Sunday, 15 February 2009

A leper - clean and free

Epiphany 6 year B Sermon 

This is a story about cleansing and freedom.

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and got down on his knees and begged him:

"If you’re willing, you can make me clean."

Did you notice…the leper doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him? He asks Jesus… to make him clean.

Now why on earth would he put it that way?

You see… in Jesus’ day…people often saw disease and illness… as punishment …and they’d noticed you could catch this punishment…
by hanging around with sick

And naturally this made them afraid… 

So their ancient concern…their ancient preoccupation.. was to work out… what was clean…
and what was unclean…and when they thought they’d worked it all out…they’d make
impossible to break rules’… to keep the unclean…
from contaminating the clean.  To keep them apart… to keep them separate… [pause] 

And… instead of making these regulations about health and hygiene and sanitation
they made it about
religion. [pause] 

When Jesus lived…the religious authorities…
enjoyed the safety and security of being able to declare something …or… someone… clean or unclean

With ‘impossible to break purity laws’… they had the power to saywho was ‘in’
or who was
‘out’ of favour …with God.

And as far as the religious
authorities were concerned…the leper in our story… was clearly ‘out’

His skin disease was taken to be the clearest possible evidence… all the proof they needed
that he was under the punishment of God and unclean. 

This ancient way of understanding God…
gave religious
leaders the power to cast people out of the worshipping community…to make them…outcasts.

It gave them the power to relegate people…
apparently didn’t like… to the fringes
to the
marginsoutside the walls of the synagogue or the Temple… 

Basically the leper is saying to Jesus ‘if you’re willing you can stop me from being an outcast

just help me get rid of this disease. 

And what does Jesus do?
Does he stand back at a safe distance…
does he take
care not to contaminate himself

No…Jesus audaciously goes round the
‘impossible to break purity laws’ 

Our story tells us that ‘Filled with compassion, Jesus reaches out his hand and touched the man.

"I am willing," he said. "Be clean!"  

Jesus stretches out his young calloused carpenters hand and touches the untouchable…

His compassion overrules… the ‘impossible to break rules’ for rabbis who must never touch an unclean person…[pause]

Jesus’ compassion overrules the rules

Then what happens next is almost as amazing …as the healing of this leper…this outcast… who isn’t even allowed in the synagogue… 

This man whose just been healed…stuffs up all Jesus’ plans… [pause] 

Think about it…Jesus…our Lord
anointed one of God
finds himself… face to face …
with something he can
not control…this person has a mind of his own…

did you notice Jesus asks him not to tell anyone about his healing? And the man completely ignores him.

…and now our story tells us
Jesus can’t enter a
village without being mobbed
Jesus plans for his ministry have to
change … 

Now he has to take to the back roads… come up with another plan…another way to continue his mission… 

And if you look in your Bibles you’ll see that immediately before this story… Jesus is enthusiastic to do most of his ministry in the synagogues

"Let’s go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That’s why I’ve come." [pause] 

And so before Jesus meets the leper...Mark tells us he’s been travelling throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. [pause]

The only place you can find synagogues is in villages and towns. And now because of this guy...Jesus can’t go there.


Why does he allow it…why doesn’t Jesus just zap the Leper …into obedience so he can stick with his itinerary …so he can go where he wants to go…do what he wants to do

Why does he allow it …what the heck is going on?

Talk to your neighbor about what you think is going on?

[discussion and feedback] 

If Jesus is God’s revelation in the flesh…what are we learning about God here? [discussion and feedback] 

Jesus’ plans come unstuck…because of the freewill exercised by the Leper…Who even though cleansed and healed… is still free…to ignore who Jesus’ instructions.  And he does.  So…now what… 

Jesus has to find a way ‘round this difficulty …because he certainly does not mess with this guys freedom…

Jesus has to find another way…
to accomplish his objectives…another way to
reach people with the good news that God loves the clean and unclean alike. 

And because Jesus is God’s self revelation in time and space… and because it’s impossible for Jesus to mess with this guy’s freewill. To interfere with his freedom

Its reasonable to assume this unwillingness to interfere with our choices is an element of God’s design in the very fabric of creation.

And when we think about it while God instructs and guides us … none of us are puppets…and

it seems to me God has always worked that way… 

By Jesus time many Jewish people were retreating further and further into a self made ghetto of clean versus unclean… the religious authorities declaring not only the sick but foreigners…all gentiles…to be  untouchable

But the covenant was for the Jews to carry the light of God’s love to the world…the Jewish people had exercised freedom of choice and ignored God’s guidance.

So God had to work around their deafness to his instructions…God had to work around them by sending Jesus into the world as his messenger of love and forgiveness and reconciliation. 

What are the implications of this for our life and faith? Well it works that way with you and me today …
in spite of our freedom to wreck God’s plans in spite of our fondness for self-destruction and the destruction of others…

God finds a way around the impossible… 

I think that’s why Jesus tells his disciples…
"With people this is 
impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

If you only remember one thing from this morning remember this…if humankind is free to ignore God’s commandments…God’s guidance to love one another… God will find a way around it…

Outcasts will be welcomed back… in spite of religious rules that are impossible to break…
will happen  in impossibly dysfunctional relationships …and in impossibly sick bodies…
just maybe not as we

But mark my word…broken bones will knit …babies will continue to be born [and baptised]…peace will continue to break out…

flowers will bloom, fruit will ripen…
God’s creative work
will go on…
even when
we get in the way…
even in
spite the impossible…

and…even as Jesus resurrection reveals…
in spite of death

 That is the reason for our hope.