The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s119g12  Sunday 7  19/2/2012

‘which is easier?’   Mark 2.9

What an incredibly audacious thing to do, to get up on the roof and dig through the ceiling!    I mean it was hardly likely that any of these were the owner of the house.  The owner of the house was most likely in the front row, listening to Jesus.   The friends could have been charged with vandalism!   And what a dangerous exercise: they could have all fallen through and injured themselves and those in the crowd below.  They could have all ended up paralysed!   Indeed I bet the crowd below wouldn’t have appreciated bits of the ceiling raining down on them.   So instead of focusing on the paralysed man today, my attention has been drawn to the four who carried him and how far from paralysed they were.   They were thoroughly active and reckless.

I guess I am not alone in Christchurch to have felt paralysed during the past 18 months.   As aftershock has followed aftershock, I have felt paralysed, unable to do much at all except attend to the job of keeping body and soul together.   It has been hard to think about tomorrow, to make plans very far ahead.   You never knew when your plans would change as you had to clean up the pantry yet again!   A recent edition of the local paper predicted that we have a 1% chance of a magnitude 7 shake this year, so it really hasn’t ended, even now.    Interestingly the people least paralysed have been the university students, led by Sam Johnson, who have rallied together with shovels and wheelbarrows to help remove mountains of liquefaction from people’s homes.   The other group of people for whom life seems to have continued largely unaffected is the local prostitutes, though even they have had to move.   I guess they are well used to living on the edge in a hostile environment, never quite knowing when the next crisis will happen.  As we have been looking for a house to live in, in our retirement, we have not been privy to where the next aftershock will not be centred!   Even now as we have bought one, one isn't sure it's the wisest thing to do.

And it strikes me, in complete contrast to these reckless friends, how paralysed the orthodox and the devout were.   They couldn’t even pronounce forgiveness, and protested when they witnessed someone who was free to do so.   Which makes me ask just how much of orthodoxy and devotion is really self-imposed paralysis, justifying inaction and stopping other people from doing things?  

Jesus saw the faith of these audacious and reckless friends.    When I hear some church people talking about contending ‘for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 1.3), this seems code for not changing anything - to sanctify paralysis.   Indeed, to hear some ‘christians’ speak one could get the impression that the testimony of Jesus and the early church has in the intervening centuries been slowly decaying away.   The task of the church has always been to return to the past!   How many congregations are ham-strung by self-appointed gatekeepers, nay-saying any new idea?  

Jesus sees faith in those who did something, in contrast to the orthodox and the devout who questioned and debated.   Indeed sometimes one could think that the orthodox and the devout questioned and debated in order to not do something, to not be helpful.   Their concept of faith and Jesus’ concept are entirely opposite.   And they were mightily displeased when they were contradicted, enough to have Jesus killed.   That would stop Jesus being so presumptuous and blasphemous!

Jesus saw faith in those who did something, in people who got their hands dirty digging through the ceiling, in contrast to the orthodox and the devout for whom religion was an intellectual exercise which inevitably alienates others who are judged less intellectual.   Those who didn’t join in their theological debates where they thought they, of course, had the upper hand, were despised.

Jesus saw faith in those who did something, not in those who spent their time observing the 10 commandments, which are mostly about what we shouldn’t do.   And the one which commands us to do something: honour your father and mother has been superseded by Jesus’ words: ‘If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?   Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?   And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?   Do not even the Gentiles do the same?   Be perfect.’  (Matthew 5:46-48)   Jesus was reckless in associating with the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the sinners.

The question: ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ is interesting.   It presumes that the most important thing is one’s relationship with God.   Many 'christians' look to their acceptance of the Cross of Jesus to be personally for them as the basis of God’s forgiveness.   But Jesus says: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’   The more important thing is humanity’s readiness to forgive others.   However I have to question how much the church actually believes this when she doesn’t forgive others when they don’t believe in precisely the same terms as her members.   Again, we have an organisation which is ever ready to impose a personal religion on others yet not respond to the gospel imperatives on a corporate level.   Which does the most harm by neglecting the gospel imperative – the individual or the corporate?

We are called to do the easy thing.   We may not be able to reach out, touch and heal someone else, but it is easy to forgive others being different.   In fact it is hard not to forgive others.   I recently heard a preacher and some words he said struck me: that sometimes being faithful to Jesus means disciplining others when one’s love would mean we would prefer not to.   The instinct is to love and to not raise an issue but faithfulness demands it.   Fascinating that this person sees faithfulness to Jesus being divorced from loving others.   The natural instinct is to love and it is religion (misused) that holds us back!

I want to return to the audaciousness of real faith in contrast to the fear and paralysis of pretend faith.   We do not have to justify to anyone what we do for someone else.   I wonder what some conservative church folk would do if the paralysed man in today's story was gay!   I mean there was an obvious love between the friends.    If you were to ask me which part of the Anglican Communion is least paralysed it would be the Episcopal Church in the USA and Canada, where gay and lesbian persons are ordained and where the church blesses same gender relationships.   The Anglicans represented by GAFCON want to paralyse the rest of the church, indeed I suspect that they rather relish doing it!   The delicious power of the filibuster.   If they can't have their way, no-one else is going to have theirs.

Jesus comes to cure paralysis where that cure is desired.   The orthodox and the devout loved their paralysis too much to want to be cured.   Their paralysis had become 'normal'.  It was sanctified paralysis.   Their 'god' and their faith paralyzed them, and any sane person would realize that anything that causes paralysis is demonic, not divine.

We are to reach across the boundaries in an audacious manner.   This was the manner of Jesus' life: his detractors labelled him 'a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners' (Matt 11.19), healing on the sabbath, setting aside the cleanliness regulations, mixing with heretics and women.   It was this audaciousness that so alienated the orthodox and the devout, and the same choice remains before us all.   Will we be led by the Spirit and follow Jesus, putting aside our scruples and accepting those who are different, even when scripture and tradition tries to dictate otherwise?  Will we choose to live audaciously or choose paralysis and try to inflict this on others?  

Which is easier, and the question needs to be directed, not just as a personal choice, but one which affects those around us.   Which is easier for those around us?   If our unhesitant, indiscriminate and unconditional acceptance makes life easier for others, surely Jesus calls us to do so!   It seems pretty impossible for a woman who feels called to the sacred ministry to change her gender, and it seems hard to suggest to someone who shares their intimate affections with someone of the same gender that they should separate and choose someone that doesn't confront our theology!    Expecting someone else to change their theology is perhaps equally as unlikely, but it is, I suppose, just possible.

And surely the call to repentance is the invitation to make life easier - for ourselves and for others, and to do this in the sure faith that this is what Jesus did and calls us to follow.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"