Whatever It Takes
TEXT: Mark 2:1-12
This story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man is one that has always captured my imagination. Imagine a place so mobbed with people trying to see Jesus that the only way to get to him was to take off part of the roof and lower the man down. It's a visual image that sticks with you, and I've never forgotten it from my Sunday School days. It stuck with the Gospel writers, too. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the same story.
When I first learned the story, it was presented as a healing story...one of the miraculous healings of Jesus. A little bit later I learned about the role that forgiveness plays in this story. Jesus knows that biology and psychology are connected and that deep psychological hurts can manifest themselves in very physical ways. He knew that guilt could have a crippling effect and his healing was manifest in forgiveness of sin. After 2000 years we are just now beginning to come back to the wisdom that Jesus had. Body, mind, and spirit are all linked and untreated problems in one area will lead to problems in the others. We are just now waking up.
For a long time I left the story in those two arenas...healing and forgiveness. In fact, I left it there until this week when I began to prepare the sermon. And when I began that study, I started to see something else. The other messages are still there, but I added to those a picture of what I believe the church should be. So I lift up this memorable picture to you this morning as a vision and a goal for St. John's to become a "Whatever It Takes" church.
What struck me this week was how the friends of the paralyzed man were willing to do whatever it took to get their friend in to see Jesus. He needed help, they knew Jesus could provide it, and they were both creative and persistent in getting him to the place he needed to be. What a wonderful image that is for the church. We should be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to bring people to Jesus. There could have been any number of objections to the man's friends. How unthoughtful they were of Jesus who was already mobbed with people wanting things from him to bring him one more. Surely the man could have waited until another time or place when Jesus wasn't so busy. How rude of them to assume the disease of their friend should take precedence over the needs of the others who were there. And who gave them permission to dismantle someone else's property...someone else who was already letting their house be used by mobs of people?
But the friends loved the paralyzed man and thought only of getting him to Jesus. That was all that mattered. There is such a lesson there for us. How often we lose our focus and let other concerns get in the way of the heart of the matter. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I came back home to New England because God hit me with a 2x4 and said, "Get up there. People in New England don't know me. Go bring them to me." I argued for awhile...which is another sermon...but then I came. My number one concern is for people to come to know God in a personal and loving way. And I am ready to do whatever it takes for that to happen.
My belief is that God put me at St. John's because this church has the gifts and graces to bring the message of God's love to the Seacoast. That's not to say other churches and pastors don't. It's going to take more than one church. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt why God booted me back to my New England roots, and I don't think it was an accident that I was sent to St. John's. This church has resources and potential of all types. We have great diversity in our perspectives. Some see that as a problem. I see it as a gift. The world has great diversity. People of all political and religious leanings can find company here. I hope we will come to have more ethnic diversity as well.
As the church across the country struggles to find a way that diverse thinking and color and lifestyle can live and worship together, my dream is that they could simply look to St. John's and say, "Oh, that's how it's done. You simply keep the main thing the main thing and let God deal with the rest." We are simply to listen for God's calling on each of our lives to see what paralyzed friend of ours needs to get to Jesus and to decide for ourselves how to get that person there. If every single one of us was simply willing to do whatever it takes to get the people we know to know God, we'd be too busy dismantling the roof to worry about anything else.
I'm going to climb way out on a limb here, but I don't think the church has any business being divided about homosexuality, abortion, or any of the other hot topics that currently get people shouting at each other and taking God's name in vain. Those things are not the main thing. They may be the main thing of other organizations. But the main thing of the church is to go into all the world and make disciples. Jesus didn't say "Go, decide what is sinful and condemn it." Jesus said, "Go, make disciples." And the people who took that commission seriously were willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. Any sin in our lives is something that God will deal with at the point in our lives when we are ready, once we get to know God and realize that God is here to love us rather than condemn us.
The main thing of the church is simply to make the introduction. But we do need to be sure who it is we are introducing. Think about this. Let's say you are introducing a friend to someone else for the first time. How successful an introduction do you think it would be if you said, "Jennifer, I'd like you to meet Sally. Sally really hates the way you live your life and has determined that if you refuse to get to know her and love her that she will make sure you spend eternity in Hell." Would you even want to meet Sally, let alone get to know her? I don't know about you, but it would seem to me that knowing Sally and life in Hell would be about the same thing.
My job here, I think, is not only to motivate you to share your faith with others, but to help you search the Scripture to determine the nature of the God you are introducing. God is love. That's not just my idea. That's straight out of Scripture. 1 John 4:8 -- "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." And if you want to know how love is defined, look at the life of Jesus. The friends of the paralytic first had to realize that Jesus could and would help their friend. Once they had complete confidence in the love and compassion of Jesus, nothing could stop them. So it should be with us. God is love. If those friends had been distracted from the main thing, the man would have stayed paralyzed...just like the church is remaining paralyzed in many places today. Let's keep the main thing the main thing and let God sort out the rest.
Which brings me to the second observation about this healing story. It is not only the friends who do whatever it takes. Jesus is there to work with them. The friends were trying to introduce the paralytic to Jesus and Jesus is in Capernaeum trying to introduce people to God. When the paralytic is lowered down, Jesus simply tells the man his sins are forgiven. He knows, for the man, that is all that is needed. The physical healing will follow automatically.
But his words have upset the religious leaders who were listening. "Who but God can forgive sins?" they complain. "This man is a blasphemer." Jesus could have thumbed his nose at them since he knew for himself that he did have God's authority to forgive sins -- because he was God in the flesh. But Jesus, also, was ready to do whatever it takes to show people the true nature of God. So he gave them what they needed...evidence of the physical healing. The man got up and walked.
We are not in this making-disciples business alone. God is also willing to do whatever it takes. That's what the whole story of Jesus is about. "OK," says God, "I've given you Moses and the incredible example of freedom from slavery and a promised land. I've given you the prophets who have constantly reminded you who I am and what I want. But it hasn't been enough. So I'll come myself. I'll take on all the limitations of human flesh and show you in a real and physical way the type of God that I am. You will see how much I love you up close and personal. I'll even take on the biggie...I'll even die...in the worst way...without a single friend...mocked by my own religious leaders. And when I rise in glory...because I'm God and you can only kill the human part of me...I'll come back and show you. I'll let you touch the wounds. I'll eat some fish. Whatever it takes for you to believe."
Our God is a whatever-it-takes God, and I believe that we are called to be a whatever-it-takes church. I don't care if you disagree with me on every political and social issue. I don't care if you think I'm wrong about almost every theological issue and position. As I tell a lot of people, I may be wrong, but at least grant that I am so very sincerely wrong. The only thing I feel I need to convince you of is that God is love and that the sole purpose of the people of God from the time of Abraham onward is to get that message out to the world. I don't care if you're liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican or Independent, pro-choice or pro-life, gay or straight, saint or sinner. If you can go that far with me, then we can turn the Seacoast upside down.
Let's keep the main thing the main thing. Go into all the world and make disciples. Pull the roof off and lower them down...it's only a roof. What is a roof or social convention in the face of God? When all is said and done, what is going to be important? Knowing God, that's what. Knowing that God is love. Knowing that God forgives anything and everything. Knowing that God can take paralyzed people and churches and nations and make them walk and leap and praise God. God is already willing to do whatever it takes. Are we?
(c) 2000, Anne Robertson