Psalm 130; 2 Chronicles 30:13-27; Mark 2:1-12
You have probably read stories of a new pastor pretending to be a homeless person for a while in front of the church he is getting ready to take on the responsibility of shepherding his new church. In some cases members of the congregation try to help the homeless person they see. In other cases the “homeless person” is ignored – not hated, but even worse, ignored. Fact checking these stories lend doubt to the authenticity of some of the more well known ones, but whether the stories are true or not they remind us that there just some people that aren’t really welcome in our churches.Like lepers of old their clothes and their dress scream out “unclean!” At the same time, like Jesus, we should welcome and love these people into the church instead of ignoring them.
Hezekiah planned a great Passover celebration. He invited all of Judah. Then, remembering that the Northern tribes were also sons of Abraham, he invited them also. Well, he invited those who remained after the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria. This was one big blowout party. There was a problem though. The people of the Northern Tribes didn’t remember the right way to show up for a party at the Temple. “Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)
This could have been an awkward moment for Hezekiah. He could have ordered all those who didn’t get purified killed. He could have banished them. Instead, he broke through the awkwardness and prayed for them. He prayed that God would forgive all whose hearts were set on seeking God even if them had messed up. I don’t know how the people realized it, but God did hear Hezekiah’s prayer, and all the people who needed pardon and healing received it. I don’t know how the people realized it, but the reaction was so good and everyone was having so great a time that the party/worship service was held over for another week.
I don’t know if Hezekiah would fit in well with some of our churches today. Sometimes it seems like they would prefer to find ways to exclude others instead of including them. They can tell you who is “clean” and who is “unclean” just by looking at their behavior. They loudly denounce the “unclean” and seek God’s retribution on them. Of course the definition of “unclean” includes those sins that they don’t commit. The ancient Pharisees, who had this rule keeping practice down to a science, used to believe that Gentiles were created to fuel the fires of hell. I think our modern day “Christian” rule keepers think the same about those who are “unclean.” I see God more like Hezekiah did. I believe that the same Jesus who loved the lepers and who loved and forgave those who crucified Him is willing to love and forgive those whom many preachers would call unclean today. If you are a rule keeper and you examine my life – you would find that I am unclean. Imagine how much more God, who knows my heart and my mind better than me, could find to call unclean. Yet He has loved and forgiven me. His grace covers any sin if someone truly seeks God. It’s time to stop shouting that others are unclean and remind people that Christ Jesus died to forgive us and restore our relationship with God.
Oh Lord, how easy it is for me to point my fingers at the sins of others. Like Isaiah I am a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips. Cleanse me. Forgive me. Let me experience Your grace each day, and then show it to others.