Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bethany Bullet - February 14, 2012

For the past three weeks I have been sick. First it was a stomach bug, and then it was a cold, now I am on the mend from a sinus infection. I have used my Netti pot and sucked on cough drops; I have hugged the toilet bowl and cherished a soft tissue roll. Perhaps I should be calling out “Unclean! Unclean!” as I walk from place to place.

If this were Bible times I would probably not be able to enter society. From the book of Leviticus the 13th chapter, “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46) I’m not sure if ragged pajamas count as torn clothes or if my lack of showering constitutes unkempt hair but there were many moments I was alone, sleeping on the couch, living in isolation. But Leviticus is not talking about a cold or the flu, but about skin ailments.

Today, before us we have two texts that deal with just such a disease.

In our Old Testament Lesson a man named Naaman seeks out the prophet Elisha hoping for a cure. He travels from the country of Aram and his encounter with Elisha does not go as expected. The prescription? “Go wash yourself in the Jordan.” In the end, Naaman was healed, “…his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.” (2 Kings 5:14b)

In our Gospel lesson we encounter another leper who falls on his knees and cries out to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) Mark tells us that Jesus was “filled with compassion” (Mark 1:41). This was not just a moment of pity, but Mark describes the idea that Jesus was deeply moved with an abiding affection that came from the depths of his being, with a strong desire to remove the man’s suffering.

In that moment, Jesus does something socially and spiritually risky - He reached out His hand and touched the man.

We don’t know how long this man had been afflicted with his disease. Perhaps he had been cut off from society for quite a while. In his condition he had not had physical contact with another human being.

The book of Leviticus tells us a little bit about the condition the man finds himself in. He suffered from leprosy. Now this is more of a general term as it is used in Scripture. It does not necessarily equate with the condition known today as Hansen’s Disease. It described any ailment of the skin making the person unclean.

In Leviticus chapter 13, leprosy is described as something that is deeper than the skin (v. 3), that spreads (v.v.5-8), that defiles the one who is afflicted (v. 44), that isolates (v.v. 45-46), and renders things fit only for the fire (v.v.47-59).

This is a devastating condition carrying a social stigma of fear and disgust. The one affected could not participate in worship, was isolated from their family and most likely experienced the psychological trauma and pain of separation and loss.

But we have been gathered in God’s house, not to talk about a skin disease, but something far worse; a disease that has many of the same devastating consequences of leprosy.

· It is a disease that is deeper than the skin.

· It spreads and invades all areas.

· It defiles all who are infected.

· It isolates the victim.

· And it renders things fit for the fire.

What is the name of this dreaded disease? SIN!

We are the ones who should be shouting out “Unclean! Unclean!”

Let’s get back to our Gospel lesson and that risky moment, the moment when Jesus stretched out His hand and made contact with a leper. “‘I am willing,’ [Jesus] said, ‘Be Clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” (Mark 1:41b-42) In an instant, by one word (well, two in English) the man is healed.

This must have been an amazing moment for the man. In that moment Jesus touched the untouchable and cured the un-curable. But at what cost? Jesus, by making physical contact with an unclean man, became unclean Himself; well at least according to Old Testament Law. Jesus took upon Himself the affliction that the man bore.

Hear the words of Paul from 2nd Corinthians, chapter 5, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

On the cross, Jesus took our sin upon Himself as Isaiah foretold:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

On the cross, in one word (well, three in English) Jesus said “It is Finished,” and with that He cured the incurable and completely destroyed the disease of sin its devastating consequences. And by His resurrection three days later, He has given us new life in Him.

· It is a relationship that is more than skin deep.

· His Spirit makes contact with us and permeates all areas of our life.

· He cleanses all who have been infected.

· He incorporates us into His family.

· And renders us fit for a future, forever in heaven.

But let’s get back to our text, “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone.’” (Mark 1:43-44a)

But did the man listen? Listen to the text, “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.” (Mark 1:45a)

This man, having been freed from the prison of disease, can’t stop talking about Jesus. The Leper paid more attention to what Jesus did than to what Jesus said.

What lesson can we learn from this today? Well perhaps it is a simple as this. Often people pay more attention to what you do than what you say.

As we wrap up the season of Epiphany, a season where we are reminded that God manifested Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and He continues to manifest Himself in the actions of His people. We too have been called to action.

The world sees Jesus in the actions of believers. Quite often, people come to know Jesus not in our words, but through our actions. And perhaps I can take it a step further; people don’t care what you know till they know that you care.

We live in a time where “Do as I say, not as I do” has become the norm. But living on the mark is about action. We are not called to sanitize Jesus, but to publicize Him. Ministry is messy. People have problems, but we can risk our reputation to live on the mark.

· Jesus told the man to be quiet, yet he told everybody.

· Jesus has told us to tell everybody—yet we keep quiet.

Living on the mark means that people notice what you do, so live so that people can see Jesus.

This week, think about how God might use you to reveal Himself to the world. Is it in the actions done for a neighbor or co-worker; is it being bold and praying out loud at the restaurant? Perhaps you can start wearing that cross again, or put one on your car, (or go on tour with your classmates to give glory to God in song). Whatever it is, we have the amazing privilege to living manifestations of God in the world and care for others.

At the home for the dying, which the Missionaries of Charity have in Calcutta, there was a man who had cancer, his body half-consumed by the sickness. Everyone had abandoned him as a hopeless case. Mother Teresa came near him to wash him tenderly. She encountered, at first, only the sick man’s disdain. “How can you stand my body’s stench?” he asked. Then, quite calmly the dying man said to her, “You’re not from here. The people here don’t behave the way you do.” Several minutes went by. And then the terminally ill man murmured a typical Indian expression: “Glory to you, woman.” “No,” replied Mother Teresa. “Glory to Christ who eases our suffering.” Then they smiled at each other. The sick man’s suffering seemed to stop. He died two days later.

Mother Theresa became a manifestation of Christ for the dying man and her words speak loudly today, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do it.”

At the touch and by the word of Jesus, leprosy was gone, sin was destroyed and the grace of the God was manifest to the world. We all live on the mark, because of what Christ has done for us. We no longer cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” but we publicize the truth that Jesus has proclaimed us to “Be Clean,” this is something to tell everybody. Grant this Lord unto us all.

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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