Welcome + Worship + Witness
just a ,man willing to listen

The Rector: Just a Man Willing to Listen

Sunday 10 October 2021
19th After Trinity

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Until recently, I had never heard of a man called Chad Varah

He was an Anglican clergyman and Rector of St Paul’s Clapham in the early 1950’s

In the course of his early ministry, he had to take the funeral of a thirteen year old girl who had committed suicide

As the girl had taken her own life, in those days she suffered the ignominy of being buried in un-consecrated ground

Furthermore, her death was wholly avoidable

At the age of thirteen, she had started her periods but, having no one to talk to, believed she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease

She took her own life as a result

This deeply troubled the Rector, who subsequently came up with the relatively simple solution of establishing a helpline

In his own words, “he was [just] a man willing to listen”

As a result, the Samaritans were founded in 1953 and have continued to flourish to this day

Every day they respond to around 10,000 calls for help

Today, they have 20,000 volunteers and over 200 branches across the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland

They also have associations with schools, prisons and hospitals

as well as a long running partnership with Network Rail to help reduce suicides on the railways

Bless them for that too

Interestingly, they now realise that going to have to adapt again, as people today communicate through different means

As they put it

“we need to continue to evolve, combining technology with compassion to reach people who desperately need our help”

I find myself wondering whether Jesus would have sent text messages of support had he been alive today?

The story of the foundation of the Samaritans came to mind when I read the Gospel this morning

We are only given the beginning of the chapter this morning where we hear of the healing of the paralytic

However, this chapter contains no less than five healing miracles

Starting with the paralytic, Jesus goes on to heal a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages

Like the young girl who committed suicide, she too had been bleeding

This is followed by a blind man and then a demoniac interwoven with the story of Jairus’ daughter

The chapter also records that Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners and, inevitably, the company he kept brought rebuke from those in authority

Put simply, he was mixing with the wrong sort of people

Jesus, sure footed, as always, rebuts his critics

However, I could not help thinking that there was a reason as to why these stories were all put together in the same chapter

What is the writer of the Gospel trying to tell us?

First and foremost, the Gospel writer is making the obvious point that Jesus’ reaches out to those on the margins of society

The sick, in a sense, are always marginalised not least because they cannot fully participate in society as they would like

But the healing miracles go even further in this chapter as they include those who even touching would be taboo

Those who bled, like the women with haemorrhages, were prohibited from entering the Temple under Levitical law

They were considered to be in a state of permanent uncleanliness, polluting everyone and everything they came into contact with

Touching a corpse also had connotations of impurity

Just to add to the mix, Jesus goes out of his way to dine with tax collectors and sinners

This chapter tells us loud and clear that Jesus is there for those on the margins

The Catholic theologian, John Crossan said that Jesus

“acted as an alternative boundary keeper in a way subversive to the established procedures of his society”

It should also prompt us to consider how we reach out to those on the margins at Bolton Priory?

Are we a marginal Church or just here for those in the mainstream?

Secondly, by reaching out to those on the margins of society, Jesus himself becomes one of those on the margins himself

By touching the woman with haemorrhages, he would too have become ritually unclean – unfit himself to go into the Temple

And touching the corpse would have added to his uncleanliness

By way of comparison, in Hinduism, corpses are handled by the lowest caste in Hinduism and are known as untouchables

Jesus, in a sense, becomes an untouchable

But, by reaching out to those who were unclean and becoming one of them, he heals them and restores them to their community

And finally, I noted that Jesus listened and spoke to those he healed assuring them that they were not sinful

He spoke to the paralytic taking the burden of sin from his shoulder

He spoke to the woman with haemorrhages telling her not to despair as her faith had made her well

Indeed, he listened and spoke to Jairus’ and his daughter, and will have listened and spoken with the tax collectors and sinners too

And by listening and speaking to them he restored them all to new life

And so returning to the story of the foundation of the Samaritans nearly seventy years ago

Chad Varah was reputed to have said “Little girl, I didn’t know you, but you have changed the rest of my life for good.”

This little girl, whoever she was, was like those in Matthew’s Gospel this morning

On the margins, ostracised and believing themselves to be unclean

But the point is, she was none of those things -she was one of us

But, there is also the wider point from the reading this morning about how we conduct ourselves as Christians

Given Jesus’ example, not only should we change our attitude to those we ostracise

But we too can reach out to those on the margins

And, although we cannot heal miraculously like Jesus, if we can become “just a man [or woman] willing to listen”,

Like the Samaritans, we too can bring people back from the dead