Mark 2: 1-12, February 21st, 2021
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
First Sunday in Lent
“Hear now these ancient words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter two, verses one thru twelve.”
1 When he (Jesus) returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – 11“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12And 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!”
“Having heard with our ears let us open our hearts and minds as we consider the full meaning of this writing.”
My grandfather left instructions for his body to be cremated after his death and his ashes returned to the ground. He did so that others would know he believed the words he spoke every time he did a burial service. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes; from dust we came and to dust we shall return”. These words are also used at Ash Wednesday services. This past Wednesday,’ Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of Lent. Many have observed this event. We as a community allowed it to pass us by as we did not find a safe methodology to administer the ritual of ashes – until after the fact. So, let us take a moment to reflect on its meaning. My grandfather’s death was and is part of the cycle of life. Our grief for those who have died is primarily due to our feelings of lose for a loved one. After someone dies, we only have our memories of them; the few symbolic things left behind will fad, yet our memories of all that they were and still are lies in our hearts, our minds, and our memories. Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us of our mortal humanness. The ashes are meant to remind us that we too shall return to ash and dust, the earth itself, for that is from where we first begun. The pandemic may have tripped us up on our customary ritual, yet it can not stop us from taking a moment to humble ourselves in the sight of God as we prepare ourselves for the journey of Lent.
Our scripture lesson presents for us two profound events, two moments within the recorded ministry of Jesus as documented in the gospel account from Mark. Healing and forgiveness. When questioned Jesus responds with a riddle that leaves those who would question him confounded. “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?” /Mark 2:9/ Nonetheless his riddle clearly says and tells us that Jesus had and has the power to heal and forgive. In the midst this dialog Jesus points to their faith, the man who is healed and those who went to such trouble to bring him to Jesus. “When Jesus saw their faith,” /Mark 2:5a/ In the midst, of the over crowed home where this event is said to have taken place, Jesus was still able to perceive their faith; how profound is that!? As we take time to consider this event, let us reflect on how this lesson shall impact our own faith journeys.
In the Wednesday morning Bible study I lead, I put out several questions for participants to answer before we delved too deeply into the scripture we were reading to ask, “What questions come up for you that we need to address and possibly answer?” We were actually working on the Noah story from Genesis and the question raised was “Why did God create the flood? This is so important for us to take a moment and ask the questions. This is what caused the “Reformation” to take place. A scholarly man dared question the meaning and perhaps the intent of a scripture passage. You and I, we live in the shadow of that reformation and we honor the ability of each of us to, use our own sense of reasoning, combined with our personal experiences, to grapple with holy scripture and ancient traditions as well! The answer to that question is relevant only in the context of that lesson, for we must now tackle the questions that the reading from Mark brings forth. Why did Jesus forgive the man and heal him as well? Was his healing contingent on his being forgiven? Do you see how our questions can open-up a passage and cause us to go exploring for the deeper answer which shall ‘unlock’ the true message for us today. It is crucial we find its current meaning, or we shall only have a story about what happened somewhere else to others and not to ourselves.
One question I asked myself as I first read today’s lesson was, why mix forgiveness with healing? Larry Broding, a theologian I enjoy listening to, puts forth a question for us to consider as well. “What does it mean to be ‘disabled?’ Is it possible to be morally ‘disabled?’ How?” Consider the modern implications to his question combined with my own and we have something to talk about! The man carried into the presence of Jesus via a hole dug through the roof is one thing; physical disabled individuals that need some type of healing. Possibly healing that our modern doctors cannot handle. Possibly the man in the story was able to regain hope and even strength through the faith of those who brought him to Jesus. Clearly, Jesus saw their efforts to bring the man to him as acts of faith. What is moral disability? Some would suggest that when we are morally disabled, we have some aspect of responsibility for our condition. If this be the case than when we become ready, willing, and able to acknowledge this disability we can turn to God through Christ for forgiveness and be healed! We do not have enough information to conclusively decide if this was the case in our scripture lesson, however, it is fairly easy… to see it in others within our own modern society. The question remains – can we see it in ourselves?
William R.G. Loader, of Murdoch University, of the Uniting Church in Australia speaks to us about what he sees and asks of this scripture passage. “And I look out and I see paralyzed men and women, paralyzed congregations, paralyzed ministries and I want to cry; “Your sins are forgiven. Rise take up your bed and walk!? And I treasure those moments of intrusion, when the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends, and I rise from the water and I know there is hope.” After rereading his words several times, I find myself wondering if he, like so many of us pastors, preachers, and teachers, see the failing of our congregations as part of our own lack of faith. However, it is not hard to grasp the concept of paralyzed men and women. I hear stories, I watch the news, and I talk with people in unexpected moments catching glimpses of their perception of life and the world and – I find it startling. Some of us are paralyzed with fear over the pandemic and others of us seem disconnected to the real threat it has for humanity. Either way, extremism seems to be a problem in many circumstances. Being paralyzed morally means we can do something about it. An attitude adjustment may be needed. Or a prayer raised up to God. Perhaps reconnecting with the needs of others that need more help than we ourselves is the answer.
I like the part where our theologian William Loader says, “And I treasure those moments of intrusion, when the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends, and I rise from the water and I know there is hope.” Sometimes being disturbed by an event or persons is exactly what is needed to: “move a muscle and change a thought!” /Original author unknown/ Take for example the list, the ‘to do’ list you write, of things you think you need to get done today. You set it on the end table near the recliner in your living room. You go into the kitchen make a cup of coffee, fixing it just the way you like it, stopping to peer out the window to see what type of truck is driving by; it is one of those big construction trucks filled with gravel, dirt or whatever they are using to fill the lot across the street where they ripped up all the trees last month. You go back to review your ‘to do’ list, but it is not where you set it. Your sixteen-month-old puppy jumps up in your lap and wants to play. Then you notice a torn and shredded piece of paper on the floor. The puppy licks your hand. You realize that your list is now scraps of torn paper on the floor. Just what was so important you had to write it down to remember? “When the heavens are torn apart and the spirit descends!” After you take the puppy for a walk around the block and allow the fresh air to renew and refresh your spirit and your mind, leaving only one thing on the list, which no longer exists, that one thing rises to new importance and inevitably you work on that alone and you do it well. Sometimes it is the simplest of things that give us new hope. Ironically, there are times when doing nothing… but one or two truly important things gains more traction and energy then a half a dozen items that will only bog you down and even if completed – may be done poorly.
What about forgiveness. Some of us know we need to be forgiven, however, unfortunately, there are a great many that do not see such a need in their lives, and sadly believe… that they are infallible and do not need to correct or atone for anything – which they are responsible for! Of course, it is not for we ourselves to judge another, it is however our responsibility to clean up our own messes in our areas of responsibility. We each know the truth of it. Asking for forgiveness is hard enough, having the power to forgive is sacred and first comes from a merciful and compassionate God! We Christians are grateful that Christ made such a big deal about forgiveness of our sins! God knows my sins and I am grateful I have been forgiven! The real challenge is, well there are two major challengers: to stop turning away from the ways of God, thus stop sinning in the eyes of God; and learning how to gracefully forgive others who have wronged us! The gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and the examples and teachings he left for us, are our roadmap which we need to follow – if we want to be “healed and forgiven of our sins!”