September 20, 2009 Scripture: Mark 2: 1-12.
In the September 1 issue of “The Mennonite”, Sara Wenger Shenk shared some thoughts about her mother on the back page. Her mother is 86 years old, and continues to enjoy life to the fullest, in spite of a recent stroke that has left her with some real limitations on her mobility. Sara talks about how with every passing year, her mom makes the comment “life just keeps getting better”, and what a blessing her attitude is to everyone around her.
I thought of this article in connection with this morning, since we want to wrap up our stewardship series this morning by talking about health.
It seems to be an especially significant topic at this time in our country, as access to insurance and affordable healthcare are hot political items right now.
Tempers are running hot, and emotions are getting frazzled as the leaders of our country are trying to blaze a trail through a swampland of hot heads and misinformation.
Indeed, the more I news I read or listen to, the less hope I have that our country will find its way through this frenzy of fear that has been created by those with the loudest voices.
And so I’d like to try this morning, to present an alternative to the shouting we hear the rest of the week.
I’d like to offer this picture of an 86 year old woman who has suffered a debilitating stroke as a picture of Christian health and a possible model for us to follow throughout the healthcare and insurance debate.
To do this, we have to start with a basic Christian understanding—that God desires health and wholeness for everyone at every stage of our life journey.
That’s as true for us when we’re 6 as it is when we’re 96. It’s as true for the unemployed as it is for the CEOs and the CFO’s of America’s largest corporations.
And I think it’s as true for the mentally or physically handicapped as it is for anyone else.
So if that’s true, and if we are charged with offering God’s healing and wholeness to the world, then how do we go about doing that as the people of God?
How do we find a way through the frenzy, to be beacons of hope in a world of darkness?
The scripture for this morning teaches us that sometimes we need to get creative. J
Jesus had come home, and throngs of people had come to hear him preach in somebody’s house. There was no room, even outside the door there was no room.
And here a group of guys come late, carrying a friend of theirs on his mat, a friend who couldn’t walk by himself. He depended on his friends to get him where he needed to go. And so they went to hear this really good teacher who was in town.
But there was no room.
There seldom is for cripples, right?
It makes me wonder where the crowded, frenzied places are today.
And I’m pretty sure the healthcare debate is one… there’s just not room for one more perspective, one more alternative. There’s just not room for one more voice to be heard.
And an interesting thing about the gospel is that it seldom calls us to the middle of the throng. More often we find ourselves on the outside looking in.
To find Jesus in the throng, we have to get creative, don’t we?
The guys in our story, they climb up on the roof and make a big hole.
It was a little unconventional, but it was probably pretty easy to do.
Poorer Palestinian homes at the time would have nice, flat roofs, maybe with some grass growing on them.
The staircase to the roof was probably on the outside of the house, so that the homeowner could easily go up to the roof to relax in the cool of the evening or just to get away for a little while, and having the stairs outside made it easier to have a weather-proof roof.
The roof would have been kind of a muddy thatch, packed down across and between some hefty cross-beams.
It seems like it would have been pretty easy both to remove and repair.
But still, digging through the roof was a pretty unconventional way to enter a house.
If it had been me, I think I would have tried to convince my buddies to wait until after the event was over, to try to catch this guy alone and have some interaction. I would have tried anything to avoid being the center of attention in a packed-out room like that.
But then again, depending on who I was carrying on the mat, my feelings might change.
But regardless of what I would have done or not, these guys dig through the roof and drop the guy down to get him to Jesus who was in the middle of doing what he does.
They interrupted his discourse.
They brought the event to a halt.
Into the house where there was no room, they found a way.
And it says that Jesus saw their faith and pronounced the forgiveness of sins.
Because of the faith of these able-bodied guys who were bringing their friend, he gets his sins forgiven, and later is healed of his illness in a very real way.
What’s it look like to bring others with us on our quest to Jesus today?
What’s it look like for us, to make our way into a crowded room such as the current healthcare debate?
What’s it look like, to make our way to Jesus amidst so much pressing flesh on so many opposing sides of so many issues?
Let me say we won’t get too far by throwing elbows or trying to muscle our way in.
Rather it takes creativity.
See, I’m not sure the paralytic is the main character in this story—I think his friends are.
In the article I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, Sara identified 8 life-long practices that have given her mother the ability to be a joyful presence in the lives of so many who are close to her; both when her health has been good and strong, and when it’s started to fail.
She has brought many people with her in her quest to get close to Jesus throughout her many years.
We could name many right here among us who have done the same. People who, in spite of some significant health challenges they are facing, have been faithful witnesses, healthy examples for friends and family to follow even in their twilight years.
A life well lived has eternal implications.
And it’s never too late to start a life well lived; a life that brings others with it on a creative quest to Jesus.
It’s never too late to begin practicing things now that lead to health, to wholeness; to healing for others we’re bringing along.
Caring for our bodies; Nurturing our minds, fostering growth in our souls and taking care of our neighbors—these are not as convenient, as clean, or as easy as buying health insurance.
But when tragedy strikes, they are far more useful.
We had a couple of friends stop by and spend the night with us on their way through the area this week. They’re in the process of preparing to go to Thailand as missionaries fairly soon, and so as we caught up with each other we got to hear some stories and see some pictures of where they’ll be going and people they’ve met or will meet.
One picture was of an older man in Thailand who they had met, whose name I don’t remember. He had a beautiful and talented daughter who was gifted in music.
Many of the people in this area send their young to Bangkok to find work and send money back home, since life in this rural area is difficult and money is scarce.
So his daughter went to the city to use her musical gifts to send money back home.
After some time, for whatever reason, she fell into prostitution; continuing to send her money back home to support her father’s house.
After some more time, she acquired the AIDS virus and eventually returned home to die.
She returned, apparently an embarrassment to her family for the disgrace of what she had done.
They tucked her away in a room by herself, neglecting her as her health continued to decline. She apparently was destined to become something of a secret.
There was no room for her in respectable Thai society.
No room anywhere, except on the fringe, on the outside.
And we’d rather hear news stories about healthcare reform or more accessible health insurance than we would about men and women who just need love and care in spite of the decisions they’ve made or the things they’ve done.
We’d rather be in the crowded room with CNN in real time…we’d rather listen to talk radio pundits pounding away all the good reasons for this or that step to take as a country, we’d rather somehow take our place in the crowded room, as close as we can get;
–but just maybe what’s needed is to go up on the roof
—to ascend the stairs and let our actions speak for us as we bring others to Jesus, whatever it takes.
Our friends told us this story about the Thai family they had met. They told us about this horrible situation, and then they went on.
They told us about a missionary’s daughter, similar in age to this young woman, who just decided to go to this woman’s room daily just to be with her, care for her in her time of need.
She would feed her, clothe her, wipe up her messes.
They might pray together or just pass the time. It wasn’t that important what actually happened during their times together.
All that mattered was that she cut through the roof.
This missionary’s daughter cut through the roof of Thai culture, she crossed some important boundaries seeking Jesus in spite of the crowded room.
And as a result, the family of this woman with Aids, they were brought to see the real Jesus! They chose to give her an honorable funeral rather than the dishonorable one she supposedly deserved.
God hears our cries in response to the suffering and the barriers we face—those imposed upon us and those of our own making.
And regardless of our own limitations or brokenness, we have been given this task—to carry each other to Christ, whatever it takes.
Into a Jewish world that understands illness or suffering as a punishment from an angry God for a sin you must have committed, Jesus speaks a word of hope, “Child, God is not angry with you, it’s alright.” Your sins are forgiven!
Likewise, into a Thai understanding of the world where your actions bring either honor or shame to both you and your family, the missionary daughter spoke with actions repeating that same message “Child, God is not angry with you, it’s alright!”
Your sins are forgiven!
There will always be those in the middle of the throng who can only point fingers and accuse us of blasphemy, like the teachers of the law in the passage for today. There will always be people unwilling to simply celebrate when a paralytic walks, when a blind person sees, or when a prostitute with AIDS is given respect at her funeral.
But thanks be to God there is also always Jesus the Healer who meets each of us with a word of hope and of forgiveness, saying “Child, God is not angry with you”… “It’s going to be alright”.
So how might we partner with Jesus today, to bring about the healing touch of God who saves us? Sometimes we’re the ones on the mat, needing carried where we cannot go ourselves. Other times we’re the strong and healthy ones, carrying the burden of another life with us wherever we go. Either way, our goal remains the same.
In just a little bit, we’re going to have a time for any who wish to come forward to do so, to receive anointing with oil as a symbol either for yourself or for someone else. There’s nothing magical in this act; rather it’s an ancient Christian practice that symbolizes the blessing and the healing of God on a life.
This morning it can be a symbol for someone you wish to carry to Jesus in an unconventional way.
But whether or not you choose to come forward, know that God is not angry with you! It’s alright; your sins are forgiven.