Summary: The Good News we celebrate today is that Jesus has made us clean, and we want to grasp more fully what it means to be "Cleansed in the Name of Jesus."

Epiphany 6B “Be Clean” sermon Hope Lutheran. Pr. Dale B .Krueger

"Be Made Clean!"

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. {2} Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. {3} She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." {4} So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. {5} And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. {6} He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." {7} When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me." {8} But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel."

{9} So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. {10} Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean."

{11} But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! {12} Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. {13} But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ’Wash, and be clean’?" {14} So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. 2 Kings 5:1-14

In a certain sense, we began our worship service this morning, as unclean lepers standing in the presence of Jesus imploring Him, "If you will, you can make us clean". And we can be confident that our Lord Jesus Christ, moved with pity and love for us, stretched out His hand and said, "I will, be clean...I announce my grace to all of you...I forgive you all your sins". The Good News we celebrate today is that Jesus has made us clean, and we want to grasp more fully what it means to be "Cleansed in the Name of Jesus."

The term "leprosy" in the Scriptures was a general term associated with the idea of uncleanness. It was used for a variety of skin diseases from ringworm and psoriasis to a very serious chronic disease which we usually associate with the term "leprosy", known since 1971 as "Hansen’s disease". In Biblical times it was the responsibility of the priesthood to pronounce a man leprous or healed, clean or unclean. When the very chronic condition was diagnosed, the afflicted person was banished from society, and was ordered to dress distinctively and to announce his uncleanness. While the leper was regarded as ceremonially unclean, the Scriptures never refer to leprosy as a type of sin. Its occurrence was regarded as an Act of God, and the healing of lepers was invariably interpreted as a miracle of divine grace.

Today’s Gospel lesson records one of the many times that Jesus healed people described in the New Testament as lepers. Also, the cleansing of such people was one of the tasks allotted to the Twelve during their mission. Today’s Old Testament lesson tells of Naaman, the Syrian commander in chief. He had received every honor that military skill and good fortune could bring, but he was a leper. That he mingled freely with his own people probably indicates that he was not suffering from the chronic leprosy, "Hansen’s Disease", but from some other complaint, possibly vitiligo...a skin disease characterized by smooth, white patches on various parts of the body, caused by the loss of the natural pigment.

It is an unexpected grace of God that drags Naaman from his Syrian palace to the prophet’s shack and then goads him into doing the seven dunkings in the dirty Jordan river. And this unexpected grace comes through unexpected sources. There is a little Israelite maid who has been captured in a raid and finds herself in the service of Naaman’s wife. Right thinking comes in the first place from this slave girl who tells of the prophet Elisha who has been given many miraculous powers from the Hebrew God, Yahweh. Who likes to be told by their kids. . .let alone a kid from down the street...what is the right thing to do. Naaman has to swallow his pride to even inform his own kind about the possible cure that could take place in Israel.

When the Syrian king sends a letter to King Jehoram of Israel along with a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of gifts, and commands that he see to it that Naaman be cured of his leprosy, Jehoram thinks it is just a plot to stir up war. Elisha interferes and challenges Jehoram’s suspicions. "Let him come to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel". . .that Yahweh is the true God.

That Naaman might know the power of Yahweh, Elisha gives the command to bathe in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman’s pride in makes him refuse. Sure he wanted to be healed, but his expectation was that of some kind of magical cure. . .at least the prophet should come out of his shack, wave his arms around, offer a few incantations, touch him and cure him. But then right thinking comes from another nervy servant who shames the prince into swallowing his pride and into following Elisha’s prescription. "My father", the servant says, "if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ’wash and be clean’?" And the lesson concludes, "So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean". The cleansing is an unexpected grace. . .and in this case, as in the case of all lepers, and sinners ...cleanliness is next to godliness.

There is a bit of Naaman in each one of us. That pride that prevents us from living wholesome and clean lives. . .lives lived in harmony with God and with the brother and within ourselves. How much we need healing in our human relationships . . .and in our own lives, and in our lives with God. In difficult parent and child situations, in sick marriages, in broken relationships, our pride is often the inevitable barrier that must come down in humility for healing to take place. We’ve got to be right. . . in our relationships to spouse, children, friend, or enemy. Like Naaman, we say, "But I thought that he would surely come out to me". We often want the other person to make the first step, to make the apology, to come to us. We want the healing in relationships, but the leprosy, the pride in us, stands in the way. And so often we fail to be healed.

Sometimes we might hear that a miracle has taken place in somebody’s life. The Holy Spirit has made somebody talk with tongues. Somebody threw his crutches away and was healed. Somebody has received a spiritual high that she thrusts into our face and says "if only you could experience what I have experienced". And with a little bit of Naaman in us we say to God, "How come, God, do I keep struggling with my faith? Why don’t I get some healing, some spiritual high like those other fellows?"

And do you know what the Lord says to us right now? He says, "Have you forgotten the River Jordan? When I was baptized in that river, my ministry on your behalf was commissioned, a ministry that ended on the cross on your behalf". Jesus did not need to be baptized in that dirty river. In humility He accepted John’s Baptism to identify with us poor leprous, unclean sinners. Throughout His ministry He identified with poor sinners. "I have come not to save those who think they are righteous, or those who think they must first become righteous to be the Father’s children . . .I know they have absolutely nothing to offer the Father". See Christ taking upon Himself all your sins, all your leprosy, all your guilt, all your pride...and He died with it on the cross. On the third day He rose to set us all free and to give us healing in our relationships with God and with each other, and within ourselves. It is called the full and free forgiveness of sins And we are graciously cleansed. We cannot choose to do it. A leper cannot change his spots. We cannot rid ourselves of sin. But Jesus can. And he does. His love is intentional and unconditional: "I do choose. Be made clean!".

You and I have been washed clean in the water of our Baptism. According to the Word of the Man of God, our flesh has been restored like the flesh of a little child. You can’t make yourself clean. But He has made us all clean. The divine gift of the Spirit, for which we pray, is faith. believe that we are indeed clean. Faith believes that God has accomplished the miracle of healing sinners, healing relationships. God has healed all those who are in Christ. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved/healed." For through the waters of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion, Jesus chooses to extend his cleansing and compassionate touch and press it into our hands and heads and mouths. His resurrection is the ultimate verification of his power over death and of his gracious hands-on healing approach. In humility we believe and accept our cleansing. We are forgiven sinners who can now celebrate our healing in the sharing of the very body and blood of Christ that was given for us. Come and know for certain that He has made you clean. May God’s people say AMEN.