s119g00 Somerton Park Sunday 7 20/2/2000

"... your sins are forgiven ..." Mark 2:5.

We are undoubtedly to take the message from this story that our sins were and are forgiven.

I recall a priest once saying to me that it was his experience that God forgave us far more readily than we forgive ourselves, or that we think God forgives us, and I think that this is very true.

It strikes me as very significant that neither the paralysed man nor his friends asked for the man's sins to be forgiven; and so all his sins are forgiven before he had even asked for that, if in fact he ever did ask for that. His paralysis may well have included speech.

I suspect that like us, we don't think that God forgives sins very easily. After all we have been taught that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So there seems to be a good deal of pain associated with having our sins forgiven. In our human logic, surely God would far prefer us not to have sinned in the first place, so that that ordeal on the Cross would not have had to be gone through. We may think that the Cross has made God angry, and that there surely is some lingering resentment that we still fail to measure up and that the cross is still necessary after all these years.

Yet this story has Jesus forgiving this unrepentant sinner before he even asked! It flies in the face of all that we have been taught, of all that we have assumed to be true.

While I was on holidays, I went to the induction of Fr. Graham Roper at Enfield, and the Assistant Bishop preached - always something to which to look forward. He spoke of love which assumed that the relationship had not been broken - that there was nothing in fact to forgive. Here he expressed, probably better than I can, what I too am trying to say.

For Jesus tosses around forgiveness as freely as anything, even when it is not asked for. The healing of the paralysed man assumes therefore something more significant than may immediately appear, because it shows us that this unasked for forgiveness is real and effective. The healing of the paralysed man shows us that the forgiveness of this unrepentant man is real.

We can assume therefore that God is not interested in our soul - searching, our breast - beating or our repentance. We are forgiven if we remember all our sins or forget half of them. We are forgiven if we omit to mention that which is really worrying us. We come to the conclusion that God really isn't interested in our sins and personal failures - whether we "truly repent" or otherwise.

Now this is in fact a very dangerous concept, because if we are forgiven so very easily, God cannot want to have power over us. In the real world, having someone owe us something means that we can exert our authority over them. God forgives, allowing us our freedom, to respond in love, or perhaps to shrug our shoulders and say, well God's no big deal anyway ... I'll get on and live my life as best I can, trying to better next time.

God doesn't forgive us, "hoping beyond hope" that a small proportion of people will love in return. God forgives us unconditionally, well almost unconditionally ...

As I say, this flies in the face of what we have traditionally been taught in Church, for it has been assumed that those in Church have been forgiven, and so it follows, inexorably but quite incorrectly, that those who don't come to Church haven't been forgiven. We are forgiven when we come to Church. Those who don't come to Church therefore either (obviously) done something which God won't forgive, or they perceive this to be so, or they won't admit their failures, and they won't humble themselves before the Almighty ...

But our story today is that it was Jesus' faith that God forgives before anyone repents ... we here in Church and those who don't come ... and so God has already forgiven those who don't come to Church.

God forgives, not to gain followers, but that we, and all people, might forgive others.

God is not the scrooge par excellence, up in heaven, counting his faithful, day by day - congratulating him or her self because of an increase in the number of "Christians" down there - or alternatively having a "bad hair" day because some seem to have wandered from the way.

God's love for us is that we might love others around us. It is only if we don't forgive others as easily as God forgives us, that God's forgiveness may well be withdrawn.

We, as well as everyone else, do not have to earn our forgiveness, it is offered freely to all. The appropriate response on our behalf is to forgive others in our daily lives.

And for us in the Church it may be to forgive others for not being part of our community and fellowship. There are many people whose life and ministry is outside the walls of the Church, in the care of their family, in their struggle to "make ends meet". Their ministry might be in caring for others, being part of a team in a factory. Others may be shyer even than us :-) Others may find our worship styles alien to their own perceptions of God and the faith. I mean I have been an Anglican all my life - and I am so imbued with the Anglican ethos I couldn't be anything different. But it would be presumptuous of me to expect everyone else to worship God in the same manner to which I am accustomed.

It is interesting to me that the elderly find a quiet undemanding fellowship, security and amusement "playing the pokies". It is surely a by-product of our anonymous suburban life. People crave some little human contact and do so as they relate to those people on either side of them, playing adjacent machines. It is a sadness to me, and somewhat of an inditement on the Church, that more people do not find this sort of UNDEMANDING fellowship here. Who would want to deny anyone this little fellowship? While I lament the grocery money spent by those addicted to the machines and the devastation that wreaks on innocent family members, the reality is that there is little fundamental difference between the "pokie parlour" and the stock exchange. Both are dangerous places to enter - the reality is that all life is a gamble. And what is the difference between internet gambling and internet share dealing - perhaps even the odds are much the same.

I draw your attention to the words: "When Jesus saw their faith ..." The words are not "When Jesus saw his faith ..." - that is the faith of the paralysed man. He saw their faith, and I strongly suspect that Jesus was here referring to the faith of the four friends - after all it was they who were doing something. The paralysed man couldn't do anything. No, it was the four friends who brought the man, who removed the tiles and dug through the roof - it was they who lowered the man towards Jesus. Jesus saw a faith in these four which included someone else.

And so the authority of our faith is that we are confident to bring others before the Lord, before they repent, before they actually do anything for themselves, knowing that God will bless the other with forgiveness and healing, with all that the other needs.

And so the importance of the words "go to your home" - not "sit there and listen to my words". God's blessings are not to "get us in" either.

So our role as the Church is to be the four friends - to accept people as they are - not for what they might contribute. They may well be forgiven but remain paralysed.

The faith of the Church is to know that God blesses others as they are, whoever they are, whatever they believe, in all their dumbfoundness and paralysis, and completely without obligation.

Acting as these four friends did, we too, in having and proclaiming faith that God blesses the other, effectively bring others before the Lord, knowing that they will find healing and forgiveness before they even ask for it, before they even recognise either the need for it in their lives or even that this is possible. And so it is that the gospel is spread.

It is only here that the CONDITIONAL nature of God's forgiveness becomes plain. If we don't do this - and by this I mean if we expect others to change, to become like us, to live up to our expectations - we are effectively withholding from others the fact of forgiveness without asking or earning; and as a result OUR own forgiveness is in jeopardy.

The faith that I hold is that God blesses us and all people before we repent, before even we know our need. This is the nature of the God I worship. To worship any other god is simply not worth it.

The cured paralysed man had not even the presence of mind to express any thanks.


Links to other sites on the Web:

About the author and links.

To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.

To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.

Back to a sermon for next Sunday.