Sermon February 15, 2009

February 16, 2009 at 7:18 am Leave a comment

Mark 1:40-45

What does God hate?
I asked the Youth Group this question a few years ago.
We were starting a curriculum called The Justice Mission.
The purpose of the curriculum was to awaken Christian teenagers in America,
only a little removed from their childhood years,
to the injustices perpetrated upon children in many parts of the world,
from girls as young as nine or ten being sold as sex workers
to very young children who are given the mind-and-body numbing task
of hand-rolling cigarettes ten to twelve hours per day.
But when I asked, What does God hate?
the response I got was, “God doesn’t hate.”
The question didn’t make any sense to them.
We have done a good job catechizing our young people
and drumming into their brains that God is a God of love –
perhaps too good a job.
For love that does not want what is best for the beloved is no love at all,
and a love that does not hate what keeps the beloved in bondage is meaningless.

Why do I bring this up?
Well, biblical scholars make their translations of the Bible
from old hand-copied parchments which scribes made long, long ago.
Many copies of the Gospel according to St. Mark exist.
And many of the manuscripts read just as I read today, that Jesus, “moved with pity,”
reached out to the man with leprosy and healed him.
But some of the manuscripts have something different.
Some of them say that Jesus was not moved with “pity,”
but that he was moved with “anger.”
Scholars, of course, have no idea which is original.
Some think that because more manuscripts have “pity,”
that this is the original intent of Mark.
But others say that “anger” is more probably authentic,
because it is a harder reading.
It’s more likely, they say, that someone who was painstakingly copying
the Gospel according to Mark
would have the same reaction to the word “anger” as the emotion of Jesus
that our Youth Group had to the word “hate” as the emotion of God.
It didn’t make any sense to them.
And so they changed it to something that did make sense to them.

We have absolutely no way of knowing for certain which word should be there.
So I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that I know for certain
that “Jesus was moved with pity”
or “Jesus was moved with anger.”
But I do know this.
Jesus was moved.
By pity, by anger, or by both.
It might have been better had the curriculum asked the youth,
“What moves God’s heart?”
As surely as the God of Israel looked upon the children of Israel
as slaves in Egypt and was moved by their plight –
to take pity on them, or to become angry at their oppressors –
so was Jesus moved by the plight of this leprous man,
wearing the chains of his own bondage.
For leprosy made one ritually unclean
so that one could not be part of the worshipping community of God’s people.
To be a leper was to be an outcast in every way,
for to infect others with leprosy was not simply to threaten their physical health
but also their relationship to God.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness” used to be a phrase in common usage,
but in Jesus’ day, cleanliness literally was godliness.
And so lepers were isolated in their own ghettos
or driven to the outskirts of the cities,
to live alone, away from those who were clean,
without friends, without family, without God.

Being alone.
It’s one of the scariest things we can imagine.
Children, in the darkness, awake in the middle of the night, the minutes creeping by;
Teenagers, hunched over phones with tiny screens and pressing impossibly small buttons
to be-in-touch every second of every day;
Adults, searching for true love the second or third time around
or turning to drugs or alcohol to mask the pain;
the aged, mourning the empty house and waiting for the visit at the nursing home;
the imprisoned, kept locked away in environments of power
devoid of family or community relationships;
the secretive, ashamed of a dark part of their lives
or frightened lest they be rejected by God or others;
those who are used at the convenience of others,
like the children who suffer injustice all around the world:
Jesus, the Son of God, is moved.
With pity for us?
or with anger at what keeps us from him?
He is moved, and he moves –
reaching out to us, he cleanses us from our fear and shame
and makes us able to stand in his presence.

“If you are willing,” says the man, “you can make me clean.”
We often wonder what God’s will is –
for us, for others, for the world.
In his Small Catechism Martin Luther, whose commemoration we celebrate
this Wednesday, writes this about God’s will:
(God’s will comes about) when God breaks and hinders every evil scheme
and will of the devil, the world, and our flesh
that would not allow us to hallow God’s name
and would prevent the coming of his kingdom.
And God’s will comes about
whenever God strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his Word
and in faith until the end of our lives.
This is God’s gracious and good will.
God is moved by the plight of human beings in bondage to whatever –
disease, sin, ignorance, poverty, oppression, death:
and he moves in response to it –
to free us from our bondage
by promising us a future in community –
not alone, but together with him and with all his people.

Jesus reaches out his hand,
and restores the man to physical health,
and not only to physical health,
but to restored relationship with God and the community.
He stretches out his hands upon the cross,
and in dying without sin,
he breaks the power of both sin and death for us.
By the hands of the church he washes us in baptism and feeds us with the Word of life
and the bread and wine of his presence.
God’s heart is open to us.
As our hearts become open to God,
we too become part of his willing action for the world,
reaching out our hands to others,
moved by their plight,
bringing them into community with us and with God.
In the end, when your heart is moved and you are stirred to action
on behalf of one who is suffering or oppressed or alone,
then it is the God who was moved by your plight
continuing his work in the world,
willing still that all might be healed.

Amen.

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Entry filed under: Sermons.

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