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Determination to Love

Mark 2:1-12

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

This morning we’re going to look at people who went the extra mile or went the distance, like the song from Hercules, to help or intercede for their friend.  These are the kinds of friends that you want to surround yourself with while you’re in college and grad school.  You’ve met a lot of people so far.  You’re still feeling each other out.  You’re still finding your groove.  May God give you the wisdom and discernment to know and cultivate relationships whether it be late night sessions hanging out in someone’s room in a residence hall or whether it is late night runs to taco bell.

I lived in a small town during my high school years.  The nearest movie theater was an hour away.  I hate to admit it, but when I was in high school the first DVD’s came out.  So we were starving for cultural references in rural South Carolina.  On many a road trip to the movies we would pack up to 15 people in my mom’s minivan.

I visualize that image when I read this passage.  The crowd that was gathered was packed in like a concert with One Direction or The Who or if the Spice Girls finally do a reunion concert.  It was beyond claustrophobic.  Saying it was hard to get in, may be an understatement.  Seeing Jesus was like an ancient day rock star.  The word was already out.  It started with the leper.  Mark says it this way in Mark 1:40-45, “A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”  It reminds me of Acts 4:20 that says, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

He couldn’t help but spread the good news!  He didn’t even have to say it; the people could see he was made clean.  Matthew says it this way in chapter 11, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

If you had been in their place, what would you have done if you had arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded and overflowing out into the street?  Would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave?  Would you think – let’s just go home.  We’ll never get in.  We’ll try again the next time he’s in town.  You know that feeling that you get in your gut where you’re about to give up…when the road is getting all kinds of hard, and no one would blame you if you gave up.

Choices Albus Dumbledore quote

As Albus Dumbledore says to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, “It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities.”  It is the choices we make, the determination and the commitment when it gets hard, when the mountain is steep and the valley low that really determines your character and what you’re made of.

I was watching the Today Show when they were celebrating the summer Olympics being a year away.  They were interviewing athletes that have been training daily just to prepare for the trials.  They don’t even know yet if they’ll make the Olympic team.  What kind of perseverance and determination and motivation, it would take someone to get up early in the morning every day and push themselves harder and faster…wow.  You’ve got to have something within you AND around you that spurs you on.  The four friends had that determination.  The thing that spurred them on and gave them the strength to keep going was their faith.

So where is this located in Jesus ministry?  It’s still pretty early.  He’s been preaching for about a year.  Luke 4 tells us that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was so thoroughly rejected by the people with whom he grew up that he left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, his home base for the three years of his public ministry.

Okay, so now we know where he was and how he got there, and we know why the word had spread.  Let’s talk more about the crowd.  Another section only in Mark, “So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.” The people were, whether they knew it or not, there to worship God and hear God, in the person of Jesus, “speak the word.”  Maybe they were curious about the crowd or what all the fuss was about, much like the crowd in Life of Brian listening to Jesus preach the sermon on the mount.  Maybe they had heard about his healing of the leper and they wanted to see this Jesus, this healer.  Maybe they just wanted to see a spectacle, a magic show.  Maybe they saw a crowd and like students drawn to a fight in school or to a speech, they were curious.

While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher.  A friend recently visited Capernaum, he said that his group included a couple of people in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled.  The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.

This wasn’t an easy task.  It’s not like they thought – oh, cool a crowd – let’s jump up on the roof, lower him through and call it a day.  They had to go the distance to carry him into the house. In Palestine, the roofs were flat.  They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things.  In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof.  In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying.  So generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall. Although they were determined, and possibly had outside stairs, they weren’t the Avengers.  This wasn’t easy.

They actually had to tear up the roof to let him down.  To me, there’s something really powerful about them having to actually dig through and get dirty to help make this miracle happen.  According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart.  These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt.

If you have ever worked with drywall or insulation, particularly taking it down, you know that there’s small particles and dust everywhere.  A big mess.  So as you can probably imagine, as these four are pulling away chunks of clay, bits of dirt, and dried leaves are falling all over those below.

And the people who stood in the room, who most likely had some small rubble or debris dropped on their heads were doubtfully very thrilled and the men had to know this when they concocted their plan.  They risked a lot because they had faith in who Jesus is and what a tremendous impact he could have on the life of their friend.

I wonder what Jesus was doing during this creation of a skylight in his home?  Does he stop speaking the word or does he just continue going just like the preacher tries to do when a baby starts crying during church?  Does he stop and watch maybe with an amused look on his face, or does he began to shake his head and chuckle to himself at the enthusiasm or boldness of these guys?

How would you feel if you were in the crowd?  You’re sitting there during a leisurely but exhilarating afternoon listening to Jesus, when all of a sudden some crazy guys start tearing open the roof over your head and get you all dirty.  You waited and maneuvered a while to get your spot in the house, and here these people are skipping all the steps to get to the front or to the top I should say.  It reminds of the story of the prodigal son.  You go into it focusing on the prodigal, but the elder brother as just as distant from the father.  At Gator Wesley, we don’t want insiders or outsiders.  All of us are prodigals and older brothers.  All of us are at times, crowd, friends, and paralytic and that’s only natural.  Some of us don’t want to rock the boat, to rock the happy equilibrium.  Some of us are in need of healing.  We need a community to surround us to lead us back to Jesus the Great Physician, to the one who gave it all.

These four men weren’t thinking of themselves.  They did not need a miracle for themselves, but they had a friend who did.  They went to a whole lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed.  Because he was important to them and they cared about him.

Friends are determined to work for the others’ good.  At our Leadership Retreat this past week we looked at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13.  Erin Wagner spoke up and said when she was on staff at Branches this summer, they encouraged them to say their name instead of love, so I will do that and the words will be on the screen.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

If we all lived like that the campuses we serve would be transformed.  The whole world would change.  To actually put into practice what we proclaim…

I think sometimes we see the obstacles and how much it will cost us or offend other people, and we go ahead and decide what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what and why something can’t be done.  And we’re defeated or excused out before we even start.  Before we even get off the ground.  Or get up the steps carrying our friend.  We decide that we know best and it totally won’t work.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to use our brains or that we should not reason out the situation first, but I am saying, that sometimes the impossible is made possible.  God does work miracles.  Bring the dead to life.  Give sight to the blind.  Heal the leper.  So in continuation of that, God calls us to also envision the possibilities to see the dusting of miracles around our community and world.  God’s work is done by people who believe in the power of God, who do what they can, relying on God to supply the rest.

And you know, this really boils down to faith.  And faith is so important to this story, both as the motivation of these men that empowered their determination and as the starter for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic.  Four short words in verse 5, “Jesus saw their faith.”  Most people would say, “You can’t ‘see’ faith.  Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.”  But it is.  And Jesus saw the faith of these four men.  There faith was evident.  It shone through their actions.

These four friends had the faith to believe that Jesus would welcome them and that Jesus could change their friend’s life.  What a gamble.  They took a bold step of faith to make sure their friend had a chance for healing.

Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.

The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or by passed them.

The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.

They are people on a mission.  They were determined.  Spiritually and physically they were determined.

Verse 5 says, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  They had faith, Jesus saw it, and did the miracle/worked the healing that they had faith would take place.

Do we have that kind of spiritual determination?  We all have people we know, friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members who are in need of healing.  What are we doing to be present with that?  Sometimes we need to intercede, whether by prayer, through encouragement, or by our actions.

Are we determined?  Willing to go that extra mile?  Endure the climb when it burns and our lungs are about to explode?

Jesus commends the man’s friends for their faith.  It was their faith that brought the man to a place of forgiveness.  I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?

Sometimes it means doing what one writer calls, “getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives.”

James said, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16).

God loves us so much that God took extreme measures to provide an opportunity for healing for each one of us.  God loves us so much that God came and dwelt among us showing us and providing us with that healing.  God loves us so much that God draws us to God’s self, guiding us and leading us.

As the body of Christ today, we’ve got to be people who are spiritually determined, who truly care, who show God’s love to the world.  In Romans 12:15, Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.”  In other words, we are to care for one another.  To love one another.  To truly empathize and connect with the other.  This connection means that we move outside of the box of our own concerns and problems and become open and present to the needs of the other, the community around us.

I’ll leave you with these words from Lawrence Kushner writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High.  They go about their tasks in holy anonymity.  Often, even unknown to themselves.  Yet, if they had not been there, if they had no said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now.  We would not be the way we are now.  Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.”

PS – I’ve been listening to an Ellie Holcomb CD on my drive to South Carolina and some of the songs totally fit with wins I was trying to get across in the sermon.

Love Never Fails –

Love Broke Through –