Sunday, February 15, 2009

Are You Clean - A Sermon

It’s one of the sillier scenes I’ve read lately.  This big foreign genereal Naaman gets cured by the prophet Elisha so what does he do?  He picks up two donkey cart loads of dirt so he can worship Elisha’s God even when he’s at home.

You see, gods back then were tied to the land in people’s minds.  So even though Naaman figured out that God is the only truly powerful god, he did not understand that Elisha’s God is the ONLY God.  

Still, if Elisha had chosen to set him straight, Naaman probably would have believed it because this God of Israel had done a most fantastic thing.  He had made Naaman clean, after all, and that was a big thing.

I mean, he’s a big famous general -- but his shame is equally huge.  To be a leper wipes out most all of his fame and good will.  It’s like a steroids scandal on steroids.  He wasn’t clean -- and to be made clean made him acceptable again.

The same is true in Mark’s Gospel.  There we have a man who comes begging to Jesus to be made clean.  Interesting words he chooses.  “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Jesus replies, “I do choose.”

After that we get a little more silliness.  Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone -- but of course, the second the man gets out of sight, he starts blabbing to everyone that Jesus is a miracle worker, so Jesus can’t do the real work he came for.  We talked about that last week.

Silliness aside, however, both Naaman and this man had a problem.  Their societies saw them as dirty.  Untouchable.  Naaman, being a great general, had an easier time of it because he already had great power.  The man in the gospel, however, was probably like other lepers -- cast out of society, forced to live away from everyone else, forced to yell “Unclean” if they came in sight of normal people so they wouldn’t get contaminated.

The fact that God chose to clean them both -- untouchable, foreign, unacceptable -- tells us about God.  Our unclean-ness does not make God flinch from us.  Whether we are clean or not, God will accept us.

Good thing because even though Leprosy is largely gone these days,  UNCLEAN people are not.  You might even be one of them.

I have been.

Back in seminary I got divorced.  When you’re under the watchful eye of the bishop, the seminary dean and all those professors, it’s pretty hard to hide when your wife moves out.  Even though they were understanding, it felt like I now had a dark mark on my forehead. 

The other couples we used to hang out with didn’t know what to do with a single guy.  I had to move out of married housing.  And then my home diocese told me they couldn’t ordain a divorced man.  In a way, that was a good thing because, that’s how I ended up in New York, so “Thanks, Diocese of Springfield.”  But do live with that stigma is no fun.

There are so many other kinds of “dirty” though.  Someone had an abortion, someone has a mental illness, maybe someone else is gay or a substance abuser or, or, maybe they’re a Liberal! - you name it.  Chances are, YOU are dirty in some way to SOMEBODY.  Just give it a moment, and you’ll know.

But you’re not dirty to God.  The point is that while WE have our many different types of dirtiness -- in fact, we look for the dirt in others -- Jesus sees us already clean.  Jesus sees you and me as clean.  While others would have run from that man, Jesus stayed with him and said, “I do choose.  Be made clean!”  Jesus will not run from us, either but always has and always will choose to make us the way he already sees us.  Clean.   Amen.