Change is On the Way
2 Kings 5:1-14, & Mark 1:40-45
April 15, 2018 – The 3rd Sunday of Easter
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
The Rev. Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg (St. Andrew’s College)
It is such a privilege to speak at Knox-Metropolitan United Church in Regina. I have been particularly excited about being here since I have been hearing so many wonderful things about your ministry through Cam Fraser who I had met online during the course I was teaching!
We are celebrating Easter. How are you celebrating this special moment in the Church year? One of the most significant meanings of Easter is the renewal of life. I understand that you are having an Annual meeting after the service. My hunch is that you will deal with changes, anticipating new and exciting plans and perhaps, also preparing for some significant challenges that face your congregation.
I am here today to share about St. Andrew’s College. Like this congregation, St. Andrew’s College is going through some changes. You may have heard that we are preparing to say farewell to our present principal, Lorne Calvert, and welcoming a new principal, Richard Manley Tannis.
I came to the College, 9 years ago. Please feel free to look at the brochure inserted in the bulletin. At that time, most of our students were white Canadian citizens and most were working on Master of Divinity, M. Div. a typical degree for pursuing ordained ministry. We will have a convocation next month. This is my 10th convocation. We do not have not a single M. Div. graduate this year. Probably the first time in 106 years of its history. Yet we had eight of our graduates and four from our sister seminaries. The College is doing well overall but the face of the College is changing.
Two of the graduates this year have a degree of MTS specialized in spiritual care (see the brochure). Both are not United Church but Roman Catholic. The College is doing well overall but the face of the College is changing. Almost one half of on-site students are international students. They are not white and most of them are working on Master of Theological Studies, because they already have a M. Div. degree and are ordained. But they are here to serve the United Church. What they are pursuing at St. Andrew’s is MTS for International Partners (See the brochure). Since 2014 National church program for designated lay ministry training is run by our College as well.
In terms of curriculum and teaching, I used to teach a semester full (14 weeks) course. This year I taught two courses that ran once a month for 2 days (semi intensive). I taught an on-line format course and will teach one week intenstive (full 5 days) course in June. I have not taught a single course that is a regular semester course this year. And I am not alone in that. The change is on the way here at St. Andrew’s College which is inevitable and exciting.
Is change all exciting?
Well, let us find that out through exploring the Scripture passages that we heard. Both passages in Hebrew Scripture and New Testament involve leprosy. This disease, in biblical times, was known to be “incurable” and was subject to Levitical ordinances. There are long lists of how the person with leprosy must be treated. Just look at the details in the book of Leviticus! The main stipulation was that they should live apart from the community. And a person with leprosy was not allowed to be close to the holy tent of God’s presence. A person with illness was thus excluded from both the human community and the divine sphere.
You may argue, however, that such discrimination and segregation was necessary since this disease can be contagious, therefore, a separation of this person from others is a responsible thing to do for the community’s well-being.
You may well have a point. My question is this, though: Can this kind of discrimination and separation prevent people with diseases from being healed? If this healing is change, can we stop the change that is on the way?
We hear the answers to these questions by the actions of Naaman in the story of the 2 Kings and a leper in the Gospel of Mark chapter 1. This disease is not just a personal or a private issue. In the Naaman’s story the whole community participates in this issue. Different gender, class, religion, and even more than one nation are involved. This great man, says the Bible, with wealth, military and political power wants to be healed. But he wants the healing from the perspective of the ruling class. Naaman wants a change to the extent that he can be in total control over everything. He wants a change within the boundary of his comfort zone. But we know that total healing, namely transformation, the Easter change, only happens when one moves beyond the comfort zone and lets the Spirit lead the way.
I find it fascinating to contemplate the challenges Naaman must have faced. I actually feel sympathy fo rhim. This strong mature man had to listen to a young meak Israelite servant girl, who was as brave as Shannon in the story that David told in children’s time.This powerful man had to bear the insult of not being greeted at all (let alone greeted with the respect his position deserved) by some unknown foreign prophet, Elisha. This proud man had to accept the humiliating prescription of washing his body in a river with spiritual significance for a minor nation inferior to his own nation with its own mighty river. This noble master, furthermore, was compelled to follow the advice from his servants.
Healing leprosy is about more than curing a skin problem. The physical and repetitive action of going into the river, and washing 7 times implies an intentional action to correct Naaman’s bias and his skewed perceptions on those who he looked down. Going down to the Jordan river, the place that is foreign, unfamiliar, humiliating was an experience akin to death. Emerging from the Jordan river for Naaman was an experience not unlike a resurrection. He overcame barriers of gender, class, national chauvinism, economic pride, and religious arrogance. Naaman had to practice humility towards others who were different from him, culturally, religiously, and politically lower than his position. Healing from leprosy Naaman’s skin became like a young baby’s skin, a skin that is soft and clean but also extremely sensitive and newly awakened to its world.
These days it feels like St. Andrew’s College has grown a new skin. We have become new as we embracing new students. While it is not perfect, our College is trying to move out of our own comfort zone and venture into crossing boundaries, tackling our own bias and prejudices. This exercise involves being vulnerable to what we are, who we are, and how we do things. The issue of healing and transformation is about accepting the notion that our ways are not always correct and therefore must be open to learn from those who we think sometimes think are less competent than we are.
Our story from the Gospel of Mark is inspiring in this regard. The person with leprosy challenges the barriers established by the Levitical code by contacting Jesus. Interestingly the leper is kneeling before Jesus as a way of obeying and respecting him but at the same time his action has defied the Jewish rule. Of course, it is not surprising to see Jesus’ reaction to this man’s action: Jesus not only receives this leper with compassion but takes the gesture a step further by touching him. By touching him, Jesus also steps out of his comfort zone into a new new place, called the Reign of God.
It is no doubt that St. Andrew’s College is not same as before with new growing student bodies from all over the world. It is no doubt that new principalship of Richard Manley-Tannis will bring change to the College. It is no doubt that Knox-Metropolitan after your Annual meeting will not be same as it was. Do not be afraid.
Dear friends at Knox-Metropolitan United Church,
Change is on the way. It will never be easy and same. But this journey is the Easter journey of healing and restoration, renewal and transformation!
Are we part of your journey?
Yes, we are part of your journey.
We at St. Andrew’s College will promise to you to journey with you in this change. As we pray for you, I ask you to pray for our College and continue to support the College. Together let us not be afraid of embracing changes in order to continue our mission of justice-driven Christian leadership!
And let God’s people say, Amen!