Clean & Unclean.

From–Sunday, February 12, the sixth Sunday in Epiphany. This was my sermon, the Gospel reading was: Mark 1:40-45
A little late, but hopefully not out of date.

I grew up dressing up for church on Sunday mornings. Tights, I remember I had white tights with pink hearts on them. I had a pink skirt with a white and pink shirt. My hair—well my bangs at least, were about six inches tall and full of hairspray and curls. And it was normal…but not normal at all for me.

I didn’t know the word “Tom-boy” until Middle School. This is weird, because, I was one. Every day when I’d go outside to feed the cats, dogs, my horses, a 4-h project—a calf named Blacky, or to help Dad with the pigs… I wore “Chore clothes.” I had to keep these clothes in a separate drawer in my room. I had a mini wardrobe—just of chore clothes. Jeans that were permanently stained—either visibly, or by the smell of pigs. Sweatshirts that I wouldn’t be caught dead in at school—because they were ridiculous…Let’s face it, the 90’s were a little ridiculous. And I had coats with Carhart labels and rubber boots.  We even had to wash all our chore clothes in Dad’s “Office.” His office was a separate room on one of the hoghouses, with a mini fridge full of Mtn. Dew, a cupboard full of Cheetos and vaccine for the pigs, and a washer/dryer.

Hard to believe…huh?

What’s even harder to believe was the fact that Mom thought these clothes were unacceptable for church on Sunday mornings! We always looked good on Sunday mornings. And I picked up somewhere along the way—you wear your best to see God.

I remember being—at the same time—angry and jealous of the kids in my Sunday School class who wore jeans. Didn’t they know—jeans are NOT OK on Sundays…I expected everyone to look the way I had did, the way I classified as “Best.”

And, I’m sure in some way, this might be ok—this idea of bringing your best to see God.

God certainly wants our lives, certainly wants us to give generously of our time and energy and to also be generous with our money and possessions.

But this can also be a slippery slope…Maybe it starts with the thinking we are giving our best to God.  But it turns into us expecting everyone around us to be giving the same amount that we give—and we begin to get upset when we think those around us aren’t giving their best—as if they were wearing a sort of “spiritual jeans” to church… how scandalous.

And we laugh, because it’s funny.

How many of us today are wearing jeans? Stand up!

Now, to the rest of us, not in jeans, are we going to kick them out? Not let them sit near us? Not talk to them when we go to drink coffee?

Of course not…

But what about this idea of “Spiritual Jeans?”

What are those things that are unacceptable to ‘wear’ on our hearts to church?

Finances, politics, my depression, anxiety, past abuse, whatever you think people won’t approve of. Painting a beautiful house on the outside—but being unable to pay for the electric bill to heat the inside. Filling the inside and outside of the house and the garage full of stuff—but feeling so empty and alone, full of chaos and confusion… what about those among us who are struggling with a mental illness, with homelessness, with sickness, or pain too unbearable to talk about…

This is misery—desolation, gloom, despair, destitution… jeans with not just one hole in them, but full of holes—unable to protect us from the elements. We feel cold, vulnerable, and alone.

We feel uneasy and uncomfortable when we see or sense those around us wearing “Spiritual Jeans.” After all, we must wear our best to see God.

So we leave things unspoken—and untouched. And we are unmoved.

No one is immune to this kind of misery. Naaman, was a captain of the Army. He had political power, not to mention an army to back him up. But he, HE was a leper.  He tried to buy his healing from Elisha. He expected that for a great man like himself there would be a great show of ceremony for his healing.

Eilisha sends a messenger to him [didn’t even go to see him] and simply says—wash in the little stream—seven times. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Wash, rinse…repeat…and “You will be clean.”

And in our Gospel from Mark—we meet another leper. One without a name, without a job description, without a family title, without anything… dropping to his knees, exposing all that he is—If you want to, Jesus, you can cleanse me.”

In both texts…He doesn’t say “Heal.”

He doesn’t say, “Fix.”

He doesn’t say, “Cure.”

He says…Clean. Cleanse.

The man is not broken. He is not lacking, it is not as if he was not whole…he has simply been declared, unclean. Not good enough. Different. Separate. Soiled.  He is wearing Jeans, and jeans are not allowed in the Temple…

Social implications for leprosy: You were not allowed to live with your family in the city. You had to live outside of town in the colony of the lepers. If someone passed by you, you had to shout “Unclean!” You lost your name…unclean became your name.

It was a sense of protection. The priests were acting as communal physicians, protecting the city from an infection they could not fight. But in doing so, it broke families apart, it separated and estranged members of society—and it left the one who was declared “unclean” in shear misery and isolation.

So this man, for whatever reason, breaks all social protocol. He wears his jeans to go see Jesus. He lays it all out. He even calls himself unclean.

And Jesus is outraged. We think the text says compassion, or pity…but the real translation is anger. Something from the gut, welling up inside, Jesus was moved. Thrown backward. It hit him somewhere deep within himself.

He was moved, and so he touched the man. And he says to the man, “I am willing—be clean.” Again, there is no “healing, or fixing” but he is made clean.

It is as if Jesus were saying—you are no longer soiled, or stained, or tainted. You are beautiful, and you are enough. And furthermore, you don’t need to live separated from your family and your community.

The man goes, and is restored—physically, spiritually, and emotionally restored to his family and his community…

And because the man goes and tells everyone what happened to him—Jesus can no longer move freely in and out of the city. People find him, they came from all over. Who were these people?

Probably not the priests, probably not the temple workers, probably not the “Clean Jews.”

It was the sick, the paralyzed, the dying, the empty, the estranged, those suffering from their own stains of misery.

Fred Craddock, among many sermons and commentaries wrote, “All the way to the cross, Jesus will be trying to get those who think, “Where the Messiah is, there is no misery,” to accept a new perspective, “where there is misery, there is the Messiah.”

For it is the sick who need the doctor, not the healthy. It is those whose house is burning that need the firefighter, not the one whose house is standing. It is the child who is unable to read that needs the teacher…

Is this room something we build up—like a banquet table, like a feast?

We talk every Sunday how this is God’s table. Do we say that so that we can save God a seat at the table? Do we push others out, or away so that we can make sure Jesus has a good seat?

Do we build up and dress up this place—so there is no room for “jeans”?

Or, do we as the leper, fall at the feet of Jesus—and expose our own misery. Do we come together in this place with red and tear-stained eyes, sharing our heavy load? Is this a place we build strong to keep misery out, or do we really mean when we say;

We’re not afraid of your pain

All are welcome. All means all.

Are we also like Jesus—do we become angry when our loved ones, our brothers and sisters are forced to live a “separate” life because they have been called “unclean”? Are we moved, are we moved enough to touch one another—with tender hands, with sympathetic and compassionate hearts, with discerning ears…

Being in the presence of Jesus has the power to both cleanse and restore. Do we also live out this divine presence with one another?

In our homes, do we seek to love deeply to restore strained relationships?
In our community do we seek to reach out and touch those who are lonely?
In our world, do we seek to make clean our lands that have been polluted, our water that has been stained, our air that has been blackened… for God cares for these as well…

Do we live out this divine presence in our daily lives?

May our hands be open, so that we may continually reach out.
May our eyes search for and recognize the beauty in every person.
May our ears be uncluttered, that we may listen with understanding.
My our hearts be full of love, that we may continue to restore what was once far off.


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