First Sunday in Lent
Beach glass begins as something whole and yet discarded. As it is tumbled by the sea, it is broken and polished until it becomes a treasured “mineral gem.” We do not embrace that suffering is necessary or God-given, but that suffering is a part of life. When pain comes and brokenness enters our lives, Jesus reaches out to touch and remind us of the TREASURE that we ALL are-worthy of new life in the midst of hopelessness. In a year when pandemic has wreaked havoc on our world, we begin by affirming our journey to physical health.
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” -Matt 8:1-4
Have you ever felt left out of a group, felt like you didn’t fit in, felt you were not worthy enough, good enough. I think most of us can remember such a time in our lives where we felt like we were an outsider. I remember when I became a member of the church my husband grew up in. I became know as Chuck’s wife. I lost my personal identity and I felt like an outsider. If you remember feeling left out of a group you can feel some level of empathy with the man with leprosy. But I don’t imagine any of us have gone through a dramatic experience of utter rejection and socially exiled, physically healed, and reintegrated into the community, that for so long, shunned and feared us. Try as we might we cannot fully grasp what that was like for him. Why do you think this man would want to go back to the temple? The worshipping community, even with its flaws, must have offered something to this child of God the he was not able to find anywhere else. What kind of hope and healing do we come to religion seeking? And seeking do we find?
A friend of mine in Divinity school told his story. He was a person of color. He was also Gay and had been shunned from his church once he publicly stated this fact. He knew that he was a child of God but lost hope of finding a community that saw him as that child. He was walking down the street one Sunday and saw a church with open doors and music that beckoned him to enter. He was greeted warmly and accepted and ultimately joined that community.
But the question: “What kind of healing and hope do we come to religion seeking?” is the elephant in the room. People are seeking other means other than religion to heal their pain and find a sense of belonging! Substance abuse. The Internet. Clubs. Conspiracy theorists. Just to name a few. Have we lost touch with an entire generation because we did not offer the kind of hope and healing they needed?
Our text this morning invites us to think about what our communities offer to those in pain, those seeking healing and touch: How are we reaching out to people in pain? Are we acknowledging those suffering in our preaching and worship? In what ways are we stigmatizing certain kinds of pain? How are we promoting physical health, wholeness, and healing? Are we seeking hope and healing for ourselves for if we are not healthy we cannot heal others? These are all questions worth our time and effort in answering.
Jesus’ touch of the leper was an outrageous act. By doing it, he signaled that these people (probably a mixture of people with everything from psoriasis, boils, to simple eczema), were not outside the kin-dom of God, nor should they be outside the love of the community itself. They are family, worthy of touch and inclusion.
The text also invites us to consider the ways our communities exclude others, the boundaries we create, the boundaries we transcend. The leper was considered unclean. It does make sense that a community would fear a person with a skin disease. What if it were contagious? Communities create boundaries for good reasons, for self-preservation and to create a strong sense of identity and purpose. The problem is when our boundaries go unchecked and unquestioned. Are there boundaries we need to question or check?
Jesus crosses social boundaries in every way imaginable. Jesus teaches us that the boundaries we thought were helping us might actually be hurting us and hurting others. Look around our community, who is missing? How are our community standards including or excluding people who long to belong? What kind of outrageous/courageous act can we do? How about LOVE—share the love of God that is in you with all those in pain! Give the healing touch to all in need of hope!
We are all treasured by God.
We are beautiful.
How can we help people feel this deeply?