Dream word – RESTORE
“One day in one of the villages there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus he fell down before him in prayer and said, ‘If you want to, you can cleanse me.’ Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I want to. Be clean.’ Then and there his skin was smooth, the leprosy gone. Jesus instructed him, ‘Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed self to the priest, along with the offering ordered by Moses. Your cleansed and obedient life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.’” (The Message: by Eugene H. Peterson.)
Removing the leper’s squint
The Parish church of St Peter’s, in the small village of Twineham sits nested amongst the green trees of England, not far from the base of the South Downs of East Sussex. The first incumbent Rector is listed in the 13th Century and the stone font dates to that same period. Apart from the overgrown area of the graveyard rented by non-conformist Quakers for a peppercorn rent of a few pennies and the last of the wooden bedstead headboards, used as a grave marker instead of a stone, (a practice apparently only seen in Sussex) out of all the other fascinating features of this church I found two holes in the walls of the church the most intriguing of all. The church warden showing me around, told me that at these points, the local lepers would receive the Eucharist and on occasion, through grated bars would be allowed to watch the priestly practice of the Mass.
For medieval man, the Latin incanted magic of the Eucharist, performed by well-robed priests, was a mystery not to be missed! Indeed, magic coupled with superstition was so rife in those days that even the 13th century font, still standing tall and cold at St Peter’s Twineham, still bore the marks of having a lock put on the lid, to stop the “Holy Water” being stolen for use in rites of local witchcraft! Even so, with all these passing pictures of lives long gone, yet still set and seen in wood and stone, it is the image of a gnarled and excluded, dirty and stinking leper, standing outside in the cold and the wet, stealing a squint at the magic through and oblique angled holes in the wall and receiving the Eucharist of life through the same, which sticks with me most this night. This small hole in the wall, this only place of access to the unwanted, was known as a “leper’s squint”.
Some folks, famous sinners all, gangsters, gang leaders, drug dealers, football players, boxers, pop stars and politicians, when they “come through for Christ” (what an odious and self exalting phrase) are placed by us on pedestals for the entire world to see. Indeed, we put these redeemed and famous sinners up there for all the world to see and then shout out to all the gazing, awestruck Christians, “Come see this stinking sinner, now washed, made whole, made free! Free that is, apart from his CD, DVD, book and biography, all of which are yours for just $14.99, on sale in the lobby after he’s sung and we’ve taken up a love offering.” Yup, we love them famous sinners, coming through for Christ! Yup, get ‘em in, get ‘em up and get ’em on the circuit of sinners since redeemed. Yes, put them up the for all the world to see, for isn’t Jesus most powerful and magnificent, to save such a famous wretch as thee?
I say this mockingly tonight for the sole purpose of contrast, for it is only this dark contrast that will allow us to see the white and staring eyes of all the leper’s peering through our squints. Yes, I am afraid to say that in our churches of today, we still have a multitude of squinting lepers. Who are they? Why are they there? How did we allow this to happen?
These folks, this most leprous lot are the once forgiven people who have fallen whilst in harness. Their sin, whatever it was, has become to the Christian community, dastardly inexcusable, abuse-able and totally unusable to the “once saved and serving, never dare put one foot wrong again” kind of Gospel we are preaching. These modern day lepers are growing in number and surely are some of the saddest folks I have ever seen. They have become to us, ugly, odorous, shunned, separated, excluded, never to be trusted, shut up, cast out in the cold and wet, to be left peering at the magic through a leper’s squint. And good riddance to them as well, because they let me down, they let our side down, for above all, they cast a shadow on the keeping power of Christ.
Yes, above all, in their bad decision, they moved Him from most desirous in their life, to being the least desirous of all! That’s what we hate the most, the fact that their sin, their deceitful sin, has cast doubt on the efficacy of the message we proclaim and Christ to keep us, as well as casting a most terrible light on the some of the same snakes of doubt and ungodly desires, slithering around in the dark of our own dear lives. Think about that. Be honest with yourselves.
Let us remember tonight, that the greatest story of redemption left to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, is not of a famous stranger finally “coming through to Jesus,” and still making a few bob on the side, but rather of a profligate, a prodigal, a known but long lost son finally coming home! Yes, the greatest story of redemption is of a son finally coming home and still ripe with the smell of pig shit on him and when that happened, yes, when the longed for family member finally returned, he wasn’t stepped down, wasn’t dressed down, he wasn’t hosed down, and made to go out in the cold and peer at the magic he once so loved through a cold, low, leper’s squint, but rather was clothed upon, ringed up, taken in, embraced and given a hoe down. It’s shocking isn’t it? I reckon Jesus intended it to be so, for grace is nothing short of being just that, absolutely shocking!
It’s going to be very tough, yet until we get rid of every lepers squint, and welcome home the wounded and stinking prodigals, our communities, though quite respectable, shall never truly bear, the Maker’s mark of grace.
Listen: “Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticise their faults - unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbour's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole travelling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour.” (Matthew 7:1-5 The Message by Eugene H. Peterson.)
Pray: Lord, I have to tell you that I feel really let down by those folks, they should have known better. But Lord, we should have known better as well. I remember you said to St Peter, that cursing and cowardly denier, “Feed my lambs.” Surely, every sin against You by a redeemed child is a spit in Your face, a rape of Your grace. We are sorry for our sins O Lord. Now will You release the rapists and restore us cursing St Peter’s by re commissioning again those You have most astonishingly redeemed, to speak once more of your most outrageous grace. Amen.
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