Sunday, October 20, 2013

Running on Empty? Roadside Assistance (Mark 2:1-12)

After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home.  So many gathered there that there was no longer space, not even near the door.  Jesus was speaking the word to them.  Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed.  They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was.  When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering to themselves, “Why does he speak this way?  He’s insulting God.  Only the one God can forgive sins.”
Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions?  Which is easier--to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your bed, and walk’?  But so you will know that the Human One [the Son of Man] has authority on the earth to forgive sins” - he said to the man who was paralyzed, “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”
Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody.  They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

Though many of us spend much of our lives feeling like we’re running on empty – spiritually, physically, emotionally – God wants better for us.  God wants us to live a life full of his grace.

Today we wrap up a series of messages called “Running on Empty.”  As we’ve thought about our spiritual journey, we know that we can’t earn God’s grace, nor can we turn it on or off by our actions, but the maintenance tips I’ve given you each week are things you can do to be in the best possible position to receive God’s grace.

We’ve said that we fill up with grace when we use the right fuel, which is worship; when we check our fluids by remembering our baptism; when we use faith’s OnStar button, which is prayer; when we eat in the car, so to speak, by receiving Holy Communion; and when our words both toward and about all our travel buddies seek to build up and encourage at all times, in all circumstances.

It has been said that the best sermons are for the preacher before they’re for the congregation, and this series has been no exception.  Each week, I’ve found myself preaching to myself long before I ever stand up here on Sunday, because I also need God’s grace at every turn.  We all need as much grace as we can get – myself included – and each week I have been reminded of just how important it is to both seek God’s grace for ourselves, and to share it with others.

We have one more maintenance tip this morning: when you need help, call for it.  On the spiritual journey, Roadside Assistance comes in the form of prayers for healing.  May we pray.

We’ve never seen anything like this
Jesus said to the man who was paralyzed, “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”  They were all amazed, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:10-12).  It is only the 2nd Chapter of Mark’s Gospel, and Jesus’ reputation is already such that as soon as he gets to town, a crowd forms to see him, hear him, and be close to him.  At the house where he was staying, we are told that “so many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door” (Mark 2:2).

Four men, bearing their paralyzed friend on a stretcher, come to the house in hopes of getting him close to Jesus.  I am struck by the insight of those determined friends who know instinctively that healing and wholeness are related to proximity to Jesus.  They arrive, and the crowd of people is so large and so dense that there’s no way they can get their friend to Jesus.  Yet, this is only a minor inconvenience & temporary setback.

Homes in this time and place often had stairs from the ground leading to a flat roof.  The roof was considered living space, and often used in the early morning and late evening, away from the heat of the day.  And so, the four men bear the stretcher up the stairs to the roof, lay their friend down, and literally start tearing the house apart; this is the magnitude of their determination in getting their friend to Jesus.

Picture the scene.  Jesus is standing in the middle of the house - speaking, teaching, talking, laughing - with the crowd that gathered.  His lunch, interrupted hours ago, is sitting on the table and has long gone cold.  Suddenly, bits of plaster, and wood, and straw begin to fall from the ceiling onto Jesus, those around him, the floor, and even onto his lunch.  A spectre of sunlight pierces the cool shadow of the house, and the crowd looks up as the hole above their heads gets wider and wider.  They are astonished to see four men tearing chunks of the roof away with their bare hands, and when the opening is finally wide enough, they take the corners of their friend’s stretcher, and gently lower him down through the roof to the feet of Jesus (Mark 2:3-4).

This story often elicits the response - usually from someone on trustees - “What about the building?  Did the insurance cover the damage?  Did these guys pay to get it fixed?”  And yet in the story, the state of the building is far less important than doing what it takes to get people close to Jesus.

Faith, child, forgiveness
Verse 5 tells us, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”  Let’s hit the pause button there.

The word “faith” comes from the Greek, pistis.  Used in conjunction with miracles in Mark, it implies perseverance - overcoming obstacles in order to get to Jesus.  In our text, there are several barriers to overcome - the crowd blocking the normal and obvious way to Jesus, and the roof blocking the abnormal and not-so-obvious way to Jesus.  The four guys demonstrate their faith in their perseverance in overcoming barriers to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus.

When Jesus sees the faith of the friends, he forgives and heals the paralytic.  Jesus commends their faith, the faith of those roof-destroying friends.  Notice that it is not the faith of the individual that Jesus commends, but the faith of his friends - his community.

Now, what about the paralyzed man himself?  Jesus calls him, “Child.”  The Greek is teknon, which means “child” or “son.”  When Jesus addresses him as teknon, he is addressing him with affection and endearment and a closeness that was reserved for members of the family.

The paralyzed man hasn’t done anything to deserve any of this, and honestly, how could he, he’s paralyzed.  And yet, according to Jesus, he is a teknon, a child, a son, a precious member of the family, and if we pay attention to Jesus, maybe that’s enough.

Reaction of scribes and Pharisees
At the end of our passage, in verse 12, everyone said, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  We’ve never seen anything like this – one phrase, yet it meant two completely different things to some in the crowd that day.  Most of the crowd were astonished and delighted, but a few in the crowd that day were astonished and ticked off.

The scribes and Pharisees said, “We’ve never seen anything like this—and we don’t like it one bit!”  They didn’t say “Wow,” they said, “Whoa!” because God wasn’t following their rules.

Mike Berry says that “Pharisee” means, “a stuck up religious snob who just doesn’t get it” – they are always opposed to the work of God that is happening through Jesus.  Whether in Jesus’ time or in ours, they are paralyzed by the fear that somewhere, someone in the world is having fun.  These would be the folks who don’t want you to smile in church, because religion can’t possibly be enjoyable.  They believe religion should fill you with guilt rather than grace, which is why they take such an issue with Jesus, who has the gall to put the real needs of people ahead of religious rules!

The friends who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus were, no doubt, interested in physical healing.  Jesus goes one step further, however, and offers spiritual healing by declaring the man’s sins forgiven, and this is what the Pharisees take issue with.  “Time out Jesus!  Only God can forgive sins, and we don’t think you have the authority to do that!”

And they were wrong.  In the end, what we think Jesus can do doesn’t limit what Jesus actually can do.  Both his authority and his power derive not from us, but from God.  And so, when the religious leaders grumble because what he’s doing doesn’t fit with how they think things should be done, Jesus says in verse 8, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions?” (Mark 2:8).  They fancied themselves experts in God’s law, yet they couldn’t discern the work of God’s grace in front of their very eyes.  The irony is that the scribes and Pharisees were the ones suffering from paralysis - spiritual paralysis - such that the transforming grace of God in their midst left them grumbling amongst themselves and completely unmoved.

The scribes and Pharisees said, “We’ve never seen anything like this!  Whoa.”  But the rest of the crowd was amazed and praised God, saying, We’ve never seen anything like this!  Wow!”

Where do we fit in?
Friends, what I want you to consider this morning is this: where do you fit into this story?  Who do you identify with here?  You can actually be anyone in this story you want, except for Jesus.  That position has already been filled!

Everyone else in the story was amazed, and said, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  Some praised God, others grumbled.  Some said, “Wow,” others said, “Whoa.”

The scribes and Pharisees and the man on the stretcher have more in common in this story than they realized.  They were both paralyzed.  The man on the stretcher had the obvious physical paralysis; whereas the scribes and Pharisees had the less obvious spiritual paralysis.  In the end, both needed the healing from Jesus.  There are a lot of things in life that can leave us paralyzed - illness, weakness, anger, fear, addiction, circumstances completely beyond our control.

Sometimes things in our lives paralyze us.  And yet, the good news for today is that Jesus heals the paralytic - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  Roadside assistance on our spiritual journey is the wholeness and healing that comes from Jesus.  There are times when we are too worn down to get to him – and that’s where the community of faith comes in.  We literally lift one another up and bear one another to Jesus, especially when we can’t get there ourselves.

So, who are you?  Are you that paralyzed person on a stretcher?  Are you simply part of the crowd, standing around not really doing anything?  Are you one of the scribes or Pharisees, whose heart has hardened and become spiritually paralyzed, casting judgment and grumbling?  Are you the homeowner who is saying, “Hey, who’s gonna fix my roof?”  Or, are you one of the stretcher-bearers - stopping at nothing and doing whatever it takes to get people to Jesus?

Friends, we are called to be a community of stretcher-bearers, full of compassion for those in pain, and determined to stop at nothing to get them to Jesus.

Four men let nothing stand in their way to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  Good thing, too, because in the presence of Jesus, the wounded are healed and made whole.  

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