I have an older sister Adele whom I admire greatly. She is seven years older than I, yet to this day I still can't keep up with her to match her level of energy and activity. When we were much younger she'd take me with her on errands, and I had to run to keep up with her fast walk. When we played tennis, no matter how hard I hit the ball, she always returned my volley. It was frustrating! Adele graduated high school at the head of her class and was a summa cum laude graduate in college – academic achievements far superior to my own. She was a college math instructor for decades, earning many professional awards; but math was never a personal strength of mine. My only hope in matching her was longevity in the teaching profession, so I didn't retire till I was 67 years old, far older than all my teacher colleagues, only to face the fact that she retired that very same year at age 74!
Adele is a woman of great faith, deeply involved in ministries in her Chicago parish. In her late-80s she still helps the sick and elderly, studies Scripture and theology, drives parishioners to doctor appointments and is a caring mother and grandmother. Years ago, I stopped trying to keep up with her. These days I just sit back in respectful admiration.
We've had many talks over the years about our faith in God and its meaning in our lives. We agree upon most everything. Yet there is one small area of disagreement; it shows up in the way we celebrate Liturgy at JOS. Look at today's Order of Worship. On the back page, you notice that right before we receive the Communion Bread and Wine, we say together “Lord, I am worthy to receive You, for by your Word I am healed.” Adele believes otherwise, saying that we remain unworthy at all times and ought to say so. Since Adele is not here to promote her viewpoint, let me promote mine.
Look at today's Gospel: a man with leprosy asks Jesus for healing, and Jesus heals him. A simple request, a gracious response. The man no longer has leprosy. His skin is healthy. He is healed.
At the beginning of our Liturgy, we have a penitential rite: We admit our sinfulness and ask for healing: “Jesus have mercy... Christ have mercy...Jesus have mercy,” we pray together. When the priest declares: “May God have mercy on us, forgive our sins, and bring us abundant life,” God's Word heals us – a healing more profound than the cleansing of leprous skin. It is a cleansing of the soul! In many churches, including Adele's, other words are said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you...” But we are worthy, not because of any merit on our part, but because of God's goodness. It's God's Word that makes us worthy!
I don't know whether or not leprosy ever reappears in someone who is truly healed. But I do know it is very likely you and I will sin again; in fact, the odds are very much in favor of sinning again. That's okay. That's why every Eucharist we celebrate begins with a penitential rite where we confess our sins again and are forgiven again. This is surely the sign of a merciful God who loves and understands us intimately and remains always ready to forgive.
So this morning as we receive Jesus in Communion, let's proudly pray the words “Lord, I am worthy to receive you, for by your Word I am healed.” No sin is too large to be forgiven. So let's not tell God how large our problems are. Let's tell our problems how large our God is! AMEN!