If you choose, you can make me clean…

February 12, 2012

6th Sunday after the Epiphany

Union Lutheran Church – Salisbury, NC

Mark 1: 40-45

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There’s a little cute little story that has been circulating on the Internet.  It’s about a little boy named Tommy.  Tommy had just started walking to school on his own and of course, his mother was a bit nervous about it.  She was a bit of a worrier, so for the first week or so she decided that she would walk with Tommy and in the afternoons meet him at least halfway as he walked home.  One day, Tommy told his mother that he wanted to be like the big boys and walk to school by his self.  It wasn’t far and they knew everyone in the neighborhood.  His mom agreed, but still she was worried that something might happen to her son.  Then Tommy’s mother had an idea.

Their next door neighbor, Shirley Goodness, took her two year old Marcy for a walk each morning, pushing the stroller right passed the school.  She asked Shirley if she would follow her son at a distance, close enough to watch after him, but far enough that he wouldn’t take notice.  Mrs. Goodness agreed to the idea, her daughter Marcy loved going by the school and seeing all the kids.  The next morning as Tommy left for school, Shirley pushed Marcy in the stroller and walked a good bit behind Tommy.  As Tommy walked with one of his friends, Shirley would be watching from behind.  This went on for several weeks.

Finally, one day as they were walking to school, Tommy’s friend noticed this same lady was following them.  He asked Tommy if he knew they were being followed every day?  Tommy replied, “Yeah, and I know who she is.  That’s Shirley Goodness; she has her daughter Marcy in the stroller.   Tommy’s friend asked, “Why is she following us?”  “Well,” Tommy explained, “Ever since I began walking to school on my own, my Mom makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers because she worries about me so much.  The psalm has that part that says, “Shirley Goodness and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

Be careful what you pray for, you just may get it.

As we listen to this story, we can certainly get the understanding that Tommy’s mother loves him dearly.  She as she is willing to let him begin walking to school like the big kids, but she still goes to great lengths to ensure his safety and security.

More than anything, that is what this story is about.  It’s about a parent’s love for her child and the lengths she will go to care for him.  Within the text of our gospel lesson this morning, we witness the lengths that God is willing to go in order to guide us, lead us and protect us.  We have an example of God’s unconditional love for his people, and especially for those who are on the margins of society.

In ancient times, people who were said to suffer from leprosy were declared unclean.  They were cast out of the synagogue, forbidden to enter the community and required to warn anyone who approached them of their uncleanness and unworthiness.   Lepers were judged by others and found to be physically and socially unacceptable.  No one dared get too close lest they also contracted the disease.  More than anything, fear of the unknown is what motivated people to quarantine lepers, cutting them off from the community.  Fear is a powerful motivator.  It makes decisions for us.  Fear tells us where we should not go.         It points out to us the people whom we should not associate with.

More often than not, fear keeps us from building relationships that would otherwise prove to be pleasing in God’s sight.  Having served an inner city congregation within a community experiencing homelessness, some violence and plenty of other needs, I can assure you there are many social conditions that separate people.  Even here in Salisbury one can watch as those who have standing within the community steer clear of the perceived lepers around us.  Those with means overlook the poor and homeless who occupy the streets.   Sometimes people will even go so far out of their way, crossing the street simply to avoid contact with someone so obviously different.  Such encounters make us nervous.  We feel uneasy, we hope they don’t speak to us, mostly out of fear that they will ask something of us.  We don’t like to think about it, but in such instances, who is really the one who is unclean?            As the community turns away from those who seem undesirable or unlovable, who is really suffering from the effects of the scourge we call sin?

In today’s text, Mark shares with us a healing miracle of Jesus.  But as we gain more understanding about Mark’s gospel, we soon see it is much more than a healing story.  Mark has one central theme that runs throughout his account of Jesus’ life.  With each and every passage, Mark is telling us that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the Living God, the Messiah and Savior of the world.  Jesus is the one who is called Emmanuel, God with us.  He is the one who came to dwell with God’s people, to live as we live, fully human, yet he is also fully God.  He has the power to forgive sins, cure disease and bring everlasting life in God’s kingdom to all who believe and are baptized.  Today’s story is but one more evidence of the lengths God will go to save his people.

While society turns its back on the unclean, Jesus dares to encounter those who cry out for mercy.   While the leaders of the community segregate the clean from the unclean, Christ makes the unholy to be holy.  Jesus’ love, exhibited in today’s gospel, offers us something different from the usual way we are treated and judged.  God accepts us, not because our skin is perfect or our spirits unblemished, but because he has entered our condition and he knows our needs.  Christ knows our weakness, he understands our pain and he has experienced our suffering.  We are accepted because Jesus knows us as God’s children, redeemed with his own precious body and blood he so willingly gave up on the cross.  The power of his grace is sufficient for our salvation, no matter what sin, regardless of what fear, or any other blemish has come into our life.

Jesus does the unthinkable.  Where society demands that all stand clear and avoid contact with the leper, Jesus reaches out his hand.  Where earthly communities dictate we avoid contact with the undesirable, Christ touches them and holds them in his loving embrace.  Christ Jesus reaches out to touch each of us, to touch us, to make us whole, to restore us to the relationships that we should have in our communities, and the relationship we should have with God.  That is what this text is all about.  That is what the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion celebrate.  Christ touches us; he makes us clean, he reconciles us with God and restores us to one another.

Mark writes, A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

Jesus reached out and touched the man suffering from leprosy.  Through baptism, Christ Jesus also reaches out to us and makes us clean.  As he stretched out his hand to the leper and touched him, Jesus returned the leprous man to wholeness.  Just as he stretched out his hands on the cross to make us whole.  Christ Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world and became unclean in the eyes of God’s law that we might be made clean.  He allowed himself to be rejected so that those who are rejected might be accepted.

The point is: we are forgiven, every last one of us.    God’s love is there, waiting for us, at all times in our life. Christ extends his hands, reaching out to us, he chooses, he wills, Christ makes us clean.  We can’t earn his grace, we don’t deserve his love, yet Jesus offers his forgiveness freely.        All we have to do is call out to him.  All we need to do is kneel at his feet and ask him.  “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus reaches out and touches us, heals us, cleanses us with God’s grace.

Jesus reaches out to us today.  Through water and the Word, through bread and wine; during our worship through sermon and song Jesus Christ reaches out and touches us, he bids us to come to him.  He calls us to follow in his ways.  Today and all days, God calls all Christians to be like Christ for the neediest among us, the poor and the hungry, the lost and forgotten.  Jesus chooses to touch us and to make us part of his family, his community, his church, and he calls us to touch others with his love.

People of God, as long as we have the love of God in Christ Jesus, we ought not have any fears.  As long as we are the recipients of the good news of God’s grace, we are compelled to go into the world and share this gift with all whom God places within our midst.  Because God gave his only Son to save people from their sins, we are forgiven, healed and made clean in the sight of God.  Let our thankful response be that we reach out and touch other with Christ’s love, sharing this good news with all whom we encounter.

Let us pray:

Holy and life giving God;

You sent your Son into the world that he might save people from their sins.  We know that if you choose, you have the power to forgive us, to renew us, and to restore us to your kingdom of glory.  Touch us with your grace, heal us from our sinfulness, and lead us into the word that we may tell everyone of your goodness, for we pray in the strong name of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, and all of God’s people said…Amen!

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