Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Walking Dead: Lepers

Well, here we are “The Walking Dead”.  Some folks have been looking forward to this series with anticipation, others with dread and some with confusion.

So why “The Walking Dead”?  The title and theme come from a Television series of the same title that will begin its fourth season tonight. The show has won numerous awards including a Golden Globe for best television drama.  The TV series had its roots in a comic book, excuse me, Graphic novel series by the same name. 

The series revolves around a sheriff’s deputy by the name of Rick Grimes, who is wounded in a shootout with armed criminals, he awakens from a coma weeks later in a deserted and badly damaged hospital.  When he gets outside he discovers the world as he knew it no longer exists, instead he is in post-apocalyptic world that now includes Zombies, or walkers as they are often called in the series. 

Grimes eventually hooks up with a small band of survivors which includes his wife, son and former partner and best friend, Shane.  And for three seasons the survivors have been seeking answers for what has happened and have been battling the walkers.  There is drama, romance, intrigue betrayal, in other words it is a soap opera with Zombies.

Personally I’m on the side that it’s all a dream, that someday Rick will wake up in a clean, fully staffed hospital and  declare “You’ll never believe the nightmare I just had.”  But that’s just me.

As a nod to the geekiness of this series, each week I shall wear a different Zombie T-shirt.  This week’s T-Shirt simply states that I am a member of the Zombie Apocalypse Response team.

For those who are concerned about the dark connotations of this show, these aren’t your parent’s zombies.  People who don’t watch the show often confuse the “Walkers” from the Walking Dead with Zombies from the horror flicks from the 30’s and 40s, White Zombie was the first zombie film ever released in 1932 with Béla Lugosi as the evil protagonist who turned a man into a zombie, in 1943 “I walked with a Zombie” told the story of a Canadian Nurse who encountered a female Zombie on the Caribbean Island of  St. Sebastian.  These Zombies had overtones of Voodoo and black magic. 

It was in 1968 that George Romero made his cult classic, “Night of the Living Dead” which introduced us to the idea of some type of biological disaster that resulted in “the living or walking dead.”  Romero’s original concept for Night of the Living dead was that it would be a comedy, guess that didn’t work out.  It spawned five sequels, was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” 

Different time obviously but the film was made in 1968 and the lead man and hero, Ben, was played by Duane Jones and there was a little bit of controversy because it was the first time a black man was the hero in a horror flick. 

So that being said, the “Walking Dead” are not some part of a Voodoo conspiracy, weren’t animated with witchcraft or black magic and aren’t involved in Devil worship, just victims of some strange post-apocalypse plague.

But what does that have to do with church?  Well, for the next seven weeks we are going to look at examples from the Bible where people died and came back to life, or in the case of this morning’s message people who were considered, “the Living Dead”

For those of you who think that Zombies are too frivolous of a topic to discuss in church, may I direct you to this video.  (Parliament on Zombie Apocalypse)

He was without friends, family or future.  He lived a life of tragedy without a home and without a hope.  Have you ever heard someone say “They treated me like a leper” or “they acted like I had leprosy?”  Back in the eighties when AIDS was just surfacing and  society and science still didn’t have a grip on how it was spread or who would contract it you would often hear those who had acquired AIDS make that statement, “I feel like a leper.”  And while I wouldn’t want to minimize the hurt that people feel when they ostracized by others it is doubtful that anyone in this time could ever fully comprehend what life as a leper was like 2000 years ago.

Leprosy was probably the most feared disease of the time, and that wasn’t just then either, we don’t think of leprosy as a modern disease but the world health organization estimates that there were 232,857 new cases diagnosed in 2012.

We forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have the health care that we have.  And while we gripe about a half-hour wait for the doctor or a three-hour wait in outpatients there are many places in the world where the closest hospital is a day journey away, and drugs are almost impossible to acquire for the common person.  As a matter of fact it’s not a far stretch to say that this group of people would be considerably smaller if we lived in a third world country, because some of you would not have survived without the medical care that you have obtained in Canada.

But back to the subject at hand: Leprosy isn’t the term we use, today we call it Hansen’s disease.   It was named after Gerhard Hansen the Norwegian doctor who discovered it’s cause in 1869.

But before 1869 the scientific term was leprosy.  The disease began with lethargy and pain in the joints.  Little brown patches would appear over the body and nodules would form on them especially in the folds of the face, around the nose, eyes and mouth.  Ulceration of the vocal cords would result in the victim talking in a hoarse rasp and before the disease had run its course the person would be unrecognizable.  You can imagine, someone shuffling along in pain, their voice hardly understandable.

Sometimes it progressed and the nerve ends were also affected and the infected area would begin to lose all sensation and feeling, often without the person knowing until they scalded themselves or broke something without the warning that pain brings.  Pain’s not always a bad thing.  As the disease progresses the muscles waste away until the hands are contracted into claws and the feet curl up.  At this stage the sufferer would sometimes lose their extremities, fingers and toes, ears and noses because of infection caused by untreated injuries. 

It was a horrible disfiguring disease that was contagious and incurable.  Today through the marvels of modern sciences leprosy can be contained and in many cases cured, it the funds are available, but 2000 years ago or even 100 years ago the diagnosis of leprosy was a death sentence, not a quick death but a slow and painful death, these men and women were truly the walking dead.

And people were terrified of leprosy as you can well imagine and so at any sign of a skin disease the person was examined by the Priest and put into quarantine, if the symptoms disappeared the person was considered cured however if it became apparent that the disease was or could be leprosy the consequences were actually quite dire.

But if the physical affects of leprosy were horrible there was something even worse.  The leper had to bear the mental anguish and heart break of being totally cut off from the people he loved, being banished from society and shunned by everyone.

The book of Leviticus contained the law for the people of Israel and this is what it said Leviticus 13:45-46 “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.  Nice huh?

The person with leprosy was not allowed to mingle with anyone who didn’t have the disease, they weren’t allowed to live in the village or the city they had to move into the wilderness living in caves and hovels, their only companions other victims.  The closest they could come to a person without the disease was six foot which would have made for a tough time keeping your marriage intimate, but that didn’t matter because once you were diagnosed with leprosy you were considered dead and your spouse could remarry and your estate was divided up amongst your heirs. 

And so while you were still alive, you were considered dead, it was almost as if you were the Undead, the Living Dead or the Walking Dead. 

There has never been a disease that has so separated people from the rest of humanity like leprosy, not even AIDS.

And so as we pick up the story in Luke 17 Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, Luke 17:12-13 As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”   Remember all they symptoms of leprosy, their movements are stiff, some are missing extremities, because of the damage to their vocal cords their voices are almost growls, and they are contagious.  Remember what Leviticus said, they weren’t to comb their hair and they had to tear their clothes.  Frightening thought isn’t it?

We don’t know how they knew about Jesus, or more mysterious how they knew Jesus was coming, but in him they saw their only hope. 

And so they asked for the one thing that they wanted more than life itself, to be healed.  That their disfigured faces would once again be looked upon with love instead of revulsion, that twisted limbs would become straight and that life, life would return to normal.

And the thing that they wanted more than anything was given to them.   Listen to the very next verse, Luke 17:14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.
There are two miracles here; the first was that they believed, the second was that they were healed.  Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests and they went, didn’t question, didn’t ask “what if we get there and there’s no change?”   And the story says And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.  If they hadn’t gone, do you think they would have been cleansed? If they had of chosen to go see their families first, or gone back to work.   I don’t know, what I do know is that as they obeyed the miracle happened.  And image as they are walking along the conversation that took place if they looked at one another and began to see the changes, “Hey Fred, your nose just grew back, and Bill you’re not shuffling anymore.  I can feel my fingers again, and I feel like singing.” 

And this is where the analogy with the Undead, the Living Dead or the Walking Dead breaks down, because once you are a walker you can’t be healed you can only be killed real good.  But here we see the lepers being given a new life and a new beginning.  And I believe that Jesus could heal Zombies as well.

I wonder what it felt like as the nodules disappeared and skin was made smooth again, as twisted limbs became straight and strong.  I wonder if they had lost appendages to the disease and what it felt like as fingers and toes grew back.

So let’s go back to the story.  Luke 17:15-16 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.   Ten are healed, one came back.  Here is a pop quiz, how many were thankful?  Probably all ten.  They just didn’t express their thanks. 

And there are a pile of life lessons that we can learn from the nine that didn’t come back.

We see how they realized that their only hope was Christ; we can see how they approached Jesus within the law, from a distance without demanding that their request be met.  We could talk about their obedience, how they immediately did as they were commanded. 

And we should marvel at their faith, how without question they believed what Christ offered them, why else would they go to the priest?
But what I marvel at is that nine of them didn’t come back to say “Thank you.”  Think about it, their lives were radically changed, their lives were literally given back to them, so why was there no acknowledgment?  Even Jesus marvelled.  Luke 17:17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?

So how come they didn’t come back?

Perhaps They Were Overwhelmed with what happened.  Sometimes what happens is so incredible that we can’t find words to acknowledge what has happened.  And maybe that’s what happened, it wasn’t that they were ungrateful it was just that so much more was happening in their lives that they simply didn’t get around to saying thank you.  Kind of like those thank you notes that you’ve always intended to write.

For whatever reason it is sometimes harder to show gratitude for the big things then for the little things.  It’s easier to thank someone for saving our place in line then for saving our life.   Benjamin Franklin said “Most people return small favours, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones -- with ingratitude.”

And so in the haste to get their lives back, they forgot the one who had given them their lives back.  Very few of us will be physically in that situation, although there are some who owe a doctor or paramedic their very lives.  But what about the spiritual gift of salvation? Are we so overwhelmed with the gift of eternal life that we haven’t taken the time to thank the giver?  

Or maybe They Were Underwhelmed.  Oh sure they had been given their health back, they had been healed from this horrible disease, but it wasn’t enough.  You’re probably wondering what more could they possibly want?  They had probably thought about this day for a long time, and imagined what it would be like.  But sometimes our imaginations are greater than reality.  Have you ever talked to someone whose life has changed radically, a windfall of money, or a healing or a better job and yet they still aren’t happy.  They still haven’t found what they are looking for.

Perhaps they thought that life would be like it had been before the disease only to discover that their spouses had remarried, their property had been divided between their children, and their jobs had been filled by another people. 

Perhaps they realized that they had lost the freedom they had as a leper.  Confusing, maybe but as a leper they had no social responsibilities, no moral responsibilities, they didn’t have to provide for others they didn’t have to worry about disciplining the kids or doing a good job at work.  All they had to do was stay alive.  Mark Twain made this statement: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

Some people become Christians and then are disappointed because they don’t become more popular, they don’t get a better job, or make new friends, or they aren’t healed.  They are disappointed because they are still human and life still goes on. 

Epicurus said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Or perhaps They Took It For Granted. You know what I’m getting at here.  They thought “Well of course Jesus healed us that’s what he’s supposed to do.”  Kind of the difference between a dog and a cat.  You feed a dog and they think you are the most wonderful person in the world, you feed a cat and they wonder what took you so long.  Somebody said that when you take care of your dog the dog thinks you must be a god, when you take care of your cat the cat thinks it must be a god.

We don’t thank the Doctors who make us better physically because that’s what they are supposed to do, we don’t thank the teachers who make us better intellectually because that’s what they are supposed to do, and we don’t thank the pastors who help us grow spiritually because, well let’s not go there it’s too self-serving.

Too often people view God as some genie in the air who is there only to take care of our wish list and we never acknowledge the debt because we don’t really acknowledge the gift.  Most prayer lists have a lot more items on the “I want” side than on the “Thank you side.”  When our prayers are answered how often is it written off as a coincidence?  Or do we think “Well of course God answered my prayers, he’s God that’s what he’s supposed to do.” 

Don’t take God for granted! He doesn’t have to answer your prayer, after all he’s God.

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday, so it’s only fitting that we talk about being thankful.  These men were literally the Walking Dead, they were still here, but for all intents and purposes they were dead.  And they were given new life.  One acknowledge his debt and nine didn’t.  What does that have to do with us?
As Christ followers how often do we acknowledge the debt we owe to Jesus?  At some point every one of us was like the lepers, we were in need of a new life, a life that we could not obtain on our own, let’s go back to the scripture we started with in the intro video 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.
If you have never received the new life that is promised to us it is available for the asking, it is a gift and a gift cannot be earned, or it wouldn’t be a gift.  But while you can’t earn a gift you have to accept it. 
Have you accepted the gift of grace?  The gift of Salvation?  The gift of eternal life?  If not than why not today? 

1 comment:

Kevin Osborne said...

I am blessed by your post, thank you :) we are all dead in trespass and sin