Wall phone

6 Epiphany Proper B6                     
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:40-45 Sermon                                             
February 12, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 17 "O Worship The King, All Glorious Above"
TLH 134 "Songs Of Thankfulness And Praise"
TLH 388 "Just As I Am, Without One Plea"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"



TEXT (vs. 40-42):  “40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 

            This morning I have a story to share with you.  It's one that one of our members, Helen Reiling Emailed to me just yesterday.  And as I was working on this morning's sermon, I thought it was rather appropriate.

            When I was a young boy, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood.  I remember the polished, old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.  Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person.  Her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know.  Information Please could supply anyone's number and the correct time. 

            My personal experience with the genie-in-a-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor.  Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer, the pain was terrible, but there seemed no point in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.  

            I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone!  Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing.  Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear.  "Information, please" I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.  

            A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear.   "Information."

            "I hurt my finger!" I wailed into the phone, the tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.

            "Isn't your mother home?" came the question.

            "Nobody's home but me," I blubbered.

            "Are you bleeding?" the voice asked.

            "No," I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."

            "Can you open the icebox?" she asked.

            I said I could.

            "Then chip off a little bit of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice.

            After that, I called "Information Please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was.  She helped me with my math.

            She told me my pet chipmunk that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.

            Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary, died.  I called, "Information Please," and told her the sad story.  She listened, and then said things grown-ups say to soothe a child.  But I was not consoled.  I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

            She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, " Wayne, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in."

            Somehow I felt better.

            Another day I was on the telephone, "Information Please."

            "Information," said in the now familiar voice. "How do I spell fix?"  I asked.

            All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.  When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston.  I missed my friend very much.  "Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home and I somehow never thought of trying the shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.  As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me.

            Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then.  I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

            A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle.  I had about a half-hour or so between planes.  I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister, who lived there now.  Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please."

             Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well.  "Information."

            I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"

            There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."

            I laughed, "So it's really you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?"

            I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your call meant to me.  I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls."

            I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.

            "Please do", she said. "Just ask for Sally."

            Three months later I was back in Seattle.  A different voice answered, "Information."

            I asked for Sally.

            "Are you a friend?" she said.

            "Yes, a very old friend," I answered.

            "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said. "Sally had been working part time the last few years because she was sick.  She died five weeks ago."  Before I could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute, did you say your name was Wayne?"

            "Yes," I answered.

            "Well, Sally left a message for you.  She wrote it down in case you called.  Let me read it to you."  The note said, "Tell him there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean."

            I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant.

            I know that I normally don't share stories that are quite this long, but I felt that this one made a very valid point.  A little compassion indeed goes a long way.  And as we look at our Gospel lesson for today, this is exactly what happened to Jesus when he healed the leper.

            Leprosy is a horrible disease, and it is one that infected many people in Jesus' day.  Easton's Bible Dictionary describes the disease this way:

            This disease "begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal."

            This had to be one of the most wretched diseases you could imagine.  The Jewish ceremonial law deemed a leper to be "unclean."  That one is almost a no-brainer.  But beyond that, nobody wanted to be around them, even if they weren't a Jew.  Everybody basically shunned these people.

            So this leper approaches Jesus.  For him to do this, he had to have faith that Jesus could in fact heal him.  Jesus had done other healing miracles, so this man knew that Jesus could do the same for him.  So he literally gets on his knees and begs Jesus for healing.  This most certainly was an act of faith.

            Our Gospel lesson describes Jesus as being moved with compassion.  The Greek word for "compassion" is “splagchnistheis,” which literally means, "an intense churning of the bowels."  We would call that a "gut wrenching experience."  This describes the intensity of emotion that Jesus felt for this man.

            So he completely heals him.  But he warns him not to go spreading this around, but to go show himself to the priest who could certify that he had been healed.  This would be a witness to the Jewish officials that Jesus was indeed true God, doing the things only God could do.

            But this guy didn't do that.  Instead, he was so overjoyed that he told everybody he could.  And because he did this, Jesus was basically mobbed everywhere he went.  He had to spend a great deal of his time in the more deserted places, just for the sake of crowd control alone.   

            As we consider the leper in our story today, we can see an obvious parallel with ourselves.  Sin in our lives is like the infection of leprosy.  We need to be healed.  We need to experience that same healing touch today like that leper who approached Jesus so long ago.

            So what can we expect when we approach Jesus?  Can we expect to be treated like the Jews treated the lepers of Jesus’ day, and have him point at us and shout “Unclean, unclean!” and have nothing to do with us? 

            That’s hardly the case.  We can expect Jesus to come to us full of love and compassion.  We can expect Jesus to understand our condition.  We can come to him and fully expect him to heal us.

            This is what we find in the message of the gospel.  We are unclean and undeserving.  We are the poor and the wretched and the blind.  We have nothing good that lives within our sinful selves.

            But Christ reaches out to us.  He offers us healing and forgiveness.  Jesus knows our condition and what we are going through.  He knows our temptations and our weaknesses.  We can take great comfort in the words given to us by the writer to the Hebrews, so we can: “…approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

            We can come to Jesus and expect him to respond in love and compassion.  The leper in our story today came to Jesus just as he was, and Jesus was moved with compassion.  The leper approached Jesus in faith, with the knowledge that he would be healed and restored.

            When we come to Jesus in faith, we come to him as our Saviour.  Through faith, we accept what he has done for us.  It was his compassion for you and me that brought him to this earth.  For the likes of us, he lived the perfect life we could not live.  And then his compassion took him all the way to the cross, where bled and died to pay for each and every sin you and I have ever committed.  This is how profound Jesus' compassion is.

            A little compassion goes a long way.  We can see the results of this in our Gospel lesson for today.  A man who was severely infected and crippled with leprosy was completely healed and restored.  He could never have accomplished this on his own.  Jesus provided the healing and cleansing that he needed.

            My opening illustration this morning is the story of a little boy's relationship with a telephone operator.  And when you think of cell phones, and call waiting, and call forwarding, and I-phones, and Skype links, and all of the technology, there is still nothing as great and profound as a little personal compassion.  That's something that technology just can't give us. 

            The compassion of a telephone operator made a huge difference in the life of one little boy.  He knew that he could pick up that old telephone, wind the crank a few times, and ask for "information please."  And when the operator came on the line, there was never any doubt in his mind that he would be met with love, compassion, and understanding.

            Maybe we don't have an operator like that in our lives.  But we do have a Saviour.  We know that we can come to him, the poor, wretched, and blind sinners that we are.  We can come to him in faith, with the assurance that he hears us and understands us.  And most importantly, we know that he will give us the forgiveness and healing that we so desperately need.  Our compassionate Saviour will take us all the way to heaven for eternity.

            So how has the compassion of Jesus affected you?  Is this something that is worth talking about and sharing with others?  Do other people in your life need to receive the benefits of this compassion just as you have?

            As we gather together each week in our Lord's house, let us celebrate this love he has for us, and continue to build the personal relationship we have with our Saviour who will never leave nor forsake us, and who will always deal with us lovingly and compassionately.