“Who can forgive sins?”

Did they slide the mat under him so he could sit up as if sitting in a swing? Or did the four friends let him down to Jesus flat on his back? It would make a difference in the size of the hole the five friends opened in the roof.

 

Mark 2 tells us they dug through the plaster of the sun-baked, mud brick roof.  Writing to the Gentiles, Luke tells us the friends removed roof tiles. Roman cities featured homes with clay fired tiles, similar to terracotta roofing. Some expensive temples and villas featured marble or even bronze roofing tiles. Whether they dug into the plaster or pulled off terracotta tiles, this is an outrageous act of love. Are we awake, helping people to stand, courageous, strong, and doing something risky for love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).  Are we these kinds of friends?

 

When the five friends heard of Jesus’ healing- they knew they needed to do something. Luke mentions a range of cities from Capernaum to Jerusalem, so people came from over 100 miles to be healed. How far did the four friends carry their friend? How much did he weigh? Did they use the firefighters carry or take turns hauling a drag sled? Could they not afford a chariot? What did the the five friends chat about on their journey to Jesus…hopes of walking home together?

 

I makes me wonder: Who do we carry to Jesus? Who do we help find a path to healing, faith, hope, love, worship, and wholeness?  Whose life or health concerns have become our own? Are we engaged in any outrageous acts of love?

 

The man-on-the-mat was not helpless. Whenever we make strong, courageous, and loving friends we hold a power beyond our physical limitations. Presence brings healing.

 

When they arrive at  the makeshift clinic, the line for free healthcare spills out the door stretching into the street. People had come from every village in Galilee. Many suffered like the woman in Luke 8, who endured a 12 year flow and spent all she had on physicians. The five friends wanted to draw close to Jesus, but the line said no. Do you think they considered  going back home? Did they argue about the merits of line jumping or , the morality of “breaking and entering”? Are we engaged in outrageous acts of love and justice for our neighbors?

 

When did the crowd inside the clinic notice? Did they hear voices and footsteps on the roof? Was it when plaster and dust drifted down or not until a stream of sunlight broke into the room? Why did Jesus let this parable unfold, knowing somebody would need to repair the roof? Why did the homeowner fail to rush outside and stop them from tearing up her roof? Maybe, she saw the joyous twinkle dancing in Jesus’ eyes, and felt “let’s wait, something amazing is about to happen!” Are we engaged in any outrageous acts of love on behalf of others?

 

“They lowered him—cot and all—through the roof tiles into the crowded room in front of Jesus.” Outrageous! Sometimes we must do something. Is it right to remove some unsuspecting homeowner’s ceiling tiles?  Why not ring the doorbell and ask, “Do you mind if we dig a six foot hole in your roof?” Are we engaged in any outrageous acts of love or do we sit around waiting and hoping someone does something?

 

The church is forever playing it safe. We fear change. We loath risk. We crucify prophets. We love the old wine.  We are mortified if someone suggests modifying our comfort zones! What if we put a walk-up Holy Communion bar right off 21st Avenue? What does that crazy trigger in us?   

Lamenting the church’s slow response to Hitler’s rise in Germany, a “millennial” pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “it is no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve our problems… to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring… seems to me almost to run counter to love. To delay or fail to make a decision may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.” (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy) Do we play it sinfully safe or take loving risks in order to bring people to Jesus? Are we engaged in any outrageous acts of love?  

 

I think Jesus’ gentle laughter lit up the room with compassion as Luke’s reports,“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus commends this outrageous act of love.  Perhaps, Jesus longs a church that cuts a few outrageous paths into the church? Jesus, who saves the world through the cross,  is not risk averse.

 

Now, Jesus offers a curious declaration, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” because the man-on-the-mat did not ask for forgiveness. And Jesus does not just see his individual or our personal faith. Jesus rewards communal faith in action. Jesus sees “‘their” combined faith and offers forgiveness. It’s a pretty good argument for infant baptism and communal responsibility! This common faith will lead to a lot of joy, for soon enough the man-on-the-mat will stand up, roll up his cot, and walk home praising God. And all the people will be beside themselves with wonder. Filled with awe, and glorifying God, saying, “We’ve seen unimaginable things today.”  Could outrageous acts of love lead to unimaginable good things?

 

But not everyone finds joy or sees with eyes of faith. Let’s not use the term Pharisee; let’s translate it from Greek to English:“the Separate Ones”. The Separate Ones and the Bible experts were sitting nearby. Darren Wright pointed out the contrast of four friends carrying someone to Jesus, removing tiles and lowering a cot down to Jesus, while the legalist sat by keeping a watchful, judging eye. Jesus is healing, the crowds are waiting, the friends are straining, the man-on-the-mat is praying, and the religious folks are sitting, waiting, watching and judging. This morning, what are you doing: sitting, judging, praying,  carrying, healing … It is easy to sit and watch… and tweet. You can spend your life watching from the critic’s chair, taking the safest route, keeping a watchful eye for others’ theological slip ups, and never even open a door to the Kingdom of God.

 

The Separate Ones begin to mutter on social media, “Who is this who insults God? Only God alone can forgive sins.” Why do they think God is insulted? How is God insulted by expansive grace? These issues hinge on our understanding of God! Do we see grace as the agent of our healing and wholeness, or do we think it is by our efforts and merit that we are saved from sin and born into new life? Is our God so small that God needs protecting from sinners like us? Is our motto “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God”, or do we think we earn must divine acceptance, forgiveness, and love?   

 

Well to be fair, the ancient Bible thumpers had the law on their side! In fact, that is why they are muttering against Jesus; they knew the rules from Leviticus, “No one who has an imperfection will be allowed to preside at the Lord’s Table: this includes anyone who is blind, crippled, disfigured, deformed; anyone who has a broken foot or hand; hunchback, too small, eye disease, rash, scabs, crushed testicle, or any woman! Such folks can take Communion sure, but shall not officiate… for if they do they make the sanctuary impure” Leviticus 21:18-23. If we think any person makes the sanctuary less pure or the altar table less than holy, then friends, our God is too small.  Such diminished theology is not Wesleyan or orthodox. We are saved by Divine grace, not works, so that no one can boast!

 

Do we really believe the old Gospel meeting hymn?

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,

yonder on Calvary’s mount out-poured, there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God’s grace– grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

grace, grace, God’s grace–  grace that is greater than all our sin.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,freely bestowed on all who believe;

you that are longing to see his face,will you this moment his grace receive?

 

Is or theology less than matchless- infinite- free? How could an unimaginable infinite grace offend God?  Unless one believes in a God of wrath? Can God be polluted by a paralysis, or a bad eye, short stature, or disposition towards alcoholism, or some other biological condition? No in all these things, grace is more than sufficient to meet our needs-  Nothing- Nothing in all creation can separate us from the Love of God! (Romans 8)

Well, Jesus heard their tweets about “authority on earth” and “too much-grace” and asked, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? Which is easier to say: ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’? But so that you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins.” Jesus looked away from the critics to look the man who was paralyzed in the eyes, “I say to you, ‘get up, take your cot, and go home’.” Right away, the man stood before them, picked up his cot, and went home, praising God! And all the people were beside themselves with wonder. Filled with awe, and glorifying God, saying, “We’ve seen unimaginable things today.”

Oh, let us be the kinds of friends who carrying people to Christ? Let us not turn back when the line is long and the odds seem low! Let us not always play it safe!  Let us engage in outrageous acts of compassion, expansive grace, and easy inclusion to all God’s unlikely candidates. For we are all the unlikeliest recipients of God’s matchless, unmerited, marvelous – infinite- unimaginable grace. Am

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