Summary: A sermon about the radically inclusive love of Christ.
“I Do Choose!!!”
Have you ever felt like an outcast?
Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in?
Many of us go through times in our lives when we feel like social piranhas.
A month or so ago, Clair and I went to the mall.
This is something we don’t do very often, but it was a cold day—too cold for Owen to play outside and we all needed to get out of the house.
Once we were back in our car and about to head home Clair made an off-hand comment: “Boy there sure were a lot of awkward teenagers in the mall today.”
I asked her what she meant.
She meant kids who were obviously going through a time of rebellion.
You know what I’m talking about.
The teen years can be some of the worst.
It’s easy to feel like an outcast when you are a kid, trying to figure out who you are and where you stand in the so-called “pecking order” of life.
I wonder if young people feel welcome in churches, if they feel loved and accepted no matter who they are, no matter what their peers tell them, no matter what they look like or are struggling with?
I once met a preacher who bragged about kicking a young person out of his church--a young person who was gay.
He told him not to come back unless he changed.
No wonder the suicide rate is especially high for kids who are LGBTQ.
If, even the church condemns persons and won’t accept them, won’t love them unconditionally—who will?
Our culture tends to stigmatize the “different” among us: the diseased and disfigured, the immigrant, the very poor, the slow to learn--the social misfits.
As a result these folks are left feeling as if they are “less than,” “not as good as,” “not as important as” other people.
No one should have to feel this way.
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning, Jesus has been traveling through towns and synagogues proclaiming the good news and casting out demons.
And now He has arrived in an open field where the impure people wander, those who aren’t allowed to be part of society.
He has sought out and found the people who are treated as though they are the bottom of the barrel.
They are the lepers.
They are the ones who have been separated by the very communities that might have brought healing and compassion into their lives.
They have all sorts of skin diseases.
And these skin diseases aren’t necessarily physically contagious.
People didn’t really think in those terms in Jesus’ day.
These skin diseases were thought to be socially contagious and spiritually contagious.
And so, when a person had leprosy they were labeled as “unclean” by the priest—in accordance with the Law which is laid out in Leviticus 13 and 14.
And anyone who comes in contact with them, anyone who even so much as touches them becomes “unclean” as well.
Such is the state of the man who comes running up to Jesus in our Gospel Lesson for this morning.
We aren’t told his name.
All we are told is that he is a leper.
And that’s all we need to know, I suppose.
He is kind of like a man with no name or no apparent need for a name.
So he came to Jesus “begging him, and kneeling” in front of Him.
“If you choose, you can make me clean” he said.
And we are told that at that moment Jesus was “moved with pity.”
And Jesus stretched out His hand and actually touched this man, saying to him “I do choose.”
And “immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
Jesus’ touch freed the man from the curse of the Law.
But by touching the man, Jesus made Himself “ritually unclean.”
In Galatians 3:13 we are told that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”
There is no greater love.
In a very real sense, Jesus made the decision to trade places with the man who had leprosy.
And so we have a “Leper Messiah.”
We are told that “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country.”
Still, the outcastes, the marginalized, the stigmatized, the losers and loners—they came to Him.
When the compassionate Jesus stretches out his hand, touching the unclean man and saying to him: “I do choose. Be made clean!” this is the beginning of the real church—the church of the sick and outcast.
The church where people come to be healed by God.
To be loved by the people of God.
To live in community and fellowship with other sufferers.
And to commit their lives to the journey toward wholeness and healing which is marked by following Jesus Christ and proclaiming His compassion—His love by serving and thus healing others.