The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s119g06 Lockleys Sunday 7 19/2/06 (final service at Lockleys)
"Jesus saw their faith" Mark 2.5
This is a remarkable story!
We have just begun reading the second chapter of the gospel of Mark and I reflect that on Sunday 4 Jesus found a person with an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum, on Sunday 5 we were told Jesus preached in the synagogues and cast out demons (there in the synagogues?) and today we find him back home at the synagogue at Capernaum and finding grumbling and opposition again -- all in the space of one chapter and bracketed, as it were, by the call of the first disciples and the call of Levi.
It strikes me how early in the gospel story we are shown that uncleanness, evil and now opposition to words of grace are found right in the place where the word of God was presumably proclaimed and supposedly heard. And I have commented all along that this should alert us to the fact that uncleanness, evil and opposition to words of grace are as likely to be found in the Church as well.
By contrast to this, Jesus sees faith. He sees faith in this man and his four friends. I suspect Jesus saw faith -- not in himself and his power or preparedness to heal -- but in their readiness to do something for someone else. For there can be no doubt that the grumblers grumbled because Jesus was doing something for someone else. This person and his friends had jumped the queue and got in ahead of them. The religion of the grumblers was all about their own standing and prestige, whereas the religion of the four friends was about what they could try to do for someone else. It is quite certain that the scribes would not have questioned in their hearts or out aloud, had Jesus declared the forgiveness of their sins .. They would have believed that they deserved forgiveness ..
Jesus saw the faith of the five people doing something for one of their number, and Jesus sees our faith when we are doing something for someone else. Our faith is not about some presumed position of standing and prestige within the community. Our faith is that God blesses others as well as us.
Jesus enabled this paralysed person to walk, and I point out again, that time and again throughout scripture the divine lifts people to their feet. This means far more than how we get from A to B. It means that we, and all people, are meant to stand before the Almighty rather than grovel, and to use our God-given brains to the best of our ability.
The Church has not always been good at lifting others to their feet. It is much more fun keeping others subservient. And the debates about orthodoxy can keep us amused and they make it sound as if we are religious.
This person was paralysed, for all his efforts he couldn't move. And I guess there are times when we think that we too are paralysed. We too might be stuck in some groove or other. Indeed we might make a virtue of remaining stationary. The Church has in the past proclaimed: "as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." Jesus here doesn't just give us permission to move, he enables us to move on.
A while ago I was talking to someone who had suddenly got some choices in life and she was wondering what God wanted her to do. I asked her if she thought God minded what she did. That caused her to ponder for a while. I said that God wanted the best for her. God didn't want her to do something she didn't want to do -- something less than fulfilling. Perhaps all she had to do was to choose what would be the most fulfilling for her and get on with it -- knowing that that was what God wanted for her. All she had to do was to choose the path that was most likely to be the most fulfilling -- which I confess wasn't easy.
And today as I do my final preparations to move on tomorrow, I rejoice that I am not stuck, here or anywhere else.
A long time ago I knew someone who was in the Penguins Club in the country. (The Penguins Club is a female version of Rostrum -- a place where one can become comfortable with public speaking -- I must go one day :-) They were very sad when this person moved to the city as they had hopes that she would form the nucleus of a continuing group. But she used that confidence in other ways after her move. And I reflect that the Church is like this. There are people for whom the Penguins Club is a way of life -- their job is to keep the club going so that other people can come, get some skills and then go out into the world to use them. Both are necessary. If people don't come and go out with renewed skills into the world, the purpose of Penguins would be stunted to say the least.
So, with the Church. Some of us are here and we make this our life, so that others can come and gain some things necessary to make a contribution in the wider world. If this second doesn't happen, then there is little point for the Church to exist, except as any other club of like-minded individuals. I think of our Bridge Club for example. They come to enjoy each-others' company and the game and good on them! They don't actually exist for the betterment of society and I am not suggesting they should. (I should hasten to add, for those who don't know, that our Bridge Club does make substantial contributions each year to the running of the Church and the Christmass Bowl.)
We in the Church are not just here for the good company and playing the religious game. We are actually here for the betterment of society. Well, if we actually want God's help -- then our aim must actually be the second! We don't need God's grace just to enjoy the company and the game, so we are not likely to see it.
Jesus saw their faith -- he didn't hear them reciting any words of scripture, singing any psalm or reciting any creed. Jesus sees our faith; faith is something seen, in our actions one towards another, in our preparedness to move.
To return to a neglected theme of mine -- that our atonement with God is dependent on our atonement with others. These five friends, the four who carried and the one carried were at one with each other. Such an enterprise was not undertaken lightly or single-handedly. No wonder Jesus first words were: "Your sins are forgiven". Their atonement one with another secured something they hadn't ever dreamed of receiving -- the forgiveness of their sins. The scribes rejoice in their separateness and their superiority and no atonement with God is possible, despite their theological acumen.
Rejoice -- Jesus sees our faith -- our preparedness to move -- and to help those around us as we can. We do not have to grovel, submit, switch off our brains, recite the correct formula, remain in one place, or be unfulfilled. Jesus sees our faith; invites and enables us to move; to love and be loved. All we have to do is to be at one with others -- rather than at loggerheads with others. It might be that we help carry someone else, it might be that we are helped by others by being carried, it doesn't really matter. We will be at one with God, our sins will be forgiven, and we can go wherever we will.
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