Stepping into Life: The First Step

February 14, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

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(based on We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren)

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“Stepping into Life: The First Step”
Rev. Melanie Homan
February 14, 2106

Mark 2:1-12

After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. 3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!” 6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, 7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.” 8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9 Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10 But so you will know that the Human One[a] has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”
12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

“From dust we come and to dust we shall return.” The beginning of Lent is the time when we are reminded that we are mortal, that we have one life to live, and we pause to consider how we are living it. We take a look at the places in our lives that need healing, and we consider the healing that we can offer those around us.

Now, I missed the Ash Wednesday service this year – something I never imagined I would miss – so I could go to the dentist for a root canal. If you saw me last Sunday sort of wincing and holding the side of my head, there was a reason! It was not fun, but it did give me ample opportunity – while staring at the bright lights from the dental chair and listening to the awful sound of the drill for 2 ½ hours, to reflect on Jesus’ suffering and my own mortality! In my nervous state, I was telling the dentist all of these random stream of conscious thoughts about Lent, and in an attempt to relate, he said, “My favorite worship service is Black Friday”. I agreed and told him that it was a great worship service, and I refrained from clarifying that Black Friday is the day when everyone goes shopping after Thanksgiving and that Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ death. I know religion, he knows teeth and I just wanted him to stop the pain…which he eventually did, and I am very grateful for that.
Several of the youth shared reflections at the Ash Wednesday service and did a great job. How do I know this since, as I mentioned, I was not here? Well, due to the work of Paige Gamet and Chad Johnson, all of our sermons and reflections are now being posted on the website as audio and pdf files! Check it out!

So, moving along from the shameless plug, Chris asked the youth to reflect on this idea of healing – the healing that we need in our lives and the healing we can offer others. This idea of healing is also found in our scripture reading for today. It’s the story of a man who is paralyzed and his friends believe that Jesus can offer him healing.
But, there’s a problem! They can’t get him to Jesus because there are too many other people who are crowding around, having filled the house and the area outside the house, as people flock to hear what Jesus has to say and to see what Jesus will do.

These friends, though, they are creative problem solvers and where there is a will there is a way! Their solution is to take the roof off of the house and lower their friend down through the roof. We’ve heard this story enough that it seems like just some normal thing to do. But imagine it! They take the roof off a house…Imagine, you are Jesus, and people are piling into your house and swarming outside the front door, and then they start dismantling your roof. You know, just the part of your house that keeps the rain out…These friends are willing to do some damage in order to help their friend, which brings up some interesting ethical questions – when is it okay to cause damage in order to get help, in order to heal? These friends wreck Jesus’ home and then they ask him to heal their friend. Pretty audacious, don’t you think?

But, these friends have their minds made up, no matter what. They will do whatever it takes to get their friend healed. They will suffer the consequences, they will risk angering Jesus, they will take the risk that their efforts might not work and that healing won’t come. They risk it all, just for the chance of healing their friend.

In the end, though, their risk pays off in the biggest way possible. Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Stand up, take your mat, and go home…your sins are forgiven”. The man believes and accepts that he is inherently acceptable to God. He takes that first step and is on his way towards a new path in life.

This whole sin and illness thing is something we have to take a closer look at. When Jesus was teaching and healing people, it came at a time when people didn’t understand what caused physical ailments. In this pre-scientific era, if you were a leper, if you were paralyzed, if you were physically or mentally broken in any way –
the conclusion was that in some way you deserved it, that the physical or mental “brokenness” was a punishment from God for sin. If you were sick, it was your own fault and you caused it by your sinful actions. If you were healthy, wealthy, and wise – well, that was a sign of just how upright and faithful you were in the eyes of God.

Even now, when we know what causes physical and mental ailments, we can tend towards thinking that God has some part in our suffering – that we did something to deserve it and that God is somehow punishing us. The whole book of Job is a reaction against this idea.

Paul Tillich suggested that, “Jesus wasn’t forgiving the sins of the paralyzed one, he was proclaiming that in the sight of God the man was sinless.” In his sermon “To Whom Much is Forgiven,” Tillich wrote, “Forgiveness is an answer, the divine answer, to the question implied in our existence.” God is with us when things are going well and God is with us when we are suffering, perhaps even more so when we are struggling. Our suffering is not divine punishment.

From the dental chair, I was reminded that sometimes healing hurts. Sometimes, the thing you have to do to heal is painful and hard to make yourself do. We might even consider keeping the pain that we know, rather than face the unknown costs of healing. And sometimes, as in the story from the Gospel of Mark, we need the help of our friends to get us to the place of healing.

Two of our youth, Parker and Natasha, shared reflections on Ash Wednesday about what they felt it meant to be a good friend and how they had helped create places of healing. Natasha shared that one of the most important things you can do to be a good friend is to admit when you are wrong – admit when you’ve made mistakes –
as a first step towards healing.

Parker shared about a time on his cross country team, when people were saying mean things to one of the younger kids on the team, and Parker stepped in to stop it.
He told his teammates to not bring others down for small social gains – that’s not who they were or wanted to be. Speaking up was a roof dismantling risk, in order to be a good friend.

Natasha took her own roof dismantling risk, two years ago at lyfe camp, when she created the space and took the time to listen to one of the other kids who was going through a hard time. She said, “If we hadn’t had that talk, she might not be here.” The young woman needed a friend to be there, to be a living reminder of the grace and acceptance God has for each of us, that meets us right where we are at.

Being a good friend – it’s important. It can mean the difference for someone to be able to take the first step toward healing. At some point in our lives, each of us needs people like those four friends of the paralyzed man, who carry us until we can take that first step toward life on our own. And, each of us is called to be one of those friends for the people around us. I believe that this is what we need to do for each other.

I’ve always wondered about this when it comes to addiction. I have a friend who just lost her partner to drug addiction. He died, even though his friends tried and tried everything they could think of to help him. He went into treatment, his friends cared for his cats, took care of his house, paid his bills…because that’s what friends do. Friends carry you, however reluctant you might be, down the road and to the place they believe will bring you healing. Friends will go so far as to tearing the roof off a house to bring you in, just to ease your pain. That’s what friends do. And yet, we know that healing may or may not come, no matter our efforts. It may just not be enough. A person struggling with addiction still needs to be honest with themself
and take that first step into new life for themselves – they have to choose it and they have to want it.

I asked a friend who has known the pain of addiction in her family and she said, “It’s hard. You can’t enable it, you can’t control it, and yet you can’t shut the door (on them), either”. Sometimes, we find that we are the one who needs healing, but we are the friend doing everything we can to help.

I helped lead a service on Ash Wednesday morning for clergy in the Twin Cities district, and I shared with them this writing from the author Sara Miles in her book “City of God.”

“Though the Bible describes people trying to demonstrate their sorrow before God
through rituals like fasting, wearing sackcloth, and pouring ashes on their heads,
prophets like the ones we read aloud on Ash Wednesday insist these acts do not constitute repentance unless there’s a real change in behavior.

Repentance means turning toward other human beings, our own flesh and blood, whenever they’re oppressed, hungry, or imprisoned; it means acting with compassion instead of indifference. It means turning away, ‘fasting’, from any of the little and big things that can keep us from God—drugs, religion, busy-ness, video games, lies—and accepting the divine embrace with all our hearts. Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: The whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be God’s own.”

If forgiveness is the divine answer to the question implied in our existence, then our response to that forgiveness is repentance, not the other way around. We repent in order to love what God loves so much, and it requires a real change in behavior – taking that first step towards something different from what you’ve known and done in the past. It’s not always easy and it can sometimes be terrifying. Yet, that is what we are called to do in Lent, every single year – to take that first step. You can fast from chocolate and meat, if you want, you can fast from the small things. But, consider instead fasting from the big things that keep us from God.

Do that for yourself – while at the same time, be a good friend. Be ready to walk alongside with one who is struggling, and walk with them until they can make that first step on their own.