Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jesus and the Leper

This second Sunday in Lent Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us with these words, suitable for the day. "I'm glad you turned your clocks ahead and made it here today." And, with a nod toward his theme, "If you are feeling alone or lost this morning, there are no undesirables in God's kingdom."

Announcements included the following:
1. A Saturday morning men's Bible study will begin on the 21st. Breakfast included.
2. Donations of furnishings, necessities for the Stroscheins will be welcomed as the family now has a place to call home again.
3. Camp is coming. Time to get downpayment in place. Anyone wishing to donate for camp scholarships see Cheryl Borndal.

After a time of worship, Norm Livgard shared a video about a children's home in Mesa, Arizona called Sunshine Acres. The video told the story of how the James and Vera Dingman came to the dry Southwest and God opened their hearts and home for needy children. The manner in which the Lord has provided for this "Miracle in the Desert" left Norm and his wife deeply moved. The home now has sixty youth.

The Scripture readings were from Gen. 17:1-7 and Mark 8:31-38. Pastor Brad then took the pulpit.

Jesus and the Leper

He began with an amusing story about a little boy who came home from school and commented on how a couple of the other kids on the bus didn't smell too good. The mother, being conscientious, said, "Well, son, you didn't say anything, did you?" The boy, proud of himself, said, "Oh no, Mom. I just held my nose."

The story did set up our message today. There are people who are different from us, and some whom we keep our distance from. But Jesus seemed to disregard these social conventions.

If you measure people by the company they keep, you're bound to see Jesus doesn't fit this rule. Despite being the only perfect person in history, he attracted some rather imperfect people.

In Luke 4, when Jesus was invited to teach at the outset of His ministry, He read from the prophet Isaiah, essentially announcing that He had come to preach the good news to the poor and oppressed, the captives and the unwanted. This was indeed Good News for everybody.

The text for Brad's message was Luke 5:12-16... another "ordinary day" in the life of Jesus. A man covered extensively with leprosy throws himself at Jesus' feet, begging, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Luke writes,

13Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him.

The actual word translated "touch" here means something more than a little tap. Jesus "fastened on to him"... a remarkable act in light of the cultural stigma associated with leprosy in that era.

To give us a sense of how terrible a disease leprosy is, Brad cited the works of Dr. Paul Brand, a Christian doctor who worked with lepers in India. Brand said that in the late stages of leprosy there were be a loss of feeling in the extremities. The poor, outcasts in India, while sleeping would not feel the rats gnawing on their fingers or toes as they slept in the streets.

Leprosy was a physical disease that also carried a moral stigma. They were both physical and moral outcasts. The disease was seen as a curse from God and the external uncleanness was a sign of their inward uncleanness. When they learned they had the disease, they were separated from the spouses, kicked out of their homes, lost their financial position. They were isolated in every way. If they walked near other people, they were supposed to shout, "Unclean, unclean!"

How awful it is to feel untouchable. Oscar Wilde, in his poem Ballad of Reading Gaol, said it aptly:
"We did not dare to breathe a prayer
or give our anguish scope,
Something was dead in each of us
and what was dead was hope."

That's what feeling unwanted and untouchable does to you. It sucks hope right out of your life. You are alive but feel dead. It is anguish to come to that place in life where you know all the words and none of the music. How long had it been since this poor leper had be touched, hugged, embraced?

The religious people, the rabbis and pharisees, taught that to touch an unclean person made you unclean. The rabbis were too holy to be touched by marginalized people. The great irony is that the only rabbi this leper could approach was God Himself.

Brad turned it around and asked how approachable we are? He asks that question of himself. Am I approachable? Are you approachable by your spouse, your kids, your peers? Jesus was approachable.

Jesus knew this man needed to be touched. We all need to be touched. Along with laughter, touch is something that helps us live longer.

Every society has its untouchables. It could be race, social standing, education level, special needs, the way we look, piercings... all these things can separate us.

Today there will be somebody in your world waiting for someone to touch them. Will you touch them? Will extend a hand, put an arm around the shoulder? Offer a warm embrace? Maybe all they need is an acknowledgement that you know they are there.

We all have value and a need for a touch. Someone once said, In a contagious world we learn to keep our distance. Only when you get close enough to catch their hurt will they be close enough to catch your love."

In Psalm 34 it says the Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

For Jesus, healing the body was not the ultimate goal. Rather, He healed to show that God was not indifferent and distant. Philip Yancey put it this way. "By no means did Jesus eliminate all suffering. He healed only a few on one small patch of the globe. But He did answer the question of whether God cares."

We live in a contaminated world, and it's contaminated on every level. It should have been quarantined from Heaven. No reasonable God would go near it. But Jesus is no reasonable God. He took on our uncleanness, yours and mine. Instead of the world infecting Him, He infected the world with His immaculate infection... and it's still spreading.

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