January 29, 2012
Mark 1:35-45 (1)
Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters
Desperation leads us to do many things.
Desperation, that emotional state of mind when we feel we’re left with no options, no possibilities.
Desperation, that sick fear in the pit of our stomachs when there is little or no hope.
Desperation, when living is intolerable.
Our leper lives his desperation; breaths it; looks like it, smells like it.
And we can understand it. Leprosy is a horrific disease affecting the skin and nerves that can cause tissue change, loss of sensation, and severe disfigurement. Leprosy is a disease of desperation.
Biblically we know, by the laws of Leviticus, lepers, are to be separated from family, work, and sanctuary; forced to live in colonies; mandated to live as those who mourn - except the death they mourn is their own; they live as those who have died. (2)
Desperation leads our leper to the feet of Jesus.
Our leper begs, drops to his knees, and pleads:
“Jesus, if you choose, you can make me clean.”
Not a question. Not a request. A statement of faith.
“You can make me clean.”
And rather than be repulsed, Jesus is moved with compassion, consideration; and reaches out, touching, and saying, “I do choose. I do choose. I choose. Be made clean!”
This is the third story of healing we’ve heard in the first chapter of Mark. There are dozens more in the gospels, and while these healings are powerful personal encounters between individuals and Jesus, they are never private moments tucked behind closed doors; they’re never isolated events. They are the God’s kingdom lay bare for all to experience. They may involve a man, woman, or child, but they reveal the Kingdom of God for all: a Kingdom hear and now.
The exorcisms confirm it. The healings reveal it. The miracles release it.
Jürgen Moltmann says it this way: “together with the proclamation of the gospel, the healing of the sick is Jesus’ most important testimony to the dawning of the kingdom of God…
- Healings are signs of the new creation and the rebirth of life…
- Healings can be understood as foretokens of resurrection and of life eternal.
- When Jesus heals, creation is restored.
Fred Craddock likes to say that Jesus’ healings created “audiences, not congregations.” Many will flock to Jesus for healing, but all will abandon him when he is handed over to suffer and die. Craddock says, all the way to the cross, Jesus heals and what he has set out to do is to take those who think: where the messiah is, there is no misery,
to become those who know
where there is misery, there is the messiah.(3)
What does it take, in the midst of our misery, to plead for mercy? Do we think Jesus is repulsed by our misery; our desperation? It’s not so.
Are we sure even our deepest secrets; our most private shame is repulsive to Jesus? Think again. The healer wants us body and soul. Our redeemer waits for us: “If you choose, Lord Jesus, you can make me clean.”
And he doesn’t disappoint.
Jesus does not scorn our desperation.
He recognizes it; is moved by it; has compassion for it.
He meets our desperation with empathy; our suffering with relief; our isolation with repair.
Have you ever had one of those moments, when you stay in the car to finish listening to something on the radio? You park in your driveway or at the grocery store and there’s no way you’re opening that car door until the broadcast is over.
For me it’s usually when I’m listening to a story from NPR: Fresh Air or This American Life or All Things Considered. Recently I was over at the Plainsboro Presbyterian Church for a meeting and on my way back home I listening to an interview with the actress Pamela Adlon.Terry Gross was the interviewer and Pamela Adlon told a story that happened to her this past spring. When I pulled in my driveway, I stayed in my car.
Pamela Adlon said as she was trying to get back to Los Angeles last spring, she boarded a plane at JKK and about forty minutes into the flight, the pilot burst out of the cockpit yelling for fire extinguishers. Flames were coming out of the front of the plane, smoke filled the cabin. The plane shifted right then jerked left. An announcement was made: “Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare for an emergency landing. We're diverting to Dulles. Fasten your seat belts.”
The passengers knew they’re going down. Everybody gets strapped in. the plane is in a nosedive and suddenly, a woman, sitting in from of Pamela Adlon gets up, turns to everyone in the cabin and shouts at the top of her voice, “My name is Deborah!” She starts introducing herself to everyone.
In her desperation this woman wanted one thing. If she was going down in flames she had one thing in her heart: to be known. She shouted with everything she had and said, “My name is Deborah!
People were jolted out of their panic. “My name is Deborah! And I don’t want to go down without you knowing who I am. My name is Deborah and I’m a mom and a wife and…and...If I’m going to die, I want to know your name too.”
It was crazy – wild. And then there was silence. She couldn’t speak anymore so little by little people sharing their names too. (4)
In their desperation there was nothing left to do but to say their names. It’s the one thing they had to share. In the midst of facing death, this plane full of desperate and separate people, drew breath and life and something miraculous; something so vivid and life-making.
Through the wisdom and astuteness of their pilots; thank goodness for pilots, the plane and all its passengers made it to Dulles, battered but alive – and changed. One woman, out of great desperation, wanted to be known.
Out of great desperation, our leper wanted to be known: “Jesus, I know who you are. If you choose, you can make me clean.” And he drew breath and life and something miraculous; something so vivid and life-making.
It’s been said, preach the Gospel at all times; and if necessary, use words.(5)
Through the stretching out of a hand and a touch upon a desperate man, Jesus brings to light a healing unleashed, in the form of a cleansing, so therapeutic, that it gave a leper the means to be restored to Temple and to a family: wife, children, partner, parents, siblings? A restoration to home. (6)
And what’s our response? For the leper it was to spread the good news. “The one healed went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the Word.”
- We cry out in loneliness; Jesus leads us to one another and gives us a church.
- There is a dank darkness in our souls, shame and secrets; Jesus is the lamp to our souls and the light to our path.
- We feel trapped in bodies that betray us;
- Jesus hears our weeping, claims us as his own, and never, ever, relinquishes us.
- We treat others as dead, invisible; Jesus wakes us up, gives us eyes to see and hands to right the wrong.
- We treat ourselves as dead; Jesus stops us in our tracks, lays a hand upon us, “I choose you and I choose to make you clean.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
Hear the Good News:
With infinite love and compassion, our Lord heals.
He loves us. He understands us.
Every word he speaks,
is a word that lifts up, heals, saves. (7)
We belong to him,
and he to us.
Thanks be to the God of healing.
(1) Mark 1:35-45: In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. A leper came to him 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, Jesus sent the Leper 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 the one healed 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.
(2) Leviticus 13:45-46.
(3) Erin Martin. Sermon, “I Do Choose.” Epiphany 6B, Mark 1:40-45, www.ekklesiaproject.org, Feb 11, 2009.
(4) Pamela Adlon interview by Terry Gross. Fresh Air. January 4, 2012. National Public Radio, www.npr.org.
(6) Paul D. Duke. “Down the Road and Back.” The Christian Century, September 27, 1995.
(7) Charles. L. Allen.
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