Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You can do it, Jesus... and You will to do it...

Sermon for Epiphany 6B, preaching on Sunday, February 12, 2012.

    Over the course of the past weeks we have been making our way through Mark’s Gospel but we are still in chapter one.  Little by little and step by step Mark is revealing the Jesus who calls disciples, casts out demons, heals the sick – all on his way to announcing how Jesus has come not for the healthy or righteous but for the sick sinner.  Mark continues that theme today.
    I hope you were struck by the great oddity in the Gospel for today.  A leper came to Jesus.  But lepers were untouchables.  They could not come near anyone.  It was part of the terrible curse of their disease that they remained distant from everyone – from their family and friends to the borders of the city itself.  To know a leper was to know him from afar for no leper would dare come near you and afflict you with their curse.  Unless the leper wanted you to suffer.
    Another great oddity:  Jesus receives the leper.  Jesus listens to him.  He touches him. Jesus befriends this leper.  But lepers have no friends.  They have sympathizers but not friends. Yet Jesus is the friend of lepers.  No one is untouchable to Jesus; no one beyond the grasp of His grace. Jesus is friend to those who have no friends, to those left to their lonely misery and walking death.
    And did you hear what the leper said?  "If you will Jesus, You can make me clean."  This is faith talking.  The leper knew a lifetime of distance from his loved ones and endured his separation from the city and normal life but he knew one more thing.  He knew that Jesus could release him from this prison.  "If you will it, Jesus, You can make me clean."  That is the sound of faith.  He know what Jesus can do even before Jesus does it.  But does Jesus will it? 
    His faith is not in some grand possibility but in the good and gracious will of Jesus.  Of course Jesus can heal him but does He want to? My banker has the power to forgive my mortgage but I don't think he wants to.  Maybe you have the same banker?  The leper believes that Jesus can – he has faith in Jesus' power and ability – and now he appeals to Jesus’ will – the good and gracious will of the Savior who has come to release those imprisoned to evil, marked with death, living in the sickness of sin and its decay, and untouchable because of God’s holiness.  This is not about a leper seeking a magic cure but a living faith that Jesus can and will bring healing, forgiveness, life, and salvation to an untouchable leper who has no right to hope for anything except in the grace of God.
    The leper may have lived on the fringes of society but he heard the stories of what Jesus had done.  He heard of a demon called out, of Peter’s mother-in-law healed, and now he wants to know if this great friendship and kindness of God will touch him.  This is a story not about a leper but about the grace of God that bridges every gap to visit us with hope.
    "I will," said Jesus.  "Be clean."  An immediately the leper was clean.  The greater miracle is not the healing itself, but the Jesus who is friend to lepers, who breaks every rule to come near the untouchable, the worthless, and the banished.
    We are the lepers.  Our sin has made us untouchable to God.  We have born the mark of this sin and its death and it has kept us on the fringes of life and hope.  We have cried out for hope to everyone who has passed by and none has done anything but rush by us... until Jesus came and stood with us and touched us with His healing grace.  Jesus can, yes, but more than this, Jesus wills to make us clean.  He is the messenger of God, the promised Savior, come to rescue us from our isolation, heal our sin sickness, and restore us to our heavenly Father.  We  cast our cares upon the Lord because we know He cares for us.  He stands with the sinner and the unclean and His grace makes us whole.  That is good news.
    This is not about one man who found favor in the eyes of Jesus but where the nature of Jesus’ life and ministry are revealed to us.  This leper was left with such a profound encounter with the surprise of grace that nothing could hush him up – not even the command of Jesus to be silent!  He spoke not of himself but all about Jesus until Jesus was thronged by the lonely, the wounded, the sick, the dying, the public sinners who had no hope until Jesus showed the character of His mercy to one leper for all of them.  We are here today because Jesus has come for lepers like us and because we count on His good and gracious will to save us.
    In our confession of sins we echo the leper of old.  "If you will, Lord, You can make me clean."  It is the very same thing as saying “Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways...”  We say this not as people exploring the possibility of redemption but as those who know Jesus, who know His good and gracious will, who know the promise of His Word and the power of His grace.  We ask the Lord to do for us not simply what He could do but what He has promised to do.  We come not as those uncertain of His kindness but as those whom the Lord has touched over and over again with grace to heal, restore, and rescue us.
    And when we leave this place, our talk is to be all about Jesus -- not about us.  Our stories should abound with with the Lord who stands with sinners, who reaches out in love to the undeserving, who has braved every division and separation to touch us with grace... first, in the waters of our baptism... and then in the voice of the absolution... and then with the bread that is His body and the cup of His blood. 
    Lepers have no friends.  Sinners have no friends.  But Jesus.  All the way along, Mark's Gospel leads us through healing and casting out demons that we may know the Jesus who has come for the sick, the grace that is everything to the sinner but nothing to those who think themselves righteous.  We come to Him not hiding our illness but openly confessing our sins.  That is the only way to Jesus.  We are the Naaman's of our day whom the prophet sends to the churning waters of God where Jesus has planted Himself -- that we may be made whole. 
    Scripture tells us that Jesus could not even walk into town anymore because of all that this leper said about Him.  If people are not crowding into the pews, it could be that we have made the story about us instead of Jesus. The world is not so interested in lepers but it wants to know everything about the Lord who touches lepers to make them whole.  The world rushes past the lepers and dares not even look into their eyes but the Jesus who comes to them, who touches them with grace, and who makes them whole... the world cannot rush by Jesus.  So let our words tell the lepers story which is our story, too.  Amen.

No comments: