Dear Ones, grace to you and peace from God, who mothers us, who redeems us, and who sustains us. Amen.
We are a people on the move. Last week, Pastor Meta talked about what it means to be about the work of becoming together. That’s precisely where the gospel of Mark meets us today. Mark’s account of Jesus is action-packed. We’re just at the beginning of chapter 2, and we’ve already heard about John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. We’ve heard how Jesus has begun his ministry of healing and teaching in the Galilee region and beyond, and that he’s beginning to attract rock star size crowds of people who want to see what he’s about. He has to slip away during the night in order to find quiet time to reflect and pray in the surrounding wilderness. Jesus’ ministry is on the move.
Mark likes to use words like immediately and AMAZING! He isn’t one to let the grass grow underfoot. There’s no time for such things. There’s a story to tell. There’s good news to share! Immediately! You get the picture…
Sometimes, that means leaving out a few details – like a name for the man lowered through the roof to encounter Jesus – or even so much as a “how do you do” from him. Neither he nor his friends speak a single word in this entire scene. I have to admit that these, as well as a few other details, make me very uncomfortable. The most troublesome one is this: many people in Jesus’ day believed that if a person was blind, deaf, mute, paralyzed, or otherwise physically different from them, their physical condition was a punishment for some egregious sin. It didn’t even have to be their sin; it could be something their parents did. It was one more reason to consider the person unclean and cast them aside. On the surface, Mark doesn’t seem to do anything to contradict that notion, but there’s something deeper going on.
One thing that’s very clear in this story is that faith is at the root of Jesus’ actions of both forgiveness and healing for the man who makes the dramatic entrance. Strikingly, it’s not the man’s faith, not only his faith anyway, that gets Jesus’ attention. It’s the faith of the people who bring him to Jesus. It’s when he sees THEIR faith that he speaks words of forgiveness – of healing and wholeness – to the man. Faith is an active, communal thing. The friends don’t just give up when they see the impassable crowd gathered around Jesus. They get to work, hoisting their friend up onto the roof, then digging right through the thatch to find another way to Jesus. In our terms, they’re being church with, and for, the man.
In contrast, the religious establishment, the scribes in this case, get hung up on the details, failing to recognize the amazing new thing that’s happening before their very eyes. “You can’t forgive sins; only God can do that,” they think so loudly Jesus can hear them. Jesus has no patience for their unbending ways. He calls them out on it. You’re the ones who have let this man and countless others like him believe that they were being punished for sin. Baloney! He is a person, a beloved child of God. Not only do I have the authority to forgive his sins, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing! By first offering forgiveness, Jesus destroys the notion that sin is what has landed this man on a mat, dependent upon the kindness of his community for transportation and his very existence. It is the sinfulness of the broken system, the system perpetuated by those in power that misleads others to judge and to withhold grace and forgiveness. Jesus calls the scribes and everyone who will listen to use all the tools and abilities God gives us to work to bring about forgiveness, healing, and wholeness – to welcome the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Put quite simply, Jesus calls us to an active life of faith. Immediately! We’re called to be on the move.
How appropriate that we are encountered by this text on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Like Jesus, Dr. King recognized that faith is an active, vibrant thing, something that opens us up to life-giving change. Something that refuses to let the broken systems of this world continue to oppress those whom we are called to love. Like our unnamed man and his friends, he recognized that faith is something that draws us into community and calls us to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors fiercely. He knew that the important work of the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t his to tackle alone. He knew that he was joined by people like Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Marian Anderson, James Baldwin, Mahalia Jackson, and countless others who were church with, and for, him and our entire nation.
He knew that his dream was just that – a dream – something to draw us forward. A thing to inspire hope and national aspirations for God’s justice in a very broken world. He knew that it wasn’t going to be an overnight process to break down all the deeply flawed traditions, institutions, and beliefs that perpetuate oppression and sinful systems like racism and white privilege. I don’t know if he’d have predicted just how strong the hold of those systems would still be in the year 2020, but spurred on by Mahalia Jackson’s words, “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” he’d have shared that hopeful dream over and over again.
The work Jesus was up to when he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the work Dr. King and his compatriots were up to is far from over. We still have a long way to go. And that work all begins with a word of forgiveness. When we are forgiven for the things that bind us, and when we forgive others for the things that bind them, we are freed to raise the roof, to tear open a hole in the ceiling that limits us. We are freed to soar.
There is so much that binds us and immobilizes us – self-doubt, mental and physical health struggles, racism, bigotry, poverty, partisanship, greed, fear, hopelessness, and on and on. Jesus says, “dear one, I forgive you. Be free from those things that stand in the way of relationship with one another, with me, and with all of creation.” You are called to a life of active faith. You are called to tear holes in roofs, to walk with, or for, those who need help getting to the front of the crowd where they can’t be forgotten or swept aside. You are called to be a people on the move.
There is much to do, and it can be overwhelming, even immobilizing. Know that you’re never alone. You are part of something so much larger than you. When you pick a place to begin, know that God and the church are with you. When you give someone a ride to an appointment, church, the grocery store, the polls, you are the church. When you go to visit someone who can’t get out and about very easily or shovel a neighbor’s driveway, you are the church. When you volunteer for Families Moving Forward, Habitat for Humanity, or any other organization that engages your active faith, you are the church. Those are just a few of the things you are already doing close to home. There’s a great big world out there ready to be a part of your active faith practice.
If you’d like help sparking your creativity about ways to be people on the move, you’re in luck! During fellowship hour, Heidi will help you explore transportation needs in our community and ways that you can live into the invitation of the community who surrounds our friend in today’s story. If you happen to be in need of transportation assistance, she can help with that, too! And, of course, you can explore your own ideas with one another and with your pastors. We are called to be church for one another.
I wouldn’t be very Lutheran if I didn’t remind you, we don’t – we can’t – do anything to earn God’s grace. Like Mark’s unnamed man, God knows your needs before you can open your mouth to express them, and God showers you freely with love and forgiveness. God’s grace frees you to raise the roof, crashing right through it, giving glory to the one who loves you beyond all understanding. You are called to be the church, people on the move, becoming together, walking with Jesus and each other, sharing God’s love and healing with a world that needs it so much.