This sermon was preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church OKC, OK on February 12, 2012
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying 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.” But 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. Mark 1:4-45
How often have we cried out those words to God, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” If you choose, you can heal me. If you choose, you can…[fill in the blank.] Begging the Lord late in to the night, Let this pass from me. Take this pain away. Stop this hurt. Your soul aches. Your heart can’t take anymore. Your spirit is weak and you have nothing left to give. You cry out to God for relief. You don’t really care if it is death or healing, something has got to give.
If you have know this kind of pain, this frustration, and this level of anguish then you have walked in the shoes of the leper. Outside of the city gates the leper sat begging for food. The leper begged for their humanity. They were ostracized, rejected, marginalized, and a shame to all that encountered them.
For the leper even talking to Jesus was an act of defiance. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, a holy man. The leper has heard about this man, Jesus. Jesus has left Capernaum, about 20 miles away, having healed a lot of people and teaching in the local synagogues. The leper sitting at the cities outer gates would have heard about all of these things that Jesus did.
The leper was the first person not possessed by a demon to reach out to Jesus directly. All of the other people healed by Jesus were brought to him. This leper came to Jesus and begged him for healing saying, “”If you choose, you can make me clean.”
We read that Jesus’ response to stretch out his hand and touch the leper was motivated by pity. Out of pity Jesus healed this person. There is an alternative reading of this text. Where we read Jesus is moved with pity we can also read “Jesus is moved with anger.”
Jesus moves to heal the leper in a fit of righteous anger. The leper is unable to participate in religious rituals or engage in their civic duties due to their disease. The leper is unclean and unfit for interactions with “normal” society. The leper would wait outside the city gates for death or pity to befall them.
Jesus stretching out his healing hand to the leper to made him unclean. Jesus got dirty to be in relationship with this person. Jesus’ anger got him involved and in the mix. Jesus left behind tradition, decorum, or any other societal barrier to reach out to this person in need and became part of them.
Jesus answered the hope in the statement, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” With an outstretched hand and, “I do choose. Be made clean!” And the leper was clean. The leper was restored to wholeness. The leper became like Jesus. The leper was able to fully enjoy their civil rights. The leper was able to fully participate in their faith and go to the synagogue to honor God. The leper called out Jesus. Jesus got mad. Jesus got convicted. Jesus got involved. Jesus got dirty. Jesus built a relationship. The leper got healed. Jesus restored the community.
Who here cannot use a little healing? A little restoration? Who here wants to step out and answer the lepers in our lives? “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Where are we hearing the call in our lives? Who are the lepers in our lives calling out to us to get angry?
Anger comes in two flavors with two different God flavored sprinkles. You have “sinful anger” and “righteous anger.” Sinful anger does nothing but eat away at you. It is silent. It festers in your heart and eats at your soul. It demands a God that will preemptively act and smooth the bumps and bruises of life.
Then you have “righteous anger.” Righteous anger acts against injustice. It is vocal. It inspires and motivates just action to bring about the Kingdom of God. It demands a God that will redeem the bumps and bruises of life.
When you hold on to “sinful anger” you live your life expecting that God is in some sort of divine prevent defense covering all of the depravity that might come your way. You hold on to the dysfunction of your humanity–the frailty of your being–in the hopes of a preemptive God.
The problem with this is that holding on to a preemptive God obscures the resurrected glory of a redemptive God. Your eyes cannot see the resurrected, reclaimed, renewed vision of the redemptive God through the faded, tattered hope of the beaten down preemptive God.
Many of us have very real financial debt. God must offer a way out. God does not call us to be burdened by debt and bound by any unjust system of lending.
“God protect me from the pain of emotion, God guide me in your ways,” has become a spiritual cover up. It is the foundation of the religious mask that many of us have donned when the leper reaches out to ask us for healing.
We have been praying for God to strike while the iron is hot. We call out for God to take this burden away from us that we may be liberated to do “real” ministry. Perhaps, God is not calling us to liberated “real” ministry. Perhaps, we are right where God wants us to be and we ought to look around for those voices crying out in the wilderness, those voices calling out for healing.
The preemptive God found in “sinful anger” is connected through provision. This God tirelessly responds to our pleas for help. Like an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lassie keeping us away from that dangerous well. The preemptive God keeps us dependent on tradition, folk ritual, and half-truths as we beg and plead for this madness to stop. The preemptive God is devoid of the glory of the promise of Gods redemptive glory in the death conquering power of Jesus Christ.
The redemptive God is what this world, this nation, this city requires. The redemptive God through “righteous anger” restores and reconciles that which is lost. The redemptive God takes what is meant for evil and makes good. The redemptive God delivers us into the belly of a whale and restores our call. The redemptive God takes us from where we are and delivers us to where we might be. The redemptive God is that “righteous anger” reaching out to touch the unclean, the marginalized, unjust, and broken, becoming broken, marginalized, and persecuted that they both might embrace restoration.
“If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with “righteous anger”, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper, and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
We need the redemptive God to take what has been meant for ill and turn it on its ear for good. We need the redemptive God that wields “righteous anger” that does not destroy the community building of shared hardship and loss. We need the redemptive God that draws the best of the worst to bear witness of the “not yet.”
The redemptive God arrived in a manger. The redemptive God clings to her mother’s breast. The redemptive God is fully human and fully divine. The redemptive God is here with us.
The redemptive God is mired in the same mess in which we find ourselves. The redemptive God borrowed money to attend college to earn a degree that does not guarantee him a job. The redemptive God has diabetes and no money or health care to pay for it. The redemptive God worries about paying bills. The redemptive God boils with “righteous anger” and is moved to action.
This passage is not just about “righteous anger” drawing us in to action and healing. It is also about relationship building. With relationships we can build communities. With communities we can change the world. Jesus is showing us a vehicle to change the world.
Ten years ago I was a youth minister at a Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, California. The church I served was right across the street from a large public high school and a few blocks from a huge State University. We had all kinds of young adults and youth in and out of that church. We were also surrounded by thousands of people that were homeless.
Surrounding us on any given night were over a hundred thousand homeless people living on the streets and fighting for room in the shelters. There never seemed to be a day that we would not encounter a homeless person.
I used to take the high school youth group over to this local park to hang out and play games. We would play kickball, basketball, baseball, and Frisbee on this large grass field blanketed with that warm Southern California sun. On the edges of the lawn under trees and hiding in the shadows were many people that lived in this park. Saddled with shopping carts filled with their life’s prizes and kits for survival, these people watched as we frolicked in the sun unburdened by their plight or seemingly unconcerned with their stories.
I preached a sermon to the youth once about this passage. I challenged them to help others and listen to their stories before you judge and seeing if there was something you could offer to them. Making sure to always recognize their humanity first. I asked them to listen for the voices in their lives that made them angry. I asked them to respond to the voices with compassion and action.
A few months had passed and the warm sunny days were giving way to cooler temperatures and the outdoor living rooms so many called home grew harsh and hostile. I got a call from the local high school principal to come to his office. He wanted to talk to me about a couple of my students.
I went down to the school and to the principal’s office. There I found two of my students sitting outside his office with worried looks on their faces. I was quickly greeted by the principal and brought in to his office.
He told me that these two young men got caught trying to sneak back in to school after the lunch bell had rang. Their excuse was that they were giving food to the homeless people in the park. When the principal pressed them on their story they told him it was in response to my sermon they had heard one time in youth group.
This is why the principal called me; he wanted to talk to me about what I had said. He and I chatted for a while. He filled me in on what the boys had told him and he gave me a little chastising. After we were finished I left his office and said good-bye to the boys and went back to the church with this strange mix of shame, anger, and pride.
You see, the boys had been collecting food from their friends and other students at lunchtime. They even would buy food with their money to take to the park and distribute during the lunch period. They jumped a fence to bring food to those that did not have any.
The next time I saw the boys I asked them why they jumped the fence to deliver the food. One of the boys looked at me and said, “I needed to give my friends something to eat. My heart hurt to see me with all the food and them with none. They were hungry. I had all this food. We had a lot of food here. So, we just got it and gave it away. It is what you told us to do. Jesus got involved, right? It is what Jesus would have done.”
Who was I to argue this teenage sage? He was right. These two high school boys risked detention and other discipline to bring food to the hungry. They had gone out and gotten involved. They got dirty. They risked their place in society to reach out and help someone else.
I listened to their story and got real convicted. Would I have done the same thing? I was upset with them but I also had a pride inside me. They had heard the message of Jesus, the call of the leper to be healed and they reached out, got dirty, and offered healing.
They were filled with “righteous anger” and did what that Redemptive God would have done. They became part of that leprous community in hopes of bringing wholeness to everyone. “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with RIGHTEOUS AGER, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”