Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sermon, Epiphany 5B, Mark 1:29-39

I follow a fair amount of blogs. For those who don't know, a blog is basically an online diary. Some are personal, some are political, some are very good, and many aren't. I skim most, read some, and comment on a few. And sometimes I get lucky and discover a new one I find interesting. Last week I got lucky and found a blog that I've since added to my blog roll, my list of blogs I read on a regular basis.

While reading one of my favorite blogs, I found another one called Wenzer's Addictions. She's got some good stuff, and she happens to be from Wyoming. The first post of hers that I read had to do with inclusivity. She said she was reading a book by Philip Yancey, and in that book he was talking about the Holiness Codes in Leviticus and how they limited who could be included in God's presence and what constituted proper behavior. The Holiness Codes, remember, is that section of Leviticus that determines what foods are clean or unclean, who can serve God and who can't, when and when not to work, who gets stoned and who merely gets punished.

In short, he contrasted those codes with the actions of Jesus and the revelation to Peter. With Jesus, there were no purity codes, there were no limits on who was allowed to come within the presence of God and there was the acknowledgment that God's grace was a gift for all. And with the revelation to Peter, God himself declares that, in essence, all things have been made clean through the death and resurrection of Jesus -- even those things that we try to segregate as unclean, profane or impure. Philip Yancey is making a biblical case for full inclusion because, when you get right down to it, we are all impure and imperfect in some way.

And about now you may be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with today's readings?"

In today's passage from 1st Corinthians, we hear Paul say, ". . . woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!" For Paul, and for us, our mandate from God is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither he, nor us, do this for some earthly reward, and I certainly don't do it for the paycheck. But we all have been commissioned by God as part of our discipleship to proclaim the gospel in thought, word and deed.

To whom should we proclaim this gospel? To people who look like us? People who think like us? People who share our interests? To people who are pure and unblemished? No. The people to whom we proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, are the slaves, the Jews, those under the law, those outside the law and the weak. In other words, we proclaim this gospel to everybody, meeting them where they are, so that they can see how God might work in their own life.

And in today's gospel passage we hear of the mission of Jesus. After spending a day in Capernaum curing the sick and casting out demons, Jesus gets up early in the morning to go pray and spend time alone. After awhile, the disciples go looking for him because there are others in town who want/need Jesus. Yesterday he healed many; today many more need healing.

Does he stay there working to make all of Capernaum healthy? Does he stay there looking to make disciples out of the whole city? No. Instead he says, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also."

Jesus went throughout Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingodm of God. The message wasn't just for the people of Capernaum. Jesus didn't wait for people to hear about his ministry second-hand and then make the trek to Capernaum. Jesus took his message out to the people. He met them were they were.

And Jesus didn't set limits. By visiting other towns he showed us that he casts a wide net. He didn't have a purity code or litmus test that he used to block access to God. He, and Paul, preached a gospel of inclusivity that is open to all. They didn't demand people get cleaned up before being welcomed; instead, they welcomed people and then offered to help clean them up.

To praphrase the gal who writes Wenzer's Addictions, Jesus was eating with thieves and prostitutes, meth-heads and high school dropouts. And Paul was preaching to the same people. Why? Because they need it more? No, not because they need it more, but because they are the ones most likely to be ignored by us "normal" people.

If it were up to us, this place would be filled with people just like us. But it's not up to us, it's up to God. And God is asking us to reach out to the unclean, impure, imperfect and outcast. God is asking us to preach the gospel to all because God welcomes all into his kingdom. God is reminding us through the ministry of Jesus, through the preaching of Paul, and through the revelation to Peter, that all things have been made clean. All people are welcome.

The thing to remember is this: we are all unclean. We are all, as Philip Yancey said, the seafood in the diet of life. We are all unclean, impure and imperfect on some level. Just because we are in here doesn't make us better than those who are out there. What God has done, and what Jesus and Paul preached, is that we have all been made equal.

Woe to us if we do not proclaim the gospel to our neighbors. Woe to us if we fail to see God's grace, love and mercy extending to all people, even those whom we deem unfit. Woe to us if we demand cleanliness before invitation.

Jesus proclaimed the gospel beyond the wall of his comfort zone. Paul became all things to all people. Peter learned that Holiness Codes no longer exist in God's eyes. May we do likewise. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get lucky and be able to add someone else to our list of people we see on a regular basis.


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