Sermon - Sunday, 4 February 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 4 February 2018.

Scripture: Isaiah 40: 25-31 / Mark 1: 29-39

Text: That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed – and Jesus healed many                                      (Mark 1 : 32, 33)


The trials and tribulations of the National Health Service have dominated many of the news headlines in recent weeks and months.

Whether it has been waiting times for an appointment – waiting times in an emergency department – the winter ‘flu epidemic – or bed blocking, the time taken to discharge often elderly patients - targets have been set and targets have been missed and there has been much handwringing over what to do and what to change.

Recruitment is said to be in crisis – many hospital consultant posts are vacant, nurses are in short supply, especially in specialist disciplines, and the shortage of GPs in training and in post is said to be critical.

Perhaps there will never be ‘an answer’ to the challenges of providing a National Health Service.

With the extraordinary and continuing developments in medical science, more and more treatments are available, people are living longer and while all of that is good, all of it comes at a cost and not one which can always be measured in financial terms alone.

Of course every person or family will have their own story to tell – but the professional care, compassion and kindness offered my mother during her final illness and death over the Christmas and New Year period was exemplary.

During her various hospital admissions she could not have received better treatment and when the decision was taken to withdraw further active interventions, the GP and care home staff helped us bring her life to a dignified and peaceful end.

If the NHS is one of the brightest jewels in our society’s crown – for all its challenges and difficulties, where else in the world would you prefer to take ill – questions of health and healing were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and remain at the heart of the church’s ministry.

Every hospital or hospice in Scotland has its own chaplain.

Typically in larger hospitals like Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary or the Western General, or at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, there will be a team of full time chaplains, clergy from various Christian denominations and religious traditions, offering spiritual care and comfort to people of all religious persuasions and none.

And like many other colleagues, over the years I have served as a part-time chaplain at Gartloch Hospital in Glasgow, Ravenscraig Hospital in Greenock and until its closure some years ago, the Eastern General Hospital in Leith.

Hospital chaplaincy is a recognition that although there is a physical aspect to sickness and disease, there is also an emotional and spiritual dimension to it as well.

As the World Health Organisation puts it succinctly, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Working alongside the medical teams, the chaplaincy team is concerned with the wholeness of a person, their emotional and spiritual well-being as well as their physical well-being.

Meanwhile, like most parish ministers, a great deal of my time is devoted to visiting people who are ill at home or in hospital – at a human level someone to speak to, someone to listen - at a deeper level someone to pray with you, someone to pray for you, the reassurance that whatever trouble someone is facing they do not face it alone but always in the strength and healing presence of Christ.

And one or two colleagues, including Tom Cuthell, have exercised a healing ministry with healing services including prayer, anointing with oil and the laying on of hands.

Health and healing, wholeness and well-being – if these are at the heart of the church’s ministry, it is because they were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus

 all the sick and demon possessed

Mark’s Jesus is introduced as a man of action.

As the opening chapter reveals, following his baptism and temptation in the Judean wilderness, Jesus gathers around himself a group of disciples and immediately gets to work.

And what does Jesus’ work involve – it involves healing, healing a man with an evil spirit, healing a man with leprosy, healing Peter’s mother-in-law and healing the people sick and demon-possessed brought to him by the crowds.

Mark wants us to know that in Jesus, God’s power is at loose in the world in a new and dramatic way.

And how is God’s power revealed?

It is revealed in acts of healing.

Jesus and the disciples have been worshipping in Capernaum’s synagogue.

Mark reports that as soon as Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue, they went to Simon Peter’s home only to find his mother-in-law was ill.

The healing is described without detail and the Biblical scholars puzzle over the fact no reference is made to the faith of the disciples or of the woman.

All we are told is that Jesus went up to her, took her hand, and helped the woman to her feet………………and she began to wait on them.

And before someone says……….typical………no sooner is the poor woman back on her feet than she is cooking and preparing and serving a meal for the men………..let me tell you that while the basic meaning of the Greek verb is to serve food, it is also a discipleship word used to describe the ministry and mission of Jesus.[1]

Like the other healing narratives in the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel, this story is told to demonstrate Jesus’ power over sickness and evil.   

Mark wants his readers to know that with Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, the kingdom of God is near.

However the story also draws attention to something Jesus would later spell out to his disciples – that the mark of greatness in the kingdom of God is not to seek the position of honour, seated at his right or left hand, but to look after and take care of the other.

So rather than describing the typical woman thing - looking after the men - Mark is holding up Simon Peter’s mother-in-law as one of the first examples of discipleship, of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a Christian.

In response to the help she has been given, she offers help in return.

One of the things to be discerned from the story is this : the Christian understanding of healing and wholeness is not found in the absence of pain, suffering, disease and death.

Rather believing, healing, health, wholeness and life are found in our Saviour Christ, the Christian understanding lies in a joyful commitment to serve rather than to being served.

What we are being given is a much fuller picture of healing and a much greater vision of health, a picture with a social dimension, one which embraces the family and wider community as well as the individual.

And what does that look like today?

A while ago one of our Mums whose child was very ill in hospital spoke to me about friends who had brought her something to eat, and who sat with her child at her hospital bedside while she could go for a shower, and who took away the dirty washing and brought it back clean.

And over the winter, when one of our older members fell and broke her hip making soup for some of her neighbours, another neighbour, one of our elders, not only went to visit the woman in hospital, she made the soup.

When did I see you hungry and give you something to eat?

When did I see you thirsty and give you something to drink?

When did I see you sick and go to visit you?

Healing and health were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

Healing and health are at the heart of the church’s ministry and evident in the life of Cramond Kirk.

And nowhere is that greater vision of healing, health and wholeness more evident than at the Lord’s table.

The invitation to communion is extended not to those whose life is perfect and pain- free but to all who, acknowledging their hurt, also recognise their need of God’s forgiveness, God’s healing and God’s help.

Bread is broken, wine is shared, and in the mystery of communion the One who knows all our hurts and sorrows, our pains and fears, meets us in our brokeneness and makes us whole.

So taste and see that the Lord is good – and in God’s goodness find the healing that is God’s gift.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen

[1] Susan Miller Worship Resources (Mark 1 : 29-39) Expository Times Vol 117 No4, January 2006,