O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
If your sin showed up on your skin
"If your sin showed up on your skin"
Based on Mark 1:40-45
February 12, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, those who implore their Lord to make them clean, have you ever heard of the author Oscar Wilde? He published a novel called The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is the fascinating story about a man and his own portrait. Dorian, who fancies himself a man of worldly pleasures, sells his soul so that he can indulge in his fleshly desires. The deal is that in exchange for his soul, his body will not age or suffer the consequences of his actions, but only his portrait will. At first things seem to go well for Dorian, but as the story continues, Dorian begins to regret having made the deal. His portrait becomes so disfigured and ghastly that he cannot bear to look at it. It only serves as a reminder of all of the things he has done. Eventually, Dorian overcome by his sin plunges a knife into the portrait. His servants hear a cry from his room, and when the police arrive they find Dorian's body, stabbed in the heart, suddenly withered and diseased. Dorian is only recognizable by the rings on his withered fingers, yet beside him the portrait has returned to its original form.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine if your sin showed up on your skin? Like on your face? You have a nasty thought about someone and a wrinkle forms by your eye. You make something more important than God and hearing His Word one Sunday, and a cold sore appears on your lip. You don't have time to read God's Word or pray one day, and your cheek begins to decay. I think it would only take me about half an hour, and nobody could recognize me. But can you imagine living that way?
For the leper in our Gospel reading today, life was like that. A leper had to be expelled from the community. They were forced to live on the edge of town because they were unclean. Anything or anyone that touched them was also unclean, and they would warn people who approached by shouting out "Unclean, unclean". Leprosy is contagious and it shows itself in the form of oozing, cracking skin on the face. During Jesus' day, many people even believed that God was punishing lepers by making their sins show up on their skin.
Now while we know that God is not punishing every person who suffers from leprosy, the disease does give us a clear idea of the way God sees our sin. For when God looks at us, He is not looking at our skin, He is looking at our soul. And He does not need a portrait to see the effects of our disobedience. He does not need an image to see what has happened to our souls. God's heart is grieved when He looks at our souls, every one of us, because He sees that they are sick, unclean, and disfigured - He even calls them sinful. Sinful. That is full of sin. Like there isn't any more room. They cannot be more sick. They cannot be more disfigured, or have more leprosy. If other people could see them, we would be expelled from the community, and no one would ever want to touch us again.
Once we grasp this stark reality, we begin to understand the leper from our Gospel reading. We begin to understand why the leper seemed so urgent in his request, why he was begging Jesus, crawling around on his knees before Him. "You are the One who can make me clean, please, please, I beg you, make me clean!" (big pause) We need to get down on our knees with the leper, and beg God to have mercy on us and make us clean. For we know that He is the only One who can do this for us.
The text says our Lord was "moved with pity" when He saw the man. Not anger, not judgment - pity. Deep sorrow. And the same is true when He looks upon our sinful condition. He is not angry. He is not repulsed. He is sad. He knows how ugly our lives get with all of this sin, how it brings so much pain, and rejection, and loneliness and anger, and heartache. He knows that our sinfulness causes us to hurt those we love, push away those we care about, and create as much distance from our disfigured soul as possible. And He knows there is nothing we can do to heal ourselves. It grieves Him. He is moved with pity.
And so Christ stretched out his hand to touch this man. Even though it would make Him unclean, He came to touch him. He wanted to touch him. He was born to touch him. For this is what Christ came to do with our sinfulness and our disease and our death. He came to take it. The begging man cries out, "Will you? And Christ says, "I will, be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him.
Christ took his leprosy, yet He came to stretch out His hands and take much more than that. He came to clean your soul as well. He came to suffer the consequences of your actions. He came to be disfigured in your place, and as the prophet Isaiah foretold, He was tortured beyond human recognition. Christ was made to look worse than a leper, and when the spear finally stabbed His chest, He was recognizable only by the ring of thorns that encircled His fallen brow. Yet much like Dorian Gray, His portrait had returned to its original form. You are His portrait. You are a new creation made in His image. Your soul has been washed in Holy Baptism, been clothed in the robe of Christ's righteousness, covered up by Him so that when the Father looks at you, He doesn't see your sinfulness, your spiritual leprosy, No, He sees His perfect Son. He sees Jesus and He is well pleased. All of this is yours, because when the Father asked His Son, "Will you?" His Son replied, "I will."
Our text ends off with this surprising reaction from the man who was healed. It says, "Jesus sternly charged him saying "See that you say nothing to anyone." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news." This man could not hold it in. He did not listen to Jesus. He was overjoyed. He had been cleaned. He had been restored to his family and his friends and his whole life. He had been touched, loved, accepted by this amazing man Jesus, so he was going to tell everyone he saw!
Can you picture this today? I end the sermon by sternly charging you not to tell anyone the message you have heard - and you going running into the streets looking for people to tell?!?!? Something seems totally wrong with this picture - today it seems like we are looking for a reason not to talk about Jesus, and if we were told not to tell others about the free forgiveness - the touch, love and acceptance - Christ has given to us - we would be relieved. But not this man. Why? Because his life had been totally changed. He had been totally cleaned. He belonged again. So he had to tell someone.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is exactly what happens in the Lord's Supper. We play the beggar from beginning to end. We approach humbly, but with confidence that our Lord can heal us. We come before Him and kneel. We cry out in our soul "If you will, make me clean!" And Christ responds by placing His body into our mouths and saying "I will, be clean." His body and blood, which are present here, touch your unclean soul and makes you clean. His forgiveness makes you new again. And then we leave His presence and go out and talk freely about it and spread the good news. You are not only hearing the Word of God. The Holy Trinity is drawing you in and causing you to live the Word of God, experience the Word of God, and participate in the Word of God. Friends, let us approach His altar as lepers, begging that He grant us His mercy, and we can be certain that He will touch us just as he touched that leper many years ago. For the Word of God stands forever. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr