Preach July 19, 2015 in preparation for VBS.
Today, friends, we are continuing our our 3 week series where we are letting three theme-texts from our Vacation Bible School Curriculum, G-Force. Last week, our theme word was “Go” and our text was the story of Moses’ call to return to Egypt. This week, we’re in Mark. Our theme word for the day is “Care.”
I’m going to use the same structure as last weeks for today and next Sunday’s text as we look our the Scripture. My prayer is that we can hear the texts anew so that we have a certain degree of comfort when we are sharing these stories with our kids at Vacation Bible School as well as (who knows) a little bit of grist for the mill as stones turn around in our own souls.
At first glance this seems like a no-brainer, especially as a liberal-leaning United Methodist congregation. We care…. about everyone. Just like the children’s choir song goes, “All God’s critters got a place in the choir”, so everyone has a place here. We want to hear every perspective, respect every journey, and listen as you tell your truth. We want to make sure there’s room at the table for everyone, even if it means diminishing other, more prominent voices, and slowing down process. We care. Likewise, if there’s a justice issue to be addressed, this church lifts up the banner. And if there is a meal to be prepared, well… Need I say more?
This church cares.
The temptation is to say then, “got that one covered” (check the box), sing the closing hymn and go home (something my voice would probably appreciate). But not so fast. Let’s see how we can find some salt, some light in today’s Scripture? Let’s see where Jesus would have us to follow, today.
I think the place to begin with this Bible story is the reality that, in this story of the healed paralytic, what we would today call discipleship and missions are side by side. The Scripture begins saying that Jesus had returned to Capernaum, that people had heard, and that masses had gathered to hear him. Mark wants us to know that Jesus the traveling teacher is just as important as Jesus the miracle worker. One way of being in ministry occurring right alongside the other. One illuminates the other.
The next observation comes from what has to be one of mine, if not many’s, favorite image picked up in Sunday School—this image of the roof being removed to get easier access to Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether its palm fronds, closely aligned beams of some type that have been mudded over to fill in the cracks, or some type of thatch, the point is that it was no easy task. This man’s friends were so determined so see their friend healed that they wouldn’t let something as simple as demolishing a building get in the way doing everything they could for their friend. Nothing was going to stand in the way of their friend—not even them, mind you—wanting seeing Jesus up close.
The last observation is a little bit tricky because its sort of nuanced. I don’t know about you but as captivating an image of this roof being disassembled and this man being lowered down on some type of palate or cot is, the other image of the legal experts doing their thing is simply off-putting. To try to cast a cloud of doubt over this amazing event is dumb-founding and off putting. But I simply love Jesus’ response. Jesus took an instance of trying to micro-manage how God does and does not work and transforms it into something entirely different. You see, this man was not only paralyzed, but because the assumption of the day was that he was paralyzed because of his sin he was ritually unclean. To add insult to injury, his debilitating condition meant that the requirements for having his sin actually forgiven at the Temple in Jerusalem was not only impractical but impossible. As such, the assumption is this man lived in isolation, save his friends who would risk becoming unclean themselves in order for him to not only receive healing but that he might find restoration with his family. That “get up, take your mat, and go home part”? The “go home part” is most important because Jesus is telling him that no one did anything wrong, he’s no longer unclean. He can go back to his family.
How do these apply to our church—jokes about the state of the roof aside?
Looking at the same three images from the Scripture lesson….
It is so easy to fall into the trap of practicing our faith in such a way that we think that specialization is the way it works. Don’t get the wrong idea, there’s a place and a time for specialization, like when someone is going into surgery or the realization that flying a piper cub is not the same thing as flying a Boeing 787.
The temptation for a life of faith is to think that simply because some of the various means of grace come more naturally than others, that we somehow get to pick and choose, as if we think simply because we are an introvert we’ll engage in prayer and searching the Scriptures but never visit or engage in acts of compassion. Or, the other way around, we are so busy doing good for others that we never pause to deepen our understanding of why we run around doing so much good stuff.
Here’s in Mark, hearing Jesus teach and seeing Jesus heal (discipleship and missions, if you want to use the churchy words) are right there at the same time.
The next part, again, jokes about the state of our roof aside, is a simple observation—that the principle put forth here is that ministry is what leads, changing people’s lives is what matters most. Facilities? Sure, they are important. In this case, it provided an easy location to find Jesus. but notice Jesus didn’t chastise for folk tearing the roof up. And it wasn’t important enough to salvation for the writer of Mark to detail how the roof got fixed, only that lives were changed.
Our planning committee report, that we adopted last autumn concludes something like this: we are grateful for the ways people have been faithful in the past and the gift of stewardship that we get to enjoy today. The building we sit in today is beautiful and provides much. We love it. But we love the people in this community more. Simply put, missions trumps buildings
And the third part, restoration. I want to make two observations here, one unique to our context and one on a little larger scale.
We’ve noted that Jesus sent the former paralytic home, assumingly as an act of restoration with his family. This was the central action for Jesus, not how ambulatory the man was. Friends, I want to say this in as clear a way I know how:
In all our decisions coming before us in the next few days, weeks, and months, it might be tempting to let darker voices accuse, convict, or indict—either we do that to ourselves or we point that timbre towards someone else or let someone direct that at us. Sisters and brothers, no good comes from that. It is not of God.
The knee-jerk response might be “well, where’s the accountability, then”. And to that, I point to this text. In the economy of Jesus, the accountability is the restored relationship that this outcast man has found. The accountability is in the quieted lips and dumb-found faces of those who thought they had the corner or truth, on virtue, on restoration.
Accountability for us as a people trying to do the difficult task of listening, discerning, praying, is simply this: are lives be changed for the better because of the decision we will make—is restoration happening? Are people finding home?
And lastly, on a larger level. I, like you, am grieved to silence and tears over what happened in Chattanooga. People died at the hands of someone we don’t know, and we don’t know why it happened. But let me say this, ethnicity, creed, and national origin do not make what happened in Chattanooga and Charleston any different. Both are tragic losses of life. To call one a man deranged and the other domestic terrorist is to lose the sight of the type of accountability Jesus wants us to have—restoration does not come that way. It comes exactly the way those in Charleston led us, “I forgive you.”