Feb 15, 2009
Scripture: Mark 1:40-45
Sermon Title: "Out of the Woods"
Rev. George N. Miller
A few weeks ago Jesus told Nathanael how he saw him sitting underneath the fig tree. Last week Jesus unblocked Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever. And today we witness Jesus choosing to make clean a man with leprosy. But first, a story:
It was the one of the driest seasons in memory. For over a month it had not rained. The crops were dying, the cows stopped giving milk and the streams were long gone.
Last week, six year old Billy was given a stern talking to when he was caught playing with the garden hose. To make sure it didn’t happen again, his parents disconnected the hose from the spigot.
One day, Billy’s Mom saw him walking towards the woods. Not moving in his usual carefree way, he had a sense of serious purpose, as if all of him was focused on his task.
Minutes after disappearing into the woods, Billy came running out towards the house, then moments later he was again walking slowly towards the woods.
His Mom noted this cycle happened several times: run out of the woods, walk slowly in. Just what was he doing?
She crept out of the house and quietly followed her son who was cupping his hands in front of him, careful not to drop whatever was in them.
Branches and leaves slapped his face, but he did nothing to stop them: he was focused on a higher purpose.
That’s when the mother saw the most amazing sight: several deer stood in front of Billy. He walked right up to them, knelt down, and there lay a tiny fawn, suffering from dehydration. Billy lowered his cupped hands, the fawn lifted its head and lapped up what Billy was offering it: water. Cool, refreshing water.
When the fawn was done, Billy leapt up and ran back to the house, up to the spigot. Turning it so only a small trickle of water crept out, he stood there, letting it slowly drip into his cupped hands. He had learned his lesson about being wasteful.
After a few minutes his hands were filled with water and he made the slow walk back to the dehydrated baby fawn. That’s when he saw his Mom. His eyes filled with tears. "I’m not wasting," was all he said.
As he walked into the woods, she went into the house, filled up a pot with water, gave it to Billy, then stood away, letting him tend to the fawn. It was his job. She observed her son working so hard to save another life.
As tears rolled down her face, other, larger drops began to hit the ground. She looked up at the sky: it was raining. It was as if God, moved by Billy’s healing actions, had begun weeping as well.
...A touching story, isn’t it? In many ways, it could be a Disney telling of the gospels, complete with unselfish love and abundant sharing. We could say the boy represents Christ, the fawn represents someone in need of healing and the Mom represents us, observing Christ’s actions.
Yes, this would make a delightful Disney tale. But here’s the thing: there’s nothing Disney about the Bible or about Jesus, although we may try our best to clean things up and sanitize them.
The Bible is raw, brutal at times. It addresses life’s issues head on, with no apologies or shying away from the messiness that comes with living.
The Bible is where real life meets the holy, and where things are never the same again. And this tale in Mark is no different.
A man with a leprous disease comes to Jesus, begging him on his knees, "Please, if you choose, you can make me clean." And Jesus, overcome with emotion, touches him and says "I do choose. Be made clean."
If Disney had made this into a cartoon, the man with leprosy may have been portrayed by a cute little fawn. But leprosy is far from cute. It is a series of skin conditions, be it a swelling, a spot or raw flesh. Leprosy could result from a boil, a bad burn, it could affect hair, by itchy and cover a person from head to toe.
As bad as the symptoms were, much worse was the way one was treated. Considered unclean, you were symbolically placed in the backyard woods, living on the outskirts of town, separated from family, friends and place of worship.
And there were specific instructions on how to act in public. Just take a look at Leviticus 13:45-46. Not very Disney-like is it?
So try to picture this man with leprosy. Imagine him living outside of town, away from all the other folk. No one to touch, no one to hold.
Imagine the sores covering his body, the intense itching. Imagine him in his ripped clothing, his mussed up hair.
Imagine the humiliation of walking though the crowd announcing himself as "unclean". See him begging on his knees, the look in his eyes as he says "If you choose you can make me clean."
What feelings does this invoke in you? For me, I can’t help but to feel anger: anger at Jesus, anger at God.
I am mad that this man has this illness. I’m mad the law dictates that he has to act a certain way.
But most of all, I am mad that he has to leave the woods to go to Jesus to be healed.
Why, if God is all-knowing, does the man have to come to Jesus to be healed? Why if Jesus is so good, does the man have to ask to be healed?
Why doesn’t Jesus just save him and all those like him the trouble by just going to where they’re at and healing them instantly like Billy did with the sick fawn?
I’m mad because as far as I know, there’s not one story in which Jesus goes to where the sick and hurting are without being first asked to go there.
If Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree why didn’t he make himself known there and then? Why couldn’t Jesus heal Peter’s mother-in-law without having to be escorted into her room?
Why did the man with leprosy have to endure that walk of shame and fall to his knees to be restored, transformed and unblocked?
Yet as mad as I may be, I realize I must temper it by realizing Jesus had his reasons for not doing things the easy way. And when I stop and think things over, one of the reasons becomes a bit clearer: often times for a person to experience the total benefit of healing, they have to truly want it.
Yes, Jesus could have walked to the outskirts of town and instantly cured the people, but would they have fully understood and appreciated it?
If Jesus unexpectedly cured the folk, would it have provided any true healing at all or just enabled them? For a person to receive healing, must they first get to the point of admitting that something is wrong?
Don’t we witness people who have horrible things going on in their life? Their health isn’t good, their relationship is unhealthy. Their fiances are not solid, or their job is not making them happy.
But instead of admitting it they fall into denial: "This cough? Oh its nothing." "He only hits me when he’s drunk." "I’m just two months behind on rent." "Work only stresses me out on the days ending with ‘y’."
Such people go on and on, saying everything is fine or hiding themselves from the world when it gets too hard to act. But nothing changes, nothing improves. It usually only gets worse.
The cough gets deeper. The slaps sting more. The landlord posts the eviction notice. A heart attack happens on the job.
And that’s when the reality hits. When a person realizes they can not do it alone, that they need help and the support of another.
For some it creates a moment of faith. For those who process their need this way, they look around at the symbolic woods they’ve been in, and realize just how much they need the Lord.
Some will fall to their knees, praying and begging for the healing to come, and perhaps that’s the step that creates a path for true healing.
For you see, today’s tale is not about a man in denial. These are the actions of a person who’s sick and tired of being sick and tired. His actions reflect someone who has endured his situation for far too long, who has tried every other way, who knows he can no longer do it alone.
These are the actions of someone of complete faith who realizes he can only achieve true healing by calling upon the living Lord to extend his hand and touch him with his abundant grace and love.
These are the actions of a man who realizes in Christ he not only has an advocate, but a doctor, a teacher, and a high priest. And the healing becomes real.
Thanks to Psalm 130 we know there is no place where God is not. John 1 reminds us that Jesus sees us even when we sit under our fig trees of loneliness.
Perhaps what Mark is trying to teach us is that like the leper, to be healed we need to come out of our woods, to come clean with whatever it is that is damaging us, and we need to move towards Jesus unafraid to ask for help and healing
Just as we have to be willing to journey to the cross and kneel before the crucified Lord in order to realize just how abundant his grace and love is.
Just as we need to go to the garden to meet the resurrected Christ to realize there is nothing that can separate us from that abundant grace and love, where we are called to learn, live and share God’s Word.
I am still mad at Jesus for making the man with leprosy work so hard for his healing, but at least now I have come to a place in which I think I understand why it is so.
And in understanding, perhaps we can look upon ourselves and ask what it is we need healing from, and how we can approach Jesus, asking to be healed, knowing that Jesus can and that Jesus will.
All thanks be to God who places in us a clean heart, to Jesus who is our living water and for the Spirit that stirs us from our hiding places.
Amen and amen.