  reborn to a new life, a
   new life with a new community of believers gathered around him, a
   community which not only accepts him and loves him, but is loved and
   accepted by him.

In the gospel reading today Jesus cures the leper with a word and a touch.  

In other miracles that we read about in the gospel narratives we see that a
word is sufficient for a cure.  And surely it was here as well.  But in
this story concerning the leper Jesus does the unthinkable - he touches the
leper - he bridges the gap between what is clean and what is unclean -
making himself, in many eyes, unclean along with the leper.

By his touch Jesus makes himself one with the leper - indeed his touch
identifies him with all lepers and with all who are unclean.  He is one
with them - in effect, because of his touch he bears their sin, he bears
their contagion, he claims their uncleanness - as his own.

Yet - as we know - with the word and the touch - rather than Jesus becoming
unclean - the leper became clean.

But before saying more about that - I want you to think about how, at the
time of Jesus - and at the time of Moses - a superficial blemish or rash
might end up with you being judged a leper, at least until it cleared up.

Your life could be destroyed for a period of weeks - if not months or years
- on the basis of what people think that they see - on the basis that you
may have a particular kind of disease.

Is our society so very different than that of ancient Israel?  
Is this really only a story from "far away and long ago",
or is it a story about today as well?

A story about who is touchable - and who is untouchable.
A story about who is part of the community, of the accepted.
And who is not.

A story about how we judge others.  How we treat others.
On the basis of appearance - both real - and supposed.

In our society, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, 
"looks aren't everything, they are the only thing." 

I was standing at the checkout line of our local supermarket the other day
looking at the magazine covers next to me.  One certainly could get an
inferiority complex looking at all those young, attractive and trim models
and superstars.  

None of us in the line came anywhere close to looking like them.  We were
the too fat, the too short, the too tall, the too pimply, the too young,
the too old, the too bald, and the too hairy.

We - or our types at least - are not good enough
we are not the ideal type,
we lack something... something perhaps we can purchase?
Something perhaps we can be sold.

But there are other, perhaps more serious judgements that we make,
judgements that can cause people to become outcasts
and to suffer from that - even when the judgement later proves to be false.

Who can live down an accusation of child abuse.
   Who can really live a normal life in the community
   if he or she is known to be HIV positive?
       Who can really walk about as one of us in this age of the war
       against terrorism if they come from the wrong ethnic group - if they
       wear the wrong clothes - or have the wrong skin colour.

Jesus' love, exhibited in today's miracle, offers us something different
from the usual way we are treated and judged.

We are accepted, not because our skin is perfect 
   or our spirits unblemished, 
but because he has entered our condition 
   and he knows our needs - and our weakness.
We are accepted because he knows us as God's children
   as his brothers and sisters,
no matter what facade - what exterior - is present,
no matter what sin, what fear, what interior blemish has come to exist.

And he reaches out to touch us 
   he reaches out to make us whole
       to restore us to the relationships that we should have
the relationship we should have with God - and with ourselves - with our
community - with our neighbours.

That is what Jesus is all about.
That is what our Communion Service celebrates.  
Here he touches us, here he makes clean, 
here he restores us to one another.  

I notice these days how many people hug when greeting one another.  

Not just in this church - which is exceptional for its hugs, 
but beyond these doors as well.  

I particularly notice it among men.  It's far from universal, but it is
much more than I remember it when I was young.  Men used to shake hands,
now we give each other a hug, men and women.  And that is wonderful.  

But there are lots of people who never get touched much less hugged.

Older people say they don't get touched as much as they used to by  friends
and family members.  Are we put off by touching hands that are twisted with
arthritis, blemished by bulging veins or overly dry and wrinkled?  

People with AIDS also report that they don't get touched as much as they
used to before they became HIV positive.  Many of them have taken to
calling themselves the new Lepers - those that others regard us unclean -
those that everyone wants to cast out of the community lest somehow the
community become physically and morally contaminated.

There are people we avoid touching in other ways.  Church workers and
volunteers  tend to steer clear of teenagers.  It's hard to get people to
work among them.  Their awkward stage of development makes a lot of us
uncomfortable.  Their music, their dress, their attitudes and thoughts are
viewed as alien.

Another illustration:  

Michael Kirwan, a long time member of the Catholic Worker community in
Washington, DC, and highly respected  for his work feeding and caring for
the homeless in that city once told the story of how he began his work. 
Catch the leper tale here:

   "One night as I brought down a large gallon jug of split pea soup
   and set it down on the cement block near the heating vent where they
   gathered, a rather rough looking fellow picked up the jar of soup
   and, in one motion, broke the jar over my head....  

   "Instead of running away, I asked the man why he had done that. 
   These were probably the first words I had ever spoken to any of
   them.  

   He told me I was doing nothing more than bringing food to the dogs. 
   I was bringing food, setting it down like I was feeding them out of
   a pet dish and then just walking away.  He said, 'Talk to us.  Visit
   us.  We don't bite.'"

 Michael did begin visiting.  

   "What happened that night, he said, 'was that a first barrier had
   been broken in my perceptions of who homeless people are.  I
   realized that these men and women on the street had feelings, just
   like me.  They wanted to be loved and respected and listened to.
   They cared that someone cared about them, but jut giving food and a
   blanket was not enough."

For the rest of his long ministry Michael Kirwan's constant message was
this:

   "It is community and in community that we find love, 
   and in love there is no ending.
                 
A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you
choose, you can make me clean."  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his
hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!

Jesus reaches out today to us.
 
As he stretched out his hand to the leper and touched him and made him
whole - so he stretched out his hands on the cross to make us whole.

He took upon himself the sin and moral impurity that we have,
he became unclean in the eyes of the law that we might be made clean,
he allowed himself to be rejected so that those who are rejected might be
accepted.

The point is: we are forgiven, every last one of us. 
God's love is there, waiting for us, at all times in our life. 
His arms are reaching out to us, he wills - he chooses - to make us clean.

We don't have to persuade God to forgive us.
His forgiveness is offered freely.
All we have to do is call out to him.
All we need to do is kneel at his feet and ask him.
"Lord, if you will, you can make me clean"

Jesus reaches out to us today.  
He bids us to come to him.

He chooses to touch us 
   and to make us part of his family, his community, his church
and he calls us to touch others with his love 
   to touch them and to bring them into communion with him
   and with all who call on upon his name

Be at peace with God - and with one another.
As you come to the table of the Lord in a few minutes
take the hands of the people near to you - 
hug your neighbour - let them know,
that God loves them - and that you love them,
and that together you are forgiven - together you are one body in Christ.


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (Singing #400 at the start of the prayer time.  Our
prayer response to "Lord, hear our Prayer" is "And in Your Love Answer")
               
       Lord, listen to your children praying,
       Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
       Lord, listen to your children praying,
       send us love, send us power, send us grace!

God of our salvation, we come to You, as the leper came to Jesus, longing
to be made clean; longing for the world to be cleansed of warfare,
oppression and greed; longing for communities to be cleansed of
intolerance, materialism and violence; longing for our lives to be cleansed
of selfishness, indifference and sin.  God of our salvation, we come to
You.  We want to be united in love with You and with one another.   Touch
us and make us whole, us - and our world.... Lord, hear our prayer...

God of our salvation, we pray to you - open our ears to the message of Your
gospel.  Open our lives to not only seek out and accept your renewing love,
open our hearts that we may share your cleansing love with others.  Help us
to stretch out our hands to touch those who, like your Son, are rejected
and despised by others.  Help us to embrace those who lonely, those who
live in fear, those who despair, those who think they are no longer worthy
of the care and of the attention, and most of all the love, of others. Lord
hear our prayer...

Lord hear as well the particular prayers for those of our community and our
world that you have placed upon our hearts this day.  We pray to you for
.... (Bidding Prayer)....  Lord, hear our prayer....

Lord God, mercifully receive all the prayers of Your people.  Help us to
see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power
to do them; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


MINUTE FOR MISSION: 


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   God of all grace and goodness, throughout the ages You have looked
   after the needs of Your children.  We thank You for Your love and
   compassion.  Bless these gifts, and look with favour on the things
   we do in Your name.  May we show others Your tender love.  Make us
   responsive to the high calling of Jesus, as we offer You our lives
   and these gifts in Your name.  AMEN.


* SHARING THE PEACE: (We greet those around us with a sign of peace  and
words like "The peace of the Lord be with you".  This ancient tradition is
an appropriate response to the peace that God gives to those who come to
him to hear and do his word)
                 

* COMMUNION HYMN:  "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Give Thanks"           - VU 179


COMMUNION LITANY:
L  The peace of the Lord be with you.
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give God thanks and praise.


THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER
Forever we will thank you and give you praise, O God, for you pull us from
the depths, cleansed and healed, and change our anguish into a joyful
dance.  Indeed as from the depths of chaos you raised up the newborn earth,
so you  sent your chosen prophets among the people to lead them into new
life.  

Through Moses you gave the law to lead Israel in the way of righteousness.

Through your servant Elisha you spoke the word of new life to Naaman the
leper, and he emerged from the healing waters singing your glory.  

In the fulness of time you sent to us your Son, Christ Jesus, to show us
your ways.  In compassion he has reached out and touched us - cleansing us
from all that defiled us.  Immersing us in your mercy through his death, 
you have raised us up and crowned us with the victor's wreath that our
lives might forever sing your praise.


THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION
O Lord, accept our humble praise and thanksgiving for all you have done
through Christ Jesus - he who on the night he was handed over to suffering
and death - took bread, and gave you thanks, as we now give you thanks O
God for this bread, and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying "take
and eat, this is my body broken for you", and who in the same manner, when
the meal was done, took the cup and gave it to his disciples saying "take
and drink, this is my blood, the blood of a new covenant for the
forgiveness of sins, poured out for you.  When you do this, do it in memory
of me."


THE CONSECRATION
Father, remembering how in his dying he destroys our death and in rising he
restores our life, we offer you this bread and this cup.  Send you Holy
Spirit upon them and upon us, and make them to be for us the body and blood
of our Lord Jesus.  Gather into one all who share in these sacred mysteries
that together we may praise and serve you through him forever and ever. 
Amen


THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS   (Please come forward up the centre aisle
   to one of the two stations where you tear bread from the loaf and dip
   it in the cup. Receive with the words "Amen" or "Also For You")

                  
CONCLUDING PRAYER
L  Gracious God, 
   we praise you the love and mercy you have poured out upon us.
P  For the bread we have eaten, 
   for the wine we have tasted, 
   for the life we have received, 
   we thank you God. 
L  Keep us one in Christ as we go forth.  
   Help us to bring your healing love to all the world.  
P  We ask this in his name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "All The Way, My Saviour Leads Me"              - VU 635


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of
   Christ.


* BENEDICTION
Go in peace - love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- And may God's powerful blessing uphold you like a mountain.
- May Christ Jesus touch you and make you whole.
- And may the Holy Spirit dance with you in the joy of life.
This both now and forevermore.  Amen


* THREE FOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"            - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003 - 2006
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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