This sermon was preached on August 8, 2021 by Pastor KJ Norris at Kerr Presbyterian Church as part of a sermon series on Mark.
**Audio File coming soon.**
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
For the rest of the summer and into the early fall, we moving to the Gospel of Mark. You may know that the author of Matthew is known for writing down beautiful prose and prayers of Jesus like the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). And Luke is known for recording Jesus’ amazing parables like the story of the Prodigal Son. John is known for his high theology: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).
But we are turning to Mark. Mark is the book for you who love action-packed adventures. The author of Mark was probably the first to write down the stories of Jesus and his hope was to teach us all who Jesus is by showing us what Jesus does in a wide variety of situations. So, these stories are short and full of action. You are invited to use your imagination as the life of Jesus comes alive to us through Mark’s retelling.
When I was young this story captured my imagination. I had never been outside of the United States and rarely outside of Pennsylvania so the only houses I was familiar with are the houses we have here. Almost all of our houses have slanted roofs with shingles.
As a child when the preacher would read this story, I would not hear anything past the part where 4 friends “removed the roof.” My mind was completely full trying to figure out how to take the roof off my house.
Sure, Clifford the giant red dog had removed the house of a neighbor by sneezing on it. And I was aware that people could lose shingles in really bad storms.
But how on earth could people even climb onto a roof with a person on a stretcher? And then how would they pry off the shingles? And then what is under shingles anyway?
This story made no sense to me, and my imagination ran wild trying to figure it out.
It wasn’t until seminary when this story finally made sense to me. Here are some pictures of ancient houses in the Near East. Notice, they have a lot of similarities and differences to our houses here. Like a standard family house here, they are one or two stories high. But unlike our roofs which are built for four seasons and pitched so that snow doesn’t accumulate on top and bring the roof down, their roofs are flat. It doesn’t snow there so there is no need for slanted roofs.
In many parts of the world which only have two seasons: wet and dry, people have flat roofs. And the roof is a kind of deck where people do all sorts of activities. They hang laundry and dry foods or have social events in the evening when it is cool.
As you can see in these images, there are staircases which often are outside the house which take you up to the roof so that you can join others in a social event without going into the house. And none of these houses have shingles. Instead, in Jesus’ day many roofs were made out of reed mats, strong grasses woven together. And then the reeds were covered with packed mud similar to our stucco houses in the USA or to our old mud bricks.
When the friends got to the house and saw the giant crowd of people trying to get in the main door and listening to Jesus through the windows, they knew they could never get their friend on a stretcher through the crowd to Jesus. So instead, they walked up the stairs to the roof. And as it says in the Greek, they dug through the mud and reed mats to create a hole. And then lowered their friend down to Jesus.
So, now that we are not all distracted by the question of how we can take a roof off of a house without X-men like super powers, let’s take a look at three other things that might astonish us and help us to grow in faith and faithfulness today:
- I want to call your attention to what grabs my attention: the blessing of good friends.
- Let’s pay attention to what amazed Jesus: the faith of the friends.
- Let’s take a look at what astonished the crowds: Jesus forgiving sins.
As I was studying this passage this week, what kept coming back to my mind was what amazing friends this man had. Did you catch the rest of the story after the roof part? A person is paralyzed. His four friends come and pick him up on a stretcher. They go up to the roof, dig through it, lower him down to Jesus so that Jesus can heal him.
We don’t know the paralyzed man’s whole story. We don’t know why he was paralyzed.
And in our story it is a literal paralyzation—he can’t physically move. But I think for our faith development we can think about this symbolically, too. Have you had times in your life when you were paralyzed? I’ve been paralyzed before.
Sometimes we can be paralyzed by fear. We are so afraid of the dangers of this world that we set up boundaries between ourselves and others—we believe that if we build thick enough walls around us than people cannot hurt us. Instead we become trapped in our ownselves–paralyzed–unable to experience love and joy, the good things that being with others brings.
Sometimes we can be paralyzed by indecision. We get into a situation where there seems like there is no good path in front of us. No matter what choice we make, someone could end up hurt by our decision, or there may be other consequences which no one wants but which are simply unavoidable. And the realization that we don’t like any of our choices makes us frozen by indecision.
Sometimes we can be paralyzed by sin. The choices we have made, choices to not follow the ways that God intends for us. We know we are called to a life where the one who reigns over us is Jesus Christ–a life where the Holy Spirit guides us and shows us the path to love and life and faithfulness. We are called to be bound to God. But instead of being wrapped in God’s love, we can all too easily become bound by something else.
–Bound to drugs or alcohol which make the promise of setting us free but which actually bind us, paralyze us into wanting nothing but the substance and numbing our bodies from the good work we are called to do.
–Or instead of being bound to God we become bound to materialism. We think that the things of this world will fill the God-shaped whole in our hearts and we keep buying and buying until we find ourselves unable to leave our houses because of the hording.
Have you ever been paralyzed? I know I have.
Do you have four friends?
This person becomes paralyzed. Just like us. And when this happens in his life, his four friends enter in. They pick him up. And they take him to Jesus.
Notice, the friends don’t try to solve all of his problems. And they don’t do it alone. Sometimes I think we make this mistake. We see a friend in trouble and we want to fix it. We want to lift the burden from them, but we can’t. Or we are in trouble so we call a friend and put all of our worries on them, overwhelming them with the stuff of our lives.
But today we are shown the importance of living a life of faith in community. When we are in trouble, when a friend is in trouble—when we are paralyzed by fear or indecision or by terrible choices we have made—we need community around us to bring us to Jesus. And yes. Today it might be me who is paralyzed. And tomorrow it might be you. And the next day it might be our neighbor. All of us need a little help sometimes.
So, do you have four friends who you can trust with your story when the worst things happens that you can possibly imagine? Not just one person who may come to feel overwhelmed by the weight of your story, but four who can stand together carrying one another in the hard times which each of you will eventually have.
Do you have four people who will pick you up and carry you to Jesus and dig through a roof for you and yes, work together to lower you down—I’m amazed at how they worked together on this project—how they didn’t drop their friend trying to lower him. Think of how difficult that was. If there were four ropes tied to a stretcher and they were each lowering a rope, they all had to move at exactly the same time or he would have fallen. This is incredible team work, but I digress.
Are you a friend to four others? Do you have a team who could work together for the good of another?
My prayer for Kerr is that we will be a place like this. That we will be a place where if one of us falls—falls and becomes paralyzed because of sickness or sin or something else, that there will be others who will pick them up and work together to bring them back to God. The pastor can’t do it alone. The session can’t do it alone. The secular leadership of Penn Hills can’t do it alone. It takes all of us. Working together to support the community around us and all of its members.
On our best days I think we at Kerr are like this. And I’m so grateful for you. And on our worst days, I am reminded that everyone is the person who is paralyzed sometimes. Even I get paralyzed sometimes. I need a help from all of you. There’s no shame in asking for help. And there is great beauty in being a friend. We can’t do everything, but together, we can do a lot.
The second thing we don’t want to miss here is Jesus’ reaction. Our Scripture says that Jesus responds to the faithfulness of the friends. Did you catch that. The person who is paralyzed is so caught up in his own mess that he may not have room within himself to be faithful.
But Jesus looks at the friends and sees their faithfulness and responds. Do you have family members who are lost in the mud of life right now? Or is one of your four friends headed down a path of destruction? We can’t change that person. But what we can do is pray. We can continuously bring them to Jesus. And Jesus hears us. Sees our faithfulness and responds. I know several people who say things like: ‘I was an atheist, but I came to faith because of my mother’s prayers and nothing has been the same since.’ Keep praying for your friends and family. Jesus sees your faithfulness and responds.
And third, the crowds are shocked by what Jesus does. VS 5 tells us, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”
Wooh. This should astonish us, too. Last week we talked about David and how he turned to the prophet Nathan and by extension to God and simply said, “I have sinned” and then God forgave him! And some of you said to me after the service: ‘Did that really happen? Did God really forgive David just because he was willing to admit his wrong doing?’
Well, here it is even stronger. Notice, the man on the stretcher doesn’t even confess. To our knowledge, there is no “ah huh” moment. Of course, God sees the heart so I can’t say there isn’t more to this story than what we see, but I can only proclaim what the Bible says.
It says, Jesus saw THEIR faith and forgave the man on the stretcher.
God is so much more ready to forgive than we are to receive forgiveness. God is so much more ready to forgive than we are to admit our wrong doing. God is so much more ready to forgive than we humans are.
God’s forgiveness truly is larger than our human imagination. We humans often long for punishment, but God longs for transformation. God wants us to be a new creation. God is continuously reforming us into the people God created us to be. God knows we are mud. We take ourselves so seriously. We take one another so seriously. But God knows how very small we are. And God’s love is so incredibly enormous in comparison to our sin.
Even our biggest sins are tiny in comparison to God’s all-encompassing love.
And it is through forgiveness that we have an opportunity to become new creations. It is through forgiveness that our lives are transformed.
Yes, in today’s story, the paralyzed person is healed. But the real miracle is that he is given a chance at a new beginning.
One, let us be friends who work together and who ask for help when we need it.
Two, let us be faithful to not think we can change everything but to trust that Jesus can find a way through.
And three, let us give thanks to God who offers forgiveness in more abundance than we can ever imagine! Let us claim new life for ourselves and for others around us, giving ourselves and others new mercies every day to become the people God intends us to be. Today God is offering you abundant love and forgiveness. Let us be healed. And let us heal one another. Amen.
Fletcher, E. (2006). Houses in Bible Times. Women in the Bible. https://www.womeninthebible.net/bible-archaeology/ancient_houses/