To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Luke 5:17-26
Today we focus upon the subject of friendship. In thinking of friendships, what if we had a friend who had a problem and the doctors told us that there was no cure for their condition? What if, after going through test after test, they were unable to even name the illness? In such situations we can do a few things to help our friend. We can encourage them to keep going to the same doctor and hope for some type of breakthrough. We can encourage them to visit with a specialist. Or we can encourage them to try some type of non-traditional therapy. If we had lived during the time of Jesus, there would have been no such options as those I have just listed. In today’s gospel passage, we see a paralyzed person has four friends who carry him to see Jesus. Upon reaching Jesus, they learn that the house where Jesus was teaching was filled with many people, too crowded for them to make their way through the front door. As often the case, when Jesus taught, a crowd gathered. Despite the crowd, these four friends were not discouraged because they were unable to get through the front door.
This paralyzed person was very fortunate to have four friends with such initiative and imagination. They decide to lower him through a hole in the roof in the middle of this large gathering. The friends climbed up to a high place to place their friend in a low place. Imagine the surprise of Jesus and others who were in this home as a roof made up of leaves, dried mud and sticks began to tear apart. It took among other things, courage for these four to send their friend through the roof to meet Jesus. Perhaps a more appropriate description than the word courage to describe these people is that they were people who had great faith. Their faith gave them the ability to overcome obstacles to get to Jesus. They had faith that Jesus would be able to heal their friend. Jesus recognized their faithfulness and was moved with compassion to respond. How Jesus chose to respond was interesting. Jesus said to the paralyzed person that his sins were forgiven. In order to understand the impact these words had upon the crowd, we must first remind ourselves of the view of God that was held by those who lived during this time.
God was a God of power, the creative force in the universe, the enforcer of justice. God also punished those who were sinful. People believed sins were not forgiven but rather that God provided consequences for sinful actions. For the people of Jesus’ day, they believed that some sort of consequence often in the form of suffering was the result if sins were forgiven. The concept of a loving God was not a part of the theology of the day. Jesus in pronouncing the forgiveness of sins was doing something controversial to the audience gathered. Those who witnessed this event believed that the paralyzed person was guilty of some serious wrongdoing. Jesus did not question the person about his past, nor did he ask him whether he was sorry for anything he might have done. Jesus cut through all of this because of one thing. Jesus was moved with compassion for this suffering man and chose to do something. Here in this passage from Luke, we see through Jesus’ actions the concept of God as a loving God. God was not just a God of power but also a God of love and forgiveness.
Bruce Larson, an Editor for Leadership Magazine once told the story of a Catholic priest living in the Philippines. He was a respected and loved priest who once carried a secret burden of a long past sin buried deep in his heart. He had committed that sin once, many years before, during his time in Seminary. No one else knew of his sin, he had repented, suffered years of remorse for it, but he still had no peace. Although he was a priest he had no real sense of God’s forgiveness in his life. There was a woman in the priest’s parish who deeply loved God, and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ, and He with her. The priest however was very skeptical of her claims, so to test her visions he said to her, “You say you actually speak directly with Christ in your visions. Let me ask you a favor. The next time you have one of these visions, I want you to ask Him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary.” The woman agreed and went home. When she returned to the church a few days later, the priest said, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?” She replied, “Yes, He did.” The priest said, “Did you ask Him what sin I committed in seminary?” “Yes, I asked Him.” The priest was very nervous at this moment not certain whether his ministry would perhaps be ending with her revelation. “Well, what did He say?” She replied, “He said, I don’t remember.” This is what God wants us to know about forgiveness. What God forgives God forgets.
While this seems to be an easy concept for us to understand, like those listening to Jesus that day it can be incredibly difficult for us to accept. As we return to our gospel lesson there was a reason people did not understand or believe what Jesus said about sins being forgiven. Jesus was considered to be simple preacher with no theological training yet he claimed he had the power to forgive sin. Included among the crowd of Jesus were politically powerful people the scribes and Pharisees. These people heard Jesus forgive this person of sin. It was no surprise these people began to question where Jesus had the authority to forgive sins. Considered among the guardians of Judaism, they believed that a person’s illness was directly a cause of their sin. As they continued their protests, Jesus provided more convincing evidence, evidence that the kindness of God provides not only love and forgiveness, but also something else, healing. Jesus said to the paralyzed person, “Rise up, take up your pallet and go home!” He did just this and people began to shout the praises of Jesus. This left those viewing his actions in an uncomfortable position. Since they insisted that illness was caused by sin, and since the person suddenly got up and walked away, it was therefore proven that Jesus could forgive sins. They were outraged, and some of them began to plan for the arrest of Jesus. While the religious establishment could continue to dispute among themselves that Jesus did not have the power to forgive sin, they could not dispute the fact that Jesus had the power to heal.
Through these actions from Jesus he showed people that God is a God of love, forgiveness and healing. This passage from Luke challenges us as individuals to look deep within ourselves. We are left to wonder what obstacles we would overcome to help save a friend’s life. Perhaps some of us wonder what life would be like if we were paralyzed in some way. Perhaps we are in fact paralyzed in some aspect of our lives. Perhaps we are paralyzed by our occupations, paralyzed by an illness we are dealing with or an illness of a loved one that restrict us, maybe we are even paralyzed in our spiritual journeys. In times like these, we can seek comfort in these words from a poem entitled, “When I said…”
When I said to the Lord “I don’t know who I am.”
He gently answered, “That’s okay. I know who you are.”
When I said to the Lord “I am so tired of fighting.”
He gently answered, “That’s okay. Satan is down for the count.”
When I said to the Lord “My actions aren’t reflecting my heart.”
He gently answered, “That’s okay. Mine did.”
When I said to the Lord “My mind is corrupted.”
He gently answered, “That’s okay. Use mine for awhile.”
When I said to the Lord “I don’t know how to love.”
He gently answered, “That’s okay. I will give you free lessons”
When I said to the Lord “I am so short of where you want me to be.”
He gently answered, “That’s okay. That’s all the farther you and I can walk together.”
Friendships are important to all of us in our lives. As these friends in our gospel demonstrated, having friends who are caring and compassionate are important. Having friends who are forgiving of our faults is also important. As we think about friendships, I believe that the most important friendship we can have in our lives is indeed a friend in a high place, a friendship with our Heavenly Father.
In our lives we are privileged and blessed that the hand of our God reaches out to us in our time of need. Through God’s son Jesus and his life and sacrifice upon the cross we realize the kindness of God is available for everyone. Like those four faithful friends who lowered their friend through a roof to see Jesus, we must too must seek out these opportunities and trust that our God will respond.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
July 23, 2017