Rev. Dr. Scott Herr

“I Do Choose”                                                                                                Please Read:
A Sermon by the Rev. Scott Herr                                                       2 Kings 5:1–14
The American Church in Paris – February 12, 2012                           Mark 1:40-45

In Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs, there’s a telling story about why Jobs left the church: “In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday School and confronted the church’s pastor. ‘If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?’ The pastor answered, ‘Yes, God knows everything.’ Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, ‘Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?’ ‘Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.’ Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church…”[1]  

It’s too bad that the pastor didn’t invite Jobs to simply read today’s gospel lesson about how Jesus not only saw the suffering of this world, but did something about it. In today’s gospel lesson we see how the kingdom of God continues to be revealed in the ministry of Jesus. We heard his inaugural declaration of purpose: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” And we saw him heal the man with the unclean spirits and we saw how he healed a woman with a fever and the crowds who came to him… Today we read about a leper who came begging and kneeling before him, saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Who is this man Mark calls simply “A leper”? The word “leper” can refer to someone with leprosy or any number of skin diseases. The point is that people in this condition were outsiders. They were ostracized, pushed to the margins of Jewish society. We know this to be true because in Leviticus 13 we read that according to the law of Moses if someone had signs of leprosy, they were to go to the priest, and if the priest found that in fact they had leprosy, they would be pronounced “unclean.” A person unclean with the leprous disease was commanded to “wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean…He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

So it’s interesting that in the framework of Mark’s gospel Jesus first heals those in the synagogue, then in the homes and crowds of the community, and now he is ministering to the untouchables, the banished and sidelined ones of the community.

The Leper’s request is more of a statement of faith, isn’t it? The man’s posture is one of reverence and humility. He is kneeling and begging Jesus. We don’t know whether he’s down on his knees because he has been crushed by the weight of suffering in his life, or because he knows that he has come before his God. Either way, he is in a posture of worship and yielding. And he says simply, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” He doesn’t question whether Jesus can make him clean, but whether Jesus will choose to make him clean. This is our prayer, isn’t it, that God would choose to cleanse us in those areas of our life where we are unclean. We pray that God would grant us and those we love healing where we are messed up or broken down…

Jesus’ response is powerful. He is deeply moved, Mark writes. And “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” The untouchable one, the one who has been put out from the community, the one who has been declared unclean by the religious – is the one to whom Jesus stretches out his hand and touches. This act of compassion would alone be shocking and stunning for the first century Jewish audience… You’ll remember the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite passed by the man on the side of the road because they did not want to come near and possibly touch the man because they themselves would become ceremonially unclean. They would not be able to enter the temple without an elaborate cleansing ritual. But here Jesus without hesitation reaches out and touches this leper and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him, Mark writes, and the man was made clean.

I love the clarity of this story. The leper comes to Jesus and Jesus touches him and heals him with the authority of the words “I do choose.” Amazing! Isn’t that wonderful to know that this One who we affirm to be the exact image of the invisible God looks suffering in the face and says “I do choose to relieve your suffering!” He has the power to redeem and restore the man and he does. It’s not like Jesus wanted him to make and affirmation of faith first or do catechisms or learn the liturgical calendar by heart or memorize the creed. Jesus here shows us again the heart of God’s compassion and mercy in the face of suffering.

No wonder the man runs off to tell everyone, ignoring Jesus’ admonition to quietly see the priest and be declared clean. In order to be fully restored and allowed to worship God with the community, Jesus told the man to go see the priest. But the man tells of his healing to everyone. The irony here is that Jesus obeys the man’s request and restores him to community, but the man ignores Jesus’ request which results in Jesus’ being marginalized because the crowds were now overwhelming!  Of course we want to shout for joy and sing out loud because of the miraculous power of God’s love and compassion!

But let’s be careful. Fred Craddock used to say that Jesus’ healings created “audiences, not congregations.”  We are not just supposed to be amazed hearers of God’s Word, but amazing doers of God’s Word… But what do we really need to do about this “Word”?

In one sense we might need to imagine Jesus before us, and get down on our knees and beg him to stretch out his hand to touch us. Because we know that we need healing and restoration. Perhaps we need forgiveness for a sin that has distorted our lives beyond all recognition. Perhaps we need the touch of God’s love so that we can have hope again after a broken marriage, or the painful loss of a loved one or station in life.

Or perhaps we need to be physically or emotionally healed, and of course we should pray to Jesus for healing and wholeness. I consider it a great privilege to pray for God’s shalom in peoples’ lives and in our world. And what a beautiful thing it is to be reminded that the heart of God is revealed in these words of Jesus, “I do choose…”  We, as we like the leper move Jesus at the heart of his being and we will leave meeting with Jesus completely changed.

But this is where the text gets a little tricky… Because some of us have prayed to God for healing, or know of friends and loved ones who are suffering from some illness or brokenness in life, and God has not taken away their suffering. There has not been a miraculous healing like we read about here in this wonderful story of Jesus healing the leper. And we might then ask ourselves, “Jesus, do you not choose to heal me? …. Do you not choose to heal my loved one?” It’s a question that raises the problematic issue of God’s relationship to suffering. It’s the question that Steve Jobs was asking when he showed his pastor the Life magazine cover with the starving children in Biafra and asked, “Does God know about this?” Because if God does know about it, then why doesn’t God do something about it?!

Jürgen Moltmann reminded us that God never is far away from suffering. We know this because of the crucifixion of Jesus. God entered into the suffering of our world as Jesus identified himself on the cross with all victims of suffering and injustice in this world. Wherever there is suffering, there is the Crucified God. Emmanuel, God with us. God is never indifferent to suffering and God is never distant from suffering. God enters into the suffering of this world to offer compassion and mercy. Again, Craddock says, “all the way to the cross, Jesus will be trying to get those who think ‘where the messiah is, there is no misery’ to accept a new perspective – ‘where there is misery, there is the messiah.”

But I would argue that we forget how God enters into our suffering with compassion and mercy… In Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Evans tells the story of a woman she met while traveling in India. Laxmi was born in a rural village and married at age 17. She worked as a housekeeper in several neighborhood homes. After her third child, her husband took a test that revealed he was in the advanced stages of HIV. Their family was immediately ostracized by the larger community and shortly thereafter her husband died, leaving Laxmi and her children alone with the local gossip speculating only on how long it would be before she and her children would die also.

Christians noticed her situation and helped her to get testing. But when it was discovered that she and her children were HIV positive, the Christians didn’t push her away, but invited Laxmi to live with them. The church provided housing and schooling for Laxmi and her children. They were given food and medications to help them become healthy again. Raised as a Hindu, Laxmi converted to Christianity. She told Evans the most amazing thing, “When I remember my life before HIV and compare it with how I am today, I am thankful. Were it not for my HIV, I never would have met Jesus. I never would have found salvation and hope.”[2] Laxmi now gives her life to care for other AIDS widows and children…

The suffering of this world is a complex issue to be sure, and I sure don’t have any easy answers. But perhaps today, like that leper, we need to come before Jesus and beg for healing, so that we might be made whole again. And perhaps also we as the Body of Christ in the world need to learn to say the words of Jesus: “I do choose” to make a difference in this world. I do choose to stretch out my life and my gifts to touch those around me who are suffering. I do choose to repent and change my mind about things. I do choose to forgive. I do choose to be reconciled.  I do choose to share my resources generously. I do choose to be a good listener. I do choose to touch those around me who others see as untouchable. I do choose to go out to the lost and marginalized ones of this world, whether they be in my own family, my school, place of work, or in my neighborhood… I do choose to show Christ’s love in creative and risky ways… I do choose to believe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the way to new life. I do choose to live not in fear but in faith that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  And I do choose as a follower of Jesus not only to see suffering in this world, but to do something about it.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.



[1] Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011), 14-15.

[2] Rachel Held Evan, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 142.

“I Do Choose”                                                                                                Please Read:

A Sermon by the Rev. Scott Herr                                                       2 Kings 5:1–14

The American Church in Paris – February 12, 2012                           Mark 1:40-45

 

In Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs, there’s a telling story about why Jobs left the church: “In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday School and confronted the church’s pastor. ‘If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?’ The pastor answered, ‘Yes, God knows everything.’ Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, ‘Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?’ ‘Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.’ Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church…”[1]  

It’s too bad that the pastor didn’t invite Jobs to simply read today’s gospel lesson about how Jesus not only saw the suffering of this world, but did something about it. In today’s gospel lesson we see how the kingdom of God continues to be revealed in the ministry of Jesus. We heard his inaugural declaration of purpose: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” And we saw him heal the man with the unclean spirits and we saw how he healed a woman with a fever and the crowds who came to him… Today we read about a leper who came begging and kneeling before him, saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Who is this man Mark calls simply “A leper”? The word “leper” can refer to someone with leprosy or any number of skin diseases. The point is that people in this condition were outsiders. They were ostracized, pushed to the margins of Jewish society. We know this to be true because in Leviticus 13 we read that according to the law of Moses if someone had signs of leprosy, they were to go to the priest, and if the priest found that in fact they had leprosy, they would be pronounced “unclean.” A person unclean with the leprous disease was commanded to “wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean…He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

So it’s interesting that in the framework of Mark’s gospel Jesus first heals those in the synagogue, then in the homes and crowds of the community, and now he is ministering to the untouchables, the banished and sidelined ones of the community.

The Leper’s request is more of a statement of faith, isn’t it? The man’s posture is one of reverence and humility. He is kneeling and begging Jesus. We don’t know whether he’s down on his knees because he has been crushed by the weight of suffering in his life, or because he knows that he has come before his God. Either way, he is in a posture of worship and yielding. And he says simply, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” He doesn’t question whether Jesus can make him clean, but whether Jesus will choose to make him clean. This is our prayer, isn’t it, that God would choose to cleanse us in those areas of our life where we are unclean. We pray that God would grant us and those we love healing where we are messed up or broken down…

Jesus’ response is powerful. He is deeply moved, Mark writes. And “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” The untouchable one, the one who has been put out from the community, the one who has been declared unclean by the religious – is the one to whom Jesus stretches out his hand and touches. This act of compassion would alone be shocking and stunning for the first century Jewish audience… You’ll remember the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite passed by the man on the side of the road because they did not want to come near and possibly touch the man because they themselves would become ceremonially unclean. They would not be able to enter the temple without an elaborate cleansing ritual. But here Jesus without hesitation reaches out and touches this leper and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him, Mark writes, and the man was made clean.

I love the clarity of this story. The leper comes to Jesus and Jesus touches him and heals him with the authority of the words “I do choose.” Amazing! Isn’t that wonderful to know that this One who we affirm to be the exact image of the invisible God looks suffering in the face and says “I do choose to relieve your suffering!” He has the power to redeem and restore the man and he does. It’s not like Jesus wanted him to make and affirmation of faith first or do catechisms or learn the liturgical calendar by heart or memorize the creed. Jesus here shows us again the heart of God’s compassion and mercy in the face of suffering.

No wonder the man runs off to tell everyone, ignoring Jesus’ admonition to quietly see the priest and be declared clean. In order to be fully restored and allowed to worship God with the community, Jesus told the man to go see the priest. But the man tells of his healing to everyone. The irony here is that Jesus obeys the man’s request and restores him to community, but the man ignores Jesus’ request which results in Jesus’ being marginalized because the crowds were now overwhelming!  Of course we want to shout for joy and sing out loud because of the miraculous power of God’s love and compassion!

But let’s be careful. Fred Craddock used to say that Jesus’ healings created “audiences, not congregations.”  We are not just supposed to be amazed hearers of God’s Word, but amazing doers of God’s Word… But what do we really need to do about this “Word”?

In one sense we might need to imagine Jesus before us, and get down on our knees and beg him to stretch out his hand to touch us. Because we know that we need healing and restoration. Perhaps we need forgiveness for a sin that has distorted our lives beyond all recognition. Perhaps we need the touch of God’s love so that we can have hope again after a broken marriage, or the painful loss of a loved one or station in life.

Or perhaps we need to be physically or emotionally healed, and of course we should pray to Jesus for healing and wholeness. I consider it a great privilege to pray for God’s shalom in peoples’ lives and in our world. And what a beautiful thing it is to be reminded that the heart of God is revealed in these words of Jesus, “I do choose…”  We, as we like the leper move Jesus at the heart of his being and we will leave meeting with Jesus completely changed.

But this is where the text gets a little tricky… Because some of us have prayed to God for healing, or know of friends and loved ones who are suffering from some illness or brokenness in life, and God has not taken away their suffering. There has not been a miraculous healing like we read about here in this wonderful story of Jesus healing the leper. And we might then ask ourselves, “Jesus, do you not choose to heal me? …. Do you not choose to heal my loved one?” It’s a question that raises the problematic issue of God’s relationship to suffering. It’s the question that Steve Jobs was asking when he showed his pastor the Life magazine cover with the starving children in Biafra and asked, “Does God know about this?” Because if God does know about it, then why doesn’t God do something about it?!

Jürgen Moltmann reminded us that God never is far away from suffering. We know this because of the crucifixion of Jesus. God entered into the suffering of our world as Jesus identified himself on the cross with all victims of suffering and injustice in this world. Wherever there is suffering, there is the Crucified God. Emmanuel, God with us. God is never indifferent to suffering and God is never distant from suffering. God enters into the suffering of this world to offer compassion and mercy. Again, Craddock says, “all the way to the cross, Jesus will be trying to get those who think ‘where the messiah is, there is no misery’ to accept a new perspective – ‘where there is misery, there is the messiah.”

But I would argue that we forget how God enters into our suffering with compassion and mercy… In Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Evans tells the story of a woman she met while traveling in India. Laxmi was born in a rural village and married at age 17. She worked as a housekeeper in several neighborhood homes. After her third child, her husband took a test that revealed he was in the advanced stages of HIV. Their family was immediately ostracized by the larger community and shortly thereafter her husband died, leaving Laxmi and her children alone with the local gossip speculating only on how long it would be before she and her children would die also.

Christians noticed her situation and helped her to get testing. But when it was discovered that she and her children were HIV positive, the Christians didn’t push her away, but invited Laxmi to live with them. The church provided housing and schooling for Laxmi and her children. They were given food and medications to help them become healthy again. Raised as a Hindu, Laxmi converted to Christianity. She told Evans the most amazing thing, “When I remember my life before HIV and compare it with how I am today, I am thankful. Were it not for my HIV, I never would have met Jesus. I never would have found salvation and hope.”[2] Laxmi now gives her life to care for other AIDS widows and children…

The suffering of this world is a complex issue to be sure, and I sure don’t have any easy answers. But perhaps today, like that leper, we need to come before Jesus and beg for healing, so that we might be made whole again. And perhaps also we as the Body of Christ in the world need to learn to say the words of Jesus: “I do choose” to make a difference in this world. I do choose to stretch out my life and my gifts to touch those around me who are suffering. I do choose to repent and change my mind about things. I do choose to forgive. I do choose to be reconciled.  I do choose to share my resources generously. I do choose to be a good listener. I do choose to touch those around me who others see as untouchable. I do choose to go out to the lost and marginalized ones of this world, whether they be in my own family, my school, place of work, or in my neighborhood… I do choose to show Christ’s love in creative and risky ways… I do choose to believe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the way to new life. I do choose to live not in fear but in faith that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  And I do choose as a follower of Jesus not only to see suffering in this world, but to do something about it.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.



[1] Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011), 14-15.

[2] Rachel Held Evan, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 142.