Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Text: Mark 2:1-4
A few days later Jesus went back to Capernaum, and the news spread that he was at home. So many people came together that there was no room left, not even out in front of the door. Jesus was preaching the message to them when four men arrived, carrying a paralyzed man to Jesus. Because of the crowd, however, they could not get the man to him. So they made a hole in the roof right above the place where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they let the man down, lying on his mat.

"We have never seen anything like this!"

As I look around at the people in this church this morning, I am amazed at how wonderfully Jesus draws such a diverse flock into his sheepfold. This is even more so this morning because we have only one service today Ė
we have young and old,
those who like traditional worship and those who prefer worship to be less formal,
those who enjoy the traditional hymns and those who like the modern songs,
those who have grown up in the church and those whose participation in the church has been more recent.
There are professional people, tradesmen, retired people, students at all levels of education, parents, small children, grandparents and anyone else I have omitted to mention.
Many of you are regular worshippers here, some are visitors from other congregations, and maybe there are some are here just to check us out. Thatís okay. All are welcome to gather around Jesus.

Why have I started todayís message referring to the crowd gathered here this morning. Let me explain. As you can imagine I have preached on this particular text quite a few times during my ministry.
Sometimes I have focused on the love, the loyalty, the faith, the compassion and persistence of the paralysed manís friends who went to all the trouble of breaking open the roof of the house in order to lower their friend in front of Jesus.
Sometimes I have highlighted Jesusí reaction to all this, his words about forgiveness, and then his telling the man to pick up his bed and go home.

But this week as I was looking at this text again, there was something else that grabbed my attention. The paralysed manís friends had to go to all this trouble to get near Jesus, even to the point of breaking open the roof, because of the crowd. This huge crowd had come together around Jesus. People filled the house where Jesus was, blocking the doorway, and probably gathering around the windows to hear what Jesus had to say.

No doubt some of the disciples would have been close by Jesus side.
No doubt there were those who wanted to learn more about the man who had already healed a number of people. His preaching had gained him quite a reputation throughout Galilee.
We know that some of the people in the house were scribes. They were people who studied the Scriptures, poring over the Word of God Ė they were the experts in religious matters.

This is the first time Mark mentions the scribes. At this point the Gospel writer doesnít say these are bad people. In fact, they are probably good people who took their religion seriously. They had heard enough of Jesus to want to come inside the house and to learn more about what he had to say, perhaps even to gain fresh insights into the scriptures (and thatís just what they got when Jesus tells the man his sins are forgiven and then heals him). On the other hand, the scribes may have been there to find fault with Jesusí teachings (and if that was the case, they werenít disappointed either when they quizzed Jesus how he can forgive sin when it is only God who can do this).

I started by saying what a diverse crowd has gathered here today in this church - not that different to the crowd that gathered around Jesus that day in Capernaum. Today just as back then
the faithful,
those looking for new meaning,
those searching for healing and strength,
those who know God and his Word
and those who are curious
have gathered to sit at Jesusí feet and to listen what he has to say.

This is where the story gets interesting. You see it is those good, dedicated, religious and theologically informed people who quite unintentionally keep a person who badly needed to see Jesus from getting anywhere near him. Inside the house there are people listening to Jesus. Outside the house there is a group of friends who desperately want to get help for their friend who is confined forever to his bed. They canít get to Jesus because of the crowd Ė a crowd not so different from us.

I wonder if the Holy Spirit is wanting to say something to us about us as a church through this miracle story in Markís Gospel. Are we being challenged to think about how we unintentionally block people from getting near to Jesus?

Donít get me wrong. Iím not saying it is wrong to gather around Jesus just as the people did in Capernaum to learn about God's plans for the new life he has given to each of us through death and resurrection of Jesus. But maybe we are being challenged to think about how our good intentions might be seen as a block to those who desperately want to get closer to Jesus in order to find meaning and purpose for their lives, or are looking strength to overcome lifeís disappointments.

I meet people all the time who donít want to be around Jesus and a large number of those have had a bad experience with the church at some time.
Maybe as a child they felt that they had religion rammed down their throats by some well-meaning person but they ended up rebelling against it.
Or maybe they were once involved but had a falling out with someone in the church and even though the matter over which the disagreement occurred was no longer important, they felt as if they were now on the outside and it would require too much effort to fit in again.
Or maybe they went to visit a church once and because they werenít part of the inner circle of a youth group, or fellowship camp, or Bible study group, they felt left out and didnít go back again.
Or maybe they felt on the outside at a worship service because they didnít have a clue what was going on. Everyone else around them knew what was happening and sang heartily and bowed their heads at the right times but they felt uncomfortable, not part of what was going on.
Or maybe they are people who have never had anything to do with the church in the past and are reluctant to give it a go because somehow they donít see themselves fitting in.

I think you get what I mean. Itís not that the crowd that gathered around Jesus at Capernaum deliberately wanted to block out the paralysed man and his friends. Likewise itís not that we intentionally block people from coming near Jesus. In fact, we would love more people join us at the feet of Jesus. I hate to say this, but itís true, a primary reason people give for not embracing the Christian faith is us, the church. They canít see Jesus, or get to see his love for them because somehow, quite unintentionally, we are blocking the way.

Maybe one of the issues is that people see the church as a club, much like a fitness club or a sports club. If you are a member of the club and have paid your dues then you expect to be able to use the swimming pool, the exercise equipment, the aerobic classes and also the personal attention of the staff who are paid from your membership fees. We live in a consumer based society so itís easy to fall into the trap of seeing the church as something we go to only receive and take from.

This is a danger for those who regularly sit in the pews on Sunday. Club membership defines who is in and who is out, it provides certain entitlements Ė and if I donít like what the club provides, I can cancel my membership and go somewhere else where I can get what I want or just give up ever wanting to be a member of any other similar club again.

People outside the church can view the church as a club also because they donít see themselves as members. They havenít paid membership fees as would be expected by any other club. They arenít part of that inner circle that knows all the rules and they donít understand the inner running of the club or even comprehend the language and behaviour of the members.

When they come the only seats that are left are those at the front. They donít want to sit there Ė how will they know when to stand and when to sit. The best place for them to sit would be near the back where they would be less conspicuous if they did something wrong but those are filled with "members" like the members stand at the cricket. (Besides what visual impression is given when the regular worshippers all sit at the back? Is it "Iím here but I donít want to be here" or "I donít want to be involved with what is happening at the front"?)

None of this may be intentional on our part Ė but it happens. We donít want it to happen Ė but it does. And as long as the club idea exists the mission and growth of the church will be stunted. Jesus didnít say "Go into all the world and make members" but "Go into all the world and make disciples".

"Members" gives the idea of exclusiveness and that "my church" is there to serve "my" needs.
"Disciples" are those who recognise that this is God's church.
Disciples are driven by God's dreams and purposes for the church and for the world;
disciples are followers of Jesus called and chosen to be like Jesus Ė to serve, reach out, involve others, share God's love.
To be disciples means to forget ourselves and be committed to following Jesus and doing his work which is far greater and more important than self interest and selfish demands and self praise.
Being a disciple involves service and servanthood Ė which often doing things that no one else wants to do, or doing something even though no one acknowledges what I have done.

Letís go back to the story of the paralysed man. The crowd, all clustered around Jesus, nearly defeated the man and his friends Ė but not quite. They hacked a hole in the roof and as the crowd stood there with their mouths open, Jesus healed the man. As the man walked out, they all said, "We have never seen anything like this!"

We have never seen a Saviour who wants to reach out beyond his inner circle in order to save.
We have never seen a Lord who takes delight in others wrecking a roof in order that people might get in to see him.
We have never seen someone so determined to reach out beyond his friends and supporters in order to touch those who are lost.
We have never seen a teacher who demands that his best students make way to let those with greater needs get to him.
We have never seen someone with so much love for those who clearly donít fit in.
"We have never seen anything like this!"

Jesus has this amazing love for one and all Ė
those who are close to him,
those who are seeking him and not quite sure how to go about it,
and those who donít know that they need Jesus.
We say this about Jesus amazing love for each of us even though we like to think of the church as our own personal club "We have never seen anything like this!"

God grant that when people come here and see the love of Jesus and walk away feeling as if they had been coming here for years, that they too may say, "We have never seen anything like this!"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th February, 2006
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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