"The Turtle and the Hare",    Mark 1:40-45             Feb. 15, 2009
 
Change is inevitable . . . except from vending machines (StevenWright).
 
What do you want to change? Do you want to change? I would guess that most of us here this morning would like to change at least one thing in ourselves, if we could. (I'm going on the assumption that none of us are perfect (wink!).
 
Do you want to change enough to publically seek Jesus the Healer-- or is it easier to suffer by the side of the pool like the cripple in Bethsesda? Which do you think would be a turtle or a hare? 
 
We try our best throughout the flu season to stay at least 15 feet away from those with sniffly noses and rasping coughs. Most people either have the flu, are getting over it, or are just catching it.
 
The leper who approaches Jesus risks it all just by getting close.  Now leprosy could be anything from a rash to a flesh eating bacteria.  It didn’t matter.  People were literally scared to death of leprosy.  People lived in absolute fear of leprosy and all those who had leprosy.  So, if you had a skin disease you were made into an instant outsider. 
 
The law in Leviticus was clear: “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!’  And he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:45-46)
 
In New Testament times, if you had leprosy you lost everything — job, family, place in the community — everything.  The leper who approaches Jesus shows his desperation by breaking the law, by coming into the city, and getting close enough to Jesus that he could talk to him.  He’s lucky he wasn’t stoned.  But Jesus has pity on this poor desperate leper and heals him.  Suddenly, the leper’s desperation is turned to joy! 
 
Jesus tells him to go and show himself to the priest, to prove that he’s cured, and also, Jesus tells him, don’t talk about this healing with other people.  In other words, Jesus didn’t want to be known only as a healer, or worse yet, as a magician. 
 
But so overcome with joy is this former leper, that he can’t control himself.  He goes and blabs to anyone and everyone.  This former leper becomes not just a proclaimer of the good news, he actually becomes the good news.  His joy, his laughter is absolutely infectious and spreads more quickly than any form of leprosy the world has known.
 

 
According to Rev. WilliamLoader, from MurdochUniversity, "The kingdom means freedom also for lepers. They are not the last group to be ostracised because of their illness. Most people who live with a disability can tell stories about being ostracised, especially if that disability is to be seen. People with AIDS carry a similar stigma."[1]

 
The leper experienced an outpouring of joy, but this uncontrollable sense of joy was not just because he had been healed.  No, it was because he had been made whole; he could re-enter the community, he could go home to his family, and he could get back to his job. In short, he could live life again. Lepers were as good as dead, but now he had his life and his health back. It's almost a resurrection story.
 
This is where I think we have to be careful to distinguish between healing and wholeness.  Lot’s of people are healed from a disease but go back to living the same dead-end lives they were living before they got sick.  To be made whole is something else.  It is to be changed, it is to be transformed, it is to know that God is at work in your life, it is to be overcome by joy. 
 
To be healed can mean a lot of things. Even death is a form of healing.  But to be made whole is to be enveloped by a peace that passes all understanding, it is to know a joy that bubbles up uncontrollably, it is to know the power of God’s grace in one’s life, and it is to respond with thanks, with gratitude, with laughter.
 


So what we really have is a series of contrasts.[2]  We have the contrast between those who have leprosy and those who don’t; between a fearful culture and desperate people; between people who long to know wholeness and the one who can make them whole.
 
In a lot of ways it sounds like our world.  I mean, we live among lepers.  Sometimes we’re the leper and other times we treat others like lepers.  And there’s no question we’re all in search of wholeness.  If we’re honest we can admit that there are so many different kinds of barriers that separate us human beings, that make us (or somebody else) a leper — fear, mistrust, misunderstanding, anger loneliness, the inability to communicate with each other, even with those we love the most and are closest to. 
 
In so many ways, we move through life shrouded in desperation.  Either we feel like a leper to the world, untouchable and unclean —  or we have chosen others to be treated like lepers, untouchable and unclean.
 
 
Stereotypes are a form of leprosy that keep people apart.[3]  It’s a form of leprosy that we willingly take on because it offers us a safe haven. We don't have to interact with the other and the unknown.  It’s just easier to adopt this form of leprosy than it is to risk reaching out and touching or being touched. 
 
It is not until human beings are able to see one another as children of God that we’ll be able to sit down and begin to try and understand one another.  This is true not just for Muslims and Christians, or Muslims and Jews, its also true for grown ups and teenagers, for blacks and whites, gay and straight, liberals and conservatives, old hymn lovers and new music lovers.
 
Because, you see, it’s not just a matter of being willing to reach out and touch.  We can control that.  We can control when we reach out and who we touch. It is also, perhaps more importantly, a matter of being willing to risk being touched, touched by God and changed, transformed, made whole
 
 
You see, it’s not just about being together here in the church, it’s about being the church.  Like the leper in Mark, it’s not just about spreading the good news, it’s about being the good news.  And this is where we learn to be the good news.  This is where we are touched, where our identity and character is formed by God’s Word, God’s sacraments, God’s Spirit.  This is where we practice being authentic persons, genuine vessels of God’s care and compassion. 
 
The Kingdom of God is among you. ErinMartin asserts,

 
"The healing of individuals is always about more than the healing of individuals. Healings are about the kingdom of God."[4]

 
 
Look around you, this (here: the church, this congregation) is God’s gift where healing can take place, where lepers are welcome and so are tough questions.  There’s no question that leprosy, in any of its many forms, is infectious.  There’s also no question that our world is sick and suffering.  But we cannot forget that health and wholeness can be just as infectious. We cannot forget that God’s will for the world is peace and salvation. 
 
That’s why it’s so important that we learn to genuinely express the joy we experience through the touch of Jesus Christ in lives, not just here, but out there.  That’s why it’s so important that we learn to laugh for joy in ways that share good news, in ways that cause us to become the good news!  All in the hope that as we touch and risk being touched the world might be infected by God and reduced to the uncontrollable need to laugh...together. 
 
 
Amen.
 
Rev. RosemaryStelz
 
 
 
 


[1]"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Epiphany 6, Uniting Church in Australia.
 
[2]A sermon by Dr. Jeffrey K. London Presbyterian
Copyright 2006, JeffreyK.London. Used by permission. Lectionary.org/sermons
 
[3] Ibid.
 
[4]"I Do Choose,"ErinMartin, The Ekklesia Project.
 
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