Whole—A Sermon on Mark 2:1-12

This sermon is from Cedar Lane (Tullahoma, TN) on January 29, 2017. It’s a sermon about the healing of the paralyzed man, (“the Paralytic”, as the old translations say). It’s part of a sermon series on Mark. The video below is essentially the audio of the sermon with the slides. The manuscript below has been revised by evaluating the transcript of the recording. 

How did you get here?

How did you get here?

I want us to stop and reflect on that question for a moment, despite all you smart-alecks who just said to yourselves, “In the car.” You know who you are.

I want you to think for a second about how you got here, to think about the story that led to you coming to Jesus. What led you to come into this community of faith, or to come to this place in your life? Everybody’s got a story.

There’s an old story in our family a about my great-great-grandfather who when he was a little boy had a head to parents who were ahead Ted serious respiratory illnesses were common back in those generations and they lived over on the east coast and they made the decision, under medical advice to make for their respiratory problems they would make these trips over to over to Texas and they made this journey several times. On one of these my great-great-great-grandmother fell so ill that she did not recover from her sickness and she died and her husband was so struck with grief and his own illness that on the journey back east he just laid in the back of this carriage that was pulled by the two horses.My my great-great-grandfather and his brother, even though they were young boys, were in charge of getting them back home, while their father just laid in the back of the carriage. They asked, “How will we get home? We don’t know the way.” And he said, “The horses know the way. Let them guide you back.” Well, the horses didn’t know the way, and so the next five generations of our family lived in North Alabama.

Everybody’s got a story about how you ended up where you are—that brought you to this moment. The text in Mark that we’re looking at opens with a crazy story about how a man came to Jesus. Jesus had been preaching around in the communities around Galilee but he comes back home to Capernaum. When he’s there people begin to gather. The house fills up, and there’s such a crowd there that it’s standing room only all the way out to the door, to the edge of the house.

Our story says that there was a man who was paralyzed. We don’t get a lot of details about how he came to be like that. Certainly would not have been unusual back in this time for somebody in normal work to suffer terrible injuries. Beyond that, people that have sicknesses and illnesses or birth defects, or for whatever reason their body’s broken. The text doesn’t really tell us how the man came to be like this, but we know his situation is such that he is paralyzed. He can’t walk.

Mark says that a group of people bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. Four of them each get a corner of the mat, but it’s actually a larger crowd with them. They want to get to the house where Jesus is they can’t get inside because it’s so crowded in there. They can’t find a place among all the people who are already there with Jesus—which is a sad little note in this story.

They don’t give up, so they climb up on the roof.The carve a little hole in the roof there, and they lower this man down through the roof. Can you imagine it? Jesus is there and all of a sudden the tiles of the ceiling or the thatching or whatever, it starts spreading apart, and you hear the ruckus. Then, all of a sudden, you see some light, and this man is lowered down right there in front of Jesus. What a story about how somebody got to Jesus!

Think about the things that brought this man to Jesus. Sicknesses, or injury or whatever it was that caused his paralysis. There’s also the the crowd of people. There were the determined friends who were carrying him. Often, that’s what it takes, right? How many of you came to Jesus because of the determination of a group of friends, a determined community of people who said, “We’re not going to rest until this person gets to Jesus.” Sometimes that’s what it takes.

Some of you came here by way of your own great-great-great grandfather who made a decision about a church, five generations back. Some of you got here because the church served you and your family in some way. Some of you are here because a coworker just kept getting into your ear. That’s just the surface of the story—there are all sorts of things at work to bring you to Jesus, to bring you to the place where you could be healed. To the place where you could be whole.

Unexpected

We might imagine the story going on from here something like this: Jesus sees them and he would say say to them “Be healed!”, but this story takes a turn that is unexpected. It is a moment that we would not predict. Jesus doesn’t look at the man and just give him the healing which he and certainly his friends have sought. Instead, Jesus looks at the man it says that Jesus sees the faith of the ones who have brought him. His faith, too, I’m sure, but Jesus notes “their faith”, in the plural. Then, Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Son your sins are forgiven.” He seems pretty content to leave it at that. So what do we have now? We’ve got a man, still paralyzed, who has received forgiveness—not really the thing that he came for.

You know when I think about this story, I think that Mark wants to make it clear that Jesus knows more than we do. Jesus knows more about how the things that are broken got broken.He knows more about what’s really wrong, and he sees what really needs to be fixed. Jesus knows more about what it means to be whole for me than I could ever imagine. Jesus knows more about what it means for me to be whole then all those other people who were part of bringing me to Jesus might even imagine.

Jesus has a more of a perception about what our brokenness really looks like than we do. We have some understanding of it, but Jesus sees the full scope of it. Jesus gives the man a greater and deeper healing than he even realized he needed.

But you just know, it wasn’t just about the paralyzed man. Jesus also perceives some other level of brokenness in the crowd as well. I don’t really know how that man reacted to Jesus’s forgiveness, but the text does tell us how the other people in the crowd reacted. It says that they start muttering to each other, saying things like “Who does this guy think he is? We know that it is only God who can forgive sins so what is this guy saying? That’s blasphemy, for him to take on the authority that belongs to God alone—Who does this guy think he is?”

When they challenge each other in that way it says “Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these things among themselves.” See, it’s not just the man that has some kind of hidden unseen bit of brokenness that needs to be healed. Jesus perceived the brokenness in the community too. He sees that these people are more concerned about their standards about the way that people should talk about God than they are about whether this man actually receive forgiveness or not. He perceives that their religious sensibilities are more important to them than the man on the mat. And so, just like he offered the man the forgiveness that he didn’t understand he needed, he’s also going to offer to this community a word that they didn’t come to hear, either. He looks at them and he says

“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 2:8-12, NRSV)

You see, there is a multiple healing taking place in this story. There is the man who is paralyzed, made whole by his body. The thing that he actually came for in the first place finally gets done. But it’s also the community’s perception of God and God’s work in the world that’s healed as well. Jesus takes their grumbling, stubborn religiosity and he shows them something new. He offers them a way towards something that’s a little bit more whole as well. Jesus, who knows more, is able to perceive exactly what it is that I need and what we need as a community. Jesus gives us what we need on the way to being made whole—very rarely according to our time frame or our expectations about the way it should happen—but Jesus does bring us along towards the journey of being made whole.

There is so much of what it means to be a follower of Jesus tucked inside of this story. This is a story about what it means to be laid open by Jesus and for Jesus in his own authoritative way brings us towards a complete and full wholeness, beyond what we could have even imagined. This man that comes in the story, he had people in his life that loves him so much that they were willing to do whatever they could to make his body whole again. He had an amazing group of people who were willing to do something outlandish, foolish for his sake. But in Jesus, he meets the one whose expectation about what it means for him to be whole blows their expectations out of the water. Jesus loves us deeper and has a greater vision for the wholeness and fullness of our lives in our humanity than even the people we know in our lives who love us the most. This man comes to Jesus broken in ways that he doesn’t even understand, and Jesus makes him whole in a way that he never could have imagined.

He comes to Jesus broken in ways he can't understand. He's made whole in ways he never imagined. Click To Tweet

A Taste of Grace

This story also shows us that sometimes grace comes to us in stages. A little forgiveness here, a bit of reconciliation there. Until the last day, Jesus is making us whole step by step. None of us have been made fully whole yet, and yet we can say that many of us have already tasted the grace of God. We’ve received things like having relationships restored back to us that we thought we lost. We’ve received forgiveness and the relief that it brings. We’ve received that taste of God’s grace that shows us that we are loved. We’ve received a part of it, but don’t we also all carry with us some bit of brokenness left? It’s easy for us to believe that all those things define us for who we are. What was the man’s name in the story in mark? “Paralyzed man.” The only way we know him is by his brokenness. If that sounds harsh, I’d suggest that for many of us that’s how we know ourselves, too.

“I am guy with an anger problem…”
“I am the woman with chronic pain issues…”
“I am the man who can’t get along with my brother…”
“I am the woman who carries a deep grudge against my father who’s long ago dead…”
“I am the person whose marriage is falling apart…”
“I am the person who doesn’t seem to be able to hold down a job…”

I am broken and for many of us that’s how we know ourselves. Jesus perceives us to be something more. Jesus perceives in us our value, our dignity, our life as the children of God—that we are images of the Divine. Jesus sees in us what we are, what we will be when we are whole—he does not know us only by our brokenness. Our brokenness maybe part of our story, it may be part of the way that we come to Jesus. It is not the whole of our identity.

Our brokenness may be part of the journey but it is never our destination. Click To Tweet 

Part of what i want you to hear in this story is Jesus’s vision for you as a whole person—in this story this man he has no idea what it means for him to coast or thick to go see Jesus but he comes to find out it comes to claim it comes to own it and then he at the end of the story walk away whole in body, whole in soul, in spirit. When the crowd sees it they see the man and they can’t help but say alright that’s amazing and we’ve never seen anything like it. The man who was at the beginning of the story just “the paralyzed man” becomes a living, walking, witness to the power of God at work in Jesus—and so are we.

This story challenges us on a lot of fronts, but one of the most profound challenges is that it invites us to think about which crowd we are. There’s at least three options. There’s the first crowd that is willing to do whatever it takes to get a person to Jesus. There is the other crowd that is so stuck on their religious knowledge that they resent Jesus’s healing of the man. Then, there is the crowd at the end— which I guess was partly made up of parts of both of the first two— the crowd that seea what Jesus is doing, is amazed, and then is more ready to experience it themselves.

If you permit me just a little bit of imagination, I think we can make up an epilogue to this story. The story leaves off with everybody amazed, but I bet we can trace it out a little further. How would you react if you had seen it? How would you react if you had seen it, and knew somebody else who was sick, who was broken? I bet everybody in that crowd that knew somebody at their home who was laying on a mat—I bet they went and found somebody else to help carry them to Jesus.
Amen.

Creative Repetition in Preaching

REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF LEARNING.

Repetition is the mother of learning, they say, and I don’t altogether disagree. It’s the kind of thing that requires balance in preaching over the long haul. On one hand, if you’re too repetitive, you’ll sound like you’re just riding a hobby horse to death, and you’ll lose people’s interest. Worse still, even the people still listening won’t be getting the sort of balanced diet that can help them grow and mature in the Lord—one dimensional preaching isn’t good for anybody. Your preaching needs a sense of breadth. On the other hand, preaching that has no element of repetition loses its sense of depth. The church needs some level of repetition to get the import of certain concepts, and to have a chance to really weave them into her life, so that they become part of the church’s identity and ethos.

“Balance” may actually be a misleading word for what I think we’re trying to find here, because I don’t think the significant question is “How much repetition?”, but “How should we handle repetition?”. What I mean is, we want to employ repetition that doesn’t necessarily feel like repetition. We want to use creative repetition, so that even what we’re preaching about regularly can feel new and carry genuinely new dimensions each time. The repetitive element needs to be blended in, needs to become one of the layers just below the surface of sermons and series. If it’s always on the top level, sitting in the titles and showing up in the punch lines, it will lose its heft. But if it only shows up those places every once in a while, and the rest of the time is woven into the fabric of the sermons, it will add texture and continuity to your sermons.

This isn’t sheer manipulation, by the way—it’s just good art. Good designers know how to use common elements across a series of pieces to tie them together, without that element of cohesion being the up front subject of each piece. Rather it becomes part of the framework that allows each work to speak to its own subject in a way that is part of a larger conversation. I think good preachers develop a sense of how to do this, how to weave certain motifs into their preaching over time, without hammering it in each particular sermon. Sometimes the motif comes to the fore and is the distinct subject of the sermon, but many other times it is just there in the background, a line or two in the introduction or a certain word choice in the narrative.

It’s a useful technique to double back through certain themes and motifs in your preaching—just make sure you do it creatively. Otherwise, repetition will cease to nurture learning, and will only be the mother of monotony.

The Fruit of Hope: Mission

mission-2

The first post in this series looked at nurturing hope. Here, I want to think about its fruit.

It’s not an accident that people into the missional church movement are also often rooted in the sort of eschatology emphasized by theologians such as N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Jurgen Moltmann. These theologians focus on God’s intent to bring about the redemption of creation—the reconciliation of all things to God. The sort of hope that this kind of theology cultivates points towards mission as its natural fruit. Here are four ways that a robust sense of hope moves us towards mission.

1. Hope helps us deal with the brokenness that we experience in ourselves. Hope allows us to see our own conversion as something that has begun but which is not yet completed. Our own discipleship has a trajectory, even if the specific turns and twists along the way remain mysterious to us. In hope, we see ourselves as in the process of being formed, and that takes place for and by God’s missionary work in the world. Thus, mission is no longer something that we only see as being given to the elite super-spiritual, but is something for all of us. It is not for those who have already arrived, but is a part of the journey towards God’s future, the source of our hope.

2. It allows us to engage in broken systems. As hope grows within us, we we have new energy to struggle against the dark powers of the world, knowing that God will indeed defeat them in the end…their ability to crush and grind people is destined to fall, and when they are defeated, the systems they use to break people will crumble to. That knowledge allows us to actively subvert those systems through story and action, even while facing the frustration that comes from facing their current powers. I know this particular point sounds super nerdy and theoretical, but there’s one last one that we meet every day:

3. Hope sustains our ability to love people. People are tough to love sometimes, and there are moments when our frustrations with their behavior can overwhelm our loving desires for their well-being. That’s just speaking about the people we already have affection for—we still have to deal with the surely strangers who rub us wrong from the beginning! Hope can help us deal with those frustrations. It provides us the resources to be able to see people for what they can be, rather than only as they already are. Realizing that everyone we meet is on a journey frees us to think about how our relationship with them, even the smallest interactions, might move them along the way towards wholeness. I think this is part of Jesus’s own way of dealing with people, an imitating it is a step on the path of discipleship.

4. Hope broadens our vision. It’s perhaps most obvious how this happens temporally, as we expand our view from the present moment towards a long view. However, hope properly conceived also contains within it a vision of how God reconciles all of creation, and so we find it broadening our field of vision spatially and relationally as well. We begin to see how God’s mission, and perhaps to some extent our place in it, relates to all humanity and the wholeness of God’s world. Hopeful people see beyond themselves.

The Bible’s World: Essentials

20080307110449!SennacheribThe Bible is a daunting book to study, and very imposing in its scope, size and nature. The  barriers to getting into it present real problems—problems that we have to deal with if we hope to help people find nourishment in the scriptures.

One of the most significant barriers is that that there is a lot of background stuff that you have to absorb if you’re going to be able to pick up what’s going on in any text—and lots of texts have different background pieces that inform them particularly. If you’re a historical nerd who loves geeing out on facts about the ancient world, this is great news for you—people like you and me love this stuff, and it is absolutely endless. You’ll never learn it all.

But what about everybody else? One of the big questions of how the church studies scripture is: What’s the baseline of background detail that people need to understand? What do people need to grasp in order to begin to wade into scripture without feeling like they’re drowning? How can we set up people to learn well, and feel capable of going further?

It’s an open question for me, but I want to suggest a set of areas in which having a basic understanding of the ancient world can really help people get some traction.

  1. Geography. I think it’s helpful if you can put ancient Israel, Egypt, Babylon, Nineveh, and Rome on a map. Probably Syria, too.
  2. The Exile. A huge part of the Old Testament revolves around the events of the Babylonian Exile. If you get that story, and the problems it presented, a large part of the canon opens up.
  3. Pharisees.  A better understanding of what the pharisees were about is exceptionally helpful in understanding the stakes of the conflicts in the gospels. It needs to go beyond “Pharisee = Bad”, too.
  4. Economics. I think having a little understanding about the scale of the ancient economies really helps as well. What was the relationship to having land and being self-sufficient? What about ancient wealth distribution? It doesn’t get talked about in most sunday schools, but it’s an eye-opening subject.
  5. Honor/Shame. These categories were incredibly important to the identities of ancient people. Get this and their motivations make much more sense.

 

The Sending—A Sermon from Matthew 10

As we’ve been walking through Matthew’s story, we’ve walked with Jesus through several episodes that reveal his authority. Jesus teaches with authority and orders around demons with authority. He claims the authority to forgive sins, and  points his finger at the sky and demands that the storm obey him. The people in the story who get it are the ones who understand his authority, and either come to him humbly, needing his authoritative action, or who obey his call to follow. The ones who get it are the lepers and tax collectors, the blind and the lame.  They are the ones who, apparently conscious of their own brokenness, recognize the authority of Jesus to do something about it. We’ve been seeing the story through their eyes, and our attention and focus have been centered on Jesus.

And then, here in chapter ten, there is a startling turning point in the gospel. Like a skilled filmmaker who suddenly changes the focus of a lens, bringing what was blurred in the background of the shot into clear focus, Matthew reveals that he is not simply telling the story about Jesus, but about his disciples. They’ve been there the whole time—following Jesus from synagogue to synagogue, town to town, house to house. They’ve been watching him teach, hearing him proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and then they’ve watched him act out that sermon by healing the sick, casting out demons, and offering forgiveness. They’ve been here the whole time, but always in the background. But now, Matthew twists the lens, and they suddenly jump from the background to the front of the story.

Continue reading “The Sending—A Sermon from Matthew 10”

Preaching on Power

I am super-stoked about preaching this weekend. It’s about power, which underlies so much of the world, but of which we speak so inadequately about. Here is some of the design work that goes with the sermon.

Sometimes the sermon comes easier than others. This week’s had to go through a lot of wrestling, but in the end, after a lot of listening and struggle, I’m extremely excited to share it with the church.

“They sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”