Sermon – 5 February 2006

How do we pray and whom do we pray for?

For the prophet Isaiah whom we have heard from this morning, his prayer was flying up there with the eagles. He does not seem to have been concerned about praying for anyone. He was lost in prayer.

But Simon asked Jesus to come and pray. And for whom? Well, for his mother-in-law.

And in learning that, we have one of those odd conundrums. If Simon had a mother-in-law, he had a wife. And if he had a wife, why do we hear nothing of her.

How many other people were around the apostles of the gospels who have been silenced by convention and by circumstance. Who will tell their stories?

Is something missing from our understanding of the gospels if we have heard nothing of their experience and nothing of their stories?

And whom do we overlook and lose sight of in our understanding of the Christian faith?

Who is missing from our stories? Who is missing from our prayers? Whom do we forget to include in the conversation?

I remember a few years ago hearing someone who was praying for others in church praying with thanksgiving for comedians and satirists and those who help us not to take ourselves too seriously.

I said “Amen to that” at the time, and was startled to wonder who else we miss out in our prayers.

More to the point this week, I was reminded of that prayer by the controversy over the cartoons of Mohammed which caused such a fuss.

I find myself torn. I find it hard to know what to think. I know I have a commitment to free speech. I hope I have a commitment not to offend. I hope that I have a desire to hear the hurt of others. Yet I find it hard to hear the voices of those who threaten with bomb and bullet, whatever religion they come from.

We must not forget when we see the crowds of Muslims protesting about the cartoons the similar ugly crowds of so-called Christians who gathered to threaten the production of Jerry Springer the Opera last year and who are organizing in Scotland the same kind of demonstrations when it tours here soon.

I know that my view is that violence is the most inappropriate way to express outrage. But will I go the extra mile to hear the outrage and to try to bring peace in a world which is troubled?

I may fear mob rule, I may hate the sight of an angry violent crowd, but am I prepared to work to ensure that prejudice against others is diluted by respect and affirmation and acceptance?

These are hard questions. We live in a hard world.

Jesus seems to have been a healer? Can we who bear his name bring healing to our own world?

When the gospel writers speak of him casting out demons, I’ve no doubt that they are speaking of people with what we would call mental illness. Whilst we must recognise that they did not use language which we would regard as inclusive or appropriate, can we not see that some parts of our society are ill and in need of healing? Can we not see that there are societal demons to cast out from amongst us?

When sectarianism or Islamophobia or any other kind of prejudice infect our common life, our society becomes ill. Our society needs healing.

Healing for Jesus and healing for those who lived in his company and who brought his message to the world was something that was an aspect, an ordinary aspect of God’s grace and love. And that grace and love were familiar to him. They were near to him. They were ordinary to him.

And one of the challenges that he gives to those who follow him is to find that grace in the ordinary and familiar, to know God’s grace in the ordinary and familiar, to preach, teach and live that grace in the ordinary and the familiar.

And the name of that grace is Love.

But I cannot tell you the name of Simon’s wife. Or of her mother.

They are the unseen witnesses in the gospel. They are the voiceless, almost written out of history.

They are not alone. There are others who go unnoticed and disregarded. There are others who are ignored and invisible.

These women go unrecorded in the gospels, which were written in a society which seems to have regarded them as not worth very much at all.

Yet Jesus takes time out to be with Simon’s mother. He takes time out to be with her. To touch her. To heal her. To carry her.

She has no voice in the gospels, but she was not invisible to him. She has no place amongst the proud and the haughty, amongst the important and the noble, but he was there for her. She was denied her name by Mark the evangelist and those who told stories of Jesus.

Yet he seems to have known better. He knew her. He touched her. He knew her story and no doubt he knew her name.

Out of power and compassion, God sent Jesus into our afflicted world. In came to heal the broken hearted and to bind up wounds. Whether it is for the unseen and unnoticed or the lost or the lonely or the despised and rejected, no doubt he calls us all to do the same.


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