Years ago- another church, another state, I visited with a woman I’ll call Edna. She was quite elderly, living in a nursing home, suffering with diabetes.
Now there’s no polite way to say this: Edna was flat out mean: she verbally abused the staff at the home with terrible language. She complained constantly about a faithless daughter who ignored her- a daughter who was there several times a week!
Her daughter told me that Edna had nothing good to say about anyone or anything, and spent most of the time she was visiting ripping her for every alleged thing she had ever done.
And, as is so often the case with people like this, Edna had no idea why people didn’t like her. Everything was someone else’s fault; she never did anything wrong.
I visited with Edna the day before she was going to lose her leg because of complications with her diabetes, and told her I had brought communion if she would like.
“No,” she said, “I don’t think so… I haven’t sinned that much…
We are in week 3 of our sermon series, “All in…” in which we are rejoicing in God’s decision to go “all in” with God’s people- becoming one of us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And then, asking the question that goes with it- can you and I go “all in” with Jesus- learn to follow him, become his disciple, and his ambassador to the world.
This is the second straight week where we have had stories of healings… And as we have noted, there are several dangers in these stories.
First, “how come I (or my loved one) haven’t been healed?” And we need to remember, these healing stories are a sign of God’s coming Kingdom- their purpose is to point us to God’s will for wholeness, for wellness.
Yes, there are miraculous cures, I’ve seen them, but let’s remember they’re ultimately temporary. Instead, let’s talk about healing as reconciliation with God- with the people close to us, knowing the peace, the wellness and the wholeness that comes in that Healing.
Then, second: “What does this have to do with me?” These are ancient stories of healing, and I may not be sick- how do they connect with me?
Today’s Gospel widens that circle, considerably!
Yes, it is another story of a wonderful healing- a man paralyzed gets up and walks, let’s not take our eyes off that! Jesus heals again, and in a wonderful fashion- with a word!
But the word- those words touch every one of us! Your sins are forgiven!!!
Jesus’ words set the scribes buzzing- they recognize the claim Jesus is making!
“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask….
Jesus responds, “Which is easier- to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Stand up, and take your mat and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, (he said to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, stand up, take up your mat and go to your home!”
This story tells us who Jesus is! More than wonder worker or healer, this healing shows us without a doubt that Jesus has power, authority to wipe clean a person’s past- offer a new start, a new life by forgiving sins! Jesus is God- God “all in” with God’s creation!
We can divide this man’s life in two: paralyzed and not… Unable to move, and free!
And how is he set free? Through the forgiveness of his sins- by Jesus, the Son of Man- God become human!
Here is an issue for every one of us. I’ve asked this before, let me ask you again: Is there anyone here today who claims perfection? Who never does anything wrong? Who never HAS done anything wrong?
Certainly not me… This is a function of our nature. You would think that after thousands upon thousands of years, if human beings were going to perfect ourselves, we would have done it by now, or at least we’d be getting better- getting closer.
There was a fascinating book written after the fall of the Berlin Wall- the fall of Soviet Communism, entitled The End of History, in which the author argued that with the victory of American free enterprise the world was on its way to peace and prosperity for generations.
In a scathing review, another political sociologist said, “just watch- we’re in for it now, as we see clan, tribe, and religion try and avenge past harm- those will be the destructive forces in our world…”
Who was right? Can we say Yugoslavia- or should I say Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, Chechnya? The rise of Islamic extremism? Rwanda? Ethiopia could be on that path… As nations, as peoples, and as individuals, we fail, regularly and often.
We make bad decisions, wrong choices- we hurt each other and we hurt God! And, truth be told, “paralytic” is not an awful word to describe us.
There’s probably not one person here today who at some point or another- perhaps even right now, who hasn’t felt immobilized- severely limited by our actions or behavior- paralyzed.
Fear, guilt and worry can make it impossible for us to live the lives we want- the lives God wants for us- full, healthy and whole.
In fact, these can negatively impact our health- “worried sick…sick with guilt” are more than just phrases! And even when we deny our behavior- or blame others, the results are still there in our anger and our loneliness.
And these are Jesus’ words for you- for me: “Your sins are forgiven- take up your mat and walk… Learn again what it means to be whole!”
For each of us- for you, for me, Jesus takes our sins upon him on the cross and dies. And in his resurrection from the dead, those sins are forgiven: we are healed!
Paul says this in Colossians 2: 14: “God has forgiven all (not some, but all!) and cancelled every record of the debt we owed. Christ has done away with it by nailing it to the cross!”
Our sins are cancelled- removed from us “as far as the east is from the west,” according to Psalm 103:12…
In that forgiveness, Jesus offers health- healing- for the paralyzed man- for you and for me…
In the cross and resurrection of our Savior- the one with authority, we receive new life- a new relationship with the creator of the universe- a relationship which lasts forever- through our lives, our deaths and beyond…
Because this restored relationship with God, we are offered restored relationships with one another…Because you are forgiven by God, you can ask for forgiveness when you wrong others- and you can offer that forgiveness when you are hurt by others!
By receiving this forgiveness, offered in Jesus Christ, you can leave here today with a brand new start- a new beginning, a new life- changed forever for the better-
No longer paralyzed by what you’ve done or not done- and whenever you sin, you can ask God for forgiveness, knowing that in Jesus, you will receive both forgiveness and the strength to begin again!
That’s the wonderful truth in the phrase that “In Christ, we’re not perfect- just forgiven…”
I got a phone call from Edna’s daughter the next day- the day of her surgery. Could I please come to the hospital right away; Edna was terrified, couldn’t calm down…
She was in pre-op, tossing and turning. When I walked in, she grabbed my hand, and said “Say the 23rd psalm! Say the 23rd psalm!
Now I hadn’t said that psalm from memory since I’d had to in third grade… But with God’s grace, I dug deep, we said it together, and she began to relax.
She was a changed woman after her surgery- not a trace of the old anger or bitterness, even though her leg was gone.
Back at her nursing home, the next time I visited, there was an odd sound coming from her room: she was laughing! (I had never heard that before!)
She had crashed her wheelchair into the wall, practicing for the “Olympics” the home held each year- she was in the wheelchair race.
Her daughter told me Edna had asked for her forgiveness- it was as though God had used her daughter the way God used the faith of the men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus. Because of their faith, the man had learned what it meant to be healed.
We are in this together, brothers and sisters! We can hold each other up! We can be strong for others when they are weak. And when we are weak, there is nothing wrong in asking for help.
There is no reason to wait- not another minute. God’s healing love is there for you! Forgiveness is waiting for you right now- it’s offered all the time!
Admit your need for that love. (It’s fascinating to me that the paralyzed man is silent through the story- doesn’t object to being called a sinner, he knows what he is!
Receive that forgiveness- simply ask Jesus for it, and know that it- and he are there. Come forward and receive Jesus- in the bread and the wine, given and shed for the forgiveness of all your sin.
And for those of you who have been living in that forgiveness for as long as you have, remember this: the paralyzed man would never have gotten to Jesus if it hadn’t been for his friends- the ones who thought to bring him- who were willing to go up on the roof of the house- make a hole in it, and drop the man down.
Were there ever better friends than that- than those who knew about Jesus, and did everything they could to share him with one they knew who needed him…
Is there anyone you know who needs the love and forgiveness offered so freely and generously by our Lord- someone you can invite- can pray for- can share a community where you know Jesus can be found?
Jesus says to you- to me- this day, “Your sins are forgiven- take up your mat- pick up your life- your NEW life, and go home! Live that forgiveness- share that forgiveness, and know what healing and wholeness are!
In Jesus’ Name!