by Luke Smetters
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon, plants and trees, four legged, flying and swimming creatures, man and woman. He created each of them in a nice neat orderly fashion, spanning across a seven day period including one day for complete rest. And ever since the beginning of time, humanity has developed a way for distinguishing those things that are normal from those things that are different. There are certain physical features that every man and every woman must have. There are ways in which we are expected to interact with other, assumptions for how we are to dress. Anything that is altered from this quote normal state is considered weird, different, abnormal, queer, or unclean.
While we do not know a whole lot about the biblical form of leprosy, we can infer that leprosy was understood to be highly contagious. It was something which people feared greatly. Once diagnosed by the priest as having leprosy, the individual would be cast out from the community, sent to live outside the city walls, outside of the villages. Because they were understood to be unclean, they would be alienated from their family and friends, and most unfortunately from their worshipping community. Their places of worship had to remain clean and pure.
I listen to our readings for today and I wonder how has humanity evolved over the last few thousand years? We have been celebrating the anniversary of Seminex this week. We have recalled and remembered the stories of individuals, including some of our very own beloved faculty and staff, who were once considered to be unclean - not in the physical sense, but in a spiritual and theological and doctrinal way. John Tietjen, suspended from his position as President of Concordia Seminary, charged for being unclean in his ability to control his faculty and they way they taught the gospel. Alienated, along with a slew of faculty and students, from the very community in which they lived. Alienated and estranged from their own families and church body. But nothing could alienate them from the gospel and the God in whom they put their trust. They were far too contagious with a renewed understanding of God's grace.
Here in Chicago, some thirty-five years later, we seek to live out the gospel. And yet when it comes to defining that gospel, people still do not always agree. In approximately forty-five minutes, the ELCA's social statement on human sexuality will be made public to the entire church. Additionally, it will lay out recommendations for same-gendered partners, including clergy. Ultimately, it will define who is in and who is out. Who is clean enough to spread the gospel?
Sadly, there are still many people in our nation who believe that hetero-sexuality is normal and that all other forms are abnormal. Many evangelicals, and others, believe homosexuality to be a disease, even sometimes one that is contagious. For many individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, there are long lonely periods of alienation. Every LGBT person who "comes out" has experienced the loss of those family and friends who understand their sexuality as an abnormal disease. And yet, the process of "coming out" is a type of cleansing in which the LGBT person begins to understand themselves in a new way, seeking out a renewed community in which their unique love is understood, a community in which God's most gracious love is practiced.
It is our Christian faith that creates the possibility for healing. The lepers in each of our readings this morning demonstrated their remarkable faith - a faith that believes not in what God will do, but in what God can do. Here in our biblical texts, God's response of healing is a complete act of grace. Nothing is demanded or expected. Naaman is simply told to wash in the Jordan seven times.
This complete act of grace is even more profound for the leper in Mark's gospel. At the lepers begging cry, "Jesus if you choose, you can make me clean," Jesus responds simply by saying, "I do choose. Be made clean." And while the leper is healed, he is still contagious - not with leprosy, but with the gospel. Even though Jesus warns the leper to keep silent about what has happened, the experience of healing was so great that the leper could not keep it to himself. The leper went out and the contagious gospel was spread throughout the land - the good news of Jesus who grants healing.
As most of us are preparing to leave this place for a summer CPE unit, an internship assignment or a first call, enter into your new context with your eyes wide open. Learn to recognize those who are most alienated from society - the middle-aged man in prison, who never knew his father and whose mother was addicted to drugs - the old woman living in a trailer who is cut off from the world because she neither understands what digital t.v. is, nor can afford a converter box - the young African American living in the ghetto who has little chance of receiving a college education because of these tough economic times. Seek out those people who are easily hidden from society, and who may be hard to find because they are the ones who are most in need of healing. They are the ones to whom God's grace needs to be made known.
And when we have reached those desert places, we may find ourselves beginning to feel alienated and isolated from society. During those times, I urge you to go to the waters, as Naaman went to the River Jordan. Get in the font as Angela has done on this most blessed morning. Splash around a bit, sing and shout, and get wet, because Jesus is saying "I do choose. - I choose you!!!" Be made clean. Be healed. But be contagious in spreading the gospel because I have chosen you to be my daughters and sons - to bring healing to a troubled world."