Picking Up

Vannae Savig — March 7, 2021

Picking Up: Pick Up Your Friends

Good Morning friends! We are in the middle of our Lent sermon series. We’ve been talking about God calling us to a transformation. That the things that God is calling us to, are not standards to live UP to or a long list of things to make us feel bad. But instead, God’s calling us into a life we GET to LIVE INTO. The question we’re asking ourselves during this time of Lent is, how can we be transformed by Jesus?  What is Jesus inviting us into? Last week Anna talked about being transformed by picking up your staff, and today we’re going to talk about picking up our friends.

One thing that comes to mind for me when I think about changed lives is Hallmark Movies! I love Hallmark movies. I know they are cheesy and predictable, but that’s part of what I love about them. They are a simple wholesome break from reality. The typical plot of one of the movies usually goes something like this:  A woman goes back home to a small town to escape her big city busy life. Of course there is the town store or local cafe that is in danger of going out of business. The woman’s ex-boyfriend is still in this small town fighting for the store. And through a sequence of predictable events they end up teaming together to save the store. With their leadership, the whole town joins forces to save the store, and in the process the woman and her ex realize they are still madly in love. It always ends with a kiss then the credits. 

But the thing I like most about those movies is how the town always comes together. Everyone knows everyone, loves each other, and fights for each other.  There is always a part when the main characters are thinking about giving up, and then someone in the town says something inspiring or reminds them of why they should keep fighting. In these communities whatever you’re fighting for, the whole town is fighting for. Your successes are their successes, your failures are their failures. I feel like this is always my favorite part because I don’t see this a lot anymore. We live in a society that focuses more on the individual. We celebrate independence, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. We’ve come to identify a strong person as someone who has achieved and succeeded on their own. Perhaps this is why sometimes we get disappointed that our experiences don’t look at the Bible stories that we read. We want those same life changing experiences. It’s because Jesus doesn’t work that way very often.  Usually, Jesus’ stories are about how people are changed through other people. It’s in the relationships, the community, or the willingness to put others first that leads to real transformation. Of course, this looks messier in real life than the Hallmark movies I watch, but learning to live in a loving community is essential to a Jesus type of transformation. So, as we are on our way to being changed by Jesus, let’s look at what it really means to love those around us..

Today we’re going to look at a story in the book of Mark, chapter 2 verses 1-12. After Jesus had completed his tour of the synagogues he returned to Capernaum. The news that he’s there has spread. Life back then in Palestine was pretty public. For example people left their front doors open in the morning and throughout the day. Anyone could come in and out as they pleased. So, pretty quickly a crowd had filled the house to capacity and the crowd was pouring out of the house: they were all eagerly listening to what Jesus had to say. Read along with me here in Mark:

2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

There are lots of things that we could focus on in this passage, but today I want to highlight the four men that helped this man through the roof. We don’t know a lot about these four men or this man who was paralyzed. We’re not sure if they knew each other before.They could have been his neighbors perhaps or acquaintances.  Did the man ask them to take him to Jesus? When they went to see Jesus that day, was this their final hope? Had doctors and healers told him there is nothing that can be done?  We don’t get any back story, instead we come in on a very significant day for this man and his four friends. 

I can imagine carrying this man on whatever stretcher type thing he was on, he’s heavy, and we don’t know how far they’ve walked to get there, but I’m sure they are disappointed to see how crowded it is. And let’s be honest, most people would give up. Maybe wait around a bit to see if the crowd will die down a bit? And eventually turn around and go home.  But they don’t. They push on and they come up with quite a creative idea. They decide to lower this man through a hole in the roof. The thing that often leaves me most curious is how they managed to get this man through the roof. I did a little research and there are some conflicting ideas of how this all worked. Some commentaries say that it was a big feat to open up the roof and lower this man down. While some commentaries say that it wasn’t as difficult as it sounds. Either way, in the typical house of that day, the roof would be flat, supported by beams laid across the walls, and composed of a mud/thatch mixture. There would usually be a ladder standing outside to permit access to the roof. Digging a hole in the roof would be a bold means of solving the problem of access to Jesus.  The reason that these men had to “dig” through the roof indicates that it is made of mud like most houses during this time period. Some scholars say that it is easy to repair a mud/thatch roof, but it is difficult to patch any roof so that it doesn’t leak. This damage is not trivial. And then having to get this man up to the roof and then lower him down.  He would not be securely strapped to a rigid stretcher type apparatus, his mat would be a very makeshift carrying device. The friends probably weren’t able to chop a hole large enough for him to be lowered while perfectly horizontal. Most likely the paralyzed man experienced a bit of rough handling as his friends lowered him through the roof. 

So what kind of friendship could inspire such an act? 

 What we see here in this story is friendship as a form of the gospel. This is the kind of friendship that Jesus invites us into with Him, as well as with others. 

In many ways, our modern lifestyles actually work against friendship or helping our neighbor. Just about everyone is overbusy, overstretched and overscheduled. Between work, classes, household chores and family commitments, there isn’t a lot of time left to develop or nurture relationships. Small talk with coworkers or text messages to say “hi” may be all we manage to fit in. Being in a global pandemic isn’t helping us any. We are more disconnected than ever before. There are a few things I think we can glean from this Bible story that will work for us today. 

I noticed in the four men in our Bible story is that they had faith. When they got to the house and saw the crowd, they didn’t give up. They had to get their friend to Jesus! So when the way was blocked, they looked for another way, and when they couldn’t find one, they made a new way. They were the type of friends who didn’t give up, they had enough faith to keep trying. Honestly, it would have made sense for them to be like, “welp we tried.” We don’t know if the paralyzed man had given up after he saw the crowd, but we know at least his friends weren’t deterred by this. They had a persistent faith that Jesus took notice.

Have there been times in your life when the finish line or goal looks so far away, and you want to give up? Times where you’ve lost faith? God is there in those moments, but so is your community. Friends can have faith when we don’t, a faith that is powerful enough for you and them.  

Their love was active. We don’t really know what inspired the four men to carry this man to the house, but we do know that regardless of if they knew this man or not, they let their love for their neighbor inspire them to action. They didn’t just listen to this man complain about being paralyzed, they did what they could to help.  I think about all the times my friends and neighbors have watched my kids when I had to do something else, driven me to doctors appointments, or shown up with dinner knowing I couldn’t make dinner that night, or notice that I haven’t had a break in a while and invite me out for a girls night. It’s more than just listening to what’s going on with a person, it’s about taking that next step and actively being there for them. It means putting their needs first, and not making it transactional… Not worrying about what you’ll get in return.    

They were willing to be uncomfortable. Obviously they were ok with this. I mean they figured out a way to lower this man through a roof! I’m sure nothing about this act was comfortable for them.  It wasn’t like, “oh we were planning to add a skylight in that roof anyway…cut a hole in it!” I  imagine a lot of people staring at them and wondering what they are doing.

How many times have you helped someone even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s inconvenient, or when it’s stretching you beyond your normal limits? Sometimes to be a good friend or neighbor, we have to no longer think about what we need or how busy we are. Sometimes we need to pause, look around, look up from our busy schedules, and be there for people. I know we are in a pandemic so we aren’t able to be fully connected with one another. But that’s when we’ve got to get creative like the people in this story, and figure out some ways to stay connected and to be there for each other. Maybe that looks like running errands for someone. Or going on a walk with someone who needs to get out of the house. Perhaps it looks like having more video chats, even though we’re tired of them. Getting a bit uncomfortable can be scary, but it’s a step in the direction of leaning into the type of community God calls us to. 

Some of you may be saying, “ Pastor Vannae, what about those of us who have reached our limits and feel totally tapped out? You want us to take on more?”  First, I want to say, I get that. It’s almost impossible to pour out into people, without first being poured into. I personally struggle with asking for help. It’s wired in my brain to push myself to the brink and no matter how much I need to rest and be replenished. And it is the last thing on my mind to ask for help. But part of living in a transformational community and being transformed yourself, is not just about pouring into others, but allowing others to pour into you.

I have two tasks for you. The first  is to pray and  think of one person you can reach out to this week, and see if there’s something you can help them with or think of someone you can do something nice for?  I have a friend who  sends me a quick text and asks if there is anything she can grab for me as she’s out running errands.  It’s such a simple thing, but super helpful and makes me feel loved. I have another friend who will just randomly bring me and my family apple fritters, they’re my favorite. Or sometimes if I make a big dinner, I’ll share some with my friends that live nearby. Again, simple, but really helps me feel loved and connected. 

Which leads me to the next task for you: Think of someone you can reach out to for yourself.  You can ask for help with errands, or even just call someone to chat with. The pastoral staff is here for you also.  I have included our contact information on this week’s e-bulletin, or you can call the church directly and that can get you connected to us.  I know it’s hard to reach out and ask for help, it leaves us feeling vulnerable,  but being part of a transformational community means reaching out when in need. We don’t know if the man who was parlyzed in the story reached out to those men, but somehow word got out that he needed help, and people showed up for him. Allow your community to show up for you.

We have these four friends who have no dialogue in this story, we don’t even know their names, but through their faithful act, Jesus forgives this man’s sins and heals his body. Like the people in this story, we are not just invited into doing more stuff for others, but to see ourselves as part of the story of the Kingdom of God. Just as those people were able to carry that man to Jesus, we too can carry people to Jesus through compassionate action and faithfulness. 

Let’s pray