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.

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”

Hosea and Gomer—A Sermon About the Love of God

When my friends and I used to sit around and talk about women (and the chasing of them), I used to say that I was looking for somebody with three “G”s.  I wanted somebody who was Genuine, Gentle, and Godly. (Kelly and I have often debated whether I have in fact gotten my wish list—I generally think she has a more gentle side than she recognizes herself.) There were two others aspects that, if pressed, I would have admitted pursuing. One is “Gorgeous”, although I might not have confessed that because it doesn’t sound too spiritual.

The final element—and if I’m honest, this was at times the most important element of all—was that I was looking, quite simply, for a woman who would love me. For a while Kelly wasn’t sure about that, and eventually, this was not just a peripheral issue, but THE issue. If she did in fact love me, we’d get married. If not, we were probably done. I knew I loved her, but if it didn’t go both ways, I just wasn’t willing to go any further.

I suppose that isn’t that uncommon. If you peel back the surface of what we all chase in relationships, it comes to this: we want somebody to love us.  We just want to love someone and be loved back. All the world’s tragedy and comedy comes down to this.

And so we can only come to Hosea’s story with bewilderment. While Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was introduced in the first chapter, there it is essentially the context for the children and their prophetic names, in an account told by a third person narrator—”this is what happened to Hosea”. In chapter 3, it takes center stage, in a first person account. This is Hosea saying, “This is my story.” The first verse is enough for us to start with: “The Lord said to me again, Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods…”

God invites Hosea to dive into God’s own heart by entering into a relationship which he knows will be unreciprocal. God wants Hosea to love someone—not just marry them, but love them!—in the knowledge that his love will not be returned.

Continue reading “Hosea and Gomer—A Sermon About the Love of God”

Reversal—A Sermon on Hosea 2

Hosea the prophet lives in a time of false security, when his nation manipulates politics to acquire a sense of independent security, and manipulates religion in an attempt to acquire economic stability. Their political/military life and their worship both lead them away from dependence on God, from faith. For both of these he speaks words of judgment, fiery words which call Israel (and now, the church) to see her sin for what it is, and to learn true repentance.

We normally think of repentance as being about the past. We avoid it because we think it means a reliving of our worst mistakes, but nothing could be further than the truth. In repentance we confess and name our sin—not as a way of reliving it, but as a way of moving away from it. Repentance is about freedom from the past. Repentance is a consequence of hope.

It grows out of two convictions about the future, convictions which Hosea leads us into by sharing God’s mind with us.

First, God owns the future. God declares the future through Hosea, not because he has some secret power of prediction, but because the future consists of the actions of God. God does not predict sports scores or the playing cards of a magician’s trick, but is simply stating what he intends to do, with the knowledge that he can and will in fact do these things. While humans have plenty to say about what will happen in the mean time, the future—the ultimate future—will be as God wills.  And so, God can declare that Israel will be exposed, that they will be stripped of all that they hold dear, that they will be confronted by the futility of their quests for power, security, and independence from him—not because it’s a magical prediction, but because God himself will act to do these things.  “I will strip her naked…I will expose her as in the day she was born…I will make her like a wilderness…I will turn her into a parched land…I will kill her with thirst…I will hedge up her way with thorns and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths…I will take back my grain, my wine, my wool and my flax…I will uncover her shame…I will put an end to her celebrations…I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees…” God can make these announcements because they are his actions. God is free and powerful to act in whatever way he wills. God owns the future.

Second, God wants us to share his future. Hosea’s word is ultimately one of invitation—God intensely desires for Israel to join him in the future. All of the judgments issued are for this purpose, and point toward the day of its completion, the day when Israel is restored to God. God acts to provoke a repentant response in Israel, so that she will come to freely love him and live in a covenant with God marked by peace, righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and faithfulness.

What’s remarkable about Hosea is the kind of language that God uses to describe his passionate desire for Israel to have a part in this future. God won’t force Israel into repentance, but he will do almost anything else. Besides the prophetic word of warning, God flirts with Israel, gives her gifts, tries taking them away, exposes her other loves as frauds, finally draws her back out into the wilderness—like a husband who takes his wife back to the site of their honeymoon. He speaks softly to her, whispering, “we can just start over.”

His goal is the day when she responds with repentance, when she sees that he alone truly does own the future and yet offers her a place in it. His goal is a day of dramatic reversal, when all the pronouncements of judgment find their fulfillment—which is not to say, the destruction they foretell. No, Hosea’s warnings only find their fulfillment in the repentance they are meant to provoke, whether or not that occurs before or after the impending calamity. His goal is the day when Israel responds with repentance, and all that is wrong can be made right.

Hosea plays off of the warnings of chapter 1 to describe he dramatic reversal, flipping each name from its message or warning to one of hope. The stigma of bloodshed that brought about the name “Jezreel” will be replaced by the word’s linguistic meaning—”God sows”—and God will plant the people in the land, establishing her with peace and abundance from his own hand, not as a result of her political or religious manipulation. To those whom he gave the name, “no mercy”, he will now have mercy, and to those whom he called “not my people”, he will again say, “you are my people.” The renaming is completed, not by a word from God, but one from the people, as they finally and dramatically will say, “you are my God.” God paints the picture of this future, seeking to inspire hope in Israel—for where hope lives, repentance is possible.

Repentance happens in the lives of those who understand that God owns the future, and who believe they have a place in God’s future. Reading Hosea now, some 2700 years later, and reading it on the other side of Jesus, we know that God has taken a dramatic step to bring about this future. While we wait for the final scene to begin, God has invited us to share in his future…now!

God declares that his rule will be over all the earth, and in repentance we begin to live in that future now; we join God now, leaving the past behind and orienting ourselves by a future that redeems the present.

And so it is that within these words of warning there is also a seed of hope, the promise of God’s willingness to honor repentance, his burning desire to take back what belongs to him and make right what has been broken. I urge you to heed the warning that the future belongs to God, to take on the hope that he has a place for you within it, and to let it that hope bring forth the repentance by which God may enact his reversal.

Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1

At the market, a man picks vegetables, tying to decide between the vegetables. He thumps a melon, scans the cucumbers, and inspects the onions. He notices a cute little girl playing with her brother near his basket and smiles at them. He turns to their parents who are standing nearby and, in the chatty way that people sometimes talk at the market, asks a normal question: “Your kids are beautiful. What are their names?”

The parents expression darkens—the mother turns away, finding something else to do. The father’s eyes narrow, and he steps closer. Pointing straight at the little girl, he says, “We call her ‘unloved’. Unloved.” Not knowing how to respond, the man shuffles his feet a bit, and finally says, “And the boy?”

“Not mine.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought…”

“No, that’s his name.  His name is ‘not-mine.’ ”

Hosea is a shocking story. It does not allow for passive bland reading, and I assure you it does not consist of passive, bland writing. It opens with the story of Hosea’s family—a family whose very existence could not but shock literally everyone who met them. The book of Hosea consists mostly prophetic poetry. Not the poetry which many of us have in mind—the dry tedious metered verses we labored to understand as school kids. This is the kind of poetry that Walter Brueggemann describes as “shattering, evocative speech that breaks fixed conclusions and presses us always toward new, dangerous, imaginative possibilities.” (Finally Comes the Poet, 6) Hosea is full of wrecking-ball language, the kind that comes to destroy the peace of the present for the sake of the future.

The book opens with a narrative, but the story is just as disturbing as the poetry that follows. In fact, we might think of the story as a setting for three brief, super dense poems—the names of the children. After all, even within the story, it’s the word—the word from the Lord—that really matters. Continue reading “Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1”

I Just Wanna be a Sheep (Baaaa)—A Sermon on Receiving Shepherding

A couple of years ago a movie was released that I suppose a few have seen, although I have not and hopefully presume that not many of you have either. Indeed, it is astonishing that there was a market at all for Black Sheep. The film is set on a sheep farm in New Zealand, and tells the story of a farm where a bit of genetic engineering goes terribly awry, creating a new breed of—wait for it—Zombie Sheep. Yes, Zombie Sheep. The generally docile creatures turn bloodthirsty, devouring whatever humans they can find, and in true Zombie film fashion, develop the ability to turn some of the bitten farmers into mutant were-sheep—hideous creatures covered with wool, frenzied and ready to join the attacking horde-flock in their quest to devour the remaining humans.

This may well be a parable of the church.

While much attention continues to be given (appropriately) to training leaders and discussing the evolving model of elderships within churches, but we need to talk more about the other side of the relationship—what we sheep bring to our relationship with our shepherds. Like any relationship, we can’t work on only one side of the equation. For our model of shepherding to become truly effective, it can’t just be about the shepherds. We have to also develop our sense of what it means to receive shepherding. You can’t have good healthy shepherds in a church full of bloodthirsty zombie sheep.

Continue reading “I Just Wanna be a Sheep (Baaaa)—A Sermon on Receiving Shepherding”