Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2012

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Mark 1:40-45
Theme: His Healing Touch

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christ’s human capacity for bearing injury was reached at His death. But His crucifixion was not a natural death. It was the direct result of bearing sin’s weight on behalf of others. In this sense His capacity for bearing injury is infinite. And this translates into an unlimited capacity for showing compassion. Jesus’ threshold for showing mercy is never reached. His grace is never exhausted. It is on this premise that the Holy Spirit works to bring light and life to a dark and dying world.

Today the Lord’s capacity for compassion is illustrated through His encounter with a man with leprosy. We probably can’t pretend in our current culture to understand the suffering of leprosy. It was not merely the physical ailment that was distressing but the implications for the afflicted person’s entire life in society. It often meant being completely ostracized. Life was turned upside-down. Lepers were ritually unclean and were allowed no contact with normal society and certainly could not approach the temple or synagogue. They were required to call out “Unclean!” to warn those who were unaware. It was a dreadful and demoralizing situation. It was also a microcosm of the fallen creation-symbolizing the separation of the sinner from God. For Christ it was an opportunity to teach the presence of God had arrived in His very person.

The leper approaches Him with humility. He makes no demands. He assumes nothing. But he hopes. He yearns. He prays fervently for the mercy of the Master. He longs for the touch of the Healer. If Christ does not will it, if the Lord of creation and keeper of souls in His infinite wisdom restrains from granting this request then something is still to be gained from bearing his affliction. Faith accepts the superior wisdom of God’s will. If God does not relieve you of a particular distress, sickness or ailment, of all the things it could mean it certainly means this: There is still something to be gained, some benefit to be gleaned for you. How often do our prayers reflect the trust that illness and affliction are beneficial tools of the Almighty? God does not allow the effects of sin- bodily sickness, mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma- to afflict the believer without restraint. He carefully measures their affect and tempers their impact.

It is only those who are steadfastly unrepentant that He hands over to greater exposure to Satan’s schemes. Recall what St. Paul says to the Corinthian congregation dealing with a blatant case of immorality, “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit…hand this man over to Satan.” But even this He does for their well-being. Paul’s advice continues, “ that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of our Lord.”1 We must be purged of ungodliness at all costs. Christ says, “It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire”2 Any earthly comfort that stands in the way of eternal salvation must be sacrificed. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t pretend. We can’t propose to love God while mistreating our neighbour. Let the one who would play games with God be warned. He cannot be deceived. Nor should we think that we can continually test Him without consequences. He is patient but will not be taken for the fool. Judgment can be swift.

Perhaps the leper would not have been healed physically? Perhaps he had not met Jesus? Would his soul have been lost? No, his suffering would have made his final release only that much more glorious. When we think of suffering and patience the figure of Job comes to mind. We typically view the story of Job as a famous but isolated incident of God allowing Satan to hound one particular man for the sake of illustrating a supreme example of suffering and the ultimate compassion of God. Job becomes the example par excellence (at least until the suffering of Christ) of the soul tormented by Satan’s schemes but finally delivered by God. Seldom do we draw more from this than to marvel at the depth of Job’s sorrow and patience. Sometimes we compare long-suffering people with Job. But are we missing the point that we are not so unlike Job-even if to a lesser degree? Satan continually presses the Christian. God does allow this to an extent. We cannot escape this reality. The Christian who lives in blissful denial that the temptations of Satan are always lurking is deceived.

Biblical faith isn’t carefree. It’s not constituted by a naive unawareness of the threats that oppose us. To be unaware of sin’s threat means we are either arrogant, or ignorant, or in denial. Our Spirit-endowed faith is constantly in the fray. Gold is purified in the crucible of fire. Baptismal faith is tempered in the furnace of affliction. But lest our faith fail under the pressure it is constantly renewed by His life-giving forgiveness. The person who kneels before God with a repentant heart should have no fear of rejection. God is immeasurably liberal with His bestowal of mercy. He pardons fully, freely, and without restriction. You can have full assurance when you receive His body and blood that none of His compassion is withheld. It is the sacrament of healing.

Today the leper was transformed by the healing mercy of Christ. The act was a fulfillment of prophecy and a preview of the future. When John the Baptist was in prison he sent some of his followers to enquire of Jesus if He was the Christ. Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”3 These are the truths of Epiphany. God has come in human flesh. Born in a manger; crucified on a cross; raised from the dominion of death- the Sacrifice for sinners rules eternally. Jesus did not shy away from being present among the sick and sinful. He transformed them. His presence among us sinners restores us to a relationship with the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be present with God’s transforming word among those in need. Only His promise overcomes despair. Only His presence brings joy.

Yes, when Christ is known for who He is, then there can be joy. Joy that is cemented in the bedrock of the crucified and immortal Christ. Spirit-filled joy that draws life from the resurrected and ascended Lord. This joy is not the happiness of mere fleeting indulgence or the passing ecstasy of sudden good fortune. It is not the pleasure of the circumstance or the moment. It is instead the delight of knowing we will one day be released from all of sin’s effects. It is the confidence of an eternal rest. It is the expectation of vitality unrestrained and undiminished. One day our joy will be rooted not in the promise held by faith but in the experience of God’s glorious presence. Faith will cease and the captivating love of Christ will never end. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
12 February 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 5:4-5
2 Matthew 18:8
3 Luke 7:22