Year B Epiphany 6 Mark 1
When God Is at Work
I'm talking about the disease of leprosy. In a world and a time in which the disease has all but been eradicated except in small pockets, we perhaps cannot appreciate the fear that accompanied this word in the ancient world of Jesus. It was a red flag word. It brought about the same responses as the word Plague did in the 1200s, or Small Pox in the 1700s, or Aids in the 1900s. It frightened them. They felt largely helpless against it, as indeed they were.
What happens when fear takes over is people do not act, they react. And reactions to leprosy were both swift and cruel. In times not far removed form our own people would be put to death by heir own family. It seems incredible to us today, but on the edge of every large city in the ancient world huge pits were dug, and in those pits lived the lepers of the community.
And if, by some remote possibility, they did escape this hovel and venture out into the streets, they would be quickly greeted with shouts of "leper," accompanied by stones to make them keep their distance. In Jesus' day a leper by law could not get within fifty yards of a clean person. So this was the heart of the matter. Not only did these wretched poor people have to endure the trials of an incurable affliction, they also were isolated from society and kept from the community of faith. The horror of disease, a lifestyle of loneliness, isolation and hopelessness--where could they find hope? The only friend a leper had was God himself. In this life they were doomed. It was walking death.
This, then, is the background of the leper we meet this morning. What can we learn from this man's tragic story?
- The Loneliness of Leprosy
- Our Suffering Moves God's Hand.
- Our Lord Is Willing to Heal.
I'm a Leper, You're a Leper
How many of you here this morning have flown on a plane this past week?
Anyone here been this week on a bus or a subway or a train?
How many of you this week entered a public building and had to push or pull open the door?
Let me try this: anyone recently ridden an escalator or taken a stairway, and held the handrail?
How many of you have pushed a grocery cart this week?
All of these actions, just normal everyday living, put you up close and personal with the same thing: dirt, germs, microbes, bacteria, or the stuff that really might make you sick.
Before people figured out that it is bacteria and viruses that spread disease, getting sick was a scary, unknown, unexpected event. Who got sick, why they got sick, why they got well, or didn't . . . it all was a mystery. The ravages of leprosy, the bubonic and pneumonic plagues, influenza, tuberculosis, polio, and most recently AIDs, have all infused us with fear, even after we figured out the cause, the effect, and the even the cure.
The only way to way to ward off infectious disease before the discovery of bacteriology was isolation. Today we practice isolation by keeping our kids home from school or making ourselves stay home from work. We also isolate ourselves through the wonder of chemicals.
I want to do a little experiment this morning. How many of you have a pack of antibacterial wipes in your pocket, or purse? Take them out. Yes, if you have a little squeeze bottle of "Purel" on you, that counts as well. Can you hold them up? Let's see what percentage of us are "isolationists." (Be sure you take out your own anti-bacterial products).
It looks like about half [or three-quarters, or a quarter] of us are isolationists. I know of one church where the pastor had to ask the people please NOT to use the Wet-Wipes after the Passing of the Peace. It was too disruptive of the liturgy that followed, and too disparaging of the liturgy that preceded it.
With all this isolationist bathing in anti-bacterial products, why are we still so "germy"?
Environmental scientists are now beginning to admit that it seems the more we try to isolate ourselves from bugs and baddies, the more we end up making ourselves more susceptible to them. In fact, some pediatricians now are actually recommending that parents let their kids eat dirt regularly. When you see your child playing in the kitty litter, eating in the dog bowl, don't jump up and rescue them. Let them get "down and dirty."
Too many antibiotics for sniffles and plugged ears . . .
Too many hermetically sealed households that don't let air in and don't let air out . . .
Too many antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiallergenic substances . . .
All end up making us bulls-eyes for bugs.
You heard it right: Wet-Wipes are making us bulls-eyes for bugs.
What's that about?
We are really healthy, until we aren't...