February 20, 2000 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Mark 2:1-12
You take a risk when you invite the Lord
Whether to dine or talk the afternoon
Away, for always the unexpected soon
Turns up: a woman breaks her precious nard,
A sinner does the task you should assume,
A leper who is cleansed must show his proof:
Suddenly you see your very roof removed
And a cripple clutters up your living room.
There's no telling what to expect when Christ
Walks in your door. The table set for four
Must often be enlarged and decorum
Thrown to the wind. It's His voice that calls them
And it's no use to bolt and bar the door:
His kingdom knows no bounds of roof, or wall, or floor.
("The Risk" - Marcella Marie Holloway, from Divine Inspiration, p. 118)
Thats what it says, folks. He was "at home." This was not Nazareth, his hometown, and as far as we know, our Lord had not invested in some seaside real estate here. It seems that wherever Jesus is, he makes himself "at home." Does that tell us something about our homes, whenever we invite him in?
Of course, in Capernaum he was no freeloading couch potato in whoevers house it was in which he made himself "at home." The scene is not much different from the last time we saw him in this town. Again, he is busy teaching and healing, and many have come to hear him, squeezing themselves into that house. Every inch of space is taken. Theyre packed in like sardines. You kind of wonder what the homeowner was thinking about all this. When we invite Jesus in, as the poem said, "it's no use to bolt and bar the door: His kingdom knows no bounds of roof, or wall, or floor." ... Its the roof that suffered in this story. But compared to the suffering of that man lowered through the hole made in it, what is a roof?
We dont know much about this man, other than that he is paralyzed. How did he get that way? Was it some accident? Was he out in a fishing boat throwing his net and somehow fall and break his back? Was it something that happened through some stupid act on his part, done on a dare, perhaps - like diving into shallow water. Or was his paralyzed state due to something beyond his control - like some disease that invaded his system and left his limbs lifeless. We dont know much about this man other than that he cant get around under his own power.
Oh, yes, we do know one thing more. He had some friends. They were the ones who made the hole in the roof and lowered him through it. They cared enough about him, or believed enough in this rabbi from Nazareth, or were desperate enough for their friend that they werent stopped by the crush of people at all the doors and windows of this filled-to-overflowing house. Do you have friends like that? Are you a friend like that to someone?
Can you hear the mumbling of the crowd as Jesus stopped his teaching to attend to this man? Can you hear the moan of the homeowner as he figures out what its going to cost him to fix that hole in the roof? If it was, indeed, Simons home, this newly called disciple of Jesus who would later be renamed Peter, I can just imagine his line of thinking. "When the master invited me to leave my nets and start fishing for people, he didnt say anything about people fishing for us." Yes, when you think about it, that rope through the ceiling was like a fishing line down to Jesus. And our Lord took the bait.
The healing itself was pretty simple. Jesus just said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Is it really that easy? What was he implying? The questions we might raise over those five simple words are different from the questions on peoples minds then. Today, we would immediately start wondering what forgiveness had to do with it. We know enough about disease to realize that in most cases illness is no respecter of persons. For instance, we dont blame someone who has the flu for not washing their hands, or for being around others who have influenza, or for not getting "the shot" to immunize them. The same holds true for more serious diseases that we know may have genetic or other causes. Forgiveness seems to imply that a person bears direct responsibility for getting sick, which is a cruel trick to play on someone.
Of course, the truth is that we have more say in our health than we may think. Its not a matter of blame - blaming the sick person for being sick. I dont believe thats what Jesus was saying to that paralyzed man: "I forgive you for what you did to cause this illness." That doesnt make sense. Of course, as I said, we dont know much of anything about this fellow. Theres always the possibility that there was some repentance here, as a man turned away from some sin that brought about this tragic state. But, scripture is silent on that matter, and sometimes we should just leave such silence alone.
The truth is, when we are sick - in body or in soul - we feel broken, helpless, useless, worthless, hopeless, powerless, out of the circle of healthy people. Forgiveness, as the Bible speaks of it, is an act of drawing persons back into the circle. It is "for giving" persons what they need to be whole, reaching out and touching someone who feels out-of-touch, out-of-relationship, out-of-sorts, out-of-bounds. Literally, forgiveness is an act of welcoming someone back into our home.
How interesting, then, that the friends of this paralyzed man had to break into the place where Jesus was "at home." In fact, it says that "Jesus saw their faith," not the faith of this man lowered to him, and it was upon their faith that he spoke his words of forgiveness. We should note from this, folks, that there is real power in the faith of friends who care enough to bring those they love to the Lord, through the ceiling if need be. Do you have friends like that? Are you a friend like that to someone? They had already drawn this fellow into their circle. All Jesus did was draw him into Gods circle.
Thats what upset some of the religious folks in the room back them. After all, only God can do that, only God can forgive sins. Who are we to widen Gods circle? Who are we to apply Gods forgiveness as if it were some sort of wonder drug? Its one thing to heal somebody, or to cast out a demon, apparently, and quite something else to forgive as only God can forgive. Was Jesus claiming to be God? If so, that was blasphemy.
Well, you heard the story. In answer to their questions, Jesus asked, "which is easier, to say to this man, your sins are forgiven, or to say, stand up, take your mat, and walk?" Then he did just that. Either Jesus had the authority to do so, that is, either he was connected to the author of Creation in a way that those folks couldnt quite yet understand, or he wasnt. If he wasnt, he was a fraud. If he was, he was more than just a miracle-working rabbi.
For that paralyzed man, however, being drawn into Gods circle gave him the power to stand, a power he now possessed. He was no longer outside the circle of health - no longer helpless, hopeless, worthless, broken. He was a whole person again. Perhaps he still walked away with a limp, we dont know. Nothing more is said of him. Folks were just amazed...
Let me tell another story of forgiveness. In this one it may be easier to see the lines of responsibility, but they are not treated as chains of blame. The illness here is not physical, but the person (although in other ways healthy) still feels no less broken, helpless, out-of-the-circle of Gods forgiving and healing power in this area of his life. Listen:
Like many Americans, Rev. John Plummer, a Methodist minister fromVirginia, was moved by that Vietnam-era Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo of 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, naked and horribly burned, running from a napalm attack. For Plummer, however, that picture had special significance. You see, in 1972 he was responsible for setting up the air strike on the village of Trang Bang a strike approved after he was twice assured there were no civilians in the area. Even though he knew he had done everything possible to make sure the area was clear of civilians, he experienced new pain each time he saw that picture. He wanted to tell Kim Phuc how sorry he was.
After becoming a Christian in 1990, Plummer felt called to the ministry and attended seminary. In June 1996 he learned that Kim Phuc was still alive and living in Toronto. The next month he attended a military reunion and met someone who knew both this woman and the photographer. Plummer learned that on that fateful day in 1972, Kim Phuc and her family were hiding in a pagoda in Trang Bang when a bomb hit the building. She and others ran into the street, where they were hit by napalm being dropped from another plane. She tore off her burning clothing as she fled. Two of her cousins were killed.
The photographer and other journalists poured water from canteens on her burns. She collapsed moments after the famous photo and was rushed by car to a hospital. The girl spent fourteen months in hospitals and was operated on by a San Francisco plastic surgeon.
Plummer learned that Kim Phuc was speaking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He went and heard her say that if she ever met the pilot of the plane, she would tell him she forgives him and that they cannot change the past, but she hoped they could work together in the future. He was able to get word to her that the man she wanted to meet was there.
"She saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow," Plummer wrote in an article in the Virginia Advocate. "She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was, I'm sorry; I'm so sorry; I'm sorry over and over again. At the same time this woman who had been raised a Bhuddist, but who had become a Christian in 1982, was saying, It's all right; it's all right; I forgive; I forgive. "(Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, p. 77, see additional note below)
And Jesus simply said, "your sins are forgiven." ... Perhaps those are the very words you need to hear right now. Maybe you are feeling outside the circle of Gods love, where all you can hear is "No" instead of "Yes." Possibly, like that man lowered through the roof in Capernaum, you are paralyzed by something that seems beyond your power to deal with. Or like John Plummer and Kim Phuc, you are needing the giving or receiving of forgiveness to get up and walk away from the past. It could be that you are a friend of someone who needs you to bring them to Jesus, tearing open some roof, perhaps.
I invite you now to come to the Lord, just as you are. If that, for you, means coming forward as we sing - then, by all means, "take up your mat," as Jesus said, "and walk." For all of us, let me repeat his empowering words, "Son / daughter, your sins are forgiven. Stand up."
"Just as I am" #516
| Additional note: David
Stafford, having found this sermon while net surfing, made me aware of
the erroneous nature of the above illustration. Apparently John Plummer
was not involved, in the manner he said, in the bombing of Trang Bang -
though he did reach out to Kim Phuc in the way described above, which
became a well publicized story. For more information, check out these
I apologize for unintentionally passing on a false story. The truth behind it, however, on the need for forgiveness, remains the same. Thanks, David, for setting the record straight.
©2000Peter L. Haynes
return to "Messages" page
return to Long Green Valley Church page