A Sermon for Covenant
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
February 12, 2012
We might dismiss this story as a typical healing account . . . if it weren’t for the part where Jesus angrily warns the man to tell no one, and then thrusts him from his presence. [That’s right. Our English versions tame it down a bit, but in the Greek, Jesus angrily silences the man from sharing.] I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t jive with my understanding of what we are supposed to do after we’ve received the Good News. I learned back in Sunday School what to do once you’ve got it, and you are supposed to spread it. Tell the Good News, proclaim the Good News, share the Good News. You shout it from the rooftops.
But you do not keep it secret.
Hide it under bushel? NO! You don’t let Satan blow it out. (Of course not.) You let it shine; you let it shine! Let it shine ‘til Jesus comes! But under no circumstance, ever, do you keep quiet.
Where was Jesus during VBS? He must have snuck off to heal the lame because he obviously missed the lesson on evangelism.
“Don’t you tell anyone,” he says. Well, this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; maybe he’s still learning. Yet if you keep reading the book of Mark, Jesus keeps telling people not to tell. Frankly, this has never made much sense to me. Doesn’t he want people to know about him?
Of course, scholars offer up a whole host of explanations, but those aren’t always satisfying. In case you haven’t caught on to my preaching style yet, sometimes I like to use a little imagination, and see where that gets us.
Let’s put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes. Pretend for a moment that you’re somebody real special. You can do special things. You can heal people and help people, and you’ve got a special message from God tucked away in your heart, and you just know in your bones that you are meant to make that message known. You’ve got a way with words too; people like your stories. You’ve got a job to do, and you’ve got the gifts to do it.
But it’s not like it’s all about you and your gifts. It’s not like that at all! You care about people. You see how people suffer and hurt, and you know you’ve got some things that will help. You’ve got this power that flows through your fingers when you touch a needy person. You’ve got magical words that help people see God in their life.
And nearly as soon as you put your special gifts to work, people really like you. I mean, really like you. You’re aware of some ancient prophecies which predict things will get worse in the end, but for now, the people love you. Everywhere you go, they say what an amazing teacher you are, how gifted you are, how smart, how engaging, how inspirational. You couldn’t have asked for a better start to your ministry. Your message is catching—people are spreading it left and right. Your mission is booming—people are flocking to you.
But somehow, in the midst of the hype, you start to feel lonely, and you know about Loneliness. You know how Loneliness is a good teacher—that Loneliness will be honest with you, it won’t feed you flattery, it will draw you to God. And so you sneak away in the middle of the night to a secluded place and visit the Loneliness to hear what it has to say. While you’re there, you start praying, and you keep praying.
And when you emerge from prayer, you care about the suffering world just as much as ever, so much so that when a scaly-skinned leper with body odor and dirty bandages stumbles across your path, the only thing that moves inside your heart is pure compassion. The disciples back away from the mangy, smelly man who barely resembles a person, but you step towards him, reach out, and draw him to yourself like a long lost friend.
But now that you’ve prayed, you feel differently about his reaction to your healing. His gratitude and amazement and awe give you pause. His reaction doesn’t feed your ego; it makes you wonder if he really gets you; if he just worships you like you are a Magic Genie, or if he would really follow you to the end—the Great Suffering End—like you were his Friend. You look into his tear-filled eyes and you wonder. With a wiser grip on reality, you send him away. Not because you don’t like him. Why, you love him! But because you didn’t come here to start a fan club; you came here to be faithful, and truth be told, there just aren’t that many people who will still associate with you after you get drug off the shiny pedestal and onto a rugged cross.
You realize you were given a Message to share, but you don’t get to control how that Message gets used, abused, interpreted, mangled, or represented after it leaves it your mouth. You remember that people were created free, and that means they are free to misunderstand you, use you, fawn over you and then you drop you as soon as the going gets tough. This cannot be helped, so it must not discourage you from going forward, but it does make you wonder if all the publicity is working for you or against you.
You think back to that secluded place where you met your loneliness head on and discovered the fullness of the Father as well. What if you set up camp there for awhile? What would it be like, if people had to work a little to find you? You wouldn’t hide completely, but you would hide from the spotlight. What if it took a little bravery, a bit of curiosity, and a hint of desperation for the masses to discover you? Would that dissuade them from being too rash, from joining up too quickly, before they understood what they were signing up for? Would it be such a bad thing if you were concealed, yet accessible, secret yet approachable, mysterious yet knowable? After all, wasn’t that what Father was like?
In a sudden burst of inspiration, your eyes flash with intensity. You squeeze down hard on the leper’s hand, and you tell him, “Don’t tell anyone.” And you think to yourself, “Let them find me.” And then you walk away, leaving the man stunned-speechless—both on account of the healing and your rapid departure—but you just smile softly, knowing it won’t be long before his voice comes back to him and he tells the world anyway.
I’m just imagining of course, what it might feel like to be in Jesus’ shoes. I’ve read some comments about the leper’s disobedience—how he scoffed Jesus’ command and talked freely. But the way I imagine it, I don’t think Jesus would have been disappointed by this supposed disobedience. I mean, maybe Jesus just had to make an effort to quiet things. If people got wind of him anyway, maybe that was okay. Maybe Jesus needed to try to distance himself from the popularity, but it’s not like he would reject anyone who showed up on account of the gossip about him. The Scriptures report that as a result of this ex-leper’s jabber-mouth, Jesus had to go into hiding and stay among the lonely places. But the people found their way to him anyway.
You know, we’ve mentioned before how our little church is tucked away in this cove behind the trees, almost as if we are hiding, but maybe we learned it from Jesus.
It’s not that we are trying to keep Good News secret. But we are trying to preserve it from the harmful affects of trendiness, popularity, and dominance. It’s not that we mind if people get a little excited and start sharing the good news, but we use caution when encouraging it because Jesus isn’t trying to win a popularity contest. This isn’t an election, and we are not his campaign managers. We don’t want hype and glamour and gossip distracting from who Jesus really is.
A lot of churches these days are trying real hard to get people to pay attention to them and their programs, and with church membership around the country declining by the minute, I kind of get that. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that fame and popularity serve our interests, but fame and popularity have their own interests, such that we better watch out if they follow us, trying to shove us forward to the spotlight, even if it appears to be for a good cause. We must push back a little from attention and sneak off to the lonely places and visit with the Loneliness to hear what it has to teach us. We can be accessible, without being showy. Available and approachable without being glamorous. We can make a real difference without making a big splash. And that type of modest discipleship, I think, is just the kind of thing we try to live out around here, and I like it. The crowds may or may not show—such things cannot be predicted—but people do get healed here. They’ve told me so.
My dear friends, may we be a community that sees and knows Jesus for who he really is. May we be willing to follow him to the very End, like we would a friend. May we be a community that shies away from the spotlight to find God in the dark and hidden and lonely places. May we offer a quiet healing for those who stumble across our path. May we be modest disciples—willing to go anywhere but needing no recognition. May we be hospitable, gentle, and full of grace. Amen.