Jesus Cleans

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Background Notes:

   – He had the dreaded disease of his day- leprosy…
   –  A life sentence— some would say worse than death… affecting the nerves that leaves some victims with disfigurement for life… including losing fingers or toes… It is an awful, dreaded disease…
   – if you ever met one, you could see why they were considered unclean. No one would want to be near a leper.

Lepers required to keep their distance: According to the Leviticus law they had to stay at least 6 feet away…And when they approached someone in their village, they would have to yell, “Unclean, unclean” as a warning for them to keep away. This leper was so desperate that he broke that rule when approaching Jesus.

Imagine having a leper in church and sharing communion by intinction. You know how others felt about him. Would you drink out of the same cup that had just touched the lips of a leper?

Leprosy… worse than cancer… or heart disease… more like aids—in its creation of fear and dread for the one diagnosed. Leprosy—an awful, dreaded disease of the flesh… that separated one from their friends, family and community…

With that in mind, let’s read the story of one leper, who in desperation turns to Jesus… and listen not only to what jesus says, but watch what jesus does—which would have shocked the disciples:

Mark 1:40-45

40 A leper* came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity,* Jesus* stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy* left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying 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.’ 45But 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.

He came, this desperate man… begging, pleading for Jesus not just to heal him, but to make him clean. I understand his begging for healing… but it is that request for cleansing that Mark wanted to highlight for us. The request is clear.  As the man kneels at the feet of Jesus… tears in his eyes he begs of Jesus: “If you choose, you can make me clean”

And Jesus moved with compassion (or anger- does it matter?)… Touches him (don’t miss that—he TOUCHED the leper, becoming unclean himself)… and says, “I do choose, Be made clean” And the leprosy leaves him… and Jesus tells him to go to the priest who will confirm the cleansing.

In this story, the greatest miracle is the power of Jesus to cleanse. In a confession we say, that Jesus has the power to cleanse us from sin and remove us from all kinds of wrong.

Which leads me to wonder: Where do you have an experience of being dirty, unacceptable, unbroken, ashamed?” What are those places deep in your heart and soul– where you are begging or have begged  for someone to make you clean? To restore you fully to health—peace of heart and mind?

I’ve heard this kind of feeling come from rape victims… or those who have been the victims of abuse—physical or emotional abuse. That often leaves people feeling dirty and scarred. As one parishioner in a previous church said to me, “Growing up, all my parents told me is that I was worth nothing… I was a piece of crap” She felt dirty.

I’ve heard people who have had affairs share this feeling as they are consumed by the guilt of the adultery and how it hurt everyone they loved. They are unclean in the eyes of the ones they hurt.

Listen to people whose lives are consumed with addiction—and the damage they have done to others… they will tell you their hands are dirty as well as their hearts.

So many people feel the stigma of being unacceptable, broken and ashamed…

And we often treat them that way… we add to their pain… as we struggle with our own inner demons.

We saw this happen when AIDS first came into our lives. People with AIDS were considered like lepers—unclean… to be feared… ostracized… objects of scorn and judgment. No one wanted to be near them. Some still treat them this way.

I’ve heard homeless people feel ostracized by their society. Many of us are afraid of the homeless as if they have leprosy.  Many of the homeless don’t feel good enough to come into our worship service. They don’t think they’d feel welcome here, they are not clean! No one would speak to them… they will say things like,

“I don’t know what I did, but I must have done something to make God mad at me.”

Uncleanliness can take many forms.

From the outside of the church, many people still assume we are only a sanctuary for saints, not a hospital for sinners. Sometimes because we act that way and treat others that way.

But can I tell you a little secret… a dirty little secret– or a truth. Lepers, addicts, the abused the homeless, those with AIDS are not the only ones unclean.

We are all unclean. Whether it be a sin of the flesh or a sin of the spirit… ego, pride, arrogance, self righteousness, envy… idolatry—Name your poison! …

And if you think you are good enough to be here, guess what, you have just revealed the sin of self righteousness that Jesus hated!

None of us, on our own competency or purity have a leg to stand on before God. All of us, in the lines of a confession, “deserve God’s displeasure.” Or as Luther once said, “We are all beggars, this is true”

None of us have our hands and hearts clean in this world. Everyone has a story in their lives that they are not proud of.  I don’t care if you are liberal or conservative. I don’t care if you were raised in the church or have never been to church.

We all have our hands dirty.

I remember last summer in Iona… there was a table in the sanctuary loaded with cell phones, ipods, and all of that. During the service they began to tell us about the gems used in many of our electronics.

What I did not know is that the cell phone I so enjoy contains gems from the Congo mined from those living in the worst conditions (slave conditions)… where millions have been slaughtered.

My hands that hold the phone are not clean.

Many  of us who own and love our  Apple products were disturbed to discover the living and working conditions of those who make them. Oppressive.  None of us is clean.

I’m here to tell you, none of us have our hands or hearts clean in this world—morally or socially.

And when you and I are ready to own up to it… when we are finally ready to put aside our attempts to declare ourselves holy and clean before God… when we finally realize that we are the ones who should be on our knees begging Jesus to cleanse us and make us whole– then I have some good news for you.

Christ is ready to make us clean and restore us to God.  

One reason we confess our sins every week… is to come clean with ourselves and God. We often quote to you this line from 1 John, “If we say we have no sin, we are self deceived and strangers to the truth”“But if we confess our sins, Christ is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong”

AND THAT IS GOOD NEWS INDEED FOR EVERY ONE OF US HERE. As the song says, “Behold, behold, I make all things new”

Every baptism tells this story. Baptism is more than welcoming someone to the church. Baptism is about admitting our neediness before God… it is dying to our sins and rising to a new life… it is accepting that in Christ we are cleansed. It’s a gift.

When I was growing up, when someone joined the church or was baptized, we used to ask them this question: “Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?”

We don’t ask…”Are you morally, spiritually, socially clean enough to come before God? Because the church would be empty!

If you can’t admit that you are a sinner… or in need of help, then you are not ready to be a part of the church.

All of us are here not because we are so good… but because God is so good. God is gracious and merciful… God is the one who in Christ cleanses us.

That’s the good news for all of us whose hands are dirty. Christ has come to cleanse us from all kinds of wrong.

Which is the good news we can share with everyone.

Let me close by telling you or reminding  what happened to the woman whose parents told her that she was dirty and nothing but crap.

Some of you will remember this story.

For months we met and talked. She felt so unclean… so dirty… I tried to assure her that God didn’t make junk and all of that. But she could not accept it.

Then one day she said, “Jody, I’ve been thinking about this. And I wonder. Would you baptize me? “ I said, “You’ve already been baptized—when you were a child.” She said, “You don’t understand. I think if I get baptized… I will feel clean. All the dirt will wash away.”  She was begging me.

Well, I had to sort of think through this. We do not re-baptize people. We’re not allowed to.  We don’t do private baptisms—because we are part of a community of faith where baptism welcomes us into a larger family of brothers and sisters in Christ. Unless there is an extraordinary circumstance like a child dying in a hospital and then it is a pastoral act of love.

We think the Holy Spirit is working in our baptisms even when we don’t know it.  But I wanted to help her. And she was begging me. Then an idea came to mind.

We could have her renew her baptism vows… we could re-affirm them. Which is what we did. The Session approved and a wonderful elder came with me to the Sanctuary one day to have her renew her vow… to reaffirm her vow.

I asked her the questions we use for baptism – like “Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world? Do you turn to Jesus and accept him as your Lord and Savior? “

Then I had her touch the waters of baptism and I declared her to be made clean using these words:

  “We rejoice that you claimed us in our baptism and that by your grace we are born anew… I declare to you that you are forgiven… you are a child of God…

    Defend, O Lord, your servant …. With your heavenly grace, that she may continue to be yours forever and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more.”

And with that… she was offered the cleansing power of the one who offers to clean all of us of any condition and any kind of wrong. She found a peace in the one who is, as the hymn says, “the balm in Gilead who is able to heal the sin sick soul.”

Thanks be to God!. Amen.

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