The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s118g15  Sunday 6  15/2/2015

‘Be made clean.’   Mark 1:41

I begin where I left off last week, where I said that Jesus releases us from the demons of our religious scruples to enable us to reach out to others.   The people who primarily needed to be released from scrupulosity are the religious: the priests to whom this cleansed leper had to witness.   He was NOT to tell anyone else, for it was the priests and the religious establishment who were the source and perpetuators of religious scrupulosity, in the name of God.   Jesus wanted to stop those who threw others off cliffs, not just be at the bottom, for ever picking up the pieces. (1)

I have observed many times before this that the first murder was committed for religious reasons, because Cain perceived that his brother Abel’s offering was more acceptable than his own.   But this is after eating the apple of the knowledge of good and evil, and that knowledge is inherently flawed.

So religious perceptions of good and evil, of whose offering is more acceptable and whose is less acceptable are usually wrong.   The more ‘religious’ an argument the more likely it is irrelevant.   The more religious an argument the more likely someone else’s feelings are being ignored.

It is interesting that we automatically assume that uncleanness is infectious and that cleanliness is a never ending battle.   But we are told that grace is to be extended to ‘more and more’. (2)

We, in the west, live in a very sanitised society.   We have inherited a huge number of mores about the human anatomy and taboos around blood, menstruation, lactation, intimacy.   We are slowly divesting ourselves of prejudices around marriage between people of different denominations, people of different faiths and people of different racial ethnicities.

We have been reminded with the impending publication of a second novel by Harper Lee of her classic exposé of racial prejudice in America: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.   I suspect the whole world continues to need to read such novels.

Working, as I do in a hospital and surgical setting, priorities for sterilisation are paramount.   Yet we are dealing with ‘blood and guts’ every day of the week, with life and death, and everything in between.   In the midst of a messy world the priority of people remains.   No one is unclean, all are sacred.   The surgeon literally holds people’s hearts in his or her hands.   Considerations of faith, religion, gender, race, or choice of intimate partner are entirely immaterial.   Somehow the hospital is able to ‘say’ those words: ‘be made clean’ more efficaciously.   We walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

In the midst of messy lives, wandering through the quagmire of self-doubt, the need to put on a ‘brave face’, the desire to be open and honest, the need to be human, Jesus’ words are to us: ‘be made clean’.   In the midst of death we are bidden to live.  

And we are invited to live, not just within society, as the cured leper was enabled to do, but the cure radically changes the nature of communion with the divine.  The divine is not just found in the sanitised façades we bring to church, but in the joys of intimacy, down to earth day to day occupations, table fellowship (such as that we enjoyed yesterday with Maurice and Heather Manawatu and their whanau on a Maori experience 3), the sadnesses of illness and death. 

We are commanded, as church, to focus on our corporate fallibility and interrelationships.   There is no elite and plebeian, no clean and unclean.   We all do well to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

The world will be no better a place with a more complete apartheid ruling.   I guess that the life experiences of some people lead them to need to live in gated communities, yet such ghettos, whether they be physical or spiritual, offer no prospect for a more just and equitable society.  There is little point in criticising the gated communities of the rich and famous, when the church has been providing the same metaphorical ghetto for ever.

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and each and every one of us has it within our power to say ‘be made clean’ by our attitudes to others.

But again, no matter how conscientiously we do this as individuals, while the church maintains her walls and defends her territory, our individual efforts will ever be for naught.   While the church refuses to stretch out her hands to touch others, while she avoids incarnation ‘like the plague’, we have no good news for anyone, either within or outside.   Again, such a church is like Jonah, engulfed by secular society, caught trying to flee Nineveh, but the true God will not be thwarted.

1.  Luke 4.29
2.  2 Corinthians 4.15