Good morning, Friends! Thanks so much for coming to join us this morning. I hope you all had a real good week.
Today’s Scripture is another one of those stories where Jesus heals someone. There are a lot of healing stories in the gospel!
We don’t know the name of the person who was healed. Most of the time it doesn’t tell us their name. Most of the time, it was the first time they met Jesus. They were complete strangers – except that somehow, Jesus never knew a stranger. Jesus had a way of seeing into a person’s heart, and understanding what they needed.
Some people needed forgiveness. Some people just needed a touch from Jesus’ hand. Some people, when they were healed, left everything and followed Jesus on the road. Other people, Jesus told to go on home, and tell everyone what God had done for them.
Anyway, this is another one of those healing stories. I’ll be reading from chapter 2 in the gospel of Mark.
A few days later, when Jesus came back to Capernaum, and all 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 Jesus preached the word to them.
Some men came, bringing to Jesus 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 Jesus 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!”Mark 2:1-12
There’s a whole bunch of things we could say about this story. I’ve told it quite a few times. And there’s always something new to discover about it.
Like I said, Jesus never met this guy before. But Jesus knew somehow, what he needed.
It doesn’t say how he became paralyzed. It could have been most anything – an accident, a birth defect, a stroke, or even polio.
It never once says that the paralysis was his own fault. People still, to this day, always like to point the finger of blame, or find fault somehow. Jesus never did that.
Somehow, Jesus knew that there was something in this person’s heart that was getting in the way of being healed. Maybe he blamed himself. Maybe he’d had a lifetime of being blamed by other people.
What Jesus said was, “Your sins are forgiven.” And somehow, this person found the faith to believe in God’s mercy, and be freed from whatever had him tied up and a prisoner in bed.
That’s an important part of the story. Just hold that thought. But I want to back up for a minute, and notice something earlier.
You remember how it said that it was so crowded, that no one could get through the crowd? This guy’s friends had carried him all the way from home, and now they couldn’t even get near to Jesus?
So, what did they do? It says they thought fast, and carried him up onto the roof of Jesus’ house. And they broke a big hole in the roof, and they lowered the paralyzed man down on ropes, and got him close to Jesus that way.
That got Jesus’ attention! That was what made this guy stand out from the rest of the crowd.
He had friends. He had friends who were willing to do anything to help him. He had friends who were willing to smash a hole in the roof of Jesus’ own house, if that was going to help.
I have been impressed for many years by this part of the story. How many times it’s not a person’s own faith, but the faith of some good friends, that makes the difference.
A lot of the time, we tell people to pray. But it wasn’t the prayers of the paralyzed person that made things happen here. It was the prayers, and even more, it was the action of his friends that saved the day.
Some of the most exciting changes I have ever seen in a church, have happened when good friends got to work.
A hundred years ago, people cared more about making church buildings look impressive, than making them accessible. Accessibility wasn’t on their agenda.
A meeting I served in Indiana was like that. To enter the meetinghouse, you had to climb up 13 steps. To go down to the fellowship hall, you had to go down those 13 steps to a landing, and then go down 8 more steps to the lower level.
It was hopeless for anyone with a cane or a walker. It was impossible for anyone in a wheelchair.
One of our members said, “My wife can’t come to meeting any more. We’ve been members here for 40 years, and she can’t come to worship, or enjoy a meal.”
He said, “What we need is an elevator.” Everyone in the meeting said it was impossible. It wouldn’t fit anywhere in the building, and it was going to be too expensive.
He said, “I’ll put up the first ten thousand dollars. Here’s a check. Look into your hearts, and see what you can do.”
We called an engineer, and we found a place to put it. Gifts and pledges started coming in, till we had the $40,000 that was needed.
It took a couple of months of very loud construction, and then it was done.
And it wasn’t just one person that the elevator served. At least 8 or 10 other members started coming regularly to church again. They had felt closed out. But now they saw how much it meant to the entire meeting for the barrier of all those steps to be overcome.
New people started coming to our meeting, when they heard about it. Even the janitor and the staff used the elevator, to carry heavy things up and down.
So, now people who used a walker or a wheelchair could come to worship. But that wasn’t the end of it. Where were they going to sit? There wasn’t any place for them in the worship room.
We cut down a couple of pews in the back row, to make spaces where a wheelchair would fit easily. But then we started thinking, how does it feel, to always be in the back row? So we cut down a couple more pews, and we made spaces at the front of the worship room, too.
In that same meeting, we had a woman who lived in a wheelchair. She appreciated the new elevator, and so did her husband.
But she was a deeply spiritual person, and she had gifts in ministry. She often spoke during open worship. She was a person of insight and discernment. We asked her to be on Ministry and Counsel.
Even though the elevator helped, the platform was still inaccessible. She couldn’t make it up the last four steps to the platform. So we got together, and we found a way to build a shallow ramp so she could get up to the platform, by herself.
It was a great day, when she was able to preside at worship. And an even greater day, when she brought a deeply spiritual message.
This is what I’m talking about. Sometimes what matters is having good friends, who will pray and work and never give up.
There was another man in that same meeting. His name was Gene. Gene was born with a whole bunch of physical and mental problems. He walked with two canes when he was a boy, but by the time I knew him, he was in a wheelchair.
Gene couldn’t read, and he could barely write his own name. His mother had died long ago, and by this time he was about 70 years old and lived in a nursing home.
Gene never did learn my name. The minister when he was a boy was a fellow named Furnas Trueblood. To Gene, I was the guy from “Mr. Trueblood’s church.”
He had absolutely no family. Only 3 or 4 older members of the meeting could even remember his mother. 90% of the meeting members didn’t even know him.
Gene had a lot of speech problems. The staff at the nursing home were all kind, but none of them could really understand him.
I started visiting Gene every 2 or 3 weeks. I discovered that there was a wonderful person inside all those outward handicaps.
Turned out Gene really liked to talk. He wanted to talk about cars. He knew the make and model of every car that came to the nursing home door. He asked what kind of car I drove, and whether it was a good car or not.
I got the nursing home to bring Gene to meeting on Sundays in their van. It was the first time he’d been to worship in many years. He was delighted! He loved the children’s message, and we always arranged to have someone sit next to him. He became a beloved part of the meeting again.
I was still the only person who had taken the time to learn how to understand Gene. Often the medical staff would call me in to interpret his answers, and help Gene understand what they wanted to do for him.
The state asked me to be his legal guardian and healthcare power of attorney. They provided a small welfare account for him. When Gene’s TV broke down, I was able to get him a new one. The whole meeting contributed every year so he’d have some Christmas presents.
Good friends make such a difference.
One more story. I remember one more woman, in the first meeting I served up in the mountains in New York.
She’d had a massive stroke. It left her with what doctors call “locked-in syndrome”. She couldn’t move any part of her body. Her face was completely expressionless. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even blink voluntarily in answer to a question. Nobody knew if she could still think. She was like a statue, laying in the bed.
Her family were so depressed and terrified that they stopped coming to see her. People prayed, of course, but she never changed. She never responded in any way.
I kept going to visit her. She helped to teach me that every human being deserves to have some care and dignity. I would tell her what was going on in the world and in the church, and pass on any news of her family.
I always prayed. But until she died, a year later, I never knew if she heard or understood one word of what I was saying.
But everyone deserves to have friends, to care and pray.
Sometimes the good friends are professionals – the nurses, the physical therapists, the doctors and counselors.
Sometimes the good friends are just ordinary people – I’ve known a lot of people in the hospital or the nursing home who’ve told me that their best friend was the person who came in and emptied the trash and cleaned the room.
When I go and visit, people always want to show me the cards they’ve received from the meeting or from the Circle. They look at them over and over again. Those cards mean so much to them.
People always tell me, that a friend from the meeting came and visited them, or called them on the phone when they were lonely. Good friends mean so much.
You are one of the faithful friends in today’s gospel, any time you tear a hole in the roof, and help someone you care about to come close to Jesus. You are a part of today’s story.
Any place people are welcoming. Any time you reach out to someone who isn’t coming, or hasn’t been here for a while. Any time you smile at a stranger, especially someone who’s scared or struggling. Every time you listen. Every time you share some food, or visit someone.
You’re not just being a nice person. You’re being one of the good friends in today’s story. You’re helping to bring people closer to Jesus.
You know, a lot of people today find it very difficult to believe in God, or to believe God cares about them. You can’t see God, after all, can you?
When I hear people say that, I tell them, “No, you can’t see God. But you can see me. I’m here, because Jesus told me to come. And if you see me, maybe you can take a chance on God.”
There’s a hidden question in today’s Scripture. Something I hadn’t thought of when I first read it.
Do you think the friends felt that the man they were carrying was heavy? Was he a burden to them?
Maybe so. I’ve carried hundreds of stretchers in my day. And some of those patients were pretty heavy.
But I’ll bet that on their way home that day, they were dancing. They were celebrating. They forgot all about how much effort to took to carry their friend.
It’s the same way for us. In all those stories I told you about people I knew, you could see them as a burden to carry. But looking back, it turns out they are no burden at all.
So often, we are repaid with joy. With celebration. With discovery of amazing gifts these people have.
Be one of those good friends in today’s story. Tear a few holes in the roof. Don’t give up. Help carry someone, if they need it. Even if the world seems so crowded, Jesus really wants to see them.