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Sermon for Sunday 12 Feb

FIRST READING 2 Kings 5:1–14

1 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.

PSALM Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. 2 O LORD my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. 3 You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. 4 Sing praise to the LORD, all you faithful; give thanks in holy remembrance. 5 God’s wrath is short; God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning. 6 While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. 7 You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.” Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. 8 I cried to you, O LORD; I pleaded with my Lord, saying, 9 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? 10 Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; O LORD, be my helper.” 11 You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 12 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 9:24–27

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

GOSPEL Mark 1:40–45

40 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.

The Making of a Celebrity

As silly as it may sound, we live in a world that canonizes celebrities. It doesn’t seem to matter how much a person has accomplished, or if they’ve accomplished anything, or how much, or even if, they’ve contributed to society. All you have to do to become famous in today’s world it seems, is to keep yourself in front of the media.
We have people, it’s often noted, who are famous simply for being famous. People like Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie, for example.
Paris and Nicole became so famous that they starred in their own reality show “The Simple Life.” Before that, one critic says, Paris Hilton did pretty much nothing, except be the heiress to the Hilton Hotel fortune. Also on the list are other names ripped from Hollywood’s gossip columns, such as Brandon Davis, Kim Kardashian, Jack and Kelly Osborne, Ozzy Osborn’s kids and Kevin Federline, Britney Spears’ ex. With reality TV being what it is today, it’s seems that each week we find ourselves introduced to people who are famous simply for being famous.
I suspect that most of us would have mixed feelings about being celebrities. Fred Allen once quipped that a celebrity is one who works to be known, and then wears dark glasses so as not to be recognized. Most of us can relate. After all, who wants to live under a magnifying glass?
When the late Walt Disney was asked what he thought about being famous, he replied, “It feels fine when you get a choice reservation at a football game, but it’s never helped me make a good picture or command the obedience of my daughter. It doesn’t even seem to keep fleas off our dog, and if being a celebrity doesn’t give one an advantage over fleas, then I guess there can’t be much in it after all.” Mr. Disney it seems was a sensible man who was able to put life into perspective, but I suppose celebrities do serve a purpose. They apparently make life more interesting for those who identify with them.
In 1985 there was a 310-pound defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears who suddenly became a national celebrity. He was known as William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Those of you who are football fans probably remember Perry. In a four-week period, he did the unthinkable. He stepped out of his role as a lineman and ran the ball successfully for yardage. He even caught a pass for a touchdown. Then he ran for another touchdown. It was the first time a defensive tackle had ever, in the history of football, been given the ball to carry to make a touchdown. Sports fans were captivated by this extraordinary event which, and for many people, his accomplishments on the field put the fun back in football; that is unless you’re a Washington Redskins fan. Perry also quickly became a television star, appearing on the “Tonight” show, the “Today” show, and the nightly network news shows. There were as many as one hundred requests per day for endorsements, and an extra $750,000 in fees came his way. But as we all know, celebrity status does have its critics.
When asked about her son’s accomplishments, Perry’s mother said, “I know he was good, but I don’t think he’s that good.” And his wife said, “This was great for a while, but now it’s ridiculous. It’s gotten out of hand.” And Perry himself said, “As fast as it comes, that’s how fast it goes.” He was right. William “The Refrigerator” Perry was forgotten it seems as quickly as he came to fame. But he had more than his fifteen minutes of fame. For a while in the mid 80’s, he was a genuine celebrity.
Last week if you recall I compared Jesus’ popularity to that of a Rock star. Rock stars and reality stars share the same desire and that is to be famous or achieve a celebrity status. However, Jesus was definitely different. The one thing Jesus didn’t want to be was a celebrity. As a simple teacher, Jesus was able to move and work anywhere He chose. But Jesus’ act of mercy, recorded in our gospel reading for today, changed all that. Mark records that a man with leprosy came to him. The man got down on his knees in front of Jesus and said, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Now depending on which translation of the Bible you’re reading, Jesus’ response is interesting. The NIV says that Jesus was “indignant” at this request. Other versions say He was “filled with compassion.” The passage I read a moment ago, from the NRSV, says He was moved with pity; perhaps He felt a little of both. Jesus wanted the man with leprosy to be healed. Jesus wants everyone who is physically ill or emotionally sick, to be healed. He wants everyone who is hurting, in any area of life, to be released from that pain. Maybe you’re struggling financially as you watch the equity in your house drop, or hurting emotionally as you watch your children turn their back on you. People hurt in a multitude of ways, and none of it, is what Christ desires for His people. We can be comforted by this fact. It’s not God’s will for anyone to suffer. That’s why God gave us the gift of medical science. God wants us to live free from disease.
But Christ didn’t come into the world to be a medical doctor or a psychologist. There was no way for Christ, while He was confined in a physical body, to heal everyone who needed Him. There weren’t enough hours in a day or a week or a lifetime. That doesn’t mean that He wasn’t willing. It was simply a practical impossibility. Besides, healing individuals was not His primary mission. He didn’t want people to suffer, but neither did He want to be lured away from His primary purpose. His primary mission was to establish the kingdom of God in our midst. His primary mission was to preach and to teach and to instruct His disciples so that they might carry on His work when He was gone. But notice what happens in this encounter with the man with the disease of leprosy. The man says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!”
Immediately the leprosy left the man and he was cleansed. Notice if you will, what happens next. Jesus sent the man away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” So, what does the man do? He does the exact opposite of what Jesus asks him to do. “Instead,” Mark tells us, “he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.” And the outcome of this man’s action is recorded in verse 45. “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere.”
Jesus was no long free to move about the country as the airline advertisement goes! Here was His real mission, a goal to spread the good news of the coming kingdom, but His success as a healer stood in the way of what He was sent to do. Perhaps that’s the reason that nine times in the Gospels, particularly in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells people to keep quiet about who He is or what He’s done for them.
For example, Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, one of the most amazing miracles in history. Then what does He do? Mark says He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about it (5:35-43). He healed a deaf mute, man who couldn’t hear and could barely speak. Then He tells the man not to tell anyone. Consider these actions for a moment. Here’s a man who had been deaf and mute, perhaps all his life, who is now able to hear and talk, and Jesus tells him not to tell anyone how it happened. The request was apparently unrealistic because in Mark 7 verse 36 we read that “the more [He told them not to say anything] the more they kept talking about it.” But it wasn’t just the people Jesus healed that were told to keep quiet.
In Matthew 16:20 we read, “Then He warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.” And again, in Mark 9:9 following that spectacular event on the Mount of the Transfiguration we read, “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” The last thing Jesus wanted was to be a celebrity.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen; celebrity status came to Him. And in one sense, being a celebrity was what got Him killed. The more the authorities knew about Him the more they feared Him. He was seen as a threat to their power and status. It would have been better for Him if He’d kept a low profile, to simply go with the flow. He wasn’t sent by the Father to be a physician, but to tell the world about God’s love. Yet when He was confronted with someone who was hurting, He couldn’t help but heal.
He healed because He cared. He Himself embodies the love of the Father . . . so when the man with leprosy said, “If You will, You can make me clean,” Jesus couldn’t help but say, “I am willing.”
Writer James Hume tells about a friend of his in Washington who woke up one morning to find his left arm paralyzed. He couldn’t feel a thing in his left hand. He rushed to the office of a neurosurgeon in Bethesda who ministered to Presidents as well as Navy brass in a nearby hospital. He told the doctor about his arm. The doctor, in a heavy German accent, replied, “Do not fear. You haf come to the right place. See that certificate on the wall. I vas graduated from the University of Vienna.” Humes’ friend said, “Doctor, my hand, I can’t feel a thing!” “It is nothing,” said the doctor. “I am expert in the field. See that other certificate. I vas elected to the Royal Academy of Neurosurgeons. “But, Doctor,” his friend asked, “did I have a stroke? I can’t feel . . .”
“Be patient,” the doctor interrupted. “You are in goot hands. See that other certificate. That’s for ven I addressed the Vorld Institute of . . .” With that, Humes’ friend left and went to his neighborhood doctor, who told him, “Trevor, you just slept on your arm. If the feeling doesn’t come back by dinnertime, give me a call.” Humes says the moral of this little story for him was this: “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care!” The neurosurgeon his friend consulted, mostly cared about displaying his accomplishments. His patients were secondary. The neighborhood physician cared about his patients.
Jesus cared about people. Even if it gave Him less time for preaching and teaching. Even if it ultimately cost him His life, He couldn’t pass by someone who was hurting. And because Jesus cared, the people in turn couldn’t help talking about the wonderful things He’d done for them. And the more they talked, the more of their friends came to Jesus as well. And the less time He had for His ministry. We could say it was a “vicious” cycle, but it was anything but vicious. Jesus simply cared despite the consequences and this resulted in Him becoming a regional celebrity.
The results are understandable. When Christ touches someone’s life, how can they be quiet about it? When people have something important happen in their lives they want to share it. It’s tax time so this is a good example. If you went to a particular tax advisor and they found you an extra $400 in returns, wouldn’t you tell others? If you receive great service and delicious food at a particular restaurant, don’t you share that fact with others? Of course we do; it’s our nature. We want to share the good things we find with others. The people who disregarded Jesus’ instructions to keep quiet were simply acting out of human compulsion. When you think about it, they were simply following Christ’s example. He responded to them with love and healed them, and they wanted to pass the news of His power to their friends so that they too could be healed. It was the caring thing to do.
Pastor Richard Fairchild tells about a 92-year-old woman whom he calls one of the most beautiful people he’s ever met. Unfortunately, this elderly woman was not only advanced in years; she was a paraplegic. She was confined to a hospital’s extended care ward . . . and there she lived all her days splitting time between her bed and her wheel chair. This dear lady had diabetes and several other problems and over the previous five years she had multiple amputations so that she might be able to go on living. She lived with considerable pain; most days she was very uncomfortable and she had no family or close friends to come in and visit; she had simply outlived most of them.
What this lady did during her days, however, was quite wonderful, Fairchild reports. When she was able, she wheeled her chair up and down the corridors of the extended care ward where she would pop in and visit all the other folks in the place. She learned their birthdays and sent them cards. She noticed when they seemed depressed and listened to them talk about their problems and gave their hand a squeeze and prayed with them if they were willing. She went to the recreation room and took part in the games often helping the staff help others. She was a light in a dark place full of joy and peace despite her own difficulties.
Pastor Fairchild writes, “I always prayed with her on my visits. I would pray for her and she would pray for those around her and she would always give thanks to God at the end of each prayer for his goodness and his love for how He worked His will and helped her each day even in the days of pain.” This wonderful woman wasn’t doing those good works and spreading all that cheer to draw attention to herself; she simply cared. People who continually seek to draw attention to themselves are some of the unhappiest people on earth. All we have to do is look at the entertainment news to see this. This lady’s desire however, was to draw people’s attention to her Lord and Savior. Christ had touched her life and she wanted to share His love with others. She had a story to tell and she told it. And that’s the way it should happen.
I wish we were more like the people Jesus healed, as well as this elderly woman. I wish we felt so much joy from what Jesus has done in our lives, that we couldn’t help telling our story to others. But there’s one thing more thing we need to consider. Jesus’ acts of healing validated the message He came to proclaim. Jesus came to proclaim a kingdom in which people would live in peace and love with God as their King. The response of the people to His acts of healing was inconvenient, but ultimately it helped drive home what He was about, and people came to see that God loved them as individuals and that their needs and concerns mattered to God.
There was a tragic event that happened not too long ago in Chicago. A 15-year-old boy was shot by gang members while he was playing basketball. He lay bleeding to death in an alley, just steps away from a hospital emergency room. The emergency room personnel refused to treat him, saying it was against hospital policy to go outside. They would have to call 911 instead. After waiting about 20 minutes, a frustrated police officer finally commandeered a wheelchair and brought the boy in himself, but it was too late and the boy died. We do need to be careful since we don’t know all the facts of this case and it would be unwise to pass judgment on the hospital personnel, but each of us knows what Jesus would have done.
Jesus would have given up His life if it were necessary in order to save this boy. Of course, He’s already given up His life, not just to save this boy, but each of us as well. His actions of healing, His actions of sacrificial love validate the kingdom that He came to proclaim. His message was not of a God who is remote from our needs and concerns. His message was of a God who has come near and is working in the hearts of those who are open to Him, to establish in this world a new way of living, a new way of loving and helping and serving.
As we seek to be His people, as we seek to do His will and as we seek to live our lives after His example, our daily prayer should be, Our Father in heaven, holy is Your name. May Your kingdom come through us today and may Your will be done through what we say and do this day here on earth. Lord grant that our lives also validate the message that we proclaim, so that others see Your love and concern for them. Help us to share the gospel message with others freely, like the words of that little chorus of the sixties, “That’s how it is with God’s love, Once you’ve experienced it, you spread the love to everyone, you want to pass it on.”

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