We continue hearing stories from Jesus’ ministry that help highlight Orleans United’s “Core Rocks.”
Luke 5:17-26 17One day, while (Jesus) was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. *18Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; *19but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd* in front of Jesus. 20When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend,* your sins are forgiven you.’ 21Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 22When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? 24But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ 25Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
When God’s Spirit fills a room, (some very) strange things are possible. Did you notice the Lenten memory verse for this week? “We have seen strange things today.” There’s another story in the Bible which we’ll read later in May on a Sunday called Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit appears in a room full of Jesus’ followers, like flames of fire falling from the ceiling and sounding like a March tornado barreling through a Midwest town. And if that isn’t strange enough for you, the people in that room, without effort, begin speaking in foreign languages praising the Spirit and sharing God’s love with complete strangers. Gracias al Espiritu de Dios! Gracias!
And on any given Sunday, a growing number of us come anticipating something equally strange and wonderful to happen here among Jesus’ followers, by the Spirit’s inspiration … something that will alter our perspectives, elevate our moods, energize our attitudes, excite our imaginations, and transform the way we choose to live this week. And that’s the way it should be, among Jesus’ followers, in the presence of the Spirit. We watch and wait for the Spirit to touch our lives and make a difference. The question, of course, is how that actually happens? And our reading for today may be able to offer some insight.
There is plenty of “strange” in this story on which we could focus … and by the way, the word “strange” in the original Greek is not negative in any way … it can be alternately translated as “unusual,” “unimaginable,” “remarkable,” “incredible,” “marvelous,” and as one translation phrases it, “things we can hardly believe.” There are plenty of “remarkable things” in this story on which we could focus today.
- This is, after all, a story of miraculous healing, and pondering what any of us might believe about faith healing would certainly qualify as “strange,” I suspect. And as worthy as such conversation may be … well, if you really would like to pursue it, I’d be glad to some other time. That’s not this Sunday’s sermon.
- This is also a story about “who can forgive,” and Jesus creates quite a stir (doesn’t he) with the religious elite present that day, by doing the unimaginable … when someone who so obviously wants and needs physical healing is laid at his feet, Jesus offers him forgiveness. And the actual healing, well it really only punctuates Jesus’ unusual teaching about forgiveness. Our Christian understanding of the relationship between forgiveness and healing is a strange thing indeed … but perhaps some other time, because it’s not this Sunday’s sermon.
- Likewise, this too is a story about faithfulness, and in particular the faithfulness of the paralytic’s friends, who would not be deterred by the crowds, so carried their friend to the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching, literally tore through the tiles and lowered him into Jesus’ presence. So incredible was their act, that Jesus himself is enthused by them and their faith … at least, that’s what the Gospel writer observes, “when (Jesus) saw their faith” … Jesus inspired by the strange expression of faithfulness of these few friends peering through the jagged hole on the rooftop. But that’s not today’s sermon either.
Of all the strange possibilities in this story, and there are many, the one that really captures my imagination is too often overlooked by the quickness of its telling. Can you imagine, Jesus in a houseful of eager listeners, when all of a sudden the sound of something on the roof, at first subtle enough to be overlooked, but soon, as the dirt and dust of demolition begin fall, too intrusive to be ignored … every eye in the room shielding their view from falling debris, until shockingly a hand breaks through the tile and pulls one free? Can you imagine what people are thinking? Including Jesus? “What’s going on up there?” “This is crazy!” “Who’s destroying this home?” “It’s insane!” And then, in the shaft of sunlight filled with dust now pouring into the otherwise silent and darkened room, a slat on ropes is lowered through that jagged hole. And nobody, not even Jesus, has a clue what cargo it’s bearing.
Freeze-frame that thought for a second – this is a spiritual moment of great possibility in this story … a strange and marvelous unknown is presenting itself, and all of us in the room can only wait to see what the heavens will offer and how Jesus will respond. This is exactly what a growing number of us here are awaiting every time we gather. What opportunities will the Spirit offer us today, and how will we respond?
Like Jesus, who, when he finally sees the paralyzed man on the cot, and the faces of his faithful friends up above, and the anticipation of everyone in the room, whispers a resounding “YES!” to God … like Jesus, we also search our souls for our enthusiastic “YES!” Because that’s how good things get done in the church, by people anticipating and recognizing the Spirit’s energy among us, and generating a soul-inspiring response that ripples through this community of faith on every “YES!” we can rally. On our own we can’t create that kind of excitement here at OUC, only the Spirit can. But we can and must respond to the Spirit’s prompting.
Each week Molly and I try to point out and encourage some ways to say YES to God and each other through the ministries we share. And each week we try to convey how valuable your YES is to the energy and future of our whole faith family. Those Christ-like YESes are not always as obvious as the ones told in scripture but they are no less inspired. And the more we can share them with each other, the greater the soul inspiring energy is in this place, and the more others will see the Spirit at work and be touched by it themselves.
So I leave you today with a few lines of an email that someone who has attending OUC just a little while sent me. I had included her among those who receive Sunday’s Scripture in advance to study and this past week when she read today’s reading she gave her YES. And I asked her if I could share it with you.
For as long as I can remember I have felt stuck spiritually, perhaps even paralyzed. Recently, with the support of my husband I was lowered through the tiles of the roof and I landed in front of Jesus. I realized, or rather remembered, that I am forgiven, loved and accepted as I am, regardless of how many times I turned my back, how many times I threw up my hands in frustration with the ‘church’, how many times I hid my faith because I was ashamed. I realized that faith is a treasure worth learning to walk for. So I studied and researched and eventually reached out. It was scary, but I wasn’t left alone. You and your congregation reached back, with open arms. I have a renewed hope for myself spiritually. I have stood up and am finally learning to walk. And I have no doubt that with the inspiration I have already experienced here that in won’t be long before I can run.
May her YES inspire yours. And may we all be filled with enthusiasm and energy because of it. And may they say about us, what they said about those gathered in our story today, ‘Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying ‘We have seen strange things today (indeed).’
Orleans United Church
March 18, 2012