Rev. George Miller
Feb 12, 2012
This Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, and with it comes boxes of chocolates, vases of flowers and little candy hearts.
Those tasty, sugary candies that say things like “Be Mine”, “True Love” and “Choose Me.”
Which ties into today’s scripture, which I felt compelled to preach on because I find it quite uncomfortable.
My uncomfortablness stems from the verbal exchange between the man and Jesus, in which the man comes to Jesus and says “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
On a simple level, it sounds like a wonderful story, but my gut reaction was that by giving Jesus a choice, the man was setting himself up for the possibility of being told “No.”
If Jesus had said “I choice not”, what would that mean? And why did the man have to ask Jesus anyway? Why didn’t Jesus just see the man was in need and simply say “You are clean” without having to be asked?
Could Jesus have said no, and if so, what would that mean? Troubling indeed.
So today we will explore this story and hopefully by the end of this message, we’ll discover that more then a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers, God’s Valentine for us is the desire that we all live as fully and healthy as possible.
But first, a story. Last May I moved into a house on Dinner Lake: 2 kitchens, 2 ½ bathrooms, a porch big enough to live in, rose bushes, cactuses, fruit trees and a stunning view of the water.
I originally thought I’d have dinner parties and church gatherings. Then I discovered my house came with something else: rats, nasty, smelly, sneaky creatures that leave their dropping all over the place and gnaw holes through walls.
For about 6 weeks I tried to kill as many as I could. Glue traps worked for a bit, but it’s not pleasant waking up to the sound of a stuck rat flopping about.
Then they became too smart for the glue traps and snapping traps laced with peanut butter were laid out around the house.
But boy did those rats know how to get the treats without setting off the traps and my house began to smell like a school lunchroom.
Finally, by sealing off entranceways and using wisely placed poisonous treats they were gone, but the negative affects of having rats lingered. I felt violated and ashamed.
I’m a clean person, who keeps house the best that I can, yet having rats made me feel unclean and dirty, as if it was my fault.
Worse of all, I allowed the experience to socially close me down. I didn’t tell anyone what was really going on. I stopped inviting people over. I was worried what people would say.
So, in my embarrassment, I withdrew and went into myself, feeling helpless and alone.
Thankfully, a sense of healing and cleansing happened when I finally got over myself and shared my situation with others.
As it turns out I’m not the only one in Florida who has had to face the fury of four-legged furry rodents. There were others who were neat and had beautiful homes.
So it wasn’t me; it was simply the reality of living by the water in a state overrun with wildlife.
With that knowledge, I found myself reentering society, feeling more clean and whole then I had.
I share this because as far as I’m concerned, the issue of being clean is what’s really going on in this story.
Back then, the Hebrews were living under the Law of Moses, a collection of directives that were attributed to God, but probably involved some human tinkering.
Some of the laws made sense, like honoring your parents. Others seemed cruel.
For example, this law from Leviticus 13:45-46: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out ‘Unclean, unclean.’
“He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling outside the camp.”
In other words, if you are living with leprosy, you no longer can wear nice clothes, do your hair or live in your home.
You are to live on the outskirts of town, away from everyone you know, and if you dare to be in the presence of others you must shout out the humiliating fact that you are unclean.
So, as bad as living with a chronic illness may be, you would also bear the loneliness of living apart from family, friends, or being able to participate in community worship.
No Valentine day cards or flowers for you.
Thus, the true hurt of being unclean came from the humiliation and isolation it caused.
Thankfully, God must have realized these laws were not working and lovingly gave us Jesus to restore and to cleanse us.
That, as far as I am concerned, is what this story today is really about. It’s not so much that the man is living with leprosy, but that he must do so alone, removed from everything that makes life good.
In today’s reading, Jesus is wandering about town, and through the crowd comes this man with a dreaded disease. If he is observing the Law, his clothes are torn, his hair is messed up and he’s shouting “Unclean, unclean” so people can scatter away.
With either blatant disregard for the Law, or in a sign of great faith (or perhaps both), he falls down before the Son of God and says “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
Note, he didn’t say “You can cure me.” He said “You can make me clean.”
I think what the man’s really saying to Jesus is “I’m done with this; I’m tired. I’m tired of not seeing family; I’m tried of not seeing friends. I’m tired of not worshipping in the synagogue. I want to resume my normal life, and it is only you who can help me.”
Jesus, moved with a sense of compassion, dared to touch the man and say “I choose.” And in saying this, Jesus allows him to resume his relationship with others.
Jesus didn’t just cleanse the man of his disease; he washed away the negative connotations that came with it which limited the man's ability to enjoy a full life and to be part of the community of worship.
Happy Valentine’s Day indeed.
But the question remains: why did the man have to ask him? Why couldn’t it just happen?
Perhaps the question is not “Can Jesus cleanse us?” but “Do we desire to be made clean?”
Think about it. Don’t we all know people who seem to actually enjoy being unwell? Don’t we know someone who always has a complaint to make, a condition to magnify?
There are those who like to hold a grudge. They like to be angry. Someone, some time did something wrong and they can not let it go; they dwell upon, hold onto it.
Because of this, they stop communicating with or avoid the person who they felt did them wrong.
If they are invited to a gathering and that person is there, they choose not to go. They call others on the phone to complain about what that person may or may not have done.
We also know those who define themselves by the series of bad luck they seem to have. If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen to them.
The waiter screws up their order. The airport lost their luggage. A black cat crossed their path causing them to slip on a banana peel and break a mirror.
And boy, do they talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it, hoping to get a reaction and some sympathy.
Then, there are those who define themselves by their ailments. I’m not talking about people who are hospitalized or living with chronic illness, but those who always seem to have aches, pains, sprains and migraines.
Makes you wonder if some people are only happy when they are unhappy. And guess what: all of us have a bit of Drama Queen of Chaos King in us (I know I do).
So, with this in mind, maybe the nature of this story is that we can only be cleansed once we ourselves have reached the point that we are willing to be made clean.
That we can not be forced into wellness. We can not have someone else do it for us.
That no matter how much they suggest, cry and reach out to us, we have to want it, we have to seek it, that we ourselves have to come to the realization that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
If that is the case, then the good news comes from the fact that in Jesus Christ we have someone we can go to, to be made clean.
That in Christ, we have someone we can turn to with our symbolically ripped clothes, with our metaphorically mussed up hair and say with amazing faith and humble submission “I know God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know that you can make me clean.”
And when we reach that point, Jesus’ choice is always for that to happen.
How that cleansing will look will be unique for each person, but the knowledge that Jesus chooses us is a knowledge that can lessen the pain and restore in us to some semblance of joy and community.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the disease or situation disappears, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be other battles to contend with.
What it means is that through Christ, the power of that issue, that situation, no longer has to have power over us.
When we come to Christ and fall on our knees, we will discover that we are free and able to return to our family, return to our friends, and to proclaim the good news.
And it is good news indeed.
In conclusion, there are so many things that will happen in our lives that could separate us from others if we are not careful. But in Christ, they do not have to.
So this week, let us remember that in Christ, God has already sent us the greatest valentine of all, better then flowers, better then a box of chocolates, better then candy hearts with witty sayings.
A valentine in the form of Jesus Christ, who came to show us what true love is.
In Jesus Christ, God has indeed chosen us; with that choice exists God’s desire that we all have a full, healthy life surrounded by family, friends and a place to worship.
Now it’s up to us to choose if we are going to accept that gift and just what we are going to do with it.
It’s not us waiting for Jesus to make the choice, but it is Christ who is waiting for us.
So, today, let it be us who say to Jesus “I choose.”
For that, we can say “Hallelujah” and we can say “Amen.”