Sunday, July 27, 2014

Surprised by an Open Heaven: Healing and wholeness from the one who has authority to forgive sin (Mark 2:1-12)

Lucy from peanuts is right "life is full of surprises" and there are some people who like surprises and those that don’t … right… and I have found that it’s usually quite evenly split. some people love spontaneity and others  would rather be in control and organised... Or at least in the know.

For me and probably for a lot of you it actually depends on the context. Presents and party’s yes surprise is alright…right…I like it when my wife surprises me by turning up and taking me to lunch.  If it’s my birthday and you want to surprise me with a party though, It’s probably a bit better to let me know ahead of time. I’ll still act surprised.

f it’s in the middle of a meeting or as I’m organising something then no!  Surprises are not welcome. I like the idea of a no surprises agenda.  And particularly when I’m preaching… like the time I was speaking at an Easter camp and we had an outdoor worship time on the banks of the Taeiri river and a car pulls up behind me on the river bank three guys get out and proceed to strip off and go skinny dipping.  They were surprised as they noticed after a few turns on the rope swing across the river from us that they were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses… about ninety very attentive teenages, they quickly headed back to there car and their clothes and headed away. Surprises in the middle of Jesus speaking like we are looking at in Mark 2 didn’t seem to fase him unlike they do me.

One thing I am constantly surprised with is the grace and the goodness of God. I shouldn’t be but I am. Maybe its testimony to the passage in lamentations that says ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ends, and his mercy endures forever, it is new every morning.” The amazing love and grace that God shows in my own life and in the life of others and even…surprise, surprise…as I prayer and minister to and with them takes me by surprise all the time.  I am like the people in our bible reading tonight amazed, which is a synonym for surprised, at what the Lord does.

It’s probably no surprise that at a prayer and healing meeting we would choose as our reading a miracle story from the gospel. You’ve probably read it yourself many times and heard people speak on it many times, as I have. But as I read and reflected and prayed over this week, I was surprised by it… the thing that surprised me was that it is full of surprises. From the moment you hear the determined footsteps on the roof right through to the joyous footsteps of the paralysed man Jesus heals, it’s a journey full of surprises. Surprises that we might miss because we’ve become familiar with it, but I was also surprised by how it spoke to some of the questions I was wrestling with, even about having such things as prayer and healing services… and I was surprised at how it speaks to people who need to meet with Jesus. It does not say that we should be surprised by a hole in the roof, but we can be surprised amazed at an open heaven, at Jesus meeting us as we come to him and bringing healing and wholeness: help, health and salvation.

Jesus had come back to town; his home Mark tells us and the word had got out and people had flocked to hear him speak. So much so that the place was packed, standing room only. Don’t tell OSH because we are over the fire and safety limits. Then there is a surprise… Jesus is interrupted, people would have been surprised by the sound of feet on the flat roof above, they would have looked up as sawdust and debris starts to fall on them from above and a hole appears in the thatched roof. Then a man on a mat is lowered down right to the feet of Jesus.

What Jesus says surprises everyone, “Son, your sins are forgiven” They are not the simple words of healing that you might expect, Jesus does just not meet the man’s perceived need.

 We don’t know about this man’s life or who was or what he had done, but Jesus offers him something at a deeper level than physical healing. Perhaps Jesus looked right to the root of the problem that the man was crippled by guilt and weighed down by his sin. The man here may have lived with that all his life and Jesus is saying this to the man so he will be able to hear God’s healing word. At another level like with many of the healings Jesus does it’s about wholeness and Jesus is removing that stigma that associated physical infirmary with sin from the man so he can be welcomed back into full fellowship with the community.

At another level Jesus is looking even deeper into the root of the problem; that we are all broken by sin and in need of forgiveness.  We were created to have a loving relationship with God, and sin broke that, the healing that Jesus offers this man starts with healing that brokenness that is in all of us. It points us to the work of the cross and the resurrection, that Jesus would give his life so that we may be forgiven and restored to that life giving relationship with God.  Sickness and illness are connected to sin, in as much as they are a consequence of a fallen humanity, a marred creation; in fact one of the things that shows how evil and destructive sin is is that these things strike people who do not deserve it. Much of the Old Testament scriptures wrestle with the issue of why do good people suffer. Jesus offers first of all that most wondrous of healings salvation, reconciliation with God and with one another. “your sins are forgiven.”

There is another surprise now in the narrative, so much so that some scholars have suggested that Mark has combined two episodes in Jesus life into one. Because the focus moves from the man and Jesus to what is happening in the minds of the religious leaders who we are surprised to learn are there in the house.  We are told in their minds they are surprised and not in a good way by what Jesus has said. They know their scriptures they understand about God and in their understanding what Jesus is saying is blaspheme… Only God can forgive sin.”

WE shouldn’t be surprised about this turn of events, because in the gospels what people call miracles are in actual fact called signs and wonders. They are recorded for us because of what they tell us about Jesus. Yes they always affirm the compassion and the love and power of God, but here Mark makes sure we understand what this healing says about Jesus. He records Jesus words, “is it easier to say your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk, but to show that the son of man, a messianic title from the book of Daniel and Ezekiel, that Jesus uses of himself, has authority to forgive sins on earth,’ and here he turns to the man, “get up take up your mat and go home.”  The healing shows us the proof and the authority of Jesus words. Marks Gospel starts with a affirmation and witness to Jesus as the unique messiah, the anointed one of God and then throughout the rest of the book we are invited to see what that means. It’s kind of like a mystery thriller, or a film noir we’ve been let into the solution at the start and as we read through the narrative we are invited to see it more clearly.

The passage tells us that Jesus the son of man, has authority to forgive sin on earth, Jesus does not contradict the religious leaders, but rather by his actions he point to his identity. In the book of Hebrews the author argues that Jesus is a better priest than in the Jewish religious understanding and here we see Jesus acting in that role. Offering forgiveness of sin, and just as Hebrews goes on to say he is a better priest because he gives himself as a sacrifice for sin, the work of the cross is echoed here. But we are also invited to look at the very identity of the one speaking, here is the very word of God made flesh, as John will start his gospel by telling us.

The healing acts as a sign post to the person and the work of Jesus as God’s messiah, as God with us.

We are told that the man instantly feels his legs strengthened and does what Jesus had told him to do he gets up rolls his mat up and walks. And the narrative finished with surprise, the people are amazed by the fact the man is healed and they give glory and praise to God.

I want to finish tonight by drawing some surprising connection from this passage for us tonight.

The first thing is that while this has been promoted as a prayer and healing service that first and foremost it is a gospel service. In everything we do we want to point people to Jesus. We hope as we worship as we hear the word of God read and preached as we pray that just like with the man on the mat we may find ourselves at the feet of Jesus to hear his words of forgiveness wholeness help strength encouragement and healing we need to hear. That even through life’s tears and storm we might encounter Jesus.

Secondly,  I was surprised by where I found myself standing as I read this passage because as a preacher and as part of the prayer ministry team, I discovered a metaphor for what we do that warmed my heart… That of friend, It seems that we left those guys up on the roof as we looked at this passage but they are the ones who allowed the person in need to come to Jesus.  They exercised their faith to help him. And later when we invite people to come for prayer we are doing it not as some sort of super spiritual guru who’ve got all the answers or anything special, rather as a friend who can simply bring you to Jesus. Very often we think of people like evangelists or preachers and teachers healers as something special unobtainable but can I say we are all called to be friends, all able to be friends and befriend.

Thirdly, I was surprised at the barriers that needed to be overcome to bring healing and wholeness in this narrative. It would be great if at church each week people had to get their early to get in, right. And we had to push out the windows and door so people could hear Jesus speaking in our midst. But I was surprised that the people around Jesus became a barrier for healing and wholeness. They stood in the way. I shouldn’t have been surprised really because we often let that happen to us. We’ve been talking about inviting people to come forward for prayer in our team meetings and acknowledge that accepting that invitation is a hard thing to do. It actually involves being willing to say well actually I have a need, or I want to know more of Jesus in my life. That crowd pressure can hold us back.

Lastly, I hope we are not surprised by where this narrative places Jesus.  I don’t know about you but I can often think of Jesus as way off there, distant and beyond,  in eternity and locked up in heaven somehow. That God is a distant disinterested deity. That not even a impromptu skylight is going to do much to connect us. We long for an open heaven. But the surprise in this passage is where Jesus can be found. Did you hear it, Jesus came home and was in the midst of the people.   We have an open heaven, because  in Jesus God came down, and dwelt amongst us, by his Spirit Jesus dwells in the midst of his people through Christ God dwells in the midst of us. 

And in the midst of us Jesus offers us forgiveness and reconciliation with God and each other, Jesus offers us forgiveness of sin, freedom and liberty, God is able to meet us in our point of need and speak words of wholeness and healing. Directly to us or just maybe we too will need a friend, the person next to you and the team is here to befriend.

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