Focusing Out Lives – Part 1 of 6: Don’t Wait for the Brick
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
May 7th, 2017
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
So we finished a series of sermons last week. We talked about faith in the beginning of Mark. There is a little bit of overlap from last week to this week and will get there in a minute. I know the sermon title today is “Don’t Wait for the Brick” because I found about a year ago a great story about a little kid who needed the attention of an adult and no one would stop and help him so he threw a brick and hit the guy’s car in the side door and of course the guy stopped and the kid had the guy’s attention. The point was: don’t pass by the opportunity to be graceful. That was going to be the sermon title and that was going to be the focal point of the sermon till Tuesday when I sat down to really write the sermon and no it didn’t fit.
That is not where the Scriptures is; here is what the Scripture is about: what do you believe? I know, it’s an interesting question because in the first century belief did not mean intellectual acceptance of a list of dubious claims. In the first century belief was not an intellectual event. That was a little gift that was given to us in the 1600s with the Enlightenment. Belief moved from what you do with your hands to what you are doing in your head. As of the 1600s — thank you very much — it’s all now a head game. What do you believe? I believe in the virgin birth. I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Well I believe in Moses and I believe Jesus walked on water, yes I do. You have to believe all of that stuff. It becomes a litmus test. Really, do you believe that? It’s all in your head. It all an invention that came to us through the Enlightenment.
In the first century to believe meant what was important to someone became important to you. For someone in the first century to say I believe in the ways of my father meant what was important to my father became important to me. It shaped how I lived my life and what I did with my time. And so you demonstrated what you believed by what you did. In the small community of the first century Middle East – which has not changed much — everybody saw what you did. So it was not a big mystery what you believed. Get out of your head with the whole notion of belief. It’s not an intellectual assent. It is what you do with your hands. What was important to Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God. And so for Jesus to say: believe in me, Jesus to saying what is important to me, let it become important to you.
Last week we learned what faith was; faith is being open to an impulse, a divine spark, an intuition, a knowing whereby we are able to lay hold of God’s preferred way. In our text today four friends hear a whisper, a nudge, a spark, an alternative future for a paralyzed man. They picked him up and they carried him to Jesus. And I just want to stop right here and say this is faith in action. This is a divine spark. It is exactly what faith means. You have a spark; you have an impulse; you act on it. That’s faith. I think that all of us need four good friends. I know you have a lot of other people in your circle of friends that you call friend but most of us have about four good friends. People when were really low, when we are stuck, when we are paralyzed for whatever reason, come to us and help us move; four friends that may not know how to fix the problem but are willing to help you get where you need to go.
One of the things we learned is that churches are not suited to individually solve the problems of most people. We simply don’t have the resources to get the job done. We had good intentions; we had a little bit of time; we don’t have the capital resources here to make it happen. And so that’s why we partner and that’s why we support social service agencies that are built and designed to get the whole job done. That is one of the reasons we partner with UMOM. They had the resources in place to tackle every problem that walks through their door. Every problem with someone who’s ended up homeless has to face: life management skills, parenting skill training, support for victims of domestic violence, literacy support, job-training, financial education, dental care, medical care, vision care, legal assistance, housing, tutoring and afterschool programs for the kids. They get to get the job done in a way we could not.
When the friends carrying this paralytic arrived at Jesus house — this is Jesus house. They found the house was packed; the crowd is spilling out into the street. There is simply no way that they can elbow their way through the crowd, especially carrying human cargo. So they climbed on the roof and you read the text; they punch a hole in the roof of Jesus’ house and they lowered down the man and his mat. This man ends up right in front of Jesus, right in front of the Pharisees and the Scribes who have come to watch. I see a smirk slowly growing on their faces because Jesus has now been moved from talking to making a choice. He has to do something. What will he do? We must pay careful attention to the wording of the text. It says when Jesus saw the faith of these four, he proclaimed to the paralytic: son, your sins are forgiven. There are two factors that are happening right here. The first is: their faith and the second is: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is telling this man the source of his healing: their faith, their faith made you well. Stand up, take your mat and go to your house
God whispered into the souls of these four friends, spoke to their hearts, said get up and do this; inspired them to act out their compassion, using whatever means were necessary to bring healing to the paralyzed man. Your friends, there faith has made you well. They caught a glimpse of an alternative future they acted on it, and brought you to a place where the future of your life will be changed. That’s faith.
Friends, has your faith, your willingness to sense an impulse, a divine spark in you, to see God’s preferred way; has your faith ever altered the course of someone else’s life? Has your faith ever healed anybody? That’s one of the questions that is in this text. It’s one that I think we should all give about a month of thought to: has my faith ever made a difference to anyone else but me? See, when it is all in my head and it’s all intellectual assent then my faith is all about me and what I believe and what I think. It doesn’t make a darn difference to anybody else. This text is telling us quite clearly that belief becomes important when it’s turned to faith. Has your faith ever saved anyone else?
What about that other statement? Jesus says your sins are forgiven and I think for most of us immediately our mind goes: what are the sins of this man? I’ve heard whole sermons supposing the sins of this man and how getting them forgiven, allowed him to walk. But that’s not what the text tells us; Jesus said their faith has made you well. So something else is going on here. Something else is happening in this text. There is some other force that Jesus is dealing with here. Well let me tell you what is going on. The first century understanding was that physical imperfections were the result of sin. Sin was huge. Sin was seen as the dividing golf between humanity and God. The power that a person had was through extreme self-discipline, keeping the law to purge oneself of sin and hopefully, hopefully you can be good enough that God might give you some blessings in your life. And if things went well for you, it was presumed that God love you because you were sinless. Because of course physical infirmity was a sign that God was punishing you. And if things didn’t go well for you, well, sin was obviously a problem.
What it led to was the justification of suffering as something you deserved; it was God’s judgment on you. You were not keeping your life as you should. Well that’s too bad, but we can’t fix that for you. We still do that, you know. When someone gets lung cancer what is the first question we ask: did they smoke? Yeah. How many funerals have we been to where it was caused by men and women working in the dust of the field and it settled in. But we go right to judgment. When a teen dies in a car accident what is the first question that comes into our mind: how fast were they driving? Yeah. Because we know, we are absolutely sure that there’s a golf between us and God and it is sin and God never help sinners or liars. We know that, right? This text is telling us something else.
Why is it when as a nation we think of helping the poor, the conversation always seems to begin in the assumption that if it weren’t for their stupidity, their irresponsibility, their bad decisions, that they wouldn’t be in this hurt jam. They should’ve known better. It is us passing judgment. Things haven’t changed a whole lot. Even the disciples will wonder aloud to Jesus if a man that is blind is blind because of his own sin or because of the sin of his father. Jesus will respond saying he’s not blind from sin. Your thinking is askew. Jesus is making it clear that sin is not the big problem that the Pharisees made it out to be. Sin does not separate us from God. Sin does not exempt us from God’s blessing, but this is not what the Scribes and the Pharisees want to hear.
Are you feeling the tension that is in the room as the man on the mat comes in front of Jesus and he said: son, your sins are forgiven? There is something bigger going on here. Are you sensing the tension? Well rest assured it’s about to get worse. The Pharisees were a non-priestly, untrained, undisciplined, lay separatist movement. Their goal was to be something of a religious club and their goal was to keep the nation faithful to God. They learned that the best way to do that was to scare the snot out of people and keep people deferential to them, scared of them. The teachers of the law, the scribes, were the studied legal consultants and they studied legal questions and offered legal opinion. They wrote and rewrote sayings to undergird the traditions that the Pharisees wanted to keep and to undercut the traditions they did not. So let’s be clear who’s in the room when the guy comes through the roof. The folks watching Jesus were the Pharisees with an agenda and their lawyers. That’s always a lovely moment isn’t it, when the people who come to watch you are people with an agenda and they brought the lawyers.
This is what happens when people with very good intentions set out on their own to make a difference. The tradition evolves and things change. The Pharisaic movement originated about 300 years before Jesus when Greeks occupied Israel and there was a strong tendency among the Jews to marry and accept and interbreed with Greeks and their culture and their pagan religious customs. Out of this came stories like Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Pharisees formed into religious clubs in every village. They called themselves the Habudeem. It was an effective way of protesting this tendency to interbreed and intermix and lose our unique relationship as Jews with God. The Pharisees goal was to call people back to a unique relationship with God; preserving the integrity of the nation by promoting strict conformity to the Law of Moses. After the Romans drove out the Greeks, the Pharisees had something of an identity crisis. So they identify new enemies and they double down on strict conformity to the Law of Moses and they develop into a self-righteous, hypocritical, formalist organization.
Eventually the unspoken agenda took over and was more important than the stated goal. Their stated goal was to preserve the faith of the nation. The real goal was to stay in power at all costs. And by the time of Jesus the Pharisees were more interested in preserving the necessity of the organization and maintaining their power than they were of actually representing God. They had come to see Jesus. They come to Capernaum; some of them from as far away as Jerusalem and they were there to watch. They were taking notes; they were observing him hard, not really listening to hear but listening to judge. You know folks who do that? They’re just waiting for you to be done talking so that they can pass judgment on you, to find inconsistency, to poke holes, to play sharpshooter so they can put Jesus in his place. They were in his living room and they’re looking for a way to set a trap. So when Jesus said to the paralyzed man who dropped into his living room, your sins are forgiven, the Pharisees and the Scribes make an instant theological assessment and they recognize that Jesus is making unique claims. Claims that our blasphemy is they are not true and I can just see their faces change as the wheels of opportunity turn in their minds and their fingers just begin to drum against one another as grim smiles purse their lips. The look on their face — if you thought about it for just a moment – you would recognize it as: we got ya.
Here is the problem. How do you prove that sins are forgiven? You can say it; but how do you prove it? There is not a physical manifestation that shows that. If Jesus says sins are forgiven, the Pharisees only have to say: not so, because that stands counter to the hundred years of their teaching. Only God can forgive sin. How are you going to prove that you what you say is true, that you can forgive sin. They got him. Plus they have all the claims that he made in front of all these other people in the living room. They got it and they got witnesses and they got lawyers. Wow the trap was sprung. I see them look at one another as if to say: that was easier than we thought it would be. Shall we arrest him now? You thought this was a simple healing story didn’t you? That is not what the text is telling us. Those four friends who brought the paralyzed man and lowered him through the roof believed they were doing a favor. I bet after they let go of the ropes they felt pretty good. But when you’re bucking the way things have been – the people of power — there is always a price to be paid. Well actually there is a test in this moment that could be performed and Jesus tests himself. The paralyzed man came on a mat carried by others. If the same God who forgives sin which we cannot prove, if that same God would heal this man because Jesus said so, which we will all see that the presumption would be that what Jesus says is true: he does speak for God on high.
The question in this tense moment is: does God have his back? Jesus says: which is easier to say to this paralyzed man, your sins are forgiven or to say get up, take your mat and walk. Jesus continues, I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And so he said to the man: I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home. If Jesus is not who he claims he is then this man will not walk away healed. It’s a visible test, a tense moment. The man on the mat tries and he begins to move a little and he finds he can move a little more and in fact he can stand up and he’s even able to put one foot in front of another and walk. He picks up his mat and he walks out in full view of them all. The text concludes saying: this amazed everyone they praised God saying we’ve never seen anything like this. I believe they did. Even the Pharisees and the Scribes in that moment praised God, at least for a little while until they were on their way back to Jerusalem to make their report and began to wonder how we can explain this. There is going to be heat. People with an agenda are not easily turned and they will be back. They will be the ones that come back to kill Jesus and they will get the job done. The way they get the job done is they practice selective amnesia; they remember the blasphemy: I can forgive sins and they forget the healing.
One insight of this text is: be careful of what groups you join. Be mindful that even folks who claim their purpose is to keep the nation faithful to God. A lot of folks claim God’s name. Beware of that unspoken agenda of power when it takes over. I think the second insight that this text offers is: we see in four friends the importance of acting on our faith: that spark, that impulse, that get up and go and do. There were obstacles that had to be overcome. The farther we go into the story, the more difficult the task of getting this man healed became. These four friends brought the paralyzed man and they ran into and they handled the obstacles at hand. They didn’t quit too soon and then when it was time they let go of the ropes. I think this is important for us to hear: when they completed their portion of the task — there’s something here about giving it over to Jesus — letting go of the rope and not controlling what happens next. But the real message of the text comes if you pay attention to Jesus. The one we follow — remember him – the one we imitate. Catching a glimpse of an alternative future, God’s preferred way, where there’s enough bread for everyone. Where hoard is replaced with compassion; where the cost of healing is borne by the community. Catching a glimpse of God’s kingdom is not the hard part. The hard part is doing what it takes to bring the kingdom to fruition because you’re up against power and profit.
When we have a glimpse of alternative futures, obstacles for a while can give us energy. What causes us to stop is the fear we have of those who push back, those who have power and those who profit; those benefiting from the way things are. The question is: what’s it going to cost me? It keeps us paralyzed, our fear. It keeps us from acting on that impulse of faith. The message of the text right here at the beginning of Mark’s gospel for those of us who choose to follow and imitate Jesus is that when you respond to God’s invitation, when something has been dropped right in your lap, when you have overcome the easy obstacles and now you’re facing personal risk; it is going to cost you something. In the message of our text, God has your back.
What do you believe? It is an interesting question. I say to you believe in Jesus. Let what is important to him become important to you.