This is more "note-y" than usual, but here it is.
Casting call - which part do you want to play? Which will you read for? High school drama productions, it was always what we discussed. What part do you want? And I loved it when there were LOTS of parts. (When there were only two or three, I could bet that my very talented and beautiful sister would get one and I would end up on doing Props or Make up.)
Suppose we were going to act this story out. In Wednesday afterschool sunday School, we really are going to act it out. Or at least we’re going to try. When I told the kids we were going to act out the story - immediately a couple of them wanted to be Jesus. For the purposes of this sermon, at least, let’s just say that that part has been taken. None of us is Jesus. And isn’t that a relief?
This story has lots of big, juicy parts. Which part is the one you want to play?
Let’s look at the AVAILABLE parts:
We have many parts for extras. Those who came to hear Jesus speaking the Word. These folks crowded around Jesus, filled up the house where he was, and the doorways, and sat in the windows. They came to see what all the fuss was about and to hear what this man, who had grown up in the neighborhood, had to say. Is this a part that almost any of us could play convincingly. We are curious about this Christ. We’d be interested in giving him a hearing. We’d walk across the street to see what all the commotion is about. Who wouldn’t?
But there’s more to this part. Do you have the elbows and the death stare to play it? You see these folks got a good seat at the show, and they didn’t care about much but enjoying the Jesus’ performance. They got there first, after all. They had a right to be there. So when the next characters enter the scene, they feel called to hold their position. They don’t let the latecomers, the newcomers get in.
I was once at a sale. A really good, going out of business sale. At a really good shop in Topeka Kansas. The last day of the sale everything was going to be 90% off, and my friend Jim Buskirk and I met there about 7 oclock. We weren’t the first. But we were in pretty good position. And we were prepared to wait, which we did. We had our coffee. We had each other’s company. Gradually, lots of others joined us. The store was going to open at 8. And about 7:55, clear at the back of the crowd, and woman’s voice rang out. Excuse me! Excuse me! My dad is up there. I need to get to my dad. Daddy! Here I am. She was pushing and shoving her way to the front of the line. Jim and I looked at each other and instantly linked elbows.
We would have been right at home in Capernaum, surrounding Jesus and protecting our place in his presence.
Do you want to play that part in the story? Do you want to be part of the crowd that protects its place, even though it requires keeping others away from Jesus? Well - maybe in some sort of play. But it’s an attractive part for members in churches around the world - part of the crowd. gate keepers One problem that some churches have is that they’ve got a lot of these crowd members. Some think a certain pew belongs to them. Or a certain ministry is their exclusive domain. But I hope that none of us, when we stop to think of it, will want to play that part in real life!
But don’t worry - there are other parts.
The heroes of the story are the four friends who, at great personal cost and trouble, bring their buddy and place him before Christ. Now I want you to realize - these aren’t speaking roles. And they are very demanding.
This is an example of ensemble acting. I’ve always pictured it as four men, four guys who take life by the horns and “get ‘er done!” But it could be women, too. Or a couple of couples. Could you play this part? Do you relish a challenge? Do you have a big heart? Are you as stubborn as the day is long? Because the part is not an easy one. You can throw your back out, sometimes, bringing folks to Jesus. But these guys were persistent, too. They see that the door is blocked. They can’t get through the usual way, but do they give up? No! They haul the mat and the man up the flight a stairs, and proceed to dig through the roof of the house in order to put their friend before Jesus. They wouldn’t rest and they wouldn’t give up bringing their friend to Jesus.
This is a part of the story that I pray we will all learn and act out in our real lives. Bringing people who need healing and forgiveness into Christ’s presence.
One way - I’ll admit it, the FIRST way a preacher thinks about - is to invite them to church. To put them in physical proximity to a community where Christ lives. Just invite them to be where the church is - at worship, in fellowship, in mission. And inviting once is rarely enough. Rarely. You have to offer over and over, and in the mean time, you can carry them to God in prayer, over and over and over again. Just bring them into Christ’s presence and have faith that He will do his Saving Thing.
It’s a far better part - though more difficult - than the part of the scribes in this little drama. These are the guys that have been listening to the goings on and choose to criticize what is happening. The script says, “They began to discuss in their hearts and then whisper to each other, “What’s going on here?”
In real life, there are always people who play this part. I have a pastor friend who gets an email every Monday morning, letting him know what he did wrong in the service on Sunday. Every Monday morning. He didn’t say the prayer right. The hymn selection stunk. He forgot to announce the page number for the Bible reading. Something. I am so thankful that I don’t have such diligent scribes in this congregation. Cause every Sunday, I know I make mistakes! And I don’t mind hearing about them, every once in a while. Maybe that is better than having folks whispering amongst themselves. But I have to wonder, is that really the role that anyone wants to play? The critic? I hope not.
There is one other part you might consider: the part of the paralytic man who finds himself gathered up, strapped in his stretcher, lowered through the roof and set down in front of Jesus. There are times in every life when we need to play this part. When we need someone to do this for us, put us right in front of Jesus’ face, where he can look us in the eye and we can look up from the floor where we are lying and see that glorious face, and let him do what he needs to do to get us up and moving again. Sometimes we need that word of forgiveness. Jesus says, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” For one thing, I love that Jesus called the man, “My child.” There’s something so precious about being reminded that that is how God sees us. This may sound strange, but the guy who used to work at the shop where I took my car called me “Kiddo.” “Hey, Kiddo!” I never missed an oil change on that car, because I so loved to hear that greeting. It made me feel like part of the family, and not the part that had to figure things out and fix them. Someone else was in charge. Kiddo. The guy at the Nissan place now calls me “Ma’am.” It’s not the same.
Last week someone said to me, “You’re a good kid. It’s going to be all right.” That’s what Jesus said to the man on the mat. Kiddo, you are forgiven.
We have no idea what “sins” that man had weighing him down. But we know what it is like to be so burdened with guilt and regret that we can’t go on. To have a past mistake always playing itself out in our minds and hearts, keeping us from moving into the future God has planned for us. Sometimes we need to be that man who is forgiven.
And wonderful are the times when the forgiveness is followed by healing! Maybe you wonder, like I do, why Jesus forgives before he heals this character. One possibility is that by forgiving and then healing, Jesus is attempting to break through people’s natural but WRONG tendency to connect sin with physical sickness, or financial poverty. Back then, this connection was especially strong. People thought that if someone was sick, or disabled, it was because they were being punished by God for doing something wrong. Remember at one point when Jesus and the disciples encounter a blind man and the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
And Jesus said, “Neither.” We aren’t quite that cruel these days, but there is still a tendency to put all the responsibility for some crippling situations on the one who is crippled by them. If people are poor - they must be lazy. If kids don’t read well, the parents are unfit. If there is a car crash, somebody must have been drinking. I don’t know why that makes us feel better. Because things are usually much more complicated than that. So Jesus forgives the man first. So that the people don’t think that his problems are God’s punishment. That’s a possibility, at least.
But, wonderfully for the man - and for his friends who drug him there and whose arms were probably too tired to drag him back home, Jesus also heals the man, telling him, “Get up! Take up your bed and walk.” The story isn’t complete until the person who is healed is able to stand on his own and move out into the world as a living testimony to God’s love and power and grace. Mark says, “It blew people’s minds when they saw it!”
So do you have it in you to play that part? To get up, roll up the mat you came in on, and walk out into the world to demonstrate what Jesus can do? Is that the part for you?
That’s the part I want. That’s the part I want for all of us.