February 21, 2021   Holy Vessel: Treasures (Physical Health) by Pastor David

Mark 1: 40-45 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

It is our custom to quiet ourselves for just a moment after listening to scripture, centering ourselves and listening for the Spirit’s voice to us in this moment of hearing. 

February 21, 2021  Holy Vessels: Treasure (Physical Health) St. Luke

Treasure - each of us is treasured by the Living God. God treasures us, each one, no matter how we are connected or disconnected from the community around us. God treasures each of us whether we are vaccinated or not, whether we want to be vaccinated or now, whether we’ve had the virus or not. All of us are treasured.

I know out here you call it middle school. In Cincinnati where I grew up, we called it ‘Junior High School.” My Junior High school was 7th to 9th grade. 

When I was in seventh grade, there was a guy by the name of Greg Way, something like that. He had cerebral palsy. I don’t remember having many personal interactions with him the whole time I was in school with him. I was probably a little scared of interacting with him really. He was a nice enough guy. It was hard to understand him, and it took extra energy to talk to him. 

There was a room in our junior high school for people with special needs. It was room 202. Some of the kids in my school used that as a derogatory slur. They’d say, “You belong in room 202.” It became a shorthand slur. It must have been pretty hard for the people assigned to that room. I don’t remember ever knowing any of them. 

It didn’t take much to scare me in Junior High. I already didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I think just about everybody there was wondering where they fit in. It’s not hard to think of a time when we felt left out of a group. It’s a painful experience, feeling like we don’t belong or we’re not good enough. We can feel some level of empathy, then with the man with leprosy. 

We might not have had the experience of extreme exile that the person with leprosy had, but I don’t think it’s too hard to have empathy with this person because of the experiences we’ve had of feeling left out of a group, or watching someone else be ostracized, which is almost as painful. 

We need to think about that kind of exile to understand the miracle of healing that Jesus was famous for. If we think in modern biomedical terms of miracle healing, we miss a big part of the story. As we read the healing stories of Jesus during this Lenten season we will notice every week the ways in which Mark includes in the story a restoration to the community, a reconnection with society.

           We usually read about the temptation of Jesus by Satan on this first Sunday of Lent. This year we are taking our whole Lenten series to consider and reflect on the healing ministry of Jesus. We are stepping aside from the lectionary/assigned readings to think about our own healing, our own recovery from a particularly difficult time in our community life. We want to take time this Lenten season for healing ourselves, for healing in our community.  

In this passage, Mark emphasizes that Jesus touched the person with leprosy, (likely part of a number of folks with everything from boils to simple eczema), as he chooses to restore him to connection. The society thought of the person as being unclean, but Jesus shows that he has no fear of him or his illness. The passage also recounts Jesus telling the guy to go back to the priests to complete the healing according to Biblical requirements of an offering to the priests. This would restore him to the community, but it also meant trouble for Jesus since he was challenging the role of the authorities. After this it says in Mark that he had to stay out of town because the authorities were upset with him. 

The text invites us to think about what our communities offer to those in pain, to those who are exiled in one way or another by illness or stigma, those seeking healing and touch. How do we stigmatize certain kinds of pain or illness even today? How do we act as a community of healing and hope?

It’s easy to imagine that people were outraged by Jesus touching the guy with leprosy because it made him unclean - and how that fear came from having experienced the illness being contagious. They were trying to think about what would keep them safe. We have taken serious action ourselves to keep people from getting exposed to COVID 19, haven’t we? It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since we had worship together in this sanctuary. 

Communities create boundaries for good reasons, for self- preservation and to create a strong sense of identity and purpose. The problem is when our boundaries go unchecked and unquestioned. Jesus crosses social boundaries in every way imaginable. Jesus teaches us that the boundaries we thought were helping us might actually be hurting us and hurting others.

If we let fears of COVID 19 forever, we would be doing a disservice to the gospel.We always need to be learning from our past experience about who is missing from our community and breaking down the walls. 
Near the end of my junior high experience - 9th grade, I think- there was an article in the local newspaper. It had a picture of Greg Way flying an airplane. The story was applauding the achievement of this differently abled young man, conquering his difficulty to fly a plane. I was kind of sorry then that I had not made friends with the guy. He was a treasure. As we all are.

Treasured by the Living God. During this season of Lent, we are taking time to notice, to look around in our community, our school, our church, and think about who is missing. We pray that all the treasured people of our community will find ways to be valued not just be God, but by our community. We all are a bit like beach glass, broken, worn down a bit and beautiful, as our rough edges are smoothed out and we realize that we are indeed, treasured. This is God’s good news.