Audio Player
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
 You may have noticed that the word “clean” comes up a number of times in today’s Scripture readings.  And it’s a word that also shows up in a number of ways in our contemporary culture, too.  You hear, for instance, about the concept of “clean eating,” avoiding overly processed foods, eating organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO.  Eating in this way is intended to make you more clean and healthy.  Or, there are several shows on Netflix and cable that are about cleaning and tidying up your life.  Being disorganized and cluttered gives a sense of uncleanness, and so methods are given (that are sometimes almost spiritual in nature) to put your life in order and make things clean and right again.  Or when it comes to exercise, you’ll commonly hear references to the technique of taking a “cleansing breath.”  As you breathe in and then exhale out your anxiety and stress and negativity, this technique is supposed to help cleanse you in body and in soul.
 Whether people are overtly religious or not, we all have this inherent sense that there is something unclean about us and that we need to be purified.  And so our eating and our exercising and our tidying and our doing of good works and our positive thinking is often an attempt to address that, to cleanse ourselves.  But if we’re honest, we can never completely shake the sense that things still aren’t quite how they should be with us, that what the confession says is true, “we are by nature sinful and unclean.”  We are all in the position of the leper in today’s Gospel reading, who comes before Jesus with the prayer, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”null
 Now usually we think of our need for cleansing from God only in spiritual terms.  But what our Lord gives involves the body, too.  We see that fact with both Namaan in the Old Testament and the leper in the Gospel.  Their being made clean involved their whole being, flesh and spirit.  To be sure, uncleanness is first of all a spiritual matter.  The Bible sometimes calls demons unclean spirits who seek to defile us as well.  Sin and the allurements of the world are described in Scripture as pollutions–you take part in them and you’re left feeling tainted and infected and corrupted.  And then there are also the sins that have been perpetrated on you, against your will, that leave you feeling contaminated.  Verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse can leave a person feeling desecrated and soiled.  We need cleansing from Jesus not only for the sins we’ve committed, but also for those that have been committed against us. 
 But again let’s not lose sight of the fact that the cleansing Jesus gave was also a fleshly cleansing and healing and restoration.  We need our whole selves to be cleansed, soul and body.  This quickly becomes apparent when we’re dealing with physical sicknesses and diseases; the body isn’t naturally sanitary and hygienic.  Doctors and nurses are dealing with wounds that ooze, limbs that swell with fluids, cancer that eats away at healthy tissue, mucous and phlegm that congest, bowels that malfunction.  It’s no wonder that medical personnel are constantly using the hand sanitizer.  They know better than most that what they’re dealing with is uncleanness, viruses and bacteria and disorders that require very tangible, fleshly help to bring about some sense of cleanness and order back to the body.  A hospital patient’s comments about their messed-up hair or lack of make-up or decent clothing are often a commentary on this deeper feeling. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
 What an excellent prayer that is which the leper prays!  He doesn’t presume to tell Jesus what to do but comes before Him humbly.  However, He also expresses full confidence and faith in Jesus, that He surely has the power to help Him if He wants to.  And then what an excellent response our Lord gives to him!  Jesus says, “I do want to."  "I am willing; be cleansed.” (8:3)  Here the Lord’s heart is opened to the leper and to us all, and we see His great desire to make us clean in both soul and body.  This is the very reason why the Son of God was made man, to purify you from all that ails your flesh and spirit.  For notice what Jesus does here.  It says that He put His hand on the leper and touched him.  That’s the last thing you would normally want to do with someone who has a contagious disease, not at least without getting gloved and masked up.  But Jesus makes direct contact with this man in his uncleanness, because, as it is written later in this same chapter, “He Himself took our sicknesses and bore our infirmities” (8:17).  This is your Savior, the One who took into His own flesh all that attacks your flesh.  He knows, He has felt your sickness in the deepest way possible.  In His scourging and on the cross, His body was opened up and laid bare to every pathogen that threatens our life.  He died a bloody, infected, unclean mess.  However, by that very death, He conquered all your sickness and your disease and the grave itself.  For in the body of God made flesh, all corruptions of the flesh met their match and their end.  It is written in Psalm 16 that Jesus’ body did not see decay or corruption in the grave.  By the wounds of Christ you are healed and cleansed.  The One crucified and now risen in the flesh is your cure.
 Believing that doesn’t come naturally to us.  The ways of God often seem insufficient or foolish or strange to our minds.  That’s certainly how it was with Naaman in the Old Testament reading.   Naaman thought He knew the way that God and His prophets should behave.  Naaman was an army man, and so He assumed God would act according to his power thinking.  He traveled all the way from Syria to Israel because he heard that there was a man there who might be able to cure him of his leprosy.  But after making this lengthy trip, things did not go according to his plan.  Elisha, the man of God, didn’t even come out to greet Naaman.  Instead he sent out his servant.  Naaman wouldn’t even be able to meet the prophet whom he had come to see.  He had all this silver and gold and clothing which he thought he could use to secure Elisha’s blessing, but the prophet would have none of it.
 All Naaman got from Elisha was words, words through his servant telling him to go and take seven baths in the Jordan river.  At that, Naaman lost his temper.  “You mean I came all this way and that’s it?!  I thought the prophet would come out and wave his hands around and call on his God and do something spiritual and heal my leprosy.  All I get is a command to bathe?  I could’ve done that at home, and in much clearer water than this measly river.  That’s it, I’m leaving.”
 We too can be tempted to be like Naaman, especially in those times when God isn’t meeting our expectations, when He doesn’t seem to be coming through for us.  “I’ve come all this way, Lord, seeking health and happiness and a successful life in this world.  I’ve tried to jump through all the right hoops, but I am still weighed down with all sorts of problems and troubles.  And all you’re giving me is words and Scriptures from your servant?  Give me some spiritual advice and techniques and power that will work for me right now.  If not, I’ve had enough.  I’m going home.”
 Fortunately for Naaman, he had wise servants.  They said to him, “If the prophet had told you to do some great and difficult thing, you would have done it.  Why not, then, trust in this little thing and do it?”  We’re always more inclined to think that great religious deeds are what really make us holy and bring us closer to God and obtain His blessing.  But the key factor is whether or not God’s creative and healing Word is present, even connected to simple water.
 Naaman did according to the word of God spoken by Elijah, and when he came up out of the water the 7th time, his leprous skin had been healed and cleansed completely, like that of a little child.  You might say that Naaman was born again, freed from his disease to live a new life.  Having washed once for each of the 7 days of creation, Naaman came out of the water a new creation, a new person, through the hidden power of the words connected with the Jordan water.
 That’s how it is also for us.  God heals and cleanses and recreates us not through impressive visible power, but through simple words and promises connected to the baptismal water.  This is what we heard last week in Ephesians 5, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”  It is written in John 3, “Unless one is born (again) of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  We must turn and become as a little child, Jesus said, (like young Korben today), utterly dependent, forsaking our adult merits and wisdom, completely on the receiving end of God’s gracious giving.  Laying aside any claim to our own worthiness, we stake everything on Christ and His holy Word.  For wherever the Word is, there God is present to cleanse and save.  And the Word is in the water!  Remember that Jesus Himself later entered into these same Jordan waters.  There He was baptized into our sin and death so that through our baptism into Him we might receive His mercy and His life.
 So here’s the point for you to take to heart today: Our Lord has said also to you what He said to the leper, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  At the holy font, He gave you the sure hope that your lowly body will be transformed to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21).  In divine service He continues to speak those words in the absolution, words of forgiveness which are life to you and health to all your flesh (Proverbs 4:22).  And here at the altar, you receive the blood of Jesus which cleanses you from all sin (1 John 1:7).  Here for you is the medicine of immortality and the guarantee of health and wholeness that will be yours in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. 
 Jesus can make you clean.  He is willing.  Be cleansed.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠