People Will Talk

But Reverend, I only told one person, and I just knew he could keep a secret. I suspect you can guess what happened next! Don't tell a soul, but…. Did you ever notice how hard it is to stop a sneeze? It is harder to keep a thing to yourself that cries out to be shared. Is there anybody here who ever played hide-and-seek and had an itch. Itches shriek to be scratched and will not be stilled, even when getting caught puts you out of the game. Everybody knows something that rides on the soul like an itch-on-the-nose in a game of hide-and-seek. And the two hardest to contain are the very worst and the very best we know. Today, we speak of the very best.

Mark 1 provides us with the finest urgency, or maybe I should say, the urgency of fineness. The Savior. Harder to stop than a sneeze, and way more insistent in its power. There is soul-force here that will not be contained by the mere boundaries of our body! Ask the leper Jesus heals. He could tell us. And he most certainly will. After all, he did the first time. Meet somebody who feels what you feel, endures what you endure, is touched by all you're in touch with, and people will talk. Encounter somebody whose love is stronger than their judgment and the word will spread like wildfire. It will leap from one spirit to another. And it will not be held back. Come across someone so selfless, they are always giving credit to another, and people will gather 'round in spite of any effort to the contrary. They will come like moths to a flame. Mark says, ever since our Lord cleansed the leper and swore him to silence, it's been like this with Jesus. People will talk! I guess my only question here today is, what will they say when they have met us, for Christ's sake?

For his pity's sake, people will talk about Jesus. How will they talk about us? Mark writes, " A leper came to Jesus, begging on his knees, 'If you want to, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said, "I want to; be clean.' Then and there the leprosy was gone." Mmm, mmm, mmm. In our day, pity gets a bad name. That's because we don't do it very well. According to our dictionaries, it's what you think when you think somebody else's circumstances are a shame. (Often, literally their own.) There's a kind of looking down here. A kind of self assurance the pity-er is better than the pity-ee. A barrier remains. Not so with Jesus. Not at all. No, the word pity paints a picture of Jesus literally entering into the leprosy of the leper. He feels what this man of sores and sorrows feels. His joints ache where the sufferers do. The patient's complete isolation from others, as required by law, is matched by Jesus feeling utterly alone in the crowd, as required by grace. How many times have you heard somebody say when you're really hurting, "I know just hw you feel," and known to your core they didn't have a clue? Not so with Jesus. His compassion is so deep, so consuming that you know he knows, he really does! That's pretty healing in its own right! And people will talk at the news that there's somebody like that in our midst. Praise Lord!

So how will people talk about us, in the name of Jesus? A tale of two situations. Both true. A cancer patient in her last days in a previous charge. Much of her beauty, years-bleached and illness-borne-away. Her family, a birth-defect child battered, and a spouse Alzheimer-alerted that memory would soon be no more. Her lifetime-helper-hands now too weak to cook or clean. The women of the church rallied 'round as we so often do, bringing meals by the day and the night. On the porch, as they left one night, one such woman turned and spoke to the other, no harm meant, "Poor thing." She was overheard. When I visited the next day, per chance, this saint in suffering looked at me and said, "Reverend, just when was it I stopped being me and started being a thing? You know why I love Jesus, Reverend? Not just because he died on the cross for me. But because no matter how this cancer twists me outside or rots me inside, he will never look on me and see a thing. My pain belongs to him. And so do I." The second circumstance. A child lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Church people flocked to the funeral home and house. Said every comforting thing they could. And then (understandably) went away, grateful they could lay the grief aside. All but one woman. She just stayed every day. Said almost nothing. Sometimes held hands. Sometimes set up chairs when the funeral home folks couldn't. Took the older daughter of the grieving couple to school, playground, mall. Said nothing. Finally the grieving mother asked why. "I know about empty," she said. "And heaven knows, because heaven has seen the cross." Know for sure, all these are still talked about where they live. So are we, personally, and as a people of God. what will people say when they have met us, for pity's sake, for Jesus' sake?

In our day, as in that ancient day, people will talk. And when they meet someone who's love is stronger than their judgment, word gets out like wildfire. Any sparks among us? Jesus cleansing this leper was radical. It's almost impossible for us to imagine how radical. This is a visually hideous ailment. It misshapes. Disfigures. Debilitates. Strikes terror more terrifying than all the Al Kaida's the world can produce, it's so intimately, randomly, contagiously awful. In a place and time that understood sickness as punishment for sin, and knew no cure for this disease, the requirement, the law against any contact was absolutely absolute. This was Aids squared, as a disease and as a moral judgment on the sufferer. But our Jesus was moved to the gut, translated literally, heart-sick we could say, and really mean it. The Master suspends all judgment. Mark says he stretches out his hand for this sufferer in his suffering, much as he will later stretch out his arms for us in our sin. He touches him. That's the first miracle here. Then comes the healing, like a rainbow follows the rain. A sign of a new day. And a new way on the earth. Jesus tells the guy, "Don't tell another soul. Just do what the law requires so folks can see you're a changed man! Your clean again. Restored. Renewed." It would be easier to contain a flood with a kleenex. He tells everybody. And what do they do? They come to Jesus!

I feel compelled to ask us to ask ourselves today. Is anybody out there talking about us, in the same breath with Jesus? At your house, your work, your van pool for the kids sports league? At your gym, your grocery store… in your Sunday School Class? Do we love more than we judge, or judge more than we love? Are we better at talking than touching? What does our church communicate to our community on this account? This much is sure, let us look more like Jesus, personally and all together, and people will talk. Word'll spread like wildfire! And people will come streaming in every door! (There's an evangelism strategy for us, if ever there was one.) … Now, just one more thing…

No glory for ourselves, but only for God! Only for his Son. Only for our Savior. Jesus showed this kind of face to that old leper, and the Word could not be contained. Jesus had to travel the back roads, 'cause the highways were clogged with those who were coming to him. I have this fantasy. (It's alright, it's a preacher's after all.) I see Rt. 175 lookin' like Rt. 50 on a summer Friday at 5 PM. I imagine folks rollin' down the window and askin' if you can help. Help 'em find that place on the main drag in Odenton where Saving Grace is spoken and shown… all the time… to anyone who wants it, or needs it. They don't know the place by name. They just know what happens there. They know this is not The Passion on the silver screen. It's the real thing in real life. In a real place. Where real people live and work and struggle and play and pray together all the time. The traffic never seems to clear. Because once the Word gets out, there's no end of folks who get close and get in touch with the One who will reach out and make us clean. Wouldn't that be something? But then, I guess it'll have to be just a dream. Or will it? Maybe that's up to me, and up to you. Either way, the credit, the glory, the gain, will not be ours. It will belong to Another, who insists it all belongs to our Father in Heaven.

Friends, again this week, people will talk. It doesn't have to be about Janet Jackson. Or the latest poll results. Or this winter of our discontent. Or school in session and on time. It doesn't have to be about how much better we are than another, or how superior our convictions, or less important our confusions. It really could be all about knowing the One who knows us inside out and loves us all the more. Who trades our hurts for his healing. It really could be all about a Savior who loves so high above our own meager judgments on ourselves. Oh, it could be all about the glory of God in the presence of his son Jesus Christ. People will talk, friends. And God is counting on us to help shape the conversation.

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