Historically Leper colonies and mission to leprosy have been an outworking of this passage, people have been willing to reach out as Jesus did... In the South pacific on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai a leper colony was formed to isolate those with the disease to stop its spread. father Damien was a Belgian Catholic Priest who volunteered to go to this colony to care for those people. To give them physical and spiritual care, advocate for them and give them dignity. Many followed him to work there. He eventually died of the disease, but is known as the Mother Theresa of the south pacific. One of my childhood memories of mission was the little plastic lighthouses on the mantel piece from the leprosy mission that we would fill with the en cent pieces and five cent pieces that always seem to be left in the bottoms of pockets or purses to help this mission care for and reconcile lepers with their community. These are extensions of Jesus willingness to reach out touch and bring wholeness.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Jesus is Willing are we?... A Healing and Restoring Touch From Jesus inLuke 5:12-16 and today.... Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gsopel (Part 6)
This is a bit different than I normally preach… It’s called a narrative sermon… it invites us to enter into the passage to see and feel and be involved and then take it back with us to the world in which we live. We are working our way through Luke’s gospel in a series called following his footsteps and today I want to invite you to do just that…Maybe it is summed up well in the image we have had as a resting image this week of a hand from the point of view of the person reaching out…
He was brave even to be in the town, out here in galilee the rules were just a bit less strenuous. But for so long he has had to live on the edge ostracized and cut off, keeping away from towns and people… if anyone approached he had to call out ’unclean, unclean’ and watch the look of distain and fear on people’s faces as they would scurry away, cross the road, grab their children and shield them behind their backs, till he had passed. Even his own family had had to tell him to stay away, keep his distance, be gone and don’t come back… unless. Unless, the disease went away, his skin became clear again, , yet it hadn’t it just kept getting worse and now he was covered with it so here he would remain beyond touch, beyond embrace and cut off. They called him a leper, but it covered a whole lot of different diseases, not just the one that in modern times would be associated with that name, he didn’t know which one he had, all of them were infectious, all of them treated the same way by isolating the patient. An isolation an uncleanness that not only cut him off from the community from human contact and kindness but as people thought and he was made to feel even from God. Not even God would have compassion. Even God was out of touch.
He was brave even to be in the town, he had heard of Jesus, who hadn’t… even on the edge, there had been whispers of hope. A teacher a prophet who had been thrown out of his home town when he taught that God’s compassion and love and release and healing and wholeness was not just for those who were good enough, but was for all, ;recovery of sight for the blind release for the prisoner, good news for the poor, revolutionary stuff. He’d even mentioned the story of Namun the Syrian healed of leprosy by Elisha the prophet. He had heard the stories of people healed and made whole, a demonised man set free, a widow healed of a fever, many others wherever Jesus went. There was no doubt God was with this man, there was no doubt he was able, God was able… but was he willing. Was this revolution of God’s grace real and true did it extend even across that barrier that void of avoidance to him.
So he had braved the town, and he had come and found Jesus. He wondered how does one approach this holy man? So like Simon the fisherman who now followed Jesus he had thrown himself on the ground before him, in humility and desperation he had come to this last hope, this compassionate man, he’d come with faith aware that God was able and hope, just maybe God was willing … “lord” he had said, it seemed right to affirm this man’s status, while it didn’t hold the same force of the way the Jews used it as a stand in for the name of God yhwh, it seemed right to acknowledge this agent of God, this master…”if you are willing, you can make me clean.” That was it that was at the heart of his whole desire, to be clean, not only of this disease but clean and whole again before God, resorted to faith and to his community.
It felt like a life time, what would Jesus do? Would he be like the others repulsed, turning his back and walk away, just kicking dust up over him, or would he be like those few righteous people who would toss a few coins to help him out, some alms from arm’s length he used to quip.
The next thing he feels is a hand touching him… The first time in years, human contact genuine reaching out to connect. Across the laws of isolation, across the fear of contamination, a touch that would have made Jesus ritually unclean, but somehow with that touch the opposite happens. Jesus speaks words of authority “I am willing , be clean”. That’s what is happening, the skin disease is goes away, but deeper than that there is a newness and a cleanness that reaches down to the very core of his being, bringing cleanness, not only the disease but that sense of separation from God as well. And with that touch a start of the process of reconnection and restoration with God’s people again is made possible.
Jesus speaks and gives him instructions, ‘don’t tell anyone, go and see the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleaning, as a testimony to them”. Just as the law in Leviticus 13 had demanded his separation, now Jesus is telling him to go and fulfil the requirements of the law in Leviticus 14 so that he can be welcomed back, he can go back home, he can feel the embrace of family and friends, the warmth of human connection and community. Jesus had made him clean and healed him and now that needed to be acknowledged and affirmed by the professionals of his day. In doing that he can give thanks to God and let them know the goodness of God, and testify like those of old, that God was able to bring me back across the dark places of illness and distress. It will be hard not to tell people, they will know, they will want to know why and how…
News about Jesus spread more and more, maybe it was the lepers testimony or even without it people heard, people hoped, was Jesus willing to heal them, restore them, bring wholeness to them, make them clean. Jesus heals them and cares for them he shows his compassion and the willingness of God to welcome back and make whole. It could take up all his time, but Jesus slips away to be by himself he goes to the lonely places to pray. While the crowd gets caught up in what Jesus is doing it seems that for Jesus there is something more important, he has a healing touch he reaches out to touch and welcome back and to clean and heal, but there in those time away and in prayer he seems to be in touch with something more important, he stays in touch with his Father, he is able to stay focused on the mission that God has for his, to be lead and guided, it allows his hands to reach out more with cleansing and healing, renewal and restoration.
I wonder today do we find ourselves wondering Jesus are you willing… In our minds through our theology and out liturgy, our understanding of God and the words we use to express it we are willing to believe that God is able, even only is it is in an abstract way… but is God willing. There are areas in our life where we know that we are unclean, maybe things fester and infect our souls from the inside, they make us drive people away and keep them at bay, we feel they keep us cut off and away from God. We hide them, from each other maybe even from ourselves and even from God. jesus if you knew how unclean I was how could you love me…. Today I want to ask are you willing… Are you willing to brave the town… to come to Jesus… you see Jesus is willing… you can be clean. Sin sickness pain suffering the things that cripple and separate us he is able he is willing to make clean. He is willing are you willing to come to him?
The hand that touched the leper bought healing and cleansing, restoration and wholeness, that same hand now wounded with nail holes, form the cross where he took on himself all our sin and grief and shame, still reaches out to you today. He is willing to forgive, be frorgiven, he is willing to heal, be healed, He is willing to restore, be made whole, the spots and blemishes that you see holding you prisoner, keeping you on the edge he will make clean and new again, he is willing to renew, be free from captivity to the past, the blight of sadness and suffering, pain and rejection, hurt and abuse. Today know that the hurtful slap of hand and word, disease and pain can be replaced by the healing restoring touch of Jesus.
I wonder if this morning we hear the words of the leper speaking and the Jesus who invites us to follow him and be part of his revolution of grace asks us are you willing…?
A story form the world today… In villages in Africa and Asia… the girls had been taken away trafficked and sold into sex slavery. But now somehow they had come back, some had simply come back to die, wounded used up sick, kicked out and left as refuse, they had come back hoping to receive at least an ounce of solace and care from their families. Others had been rescued, plucked out courageously from a life of rape and abuse, slavery and servitude. They were met with stony silence and shunned and held at arm’s length as unclean. But the Christians from world vision had come and reached out and touched they had prepared a home for them taught them new trades and ways to look after themselves and formed them into community, now there were not just tears of pain and sorrow and regret but tears of healing and restoration and even joy, and new life. Someone was willing to be the healing hands of Jesus reaching across the social barrier of isolation and uncleanness. Jesus is willing are you?
But look at your hands…Are you willing even closer to home. The ostracized kid in the class room alone on the playground, cut off on the edge because they look different, they act different because of the cruel words spoken about them… Jesus is willing to offer healing hands and make contact and befriend are we?
That person down the road that everyone just want to wash their hands of. They all just wish that they would go away… Jesus is willing to reach out and welcome in are you?
There just seem to be so many social barriers in the world today… Isolation is one of those diseases that infest our modern urban world… They have braved the town, isolated and alone and it seems hostile and even in this big crowd they are alone… hoping for some contact some care some embrace some sense of community and compassion. Will you hear Jesus small voice whisper I am willing are you?
And…Are you willing to step out of it all and to spend the time alone with God in prayer. To find that compassion and love and wholeness that strength from the masters touch so you can go and bring that touch to those around you… Jesus is willing are you?