Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Faith and the Outsider

Trinity 13
15 September 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

My brother recently had a DNA test done through a company called Ancestry DNA

He sent me a copy and I found, to my amusement, that he/we had ancestry both from the Russian Steppes (Western) and from the Beaker Tribe

Many of us know where to find the Western Steppes but the Beaker Tribe meant nothing to me

Researching it further, I found that some of my ancestors must have migrated through the Iberian peninsular

Those who have had a DNA test often find that their genetic heritage is very different from the one they imagined

I read an article about a girl called Michelle

When she received the results of her DNA test it contained a pie chart.

One half was coloured red and said “Italy”

She immediately thought that her results had been mixed up with someone else

On further investigation, they hadn’t 

But how many of us want to find out our “inner Roman or Beaker”?

Ethnicity can be a very sensitive, politically

But the notion of ethnic purity has always been a misnomer

In Europe, most of us descend from the plains of Africa and our ancestry depends, literally, on whether our ancestors turned left or right into Europe or Asia

We are all immigrants

I recall a discussion whilst I was teaching at Sherborne about what it meant to be British

I replied, tongue in cheek, that it was be German

This is not surprising given that many of us freely admit to being Anglo Saxons.

Both the Angles and the Saxons, were Germanic tribes from the North German planes

Our own Queen is German coming from the House of Saxe Coburg Gotha

DNA tests have shown that English society is 30% German

This, along with the Beaker Tribe show how complex DNA can be even if taken just from the pulpit

However, the readings today do have an ethnic dimension to them

The healing miracles we have heard this morning, and over the past few weeks, are all narrated from the perspective of a Jewish Community

One of the remarkable features of the Old Testament is that God formed a specific community through which the world was to be restored

This notion of Divine election runs through the whole Old Testament

  • God rescues his people from Egypt
  • He delivers them to the promised-land
  • And he establishes them as a great people

There is only one God – only one people – through whom God will accomplish the Divine purpose for the whole of humanity

There is no way to avoid this “scandal of particularity”

Yet, despite this being the official Jewish narrative, the reality is more complex

This morning we hear the story of Naaman

He is a high ranking Aramean officer but, far from being Jewish, Arameans are the polar opposite

They are from the region of Aram, modern day Syria, and are the enemies of the Israelites, to this day

We hear from the Book of Samuel that King David killed over twenty thousand of them

Not surprisingly, the Arameans fought back

They even managed to kill the Jewish King Ahab

During a pitch battle, Ahab was struck “between his scale armour and his breastplate causing him to be carried off the battlefield”

As the story continues, we discover that Ahab was propped up on his chariot facing the Arameans

He died later that evening “the blood from his wounds had flowed into the bottom of his chariot”

The only thing missing is Charlton Heston

However, like so many of these healing stories there are many layers of meaning

On one level, this is a straight forward healing of a high ranking army officer

Just as Jesus healed the ten lepers, so Elisha was able to cure the leprosy of Naaman

It is another miraculous healing which reflects the supernatural power of God and those he chooses to work through on this earth

However, as we heard from the story, after this miraculous cure, Naaman then declares his belief in the Israelite God “Yahweh”

He joins the Jewish faith, worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the very God we worship today

However, it is not just a foreign army officer who has been admitted into Judaism, but one who is suffering from leprosy

This may seem like a relatively minor point but, in the Old Testament, there are very strict provisions as to who can attend Temple worship

It says in the Book of Leviticus that if a person has leprosy then he is “ceremoniously unclean”

This ceremonial uncleanliness would also normally be a bar to his admission, but this too is easily swept aside

But the final, and seemingly overwhelming impediment, is that he is an enemy of the Jewish people.

What might this look like today?

Who is our bitterest enemy and would we accept them into our faith community?

It probably makes us wince, uncomfortably

But Naaman is not alone in being an outsider who becomes part of the Jewish narrative

The Book of Ruth tells the story of a Moabite girl

The story is complicated but Ruth marries a Jewish man who migrated to Moab during a famine

Ruth’s husband subsequently died and her mother-in-law decided to return to Israel

Despite her ethnicity, Ruth declares to her Jewish Mother-in-law that  

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. 

She too joins the Jewish people

Like the story of the Samaritan last week, the passage of time has eroded the impact of this story

Moabites were a nation born, literally, from an incestuous encounter after the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah

What could be more polluting of the Jewish narrative?

However, as we know, King David himself is related to Ruth through her second husband Boaz

If, in an idle hour, King David had had a DNA test, he too would have been in for a surprise

It might well have contained a pie chart, one half coloured red and saying, Moabite 

This story of Naaman is paired beautifully with the New Testament reading this morning

This time, ten lepers are healed by Jesus

However, although we know nothing of the nine, we learn that the tenth is a Samaritan

As I said in my sermon last week, Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, yet it is the Samaritan, alone, who comes back to thank Jesus

As Jesus says “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner”

By using the word “foreigner”, he emphasises the very point which I have been highlighting over the past fortnight

  • By healing a foreigner, Jesus includes those people we often seek to exclude  
  • By healing a foreigner, Jesus demonstrates that your enemy can be your neighbour
  • By healing a foreigner, we come to realise that the channels of God’s grace can come from those we least expect

I spent Tuesday in All Hallows Church in Leeds as part of my clergy training

All Hallows describes itself as

“an all-inclusive Christian community in inner city Leeds exploring the meaning of faith in the 21st Century”

And sits in the heart of the Muslim community next to the Grand Mosque

Their friendship with their Muslim neighbours is remarkable

But the vicar said that opening their doors to the Muslim community had been easy

The Church, had originally opened their doors to refugees and the LGBT community – those society had sought to exclude

And so opening their doors to another community was just a natural progression

I was very taken by the similarity of the healing stories this morning to the work of All Hallows, “exploring the meaning of faith in the 21st Century”

Like the Jewish community we read about this morning , so the work of our Church today is remarkably similar

  • Those who society seeks to exclude are included
  • Those who are seen as morally impure are welcomed
  • Those who some perceive as our enemy are embraced

And, by including them all into the community of faith, we were all healed

And we all say “thank you” to Jesus