April 2, 2017
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” – Mark 2:1-12
Imagine what it must have been like to live in Capernaum when Jesus lived there. Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ house must have looked like? When he called his first disciples, and they asked where he was living, he had said, “come and see.” So he must have had some place he called his own when he was in town. As the word spread that Jesus was home, people started to gather outside his door. Pretty soon there was a whole crowd.
In that crowd, there are four people. They have a friend who can’t walk. Now, this story doesn’t tell how these people decided to carry this guy to Jesus’ house. It doesn’t say if they felt awkward bringing him to Jesus. It just says that they did. When they arrive, they face some obstacles.
In Unbinding Your Heart, we’ve read together about two kinds of barriers we might have to overcome to bring our friends to Jesus. They are internal barriers and external barriers. Internal barriers are the ones inside our heads. When we think about talking to someone about our faith, we can get stuck before the words even come out of our mouth.
What happens if I invite my neighbor to church and then they say no?
What if I make my friend feel awkward?
What if someone thinks I’m pressuring them?
What if I come across as judgmental?
What if . . . ?
So most of the time, we don’t talk to our un-churched friends about our faith. Then maybe we feel a little guilty about not doing it. And guilt rarely is a helpful motivator. Our inner barriers can keep us from ever mentioning faith to our friends.
Even people who eventually get really good at evangelism still resist sharing their faith. Even pastors of the most statistically successful churches say they worry about losing a friendship or pressuring people. But they work around those barriers. They let their fears make them sensitive to others, but not shut off from others.
One woman interviewed in the study said that a new definition of evangelism had helped her. She thinks of evangelism as sharing something she enjoys with someone she likes. For her, this takes away her fear of being overbearing. For the four in today’s gospel story, it was a matter of sharing something they thought might help with someone in need.
Sharing something you need with someone else who needs it . . .
Sharing something that gives you peace with someone in chaos . . .
Sharing something you enjoy with someone you like – That’s evangelism.
Somehow, the four friends in this story had the courage to bring this man in need to Jesus. They overcame whatever internal barriers there might have been in their heads. But then, they had to get him to Jesus. And that was when they had to overcome the external barriers that were in their way. The first barrier they faced was a crowd of people blocking the doorway. All they could see was the backs of people.
Think about it: When we gather around tables for coffee, what does a new person see?
A crowd of backs. But that didn’t stop the four friends. Homes in Capernaum were built of the basalt rocks found on the shore of Lake Genessaret.
Basalt stones are black and absorb heat, so a roof in Capernaum was usually made of branches, which could easily be removed to let the heat out, or placed over the opening to keep out the damp and keep in the cool. They built steps up to the roof to make this process easier, since opening and closing the roof would be an almost daily occurrence.
Using the outer steps to get to the roof, and removing branches to make a hole large enough to lower their friend into the house might not seem as easy as walking in through the door, but when the door is blocked with physical obstacles – like people crowding in to get close to Jesus – there has to be another way. How do we create barriers to Jesus by crowding around the door, trying to get our own glimpse of him? How do we force people who are looking for Jesus up onto the roof?
Tony was going through a difficult time in his life. He had been laid off from work just before his wife was diagnosed with cancer. The financial and spiritual struggles were nearly debilitating. Fortunately, Tony and his wife had some dear friends. Two couples that they had known for some time stuck by them. They came by to see them regularly and brought over meals occasionally. When Tony’s wife died, they were there to comfort him. These were good friends.
After some time had passed, Tony began to consider going to church. He hadn’t gone to church anywhere since he was a teenager. But there was something about church that sort of kept bugging him. He decided to try the church in his neighborhood first. When he walked into the sanctuary, there were his friends! Both couples had been going to that church for years. They had also been friends with Tony for years. But they had never talked about their faith, even through his ordeals. It just hadn’t come up.
Internal barriers are just as difficult to get past as physical, external barriers.
But external barriers can be very daunting. I know of a man who attended a neighborhood association meeting shortly after he had moved into the neighborhood. He didn’t see anyone there he knew, so he just sat in the back during the meeting. When it was over, he signed up on one of the volunteer lists they had posted. He put his name and his phone number down on the list for organizing a neighborhood clean-up day. But no one ever called him. It was no big deal. But afterwards he wondered, “do people feel like this when they come to my church?”
What barriers are keeping people from getting to Jesus in our church? Well, you may say, it’s not the crowds! But just because spaces are empty doesn’t mean they’re open. In your mind’s eye, join me in a virtual tour of our church.
First, our parking lot. Where do guests park? Do they know where to come in? Do they have to “dig through the roof” so to speak, like the paralyzed man’s friends did? When they get to the entrance and come inside, are they greeted immediately?
Are there signs to show them where the restrooms are? How to find the worship space or the dining room? Or do we have signs like these that we found in the Holy Land, telling them what is NOT permitted?
When a new parent comes with a baby, do they find a sparkling clean nursery with two ready attendants? When a guest comes into worship, do they find ample room in the back pews?
As we took our mental tour through the church building, did you see any barriers to Jesus’ house? Anything that would keep people from coming in and finding him here? Anything that says “Keep out!” instead of “Please, come in!” ?
Please, take a moment now to ask God to bring to mind an area of our church that needs Jesus’ touch. Or an area that needs our touch! Where do we need to be more ready for guests? If you are new to our church, particularly if today is your first time here, we especially invite you to do this! Your insight is the most valuable. What has welcomed you? Or not welcomed you? Where is there an external barrier to Jesus’ house? Let’s pray for a moment together.
Lord Jesus, bring to our minds the barriers in this church that prevent guests from meeting you here. (silence)
We bring these areas of our church to you, and ask for your healing touch. (silence)
Bless this, your house, and us who worship here. Amen.
Forgiveness and healing often go together. We need to remember that healing was the whole reason four friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus – but Jesus saw a deeper need, a need for forgiveness.
Jesus takes away our sin just as he takes away disease. The word used here to show forgiveness of sins is the same word Luke uses in 4:39 to describe how “the fever left” Peter’s mother-in-law when Jesus healed her. This word means “stopped” or “ceased” or “eliminated” or “left.” When Jesus forgives sins, they go away for good. They cease to exist, they are eliminated. They stop. They leave, never to return.
There’s a lot of “go” in gospel. Sins go away. Get up and go to your own home, Jesus tells the paralytic who is no longer paralyzed. Go into all the world and make disciples, he tells us. In a couple of weeks, we will see a lot of going – running, actually – between the upper room where the disciples are hiding out, and the open tomb where Jesus has … gone, left, stopped being dead.
Jesus does not invite the paralytic to lie back down on his mat and get comfy so he can hear the rest of Jesus’ sermon. He tells him to go. And the man gets up, and he goes.
On Wednesday, the children heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It’s easy for children to get this resurrection story mixed up with the one we will hear in a couple of weeks. But there are a couple of big differences:
First, Lazarus has been dead four days when Jesus arrives. By Jewish custom, this meant there was no hope of his spirit returning. He was really, really dead. Jesus rose on the third day. His spirit never left him.
Second, Jesus had to call Lazarus out of the tomb, and others had to unwrap Lazarus’ grave clothes for him; Lazarus needed help getting ‘unbound.’ But nobody had to call Jesus out of his grave. His grave clothes were lying in a heap, and the cloth that had covered his face was folded neatly on the slab where his head had laid. So the stories are similar, but not identical.
imagine what it must have been like to be Lazarus…
Imagine waking up in that cave, wrapped tightly in cloth, unable to pull the covering off your own face, because your hands are still bound. It’s dark, and it stinks in there. What you smell is your own rotting flesh, that somehow isn’t rotting anymore. But the stench is still hanging in the cave around you.
And you hear a familiar voice, muffled, but easy to recognize. Your dearest friend is calling to you to come out. You don’t even know which direction the door is, or how to get to it. But you wriggle around enough to get up, and you inch your way toward the light. As you trip over yourself, struggling to get free, there is a gasp from the crowd that has gathered outside this cave. They are as surprised to see you as you are to be there.
And then you must decide. Do you fall back into the tomb, or do you step out into the unknown? Because what lies ahead is completely new territory. No one has ever done this before. No one has ever been completely, unquestionably dead, and then been called back to life after being buried in a tomb for four days.
But here you are. As you stumble forward, that voice you love says, “Unbind him. Unbind her. Let them go.” And the bandages come off, and you can see Jesus standing there, tears streaming down his face, welcoming you back to life.
Death stinks. There’s no getting around it.
But here’s the thing: we can’t experience resurrection until we experience death. We can’t accept new life in Christ until we allow our old, sinful lives to end. What do you need to let die, so that you can come out of your tomb? What binds you to death, and prevents you from living abundantly, fully, as a new creation? Whatever stinks in your life, hear the voice of Jesus calling to you, “Come out of there!”
The word that calls Lazarus to life is the same word that calls a paralyzed man to lift up his mat and go home. It is the word of resurrection.
So you must decide. Do you pick up your mat, or stay paralyzed in your misery? Do you fall back into the tomb, or do you step out into the unknown? Because what lies ahead is completely new territory.
In your bulletin is a card. It’s an invitation to Easter Sunday at First Church. It isn’t a post card. It is designed for you to put into someone’s hands as you invite them to come with you to church on Resurrection Sunday. Bring someone to breakfast. Introduce that person to some of your friends. Give them a chance to take up their mat, to be healed and restored. Help them unwrap whatever is binding them, by unwrapping whatever is binding you. Invite someone to step into the light, to find Jesus right here at his own house, just as Christ invites you to his Table now.
This sermon is adapted from a sermon by Rev. Dawn Darwin Weaks, as provided through the gracenet.info website. These sermons are licensed for use, in whole or in part, by purchasers of Unbinding Your Church.