Sentness – Shared Life
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at his home. So many gathered around that there was no room for them, even in front of the door, and he was reading the word to them. Then some people came, bringing with them a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. When they could not get the man near to Jesus, because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and, after having dug through it, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith he said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now there were scribes there who were questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were asking these questions among themselves, so he said to them, “Why do you raise these questions in your hearts? What is easier, for me to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand, take up your mat, and walk?’
‘But, so that you know that the Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins – he said to the paralyzed man – stand, take up your mat and go to your home.’” And the man stood up and immediately went out before all of them. And they were all amazed and glorified God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Who doesn’t love a good miracle story like this one? I think it’s great when Jesus shows off his super powers. It’s good news when someone gets healed. And I especially like it, here, when Jesus does it all with an added dose of snark and sarcasm. Did you catch that?
When the scribes are grumbling about whether Jesus, that carpenter’s kid from Nazareth, could possibly have the power to forgive sins? And Jesus says something like, “Really? That’s what you’re worried about here?” And he asks them, “What’s harder, do you suppose, to forgive sins or to make a paralyzed man stand up and walk?” It was a rhetorical question, of course. Jesus knows no one believed he had the power to cure paralysis any more than they thought his forgiveness was worth a lick. So when Jesus does one – sends that paralyzed guy packing…walking home, with his mat under his arm – everyone has to believe that he’s done the other, too; that his forgiveness is just as real, that it counts just as much as that miracle they all saw stand up and walk right out of the room.
And that’s all well and good. And most of the time, when we hear this story, we celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ healing and move on. But today in the context of our sermon series – as we keep wondering about what it looks like to be “SENT” in as many ways as God means to send us as believers into the world – I want to talk about this familiar story in a different way.
Today we’re talking about “Shared Life,” so what matters most about this story, this time around, has as much to do with the four friends who carried the mat bearing the paralyzed man to Jesus, as it does with the paralyzed man and his healing. That’s why this story – and the love, devotion, and faith of these four friends – paints a picture of what “Shared Life” might look like for the people of God.
See, while everyone else was gathered around listening to and learning from Jesus(not altogether wrong or bad or unfaithful ways to be, mind you), these four friends were living the word Jesus was talking about. They were raising the roof, quite literally. They were digging through the ceiling. They were on their hands and knees, getting down and dirty, doing whatever they could to help a brother out.
And no matter how you look at it, all of it is both the result of their Shared Life and it’s their Shared Life in action, too, right before the eyes of whoever was paying attention. These friends were on a mission, really. They had a sick friend who needed help. He had a need, so they had a need.
So, that’s how I want us to think about this idea of a “Shared Life,” too. In this Sentness book we’ve been talking about, they say you can identify “Shared Life” by the quality of the relationships between people, by the power of trust between people, by the wonder of generosity between people…all things those friends showed and shared when they got help for their friend in today’s Gospel. “Shared Life” means staying with… walking alongside… abiding… and it’s what we’re called to as believers in the world and as Partners in Mission in this place.
Shared Life means the way some of you responded to my announcement last week to help Ruth Jensen and Elna Keyt and Barth Gish with the same sort of compassion and presence as we’ve been able to so generously help Alta Ford these last few weeks. “Sharing Life” means bringing food, sharing conversations, running errands, spending time.
Shared Life means those of you who will join me Wednesday night to re-boot our Eucharistic Ministry program here by learning about sharing communion with people who can’t get to worship as often as they’d like. If sharing bread and wine and the promise of God’s grace and forgiveness isn’t “Shared Life,” I don’t know what is.
Shared Life means heading back to Haiti in June. There’s so much “Shared Life” on a trip like that, I can’t even tell you – with and among those who make the trip from our congregation and with and among our friends in Fondwa, who are always so obviously and pleasantly and genuinely glad to see us coming back year after year to work alongside them, to learn from them, and to share with them whatever faith and friendship we’re able to offer.
And Shared Life means our Mardi Gras party, too, believe it or not. You know I like a good party as much as the next guy, and that I don’t need much of an excuse to throw one. And I don’t mean to suck the fun and debauchery out of all that Mardi Gras can be. But the reason we host that party – and the reason we throw any of the other parties we host around here – is because we share life when we eat and drink and laugh and tell stories and love one another in those ways, too.
I saw some Shared Life last night, too, at the gym, when some of our 6th and 7th graders from Cross of Grace weren’t too cool to play and have fun with some of our elementary school kids on the basketball court. Sometimes it’s the little things that get your attention.
And Shared Life means baptizing Deena Anderson, like we’ll do tonight at 5 o’clock. Deena has been waiting for the right time to celebrate her baptism, even though she’s been around here for quite awhile. She’s been waiting for her friends and her neighbors, Tom and Bev Bancroft to be able to join her for the baptism, because they’ve been an important part of what brought her to Cross of Grace. They’ve “shared life” in some meaningful, holy, lovely ways and Deena’s baptism will be a sacred celebration of that for them all. (I wouldn’t say that Tom and Bev held her mat, or that Deena needed to be carried, necessarily. But they held her hand, maybe. And they’ve walked with and alongside her to this water, I think it’s fair to say.)
And that’s what Sharing Life looks like. It means loving one another, purely and simply, the way God has first loved us: by showing up, by loving well, by praying hard, by helping generously, by carrying someone and by letting ourselves be carried, too, if and when we need it.
What I think is most interesting about the guy who gets healed in the story is something that the authors of Sentness don’t address. What I think is interesting is what we’re told about the moment Jesus declares the paralyzed guy’s forgiveness. According to the Gospel, the four friends remove the roof, the four friends dig through the ceiling, and the four friends lower their friend down before Jesus. And we’re told that when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” When he saw their faith, the paralyzed man gets his miracle.
I like that because it reminds us that they’re all in it together – that we’re all in this together. My life and faith stands to impact your life and faith. Your life and faith stands to impact my life and faith. Our life and faith together – when we share it, generously and with gratitude, for the blessing and benefit of one another – can change things, for the better; it can change things for the world around us; and it can change things, by God’s grace, for the people with whom we share life as we know it.