God Rises Up With Healing

Mark 1:40-45
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!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Epiphany6 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 2-12-11

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week, I poked some fun at TV commercials for cold medicines. Then I got sick. And it wasn’t funny anymore. Still we put our faith in whatever remedy seems most proven and effective. But when it all comes down, we are really quite helpless when we’re sick. There’s not much one can do. You are at the mercy of the disease, infection, or virus that his taken over. And it hurts.

Not only do we lose some of our pep and the jump in our step, but we lose human contact when it becomes necessary to refrain from shaking hands – or to direct someone to the bottle hand sanitizer on the counter after inadvertently making contact. “No offense, but… I got the crud.”

And people get that. They know that it stinks. But it will pass. Surely, having a cold was nothing like illness in the first century Palestine, where a skin disease got you kicked out of town literally. You had to join a leper colony and tear your clothes, uncover your head, and shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” when a passerby happened along the road you were on.

Jesus was moved with compassion, the text says in Mark 1. Other ancient manuscripts translate that he was “moved with anger.” Which I don’t quite understand. The man was only following the rules laid down in the Old Testament (Leviticus 13 & 14) about keeping people with skin lesions away from the rest of the community. They were not allowed in places of business or worship. They could no longer live with their families. What a horrible sentence!

And maybe that’s what Jesus is mad about – that God’s law would exclude someone clearly in need of healing. They were both breaking the rules that day. Did you notice that? The leper, by approaching Jesus in the first place. And Jesus, by touching him, makes himself unclean. That was a ‘no no.’ These guys were the walking dead – the zombies of their day – unworthy of your time or attention. Keep your distance. You never know just what they’re going to do.

Instead, they both keep their eyes on the prize: a life restored in Christ, Jesus. God was doing a new thing through Jesus at this moment. And they were not about to miss it.

It almost didn’t happen for Naaman, in our first lesson. In a huff, he gets ready to pack his bags and head back to Syria – “Who does this Elisha think he is? Sending out a servant to tell me to go wash myself in the Jordan! Are not the rivers in Syria just a good, if not better?” His pride almost sends him packing for home. But it is lowly servant who gently prods, “Master, if he had asked you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? Why not give it a try? What have you got to lose?” And so he goes down in the water and his skin is restored to that of a young boy.

Again, Naaman stayed in the struggle – despite his doubts and his pride in his own rank and military might – he keeps his eyes on the prize and finds healing.

Not everyone who calls on the Lord, is healed or cured, though.  I encounter people every week who face life threatening diseases or illnesses – and they all face it in their own unique way.

In the past week, I’ve called on two of our members – both in need of Jesus’ healing power and presence. One member has dementia. I never knew him before his diagnosis. But since I became his pastor he has lost his ability to walk and feed himself – fully dependent on others to care for his every need. What do you say to a family who faithfully comes to see their father (or what is left of him)? What do we pray for when all seems lost? When we feel utterly helpless in the face of disease?

Then, earlier this week, we got the news that another member is entering hospice care at Bethesda Hospital. She who has been hospitalized since October, with complications from surgery, is now facing her final days living with pancreatic cancer. What does one say to a person who has been handed a diagnosis of cancer that’s terminal? And a body too weak to endure chemotherapy? Do I dare tell the story of one person’s journey toward healing and being cured when another person sitting across the room is still waiting for a miracle?

The ‘living center’ of this message is that Jesus heals / but not without some real struggling – of staying focused on God in the face of helplessness and death. Of getting angry even – over the system of separation for those who have been cut off from the rest of us because of their “condition.” Of breaking of the rules in order to reach out and touch those who the rest of the world have given up on!

I am thankful for people in this community who remember those with dementia and tell me stories about them. In a small way, we are keeping their memories alive. We are holding them and others in our hearts. Others in this congregation have brought meals to families during illness. You have not tried to give pat answers, only to stay focused on the same Jesus Christ who has brought us to this point together.

The good news for us today is that God struggles, too. God struggles with Naaman’s ego, so proud he couldn’t see the very miracle right before his eyes. Joy does come in the morning, as we read in our psalm, but not before weeping has lingered for the night. Dancing does follow the long night of grief of loss – and the clothes of joy do replace the sackcloth of sorrows.

I want you to think for a moment this morning about that part of you that is hurting or sick. How have you been cut off from those around you? Even if you aren’t cured from a chronic condition, have you experienced healing of mind or Spirit? We may lose our battles with the diseases of the flesh, but there is a peace that passes all human understanding that can only be received through faith.

My prayer is that you will find healing and wellness – that you might find a cure for what ails you or those you love – but mostly that you will keep your eyes on the prize – of a life centered in Jesus Christ – the author of life – the Word made flesh – the Great Physician – the guardian of your soul.

Let us pray: O God, we ask you to heal us and those we love. Rise up with compassion, anger, whatever it takes to bring healing to the sick and to all who call on you in faith. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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