Demolishing a Home for God
Mark 2:1-5 (King James Version) And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. 3And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
Jewish customs were different. Homes were more public. The door was usually opened in the morning. And it stayed open all day. Any open door was an invitation.1 Anybody passing by an open door could come in. They had been invited.
This house was probably simple. In simple homes, the door often opened directly on the street.2 You can imagine how fast the home filled when people learned Jesus was there. Soon the home was full. People were standing around the door, hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus, and a chance to hear Him.
Many conventions have a popular, keynote speaker. The keynote speaker is famous, and is renowned for knowledge on the convention topic. In many cases, the keynote speaker is dynamic and exudes charisma. Just incase you are wondering what a dynamic, charismatic speaker is like - that’s not the kind of preacher your are listening to this morning. To hear the dynamic keynote speaker, you need to come early. If you arrive on time, the room is full. All the seats are taken. People are standing around the walls and some people are sitting on the floor. A few minutes after the session starts, you can hardly get close enough to the door to see the speaker or to hear anything the speaker is saying. People are packed around the door, trying to peer over the heads and shoulders of people in front of them. Some people who are not really interested in the meeting are curious. They will stop and see if they can find out what is going on inside.
I suspect we might have seen the home fill up just the way some of the popular convention sessions fill. And with a home having no front yard - the door opening right on the street - a crowd around the front door could have attracted the attention of everybody going down the street. Imagine a small village. I can picture somebody from another village traveling past, stopping and asking, “What’s going on inside? Who is in there?”
The response comes, “Jesus, the Nazarene is inside. He’s the dude who heals people and teaches from the Scriptures. Some say Jesus is the Messiah. Others claim He is a Jewish nationalist, a prophet, or a heretic. Surely you’ve heard of Him.”
We do not know how the paralytic learned Jesus was in the home. We are not told. News travels fast in small towns. A passerby might have brought news Jesus was in the house. Four friends brought the paralytic to the house. There is no way they can get the paralytic on his stretcher in the house. Nobody will want to move to make room inside the home for the paralytic, because they do not want to miss anything Jesus might say.
These are no ordinary men. They are real problem-solvers. They had an idea. They figured they knew just how to get Jesus’ attention. There is one sure-cure way to get somebody’s attention. Make a noise above the person. They do that and it expanded the Messiah’s horizon, so He could see the paralytic.
Student housing at Christian colleges is not known for being top notch. Back when I was in college, some people referred to student housing by adding the word “ghetto” to the formal names for each of the blocks of student housing. The label was earned. When I was in residence, we had some toilets that would overflow during the middle of the night. The showers could go from hot to cold to hot without any warning.
My favorite story about student housing was when a person I knew invited the president of the college to his apartment for dinner. He was a married student, so he was in college-owned, married-student housing. Knowing the family, they were probably being wonderful hosts. While they were eating a large piece of the ceiling above the dinning room table fell down.
The president of the college was made immediately aware of one of the problems with that particular apartment block. I suspect that was one of the few times the college maintenance department got around to fixing a problem quickly. The president, the top man, was aware of the needed repairs. He experienced their need for a new ceiling - first hand!
The men seemed to understand that when the roof comes off you have the Top Man’s attention. So these men got up on the roof to get the Top Man’s attention, to get Jesus’ attention.
Homes in ancient Israel often had an outside stairway to the roof. The roof was flat and was used as a place to rest and relax.3 So having a stairway to the roof made sense. The paralytic’s friends likely carried him up the outside stairway to the roof. Once they were on top of the roof, they removed part of the roofing, which was probably no minor task, and lowered the paralytic down through the hole in the roof.
I am not sure what you would think if somebody went up on your roof and tore a hole in the roof. I do not think that would make my day. Some theologians think the home belonged to Simon Peter.4 I shudder to think what his reaction might have been.
Imagine you are a pastor. You are preaching a wonderful sermon. You have many profound insights to share. And in the middle of making one of the most important points in your sermon, somebody rips a hole in the roof and lets down somebody who is on a stretcher. What would you think? How would you feel about having your sermon ruined, the entire service destroyed? If you are like me, you would not have been impressed. That is why some jurisdictions have laws that prohibit interrupting church services.
What did Jesus say to this man? Did he cuss out the stretcher bearers? Did he refuse to help the paralytic, because his timing was inappropriate? He responded in love. Jesus gave the man what he wanted. Jesus healed him, and commanded him to take up his bed and walk!
There are several lessons we can learn from this story. One of the first is found in could have been the names of the four stretcher bearers. One commentator feels they could have been called Payer, Persistence, Patience, and Perseverance.5 I think the stretcher bearers might better be named Prayer, Friendship, Patience, and Acceptance. Unfortunately, that commentator does not really develop the idea, but the names are appropriate. Prayer, Friendship, Patience, and Acceptance probably brought the man to the source of healing.
Prayer really changes people. There are times when years of prayer are required before we start to see changes. Countless mothers have prayed for years before their children got serious about God. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people pray for years before they start to see God soften and warm the hearts of their family.
Some people are not nice. They are just bad news. Unfortunately, some of us may have family members that match the description. Anybody who values their well-being will walk on the opposite side of the street when they see these untouchables coming down the street. Jerks need God too. The only way they may ever taste the love of God is if they see a bit of your love. You can do that by accepting them. And you can accept them, without approving of their inappropriate behavior. You can love through appropriate boundaries.
Finally, it takes patience. You must put up with a lot. The language, the conduct of some people can be really ugly. Your efforts may not be wanted or appreciated. You may be sworn at when you share things of God. Persevere. Be patient. You may see your efforts rewarded.
I think you can see what I have in my hand. This is a wrench. And for the record, this is not the first time I’ve had a wrench in my hand. But don’t hold your breath waiting to see me holding one again, especially if it is a working wrench.
Now, I am going to place Mr. Wrench on the pulpit here. My car needs some fixing. The poor thing is getting rather expensive to park, because it wants to park where there are a lot of wrenches around, at the dealership.
So here we go. “My car needs to be tuned. Please tune up my car Mr. Wrench.”
You will note the wrench has not moved. I suspect what we need is an appropriate incentive and bonus program. “If you tune up my car Mr. Wrench, you will be eligible get a tip.” There that should do it.
We could plead with this wrench, beg the wrench, and threaten the wrench all day and nothing would happen. This wrench would not tune up my car.
There could be a few reasons. This particular wrench might do wonders in the hands of a plumber, but I am not sure you would see a mechanic using it to tune the engine of a car. The other problem is that any wrench cannot do a thing unless it is in the hands of a skilled tradesman, which is why you do not see me handling wrenches.
Too many Christians forget who does the saving and who does the healing. Saving and healing are God’s work, not our work. We are only God’s tools.
The men who carried the stretcher did not save the man. The stretcher bearers did not forgive the paralytic of his sins, nor did they heal him. Their role was only to bring him to Jesus.
Each of us is a tool. This wrench cannot be used to weld two pieces of metal together. You cannot use the wrench to cut plywood. And it does not make a good hammer. You are unique. God can use you to reach people. You, however, might not be the right person, the right tool to help make a spiritual breakthrough for a friend or loved one. But the right person is out there!
Jesus only touched one of the two men who were crucified with him. Nobody can reach everybody. Not being able to reach somebody is not a sign that you are not spiritual enough.
Another lesson we can learn is the role of churches. The home where Jesus was speaking was torn up and a man was forgiven and healed. This sheds light on the role of churches.
Churches are special. There are some wonderful churches around. Your church might be supportive and really helps meet your spiritual and social needs. That is fantastic. No matter how wonderful your church, no matter how good its programs are, no matter how loving its members, the church is a vehicle to bring people into connection with God and to touch lives. We have local congregations, denominations, and church institutions because we are all about touching lives. Denominations and denominationalism does not save us any more than Peter’s home saved the paralytic.
For gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people, I need to repeat this. Denominations do not save us! Congregations do not save us. God only allows the creation of these human organizations, because they are there to help touch more lives than we can do as individuals. When a church or a denomination treats queer people like dirt, the organization has lost sight of its purpose. Churches that eat their own members are violating their purpose, and it is OK to leave those churches and find churches that will treat you like the son or daughter of God that you are! Read - with love and respect!
Somebody who was far more creative and had a much better sense of humor than I have rewrote the words of the song “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I heard the modified version give in a sermon many years ago. I wish I could give credit to the author. The revised and somewhat irreverent words go like this:
Like a mighty turtle moves the church of God.
Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod.
We are all divided; many bodies we.
Very strong on doctrine; weak on charity.
If the turtle of your childhood, the turtle of your faith tradition is a snapping turtle, you do not have to put up with the snapping. You can find a church that understands that the purpose of the church is to help, not to hurt people.
The paralytic could not move. He was not capable of doing a thing to save himself. He could not purchase God’s love. The paralytic was not able to make God love him by doing lots of things in church.
Are you trying to buy God’s love? Worse yet, are you trying to buy God’s love by being somebody other than the person God created you to be? Are you trying to make God proud of you by being a perfect little straight? That is literally selling your soul for salvation. You cannot pay a higher price. But stop and think for a minute. Have you ever tried to earn somebody’s love? Did you try to purchase it with money? Just how successful were you? What makes you think you cannot buy God’s love, if you cannot purchase a human’s love? Only when you stop doing things so God will love you will you start to understand the depth of God’s love.
The last major lesson we can learn in this story is found in Jesus words to the paralytic. He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is a big lesson.
The Jews associated God’s anger with sickness. The respected commentator William Barclay notes that the Rabbis had a saying, “There is no sick man healed of his sickness until all his sins have been forgiven him.”6 While most Christians do not believe that any more, related ideas are still very much alive in many Christian circles.
The unfortunate reality is that barring the soon return of Jesus, everybody here will die. Death and illness are not signs of God’s anger. They do not indicate a lack of faith. Some of the strongest faith I’ve seen is among people who are facing imminent death. One such person was making plans about who would sit with her at the banquet table in heaven. If faith was all that person needed, the person would have danced out of the hospital. Some people blame sexual orientation on sin - if not the sin of the gay or bisexual person, the sin of the parent. The fact that many queer Christians have a vibrant faith in God, a faith that has withstood the forces of persecution straight Christians in this country have never seen is a testimony that sexual orientation is not a punishment from God for anybody’s sins or mistakes.
What are your plans for the heavenly? Surfing on a sun flare? Skiing on a sunbeam? Skate boarding on the golden streets? Ice skating on the sea of glass? Spending a few thousand years relaxing in hot springs? That is all icing on the cake. Being with God, the One who loved you so much is the cake. Today, you have a chance to meet and talk to the God you will be spending eternity with.