The leper in Mark’s gospel came to Jesus and said, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.” All he wanted was to be made clean. His only desire was that he could be part of the community again.
Jesus felt compassion for this man. His feelings for him were so strong that he reached out and touched him, knowing that according to the law he would then be unclean himself. He touched him anyway. With his touch the man was healed of his skin disease. His body was smooth and healthy once more.
With something as simple as touching this man’s hand or arm Jesus gave him back his life in the community. He still had to present himself to the priest and be declared by him to be clean. He knew he was clean on the outside but the priest wouldn’t know it until he saw it with his own eyes. And then he would ask how did this happen.
Jesus gave the leper strict orders not to say anything to anyone. But we all know the priest would question him. How could he possibly keep this good news to himself? Could you? And so he told and the news spread like the wildfires in Australia.
Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without be surrounded by a mob of people clamoring for just a touch of his hand so they could be clean. And then away they would go, clean on the outside but what were they like inside?
Did they understand what Jesus had to offer them and did they really want that kind of salvation? What do you think the leper would have done if Jesus had just forgiven his sins and not cleared up his skin condition that kept him from being part of the community? Would he have gone around and excitedly told everyone what Jesus had done for him? I think sometimes we don’t really want what the saving grace of Jesus has to offer. We just want to be fat and sassy and enjoy the easy things in life. We want our lives to be without pain and discomfort, both physically and spiritually.
If Jesus is going to heal us we would like it to be something dramatic, something people would notice, something that would be worthy of our standing in the community. That’s what Naaman was looking for when he went to visit the prophet Elisha in Samaria.
Naaman, the general in the Aramean army, wanted the prophet of Samaria to heal him of his skin disease. When Elisha told him to go bathe in the Jordan River 7 times he refused at first. It was too easy. He figured at the very least that the prophet would come out and offer prayers to God and wave his hand over the diseased skin and it would be healed. But to go and bathe in the muddy waters of the Jordan River; how was that going to get rid of his disease?
We come to God every day and beg him to make us clean. We come to Him knowing he can make us clean if he wants to. But we don’t see any difference. Or what he asks us to do sounds too simple and we don’t do it, just like Naaman. Or maybe we are made clean and he says, “Go to the priest and be declared clean. And, oh by the way, don’t say anything to anyone how this happened.” We fail to follow instructions in either case. First it’s too simple and second the news is too good to keep to ourselves.
The things God asks us to do and the things he does for us just aren’t what we expect or want. They’re either too easy or they’re too hard or too ridiculous or they don’t’ make sense, you supply your own answer.
So here we are today sitting on these benches in church. Some of us are praying that no one will notice our uncleanness. Some of us are praying that we will be made clean but that God won’t ask us to do anything that might embarrass us. Oh my, wouldn’t that be just too terrible. We want to be clean but we don’t want to have to go out and tell anyone about God’s love. We just hope they will see us and somehow know that God is love.
What did Paul say we should do? We should train hard like those who are preparing to compete in the Olympics. We should run hard toward the finish line giving it everything we’ve got. Paul says that he was going to stay alert and stay in top condition. I don’t think he was talking about his physical body here. I think he was talking about his inner being. He wanted Jesus to make him clean and keep him clean.
I imagine that he did everything he could to keep his spiritual being in top condition. He spent time alone with God and continued to study God’s words and then listened for God’s Message for him. It didn’t matter what it was he knew he would do it until he died.
He was spreading the Good News of the Message and he wanted to be sure that he didn’t forget it himself. He had asked Jesus to make him clean and he wanted to be sure that he stayed that way.
Friends, Jesus can make us clean if he wants to. I believe he wants to. I believe his hands are reaching out to us to touch those deep, dark places in our hearts that we keep hidden from everyone. He wants to make us clean. He wants to heal us of our sins.
But unlike the leper in the gospel lesson I don’t believe he wants us to keep the good news to ourselves. I believe he wants us to share the Good News of God’s love with everyone we meet.
Naaman wanted to take all the dirt two donkeys could carry back to his home to remind that he is not ever going to worship any other god but the one true God. What are you going to take with you when you leave here today?
All of us require the healing touch of God all of the time. I invite each of you to silently write in tiny writing around the tear on your paper heart the healing that you are looking for. I will distribute band aids to everyone. You are invited to place them over the tear and the words on your torn heart. Let the mended hearts be a reminder both of the healing you have received from God, and the healing that you can bring to others.
Thanks be to God for his cleansing and healing grace. Amen.