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.
A number of years ago, a woman in
walked into a Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop at the Plaza shopping center. While waiting, she turned to find actor Paul Newman standing behind her! He was in town filming the movie Kansas City , and was now standing behind his biggest fan. Mr. & Mrs. Bridge
He smiled at her and said "hello." She took one look at those legendary blue eyes and her knees almost buckled. Her heart was in her throat. She tried to speak, but not a sound came out. Mortified, she turned around, paid for her ice cream, then quickly walked out of the store.
Outside, she sat down on a bench and caught her breath. As she calmed down, she realized she didn't have her ice cream cone. She was debating walking back in to get it when Paul Newman walked out. "You looking for your ice cream cone?" he asked. Speechless again, she nodded. "You put it in your purse with your change."
I’ve met a few celebrities over the years. I think the first was Jimmy Stewart.. He was quite old and in a bookstore for a book signing. There was George W. Bush.. had him sign a baseball that I still have… and MacGyver – literally ran into him in an airport (His fault not mine).. and there is my favorite author Frank Peretti.. that one was very cool. Got to visit with him for a minute and have him sign one of his books. At each of these encounters I don’t know that I was necessarily “star struck,” but it was fun to meet someone that I had seen and heard so much about.
There is a story by R. C. Sproul about a well-known professional golfer who was playing in a tournament with President Gerald Ford, fellow pro Jack Nicklaus, and Billy Graham. After the round was over, one of the other pros on the tour asked, “Hey, what was it like playing with the President and Billy Graham?” The pro said with disgust, “I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat!” With that he headed for the practice tee. His friend followed, and after the golfer had pounded out his fury on a bucket of golf balls, he asked, “Was Billy a little rough on you out there?” The pro sighed and said with embarrassment, “No, he didn’t even mention religion.” Astonishingly, Billy Graham had said nothing about God, Jesus, or religion, yet the pro stomped away after the game accusing Billy of trying to ram religion down his throat.
I wonder what it was about Billy Graham that put this golfer off so much? What was it about this encounter that angered him so and made him believe that Billy Graham had been shoving religion down his throat even though Rev. Graham hadn’t said a word about religion?
I don’t know if such a phenomenon has a name, but I suspect that the Sadducees and Pharisees in the time of Jesus had a similar reaction when they encountered Jesus.. and perhaps that encounter can account for their violent reaction to Him. Perhaps it was simply the encounter – the coming into the presence of God Incarnate – that made them pursue Him.. literally to death. As the Apostle Paul states in the letter to the Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands (to come into the presence) of the living God.”
I suspect that most of you have a similar reaction when I walk into the room.. or not.
Anyhow.. In our Gospel reading today we learn of one who also had an encounter with Jesus. The man was a leper.. one who was diseased.. considered unclean by the Law and the religious leaders. The Law clearly states in Leviticus, “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.” And according to the Law.. anyone who touches a person who is unclean becomes unclean themselves… but what does our Gospel reading say occurred when Jesus encountered the Leper?... 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!"… What happened?… Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
Here’s a question you won’t like?... What is it that makes you unclean? What is it that forces you to walk outside the camp crying, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ What is your sin?... You see.. in many respects, we are all lepers. We walk through the wilderness alone.. knowing what it is that separates us from God. We don’t need anyone to tell us what that might be – although plenty will – because we are very well aware of our own shortcomings.. our own failings. We don’t require anyone to shame us, because we feel that shame already as acutely as the leper feels the shame of his/her own disease.
.. yet.. as with the leper, there is One who will stretch forth his hand.. touch us.. and make us clean. And that One is Jesus. Trouble is.. we often experience that same phenomenon that the professional golfer experienced when he played with Billy Graham… or what the Sadducees and Pharisees experienced when they encountered Jesus… it is that anger.. that swelling desire to repulse Him.. to be rid of Him… but I would suggest to you that what we experience is not anger… it’s fear. It’s fear of encountering God. And I would further suggest to you that this fear does not originate from within your soul, but it originates from within your sin. That fear is not a part of the image of God that you were created in… That fear is a part of the sin that is within you.. for that sin – like any living entity – knows when it comes into the presence of the living God.. and knows that it is through the living God that it will be banished.. cast out.
Think about the time that Jesus encountered a man in
who had a demon within him… Scripture says, In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”… “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. Capernaum
… Go away! What do you want with us?... Notice that it was not the man who cried out in fear … instead.. it was that which was impure.. unclean within him – his demon – that cried out.
Now… I’m not suggesting that you all are possessed by demons, but I am saying that the sin within us reacts in a similar manner. It desires – and so often whether consciously or unconsciously – we desire that it remain. Our sins have become our close personal friends. We feed them… They make us feel good… they help us to sleep at night… and get us up in the morning. They are our joys… and oh my gosh, where would we be without them. There is fear in losing them… but they make us unclean.. they make us lepers.. they force us to walk in the wilderness alone.
What must we do to be delivered from such wilderness?… A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean."… We must come, kneel before Jesus, and asked to be made clean… that is all. Sounds simple enough, but before we can submit ourselves, we must first summon the courage to do so. We must overcome that fear that is within us.. and we do so by remembering that our God does not desire our death, but desires to show us mercy.
Think of what
said to the Hebrews… You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” – you haven’t come to such a place – But you have come to St. Paul Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly . You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant Jerusalem
What must we do to be delivered from the wilderness? We must have courage.. and come and kneel before Jesus.. the mediator of the new covenant.. the one who loves us.. and ask to be made clean…. Then… then we watch in amazement as He reaches forth his hand.. and touches us.
Let us pray… O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Who, by the will of the Father, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, have by Your death given life to the world, deliver us by this Your Most Sacred Body and Blood from all sins and from every evil. Make us always cling to Your commandments, and never permit us to be separated from You. Who with the same God the Father and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, God, world without end. Amen.