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Mark 2:1-12

The Beauty of the Bride - Called to Bring People to Jesus


Sermon peached September 14, 2014
Opening
Back in the mid-80's, before seminary and ministry, we had a neighbor named Larry.
Late one night, he called up and said he needed me to come over, right now. I threw on
some clothes and headed next door and found Larry suicidally depressed. Larry had a lot
of problems, but what pushed him over the edge was that his partner left him, and he was
alone and didnt want to go on living.
There were firearms in the house, and he was drinking. I knew that if I didnt do
something he was going to end up dead. So I tried to talk Larry into letting me take him
to the hospital, but he wouldnt do it.
Recognizing that I was out of my depth, I called up my friend and pastor Rod Bakker, and
got him to come over. Rod tried talking to him, but Larry, pretty drunk by this time, was
getting more despondent and more belligerent.
So Rod and I stayed with Larry for quite some time, talking to him, and let him drink and
get drunker and drunker, and when he was pretty much wasted, we took him by the
elbows, guided him out of the house and into my station wagon, drove him down to the
state psychiatric hospital, and checked him in, where he stayed for two weeks until they
got him straightened out.
Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do in order to help someone. Like in our
scripture reading.
Creative outrageousness of the men bringing their friend to Jesus
We read from Mark chapter 2. Its very early in Jesus ministry, but his popularity has
already exploded. Jesus heads to his home base of Capernaum, a village right on the
shores of the sea of Galilee, probably to get some rest. But the people here that hes in
town and the news travels through the population like an electric jolt and a crowd gathers
at the door of this small house with people clamoring for Jesus to help them, heal them,
teach them. And Jesus sat down in the house and started teaching them.
The paralyzed mans four friends heard about Jesus too and they each grab a corner of the
paralyzed mans mat and hustle him towards Jesus. But they encounter a problem. Cant
get anywhere near Jesus because of the crowd.
They have two obvious options: 1) - give up and go home. 2) - try to force their way
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through the crowd. But at least one of the four friends is an outside-the-box thinker and
comes up with what something creatively outrageous; what one writer called an inspired
act of intercessory vandalism..
Still carrying their friend, the four men climbed the outside stairway to the top of the
house - Palestinian homes in the first century always had an outdoor staircase. It
provided ready access to the flat roof which was used as a place to dry flax and ripen fruit
and also was a place to spend some quiet time in the cool of the evening.
So these men carried their friend up to the roof of the house and there they proceeded to
tear a great gaping hole in the roof, through which they could then let their friend down
into the presence of Jesus.
Now, this wasnt quite as destructive as it would be today, where you would tear off
asphalt shingles and then use your cordless circular saw to cut a hole in the plywood so
you could lower someone through the roof. Roofs in Palestinian homes were simple.
Wooden beams were placed atop the walls in parallel bout three feet apart. Covering the
beams there would be a thick layer of reeds and rushes woven carefully and tightly
together. Over it all was a light covering of mud baked hard by the sun.
Try to imagine the scene. Jesus is in the house teaching. People are crowded around
him. Dust starts falling from the ceiling, then people hear the reeds and rushes being
pulled apart, sunlight begins spilling into the dark room, clods of mud fall to the floor,
hitting some people sitting there, and then a man on a crude stretcher is lowered by ropes
right in front of Jesus.
And because of what his friends do, the man who is carried in, walks out.
Surprise of Jesus forgiving his sins
I like to imagine Jesus being amused and delighted by this display of faith, this creative
ingenuity. But Jesus doesnt do what the man and his friends want him to do, expect him
to do. They want Jesus to heal the mans paralysis. Jesus instead looks at the man on the
mat and says, Your sins are forgiven.
Jesus has healed plenty of other people before this. Sick people and lepers and the
demon-possessed. He has amazing power to heal and thats why hes immediately
famous and this crowd is around him in the house. And he could heal this man of his
paralysis as easily as he healed the other sick people. But he doesnt, not at first. Jesus
instead does what no one has asked him to do; he does what no one but God could do.
He forgave the mans sins.
What Jesus is doing here, is disclosing the purpose of his mission. Jesus came as the first
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man ashore in the invasion of the Kingdom of God into our sin-blasted world. Our world
is occupied territory, ruled by the powers of sin and death that have enslaved us. And that
sin both springs from our hearts and infects our hearts and were lost, weve turned away
from the God that created us and plunged his creation into a hellish mess.
And the paralyzed man - all he wants is to for Jesus to heal him so he can walk. But
Jesus knows the man needs a far deeper healing than that. Jesus knows that the mans
deeper problem is that he is a captive to the powers of sin and death, that he is separated
from God. And so Jesus in a supreme act of mercy, does what only God can do - and
heals him of his sin and sets him free to know and love God.
People need Jesus. The world needs Jesus.
Listen to what this father of a middle-school daughter wrote a few years back:
The scene is a middle school auditorium, where girls in teams of three or four are
bopping to pop songs at a student talent show. Not bopping, actually, but doing
elaborately choreographed re-creations of music videos, in tiny skirts or tight
shorts, with bare bellies, rouged cheeks and glittery eyes.
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out
and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps.
They dont smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that
leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. Dont stop dont stop,
sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. Ohh. Im so stimulated. Feel so X-rated. The
girls...are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
As each routine ends, parents and siblings cheer, whistle and applaud. I just sit
there, not fully comprehending. Its my first suburban Long Island middle school
talent show. Im with my daughter, who is 10 and hadnt warned me...This was an
official function at a public school, a milieu that in another time or universe might
have seen children singing folk ballads, say, or reciting the Gettysburg Address.
What surprised me, though, was how completely parents of even younger girls
seem to have gotten in step with societys march toward eroticized
adolescence...A teacher at the middle school later told me she had stopped
chaperoning dances because she was put off by the boy-girl pelvic thrusting and
had no way to stop it...She guessed that if the school had tried to ban the sexy
talent-show routines, parents would have been the first to complain.
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Now, I dont cite that to be a finger-wagging moral scold - but as an example of how
pathetically lost our world is.
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I hope it doesnt sound judgmental - but people are lost. And there is evil running loose
in the world creating havoc and enslaving men and women and children whom God
loves.
Jesus Christ is aggressive with his grace
We saw that Jesus forgave the mans sins without the man asking. Kind of odd, isnt it?
We think that if youre going to be forgiven, you have to repent, you have to fall on your
knees and plead with God to forgive the miserable catalog of sin youve drag behind you.
But not in this story. Biblical scholars speculate that Jesus, being the son of God, was
able to peer into the mans heart and see that the man really did want to be forgiven, that
there was a little particle of faith and repentance in there.
And perhaps thats the case. But what we do know, is that Jesus is incredibly aggressive
with his grace.
Think of it this way. You are in a third-world country and you see a starving five
year old sitting on the sidewalk, propped up against a wall, staring blankly and
being ignored by the people who walk by. The child is so weak that he cant even
cry out for help anymore. If we saw a child like that, we would stop and pick that
child up and carry him in our arms and get him food and medical attention and
help.
That is maybe a glimmer of how Jesus feels towards people who are captive to sin and
death. He desperately wants to reach out to them and touch and heal them and set them
free.
Our call to creative outrageousness
But there is something that stands in the way of people meeting Jesus. Something, like
the roof of the house in the story, that needs to be torn apart. And that something, is an
idea. An idea about what the church is supposed to be like.
And that idea, is that the church is supposed to be the bulwark of society, standing fast for
tradition; an immovable institution that is a bedrock of stability.
I read a story about an Episcopalian priest named Wes Selig who loves
motorcycles. One day he was in a motorcycle showroom, drooling over a
gleaming new Honda motorcycle. The salesman walked over and began to tell
Wes all about the bike. He talked about its speed, acceleration, excitement, the
growl of the exhaust pipes, how it was a babe magnet.
Then he discovered that Wes Selig was a pastor. You know what happened.
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Immediately the salesman changed his tune. He talked in quiet tones about how
the bike had good mileage, was safe; it was indeed a practical vehicle.
Wes Selig observed, Lawnmower salespersons are not surprised to find clergy
looking at their merchandise; motorcycle salespersons are. Why? Does this tell
us something about the clergy and the church? Lawnmowers are slow, safe, sane,
practical and middle-class. Motorcycles are fast, dangerous, wild, thrilling. He
goes on to ask, Is the Christian life safe and sound or dangerous and thrilling?
This may sound shocking, but I think the church should be most innovative, the most
risk-taking, the most creatively outrageous collection of people on the planet. Not for its
own sake, but because we are free in Christ to do what it takes to bring people to the love
and compassion of Jesus.
Next month, during Apple Fest downtown here, were going to do something
creatively outrageous. Just a little, anyway, we are Presbyterians. There are going
to be thousands of people downtown, thousands of people walking by our church
building. So were going to build a big 8 by 16 foot board in front of the church
steps, and cover it with butcher paper, and put a banner on the top of the board
that says, What Would You Ask God? And a group of us are going to be there
with markers inviting people to write down their questions for God. Some may be
trivial. Some may be sarcastic. Some will be funny. And some questions will
come from people who genuinely seeking God; people who are in pain, people
who are struggling with doubt. Well take some of the questions and Im going to
turn them into a sermon series that begins in January. And well publicize that
with a website with the domain name whatwouldyouaskgod.net.
As a church, and as individual followers of Jesus, were called to rip apart roofs, tear
down walls, demolish whatever barriers stand in the way of people and Jesus.
The cost to Jesus
Earlier we saw how deeply, how aggressively, Jesus wants to heal people with his grace
and mercy. As we go further in the passage, we learn just how far Jesus was willing to go
for us, and what it cost him.
Sitting there in the room listening to Jesus were a group of people called Scribes. These
were biblical scholars who went through years of study and had to pass a kind of bar
exam to be admitted to the scribes guild. And they hear Jesus say to the man on the mat,
Your sins are forgiven, and they get upset. They ask a good question, Who can
forgive sins but God alone? The answer - no one. Only God. Because our sin is
ultimately a sin against the one who created us to know and love him, to love another, to
care for his world.
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1. Lawrence Downes, Middle School Girls Gone Wild, in The New York Times, December 29,
2006
And so Jesus asks them a counter-question - Which is easier - to heal sins, or to heal this
mans infirmity?
Another good question. Lets turn it around - Which is harder - to heal sins, or to heal
this mans infirmity? Healing sins is infinitely harder.
Because it led Jesus to the cross. In this story, only in chapter 2 of Mark at the beginning
of Jesus ministry, we already have the shadow of the cross. And Jesus knows that once
he does this - once he claims the authority to forgive sins - he will be accused of
blasphemy for claiming to be God - and he starts down the road that ends with him nailed
to the cross.
And the cross, was outrageous. An outrageous injustice against an innocent man. An
outrageous act of rejection to the Lord who came to bring us healing and life and
freedom. A final, outrageous repudiation of the God who created us and seeks to save us.
The man on the mat got up and walked home. Jesus walked - stumbled - to Golgotha and
was nailed to the cross so he could no longer move. And he hung there and died.
But in an act of divine creativity, God used the cross to take into his own great heart the
sin and wretchedness of us all - and forgave it.
If Jesus would do that for us, maybe we can be daring, maybe we can take risks, maybe
we can be creatively outrageous, to bring people so they can know him and be healed.
Endnotes
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