08 Mar In Community With Our Neighbor
To watch and listen to Pr. Sheryl’s sermon, please click here.
In the Room
If you were to listen to the first chapter of Mark’s gospel read aloud, what might strike you is the description of the ever-growing crowds that surround Jesus as his ministry really begins to unfold.
Every time Jesus heals someone, his fame spreads. By the end of chapter 1, Mark’s gospel records “that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”
Today, we begin Chapter 2 of the gospel of Mark (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus is teaching a crowd that is so tightly packed inside of a house that there is no longer any room for people to even stand at the front door to hear what he is saying.
Being in such a crowd seems like the last place we’d want to be during these COVID times. But at any other time, wouldn’t it have been great to be in that room? It would have felt like such a score to have made it inside – to be in a home, listening personally to Jesus. We’d be hanging on his every word, because what else would matter, right? We wouldn’t give a thought to anything else. At least until pieces of the roof would start to splat on our laps or our heads.
Only then, when the roof would start crumbling with bits raining down on us … only then might we notice that our dedication to Jesus could be keeping others away from him? Others who need to be near him as much as we do.
Keeping Others Out?
Outside the house there is a paralyzed man in desperate need. His desperate friends are trying to get him some help — and they can’t get to Jesus – because of people like us.
Don’t get me wrong. When we gather here, all together inside – even virtually, to be fed by Jesus’ words, it is a wonderful experience to come together and receive inspiration by God’s Holy Spirit.
We are all desperate for spiritual food – especially in these times we are living in right now, aren’t we? And Jesus gives us even more than what we seek.
Yet, as we ourselves experience the healing and strength that Jesus brings, we need to keep something else in mind. We need to remember to turn – and also be friends who can enable other people to get close to the Lord.
There are some of us who are doing a great job at that. But there are others among us who haven’t ever tried to help different people in their life experience Jesus. There are plenty of us here together “under one roof” today who have forgotten that helping others get close to the Lord is part of our Christian calling.
Now there is another location to imagine ourselves within in today’s gospel. Instead of inside the house, have you ever imagined yourself up on the roof?
Up on the Roof
I loved this story as a kid growing up when I attended Sunday Church School ages ago. Even as a kid, I wasn’t an arts and crafts person. But as a child in Church School, this story was always a blast to re-create! It’s one of the only Church School lessons I still remember. Our class glued popsicle sticks together for a mat. We tied strings on the four corners of that stick mat. We cut out a paper doll for the man who needed healing.
Then, all of us in our class pretended to rip away a roof on a pretend house to lower this paper man in front of Jesus. I remember the excitement of taking a roof off to get someone to Jesus! We kids were part of getting someone to Jesus. And it took a little team of us to make it happen!
Remembering that excitement, I resonated with what blogger Martha Spong wrote when she imagines herself in yet another different spot in today’s story. She writes: “Sometimes I wish someone would do this for me, put me right in the middle of it with Jesus, put me right in front of his face and make it so he will look me in the eye and see me and fix what is wrong with me. And I’m not sure whether he would offer to heal me (my toe joints are pretty bad right now) or forgive my sins (they’re pretty bad right now, too), but I know I would take either. And sometimes I realize that’s exactly what we’re doing for each other, friends, when we pray for one another. We see the crowded situation around Jesus, and we find a way to get on top of the house and remove the roof and dig through it, and we put our friends in need right where they need to be, in front of Jesus. Thank you for doing that for me. I’m glad to do it for you, too.” (“they removed the roof”, Martha Spong Blog, Feb 13, 2012)
Martha is talking about Intercessory prayer here. Praying for people we know or don’t know and placing them and their needs before Jesus. Intercessory prayer is one of the ways, as Christians, that we open the way to get others near Jesus. But prayer is only one way. There are certainly others.
Leaving Room for New People
With that thought in mind, can I confess to you that I’m a little worried about opening both of our church campuses again to gather for in-person worship? Oh, I’m not overly worried about our safety of being together in person. We have a group of wise leaders helping us figure out those safety protocols.
Instead, I’m worried that when we start gathering in-person again and we are all together as a whole church body of Christ at Good Shepherd, we’re going to want our time together to go back to the way things were. And I’m going to be bold enough to propose that that attitude is something for all of us to worry about.
Because longing to go back to the way things were can lead us into the grave danger of only looking inward and thinking about ourselves. Our interests can easily narrow. None of us expect to physically fill all of our chairs and pews in church each Sunday. But mentally and spiritually, as we start to come back together again, we are at risk of filling our ministry desires with only our own plans to take care of ourselves. And if we go in that direction as we come out of the other end of this pandemic, we will leave no room to get new people to Jesus. We’ll squeeze out from our awareness those who still need to get to him.
I hope this worry of mine is unfounded. Instead, as we continue forward as Good Shepherd Church, I hope together we will build on the part of our identity of being a community of faith that brings people to Jesus. I want to continue to band together in various ways in this faith community to be the ones who carry our friends, who assist our neighbors, who reach out to strangers and rip open roofs.
I want to be a part of this group of Christians at Good Shepherd who love other people so much that we do crazy things to get people to the Lord. I want to be up on the roof as much as I want to be under the roof with Jesus, don’t you? Who knows what that looks like, but it sure will be fun to try figure it out, won’t it?
Bring Others Into the Presence of Jesus
One Christian writer whose words I read this week put it this way – and I love this – “Sometimes the roof has to crumble before we can see what the Church is supposed to be.” (“When the Roof Crumbles”, Rev. Reggie Weaver, Sept 9, 2012, Day1.org) That speaks right to where we are as Christians and as Good Shepherd, in this moment, doesn’t it? We’ve been out from under our church roof for quite some time now. How do we take what the Holy Spirit has been teaching us about being disciples of Jesus when we aren’t under one roof – and use these lessons to open ourselves to bring others into the presence of Jesus?
Our gospel story today closes with an exclamation of wonder. Perhaps this exclamation can be our encouragement as we go forward. Not only did Jesus physically heal this man lowered through the roof into his presence, but he also declares that his sins are forgiven – all in one motion. As a result, all who saw and heard what Jesus had done for this man were amazed. The Bible reports that in their amazement, they glorified God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
“We’ve never seen anything like this.”
We have never known a Lord who doesn’t object to having a house wrecked, in order that people in need might receive his healing and forgiveness. We have never seen a teacher who asks his closest students to move over to create more room for those in greater need get to him. We have never seen a Savior who wanted to reach out beyond his inner circle like this in order to save.
I pray, as we press on in the ministry of Jesus Christ through Good Shepherd, that our neighbors also exclaim as they see the love of the Lord pour out through us…“we have never seen anything like this!”
Thanks be to God. Amen.