“So What?” Sermon Series Begins

Date:  January 15, 2017

Title:  “Jesus Heals…So What?”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Mark 2:1-12

            Today is the second in a sermon series we’re calling “So What?”.  We’ve celebrated the birth of Jesus with glorious Christmas cheer, and now we begin to look at Jesus’ life, asking “So what difference does Jesus make in our own lives, now?”

Today is also the third Sunday in the season of Epiphany, which comes from a Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “appearing” or “revealing”.  So during these weeks between Christmas and Lent, we tell the stories of God appearing, revealing or being made known to us in Jesus Christ.

In Celtic Christianity, stories of epiphany are stories of “thin places” – places where the boundary between the ordinary and the Divine becomes thin, permeable, porous or penetrable.  A thin place presents us with a chance to connect with God.  A thin place helps us to see beyond the mundane surface of life to find the extraordinary depth of God’s love.  But there is a catch with thin places, and indeed, with any Epiphany moment.  The catch is, we have to be willing to see it.  We have to choose to cross the boundary.  We have to participate in the extraordinary, even while experiencing our very ordinary lives.  Debbie Thomas puts it this way:

            No matter how many times God shows up in my life, I’m free to ignore God.

            No matter how many times God calls me Beloved, I can choose self-loathing instead.

            No matter how many times I remember my baptism, I’m free to dredge out of the water

            the very sludge I first threw in.

            No matter how often I reaffirm my vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons,

            I’m still at liberty to reject you and walk away.

So you see, “Epiphany” doesn’t just happen.  We have to practice it.  It is not enough to merely glance at mystery and then turn away.  We have to do a double-take.  We have to look, and look, and look again, standing openly in the thin places and trusting in the possibility of surprise.

Marcus Borg once suggested that Jesus himself is our thin place.  It is Jesus who helps us cross the boundary to connect with God, because he first crossed over it to be with us.  In his preaching and teaching, in his disciple-making, and certainly in his healing, Jesus moves freely between God’s Realm and Earth’s reality.  Did you know, there are some 30 or 40 Gospel stories of Jesus’ healing?  Jesus heals… so what?

Let’s consider, for a moment, the story we read from Mark today.  Jesus comes into town to preach and word spreads quickly, so that a huge crowd has gathered to hear him.  And along come these four guys carrying their paralyzed friend, a man so sick he cannot get to Jesus by himself, or even wait in the right place for Jesus to pass by him.  There are too many people in the way and they cannot get in to see Jesus.  Clearly, they should have been more like the Timbers Army and camped out on the sidewalk the night before!

And yet, these guys are determined.  They go up on the roof and they make a hole in it, large enough to lower their friend right in front of Jesus.  Already the healing has begun as these four friends look, and look again, and look again – to become channels of healing and hope.  And Jesus, for his part, does not even bat an eye.  He just tells the guy “your sins are forgiven”.

That must have come as quite the shock to the paralytic and his friends.  If they went to all the trouble of climbing up on the roof, cutting a role in it and dropping down at Jesus’ feet, they must have been expecting healing.  And what they got instead was forgivness.

Talk about a thin place, an Epiphany moment!  Jesus ushers the paralytic – and with him, every one of us – across the boundary between ordinary life and the extraordinary grace of God.  When Jesus says “your sins are forgiven”, what he is really doing is erasing the distance between us and re-establishing the connection with God which is designed to heal us all.

It occurs to me now that perhaps Mark includes the cutting the hole in the roof for a reason.  Perhaps it is more than a colorful detail for the story.  Perhaps it is Mark’s way of showing us that sometimes the roof has to crumble, and sometimes we have to be willing to cut holes in structures which too narrowly block access to God’s grace.  Sometimes we have to cut the holes in order to be the Church the world needs right here and right now.

It’s been 34 years now that we have been celebrating “Martin Luther King, Jr Day”.  And, as David Sellery puts it:

Martin’s greatest gift to us is not just a day off or another three-day holiday weekend of promotional sales to kick-start the economy.  Neither is his greatest gift a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter for some of us.  It’s not even his wake-up call to the rest of us, comfortable living in atrophied isolation.

            Dr. King’s greatest gift was his ability to lay bare the Body of Christ and challenge us to live in it.  He reminds us even today that we are the body of Christ, not the distant cousins of Christ.  He reminds us that Christ never commanded us to “tolerate” each other, much less mollify one another with mid-winter holidays.  Instead, Jesus said simply, love one another.

            Nothing could shake Martin’s fidelity to Christ’s commandment to love.  As his own words put it so powerfully:  “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.  Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.  Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

            34 years and we still need to cut a hole in more than a few rooftops.  People still do all kinds of things which we feel absolutely paralyzed to counteract, if we are full of nothing other than cynicism and despair.  When we are separated from God’s love by our fear, our self-interest, our arrogance or our pain, we cannot get ourselves to Jesus, or even wait in the right place for Jesus to pass by.  So we need to help each other, and we need to be forgiven.

Maya Angelou eloquently points out our need for each other, in her poem “Alone”:

Lying, thinking last night

            How to find my soul a home

            Where water is not thirsty

            And bread loaf is not stone

            I came up with one thing and I don’t believe I’m wrong

            That nobody – but nobody – can make it out here alone.

            Alone, all alone

            Nobody – but nobody – can make it out here alone.

            We think we cannot make much difference in a world where injustice continues to rule.  But let me remind us all – we are the body of Christ.  We can protect the struggling flame of the one standing next to us.  We can carry the ones who cannot walk.  We can shore up the ones who can no longer stand.  And we can choose to traverse the thin places to connect with God’s love and to experience God’s grace in order to help heal ourselves and all of God’s creation.

It may be that some roofs will need to be torn out, some doors knocked down, some windows broken through, in order for healing to happen.  But the good news is that we are not alone.  The even better news is that Jesus heals – when we decide to practice Epiphany every ordinary day.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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