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Imagine No Malaria - August 31, 2014

I Kings 17:17-24
Acts 15:36-41

Years ago I came home from work, feeling a bit under the weather, to find Doug wrapped in a blanket, crouched in front of the fireplace, and shivering. Over the course of the next several days both of us experienced intense abdominal cramping and, well, let's just say it was a good thing we had two bathrooms. We were miserable. After Doug nearly passed out on a middle of the night bathroom run, I took him to the doctor. We both had the flu.
Fortunately for us, after several days we began to feel better. I don't remember now how long we were sick but I know I didn't miss a Sunday, so it couldn't have been for a week. It seemed like an eternity.
Chances are at some point in life everyone in this room has been sick. Earlier this summer I know that several families had members with high fevers, chills, and body aches. It is no fun to be sick like that.
The Ebola crisis in Africa has led the headlines for a couple of months. It is a highly infectious disease with a 50% or worse mortality rate. Nearly two thousand people have died.
As the Ebola crisis has filled the news, a quieter and much worse disease has haunted Africa, as it has done for years. We haven't heard much about malaria. And every minute a child dies from malaria. While two thousand people have died from Ebola, over a thousand people per day have died from malaria. That's 43,200 a month.

The symptoms of malaria typically begin with a fever and body aches, much like Ebola, much like what some of you had at the start of this summer, much like Doug and I had all those years ago. Left untreated, malaria leads to organ failure and death.
Unlike Ebola, malaria is not a virus spread by contact with bodily fluids. It is a blood born parasite typically spread by mosquito bites. It has an incubation period ranging from 7-30 days after the bite.
How many people here have had a mosquito bite this summer? Pretty common, isn't it? In Africa that could lead to malaria. In Africa it could lead to death.
Though malaria exists in many places, according to the CDC, 91% of malaria deaths take place in sub Saharan Africa. There are lots of reasons. Lack of access to medical care is a big one. Malaria is treatable, if a person can get to a doctor. Many people in sub Saharan Africa don't have access to treatment, even if they can afford it, which many cannot.
The Ebola crisis has in many ways deepened the malaria crisis. Because of the fear around Ebola, people with early symptoms of malaria fail to seek or get treatment that could otherwise save their lives.
People have been getting sick for many reasons for as long as we have existed. In our reading today from I Kings, a boy is sick from an undiagnosed illness. His mother is a widow who had given hospitality to the prophet Elijah.
The boy's illness was so severe that he seemed near death. His mother didn't know about viruses and bacteria. She didn't know about parasites spread by mosquitoes. She blamed Elijah. She already knew of his prophetic powers. Her jugs of oil and flour had not ceased to be filled since he had come to her, though she and her son had been on the verge of starvation.
The woman suspected that Elijah's power had a malevolent side. "What have you against me, O man of God?" she accused. "You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son."
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus goes to the home of Simon Peter where he learns that Simon's mother-in-law is in bed with a fever.
Often when we get a fever, a couple of aspirin will bring it down. Wait a few days and we usually get better. Or we go to the doctor, who may offer other ways to treat the symptoms and in some cases provide antibiotics. For those few days our fevers seem to last forever, and in the end most of the time, most of us get well.
When Elijah heard about the boy's illness he took him to his room, stretched himself out over the boy three times, and prayed, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." And the life of the child did come into him again.
When Jesus heard about Simon's mother-in-law's fever, he stood over her and rebuked the fever. It left her and she got up and served Jesus and the disciples.
Stories of healing like these are common in the Bible, from the first testament to the new. Sometimes they are about acute illnesses such as in our stories today. Sometimes they are about chronic conditions like leprosy or handicapping conditions like blindness. Always Jesus paired teaching with healing. Always he had compassion on those who were ill. Healing was another way for Jesus to proclaim the love and power of God. After her son's healing, the widow said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth." The people Jesus healed often said, "You are the Son of God."
Healing has been part of the church's ministry for centuries. We have founded hospitals and clinics. Every week we pray for healing for those who are ill. As pastor I place a high priority on visiting people in the hospital.
One of the four areas of focus for The United Methodist Church is global health. The Imagine No Malaria campaign is a top priority. Working together with partners like the Gates Foundation and the United Nations, we have set out to eradicate malaria in Africa.
Several years ago we worked with the National Basketball Association and other sports groups with the Nothing But Nets Campaign to provide insecticide treated bed nets across Africa. United Methodist Churches have been the primary means of distributing the nets. They've had an amazing result. The death rate has been cut in half, from one child who died every thirty seconds to one who dies every sixty seconds.
Bed nets need to be replaced every two years. They get torn and the insecticide wears off. We've also realized that, while nets are an important tool, they are not the only one. Education about prevention and treatment is critical. Access to treatment is vital. In the end, the best solution is to eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed.
And so Imagine No Malaria was born. The denominational goal is to raise $75 million. We are 82% of the way. One tenth of the money raised by the Ministry Fund Drive in our Conference will go to the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Our Church Council's goal for the fund drive is to raise a minimum of $10,000. That means $1000 will go to Imagine No Malaria. That's 200 full rounds of malaria medication or 100 bed nets.
The Mission Committee is discussing additional ways to support Imagine No Malaria. A sub team has agreed to work with me in organizing a community wide 5 K run. It will be a way to reach out to people who love to run and to educate our entire community both about the problems of malaria and the difference the United Methodist Church is making.
There are many terrible diseases. Many of you have participated in the social media phenomena of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It has raised over $90 million for ALS. That's a great thing.
Last Sunday I challenged myself to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. I invite you to come outside with me at the end of the service to watch me get wet. I have my $10 check to ALS already written.
My passion, the passion of the United Methodist Church, however, is malaria. Remember, one child dies every minute from malaria. In one month that's almost ten times the number who die from ALS in a year.
So today I am donating $20 to the Imagine No Malaria campaign. I am not going to challenge any one else to dump water over their heads. I do challenge each of you here today and those who will watch this video on Facebook to send at least $10 to Imagine No Malaria. The ushers will pass an ice bucket (empty) around for your offering today or you can send it in. Remember, the denominational goal is $75 million – less than what the Ice Bucket challenge has already raised for ALS.
Whether it is a goofy campaign of dumping water on one's head, a 5 K run/walk, or a simple donation, they are all ways to carry out Jesus' ministry of teaching and healing so that people will have life come into them again. They are all ways to help the world know the love and grace of God.

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