Sermon - Sunday, 18 November 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 18 November 2018.

Scripture:  Acts 3: 1-10 / Mark 1: 21-34

Text:  That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.                   (Mark 1: 32-34a)


In St Mark’s gospel the opening scene of Jesus’ public ministry is set in a synagogue on the Sabbath.

What could be more appropriate for the long awaited Messiah, a holy man in a holy place on a holy day?

As Mark reports however, things do not quite work out as expected.

Also present in the synagogue that morning is a man possessed by an evil spirit.

The demon-possessed man cries out, interrupting the flow of Jesus’ sermon and doubtless distracting the other worshippers.

The man wonders why Jesus is present – what do you want with us, he demands to know, have you come to destroy us, he asks – and he names Jesus as the Holy One of God.

Picture the scene - people listening intently, a sudden disruption, the preacher brought to a halt, heads in the congregation turning as people strain to see who is causing the fuss, and the man on his feet, shouting and remonstrating.

Suddenly the preacher takes control of the situation.

He looks straight at the man.

Be quiet he says, yet not to the man but to the demon possessing him.

Come out of him, he demands.

The man convulses, falls to the floor, and with a shriek the evil spirit leaves him.

Imagine now the scene in the synagogue, people astonished, hardly able to believe what they have just witnessed, looking at one another in amazement and struggling to make sense of it all?

Who is this, they start to ask, what new teaching and with what authority, goodness, even evil spirits obey him.

Whatever it was, it was not a regular, same old Saturday morning at the Capernaum synagogue.

God’s power is at loose in the world as never before and it is little wonder the news of what happened spread quickly.

The day continues.

On leaving the synagogue Jesus spends some time at the home of the brothers Simon and Andrew, the fishermen disciples.

Simon’s mother in law is ill, in bed with a fever, and having heard about it, Jesus takes her hand, helps her to her feet, and the fever leaves her.

And the day ends with the whole town gathering at the door as people brought to Jesus everyone who was sick and demon possessed – and Mark reports Jesus healed many.

Healing, health and wholeness; from the very beginning of Mark’s gospel Jesus is introduced to us as the Christ, the Son of God, in whose presence people found healing, health and wholeness.

And from the very beginning, as evidenced in the book of Acts with the remarkable account of Peter healing a crippled beggar, healing, health and wholeness have been at the heart of the church’s ministry.

Did you know that in Edinburgh it is a ministry with a very particular history?

To encourage the role of women in the life and worship of church, in 1888 the Very Rev. Professor Archibald Charteris persuaded the General Assembly to do two things.

The first was to start an organisation for women to be called the Women’s Guild.

The second was to introduce a new order of ministry for women; the diaconate.

With his proposals having been approved, Charteris acquired property in the Pleasance area of Edinburgh which had once belonged to Lord Carnegie and transformed the building into a centre to train women to become deaconesses for missionary work at home and abroad.

St. Ninian's Mission opened the following year, 1889, and it was here women came to start their training as deaconesses.

The Deaconess Hospital was opened in 1894 in an adjacent building and although the hospital's primary purpose was to provide a training school for missionary deaconesses, it also provided a much needed medical service to the local community in the Pleasance and the Cowgate, at that time two of the poorest districts of the city.

Above the main entrance to the Deaconess Hospital the dedication read, Christo in Pauperibus – to Christ in his poor.

The original hospital had 24 beds, extensions in 1897 and 1912 brought this total up to 42 beds, and although emergency beds were added to cope with casualties during the 1st World War, by 1920 the Deaconess Hospital had 50 beds including open-air beds and children's cots.

There was also a busy out-patient department and in addition to general hospital functions, the Deaconess provided a home visiting or district service.

With the creation of the National Health Service in 1947, the General Assembly approved the transfer of the hospital, its endowments and equipment to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Deaconess Hospital became part of the Edinburgh Southern Hospitals Group.

In 1984 the Deaconess became part of the Royal Infirmary and Associated Hospitals Unit, it finally closed as a hospital in 1990 and today the building is used as halls of residence for the University of Edinburgh.

A thumbnail sketch of the history of the Deaconess Hospital but an example, an outstanding Edinburgh example, of one of the ways the church has continued the healing ministry of Christ and responded to local and international need.

Healing, health and wholeness: the commitment is not just historical and today much of our church’s continuing commitment to the healing ministry of Christ is carried out through the work of CrossReach.

Employing nearly 2,000 staff and providing more than 70 services the length and breadth of Scotland, CrossReach is the social care arm of the Church of Scotland.

Adult Care services, Children and Family services, Services to Older People, counselling services, services for people who are homeless, services for people suffering from various forms of addiction, services for people experiencing post-natal depression or suffering from poor mental health, residential care for children and young people, a visitor support and advice centre at HMP Perth and HMP Polmont: from Shetland to Garelochhead, Campbeltown to Inverness, Kilmarnock to Dunbar, through the work of CrossReach the Church of Scotland offers care to people of all ages, people who are in need of a helping hand, and supports them in living life to the full, whatever their circumstances.

Engaged in research projects into Looked after Children with the Social Science Department at Strathclyde University, CrossReach is at the forefront of providing high quality social care and is motivated and guided by a Christian ethos of love, compassion and care for all.

This is what the healing ministry of Christ looks like today and in Cramond, as well as in many other congregations, it is finding a local expression through the growing level of support being offered to older people.

All the research indicates loneliness and isolation are among the major social ills of our time, an ill primarily being experienced by older people.

The Cramond and surrounding community has a greater number of older people and a greater number living on their own than any other area of Edinburgh.

A care home opened recently on Cramond Road North, another will open shortly on Queensferry Road at the Barnton junction while others have been proposed.

With a team of church visitors, Almond Mains, the Monday Café, the Barnton and Cramond Community Club and Tom Cuthell, our Associate Minister, we already offer a great deal of pastoral and practical care and support to older people.

And the appointment of Diane Williams as a pastoral assistant will add to that work.

As one of the important outcomes of the Cramond Cares stewardship project, Diane’s responsibilities include creating an information and resource hub of services available to older people in Edinburgh and supporting the work already established, especially the visiting and befriending service.

So what does the healing ministry of Christ look like today?

If the varied work of CrossReach is one example of what it looks like at a national level, the various initiatives to provide pastoral and practical care and support for older people is a further example of what it looks like at a local congregational level.

Be quiet, Jesus said sternly, come out of him – of course you know and I know people in ancient times understood and treated illness very differently from how we understand and treat it today.

Yet if it is true we no longer talk about demons and evil spirits, it is also true the healing we seek for ourselves and for our world is about much more than simply the absence of disease.

And this too is true, whether then or now in Christ’s presence people find their loneliness eased, their worries dispersed, comfort for their sadness, fresh hope awakened and new life born, gifts of healing, health and wholeness.

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