Epiphany 6 – February 12th, 2012
Hand sanitizer. One of the accoutrements of modern American life. Some might say it's a convenient way to wash your hands, prevent the spread of disease, and promote health. Others might say it's a sign of our neurotic culture. When kids can get fashionable colored bottles of the stuff to clip on to their school backpacks.
But our culture wants to sanitize more than just hands. We like our food clean and fresh and pure, too, don't we? If you bring home a package from the store and it's already been opened.... what do you do? If that little safety seal or bump on the lid of the spaghetti sauce is up – you're not supposed to use it. We like our cars clean, clothes clean – our dishes clean – our bodies clean. I bet Americans shower and bathe more than most cultures throughout all history.
The people of Jesus' day may not have been as obsessed with clinical sanitization as we are today, but they thought a lot about what was clean and unclean. And if anything was unclean, gross, repulsive to them, it was a leper. They wanted no part of these skin diseases – a very public and outward kind of disease for all to see. So they cast out the lepers, ostracized them, and that was that. Lepers were unclean. And the way they dealt with it was to take out the human trash.
We like to think of ourselves as clean people. But the truth is that we aren't. I won't gross you out this morning, but simply remind you that for all our efforts at sanitizing our lives – we are still subject to all kinds of germs, all manner of impurities, in the air we breath and the food we eat, and even within our very bodies. I'm sure the scientists could paint quite a picture of how unclean life really is, all our illusions aside.
But it's worse than that, for we are unclean at a much deeper level. Our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our very souls are tainted, through and through, with sin. Any outward filth we see pales in comparison to the mucky mess within us. The squalor of filth in which we are conceived, and born, and continue to live. We're far worse than lepers. Especially to God, who really is pure and clean.
So what's a God to do about such uncleanness? What does Jesus do with the leper?
“If you are willing, you can make me clean”
“I am. Be clean.”
What an expression of faith from this man. He knew Jesus well enough (how? By faith!), he knew him well enough to know that Jesus had the power to cleanse. That he had the ability to bring that outward cleansing of body, that healing of disease the man so desperately wanted.
But did he know that Jesus meant so much more, when he said, “be clean”. That the uncleanness of the leper, and the filth of you and I, runs much deeper than the surface. It's not just a skin disease. That's just a symptom. We are rotten to the core. We are thoroughly corrupted. We are the creepy crawlies that should make God turn away in disgust.
Even death itself is a symptom of this infection. Sin is the cause. And the more you look in the mirror of God's law, the closer you study it, the more you will see just how caked on and baked on and stuck on it is.
But Jesus is willing to make us clean. That's why he came. To make it happen. To say, “be clean”, and we are.
We are clean because he not only washes us, but he takes the dirt of sin himself. He bathes in it. Becomes it. He gets his hands dirty in a way we never could, “God made him who was without sin to become sin for us”. Talk about dirty laundry! And the cross is his washing machine.
Jesus was the only one clean, the only one without spot or blemish... But God made him so stinking filthy in the fullness of all our sins, and all sins ever. Then God had to take out the trash. In disgust, he turned his back on his own son, and all sin. “Why have you forsaken me?” “Because you disgust me. You're sin.”
And in doing so, Jesus makes us clean. By his shed blood we are washed. We are more than sanitized. We are holy. Righteous. Shining like justice. And God will never utter a harsh word against us, never turn up his nose at us, but only embrace and welcome us in Christ.
When your sins are forgiven, you are clean. Just like that leper, only better. God sees your sin no more. He declares it gone. And he makes it more than just a word. He makes it particular, to you, in Baptism.
In your baptism Jesus said to you, “Be clean!” Sure he can preach all day about forgiving people's sins, but is he talking about me? When that water is poured on you, when those words are spoken to you, when the pastor calls you by name - Jesus brings it home that you, yes you, are clean. Your sins are forgiven, washed, wiped away. You are clean.
No, you're not a leper. You're much worse. You're a sinner. But the good news is we're sinners who know Jesus. We put our faith and trust in the one who is willing to make us clean. The one who does what it takes to make us clean. The one who says to us, “be clean”. And we are. In his blood. By his sure word. Believe it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.