Circle of Friends

Proverbs 27:10b; Mark 2:1-12 /June 12, 2016
Susan Boyer

I know that some of you in this room have been to a workshop with Ted Swartz of Ted and Co., formerly Ted and Lee. Ted is a Mennonite man who uses humor and storytelling to talk about issues of faith through live shows. I have gone to three of his workshops and one of his favorite scriptures to unpack is the one that Deb read this morning from Mark. Ted shows the absolute humor of this story.

Think about it. Jesus has made his way to Capernaum and everyone is talking about him. “I heard he gives sight to the blind.” “I heard that he has a lovely preaching voice.” “I heard that he lets the Romans have it.” The whole town arrives early that morning and waits outside the house where Jesus is staying until the doors open so they can rush in and get the best seats close to the front….like a Bonita High School choir concert here at the church. There is no fire marshal in the crowd and so they pack themselves in, standing room only. They can’t move left or right. They can’t fit one more person in, so that those who are blind, lame and paralyzed….those for whom mobility has its challenges….aren’t the first to arrive to get the best seats. They are stuck outside. They can’t even hear the lovely preaching voice…but most of all, they can’t get close enough to Jesus.

But there was one paralyzed man who had four devoted and tenacious friends who refused to give up and go home. They walked for miles, carrying their friend on this makeshift stretcher and they demand time with Jesus. So they lift his mat onto the roof, and begin digging down…right through the structure of the home. The nerve. The absolute nerve.

Imagine this — Jesus is ecstatically preaching. The most able-bodied are sitting the closest to Jesus. Then all of a sudden the room begins to fill with dust. There is a scraping sound coming from overhead. People become frightened but there is nowhere to escape. They are packed in like sardines. And then a hole opens up in the ceiling and just a face pops through and looks around. It pops back out and you hear a voice say, “Good job guys, this is the exact spot. We just need to make the hole bigger. Jesus is literally right below me.” And then the digging and scraping continues.

I get so mad at guests like that….those ones that think they can dig a hole in your roof when they can’t get in the front door. Okay, well that hasn’t happened, but you know the type. Those people so focused on what they want and what they need that they don’t care about common decency. The ones who try to take cuts in line….who ruin a perfect event with their own self-importance. Like the woman in the TSA line who said to me, “Do you mind if I cut in front of you, I have a plane to catch?”

Jesus is no longer preaching when the hole becomes big enough to lower the paralyzed man’s stretcher down right in front of him. Those sitting on the front row, covered in dirt can’t believe their eyes. They came for the spectacle….the show of Jesus…and they couldn’t be more pleased. This is turning out to be quite entertaining…and they have front row seats.

Jesus doesn’t miss a beat….like a good jazz musician. Wynton Marsalis, the great jazz trumpeter, was playing a gig one night and in the middle of one of his songs, someone’s cell phone started ringing. Don’t you hate when that happens? But Marsalis didn’t stop, didn’t seem distracted at all, actually. He started playing the ring tone of the cell phone on his trumpet and when the ringing stopped he resolved right back into his original song.

Jesus, like a jazz musician, says to the man who appeared from above during his impassioned sermon, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” That isn’t what anyone expected to hear. They wanted Jesus to heal the man, not forgive him. Way less interesting.

The scribes in the room call out “Blasphemy!” Jesus responds by saying, “I said that so you would know I have the authority to forgive sins.” He morphs this event right into a preaching moment. He turns back to the paralytic man and says, “Stand up, take your mat and go home.” And the paralyzed man finds he can walk again and he does. Obviously, people make room for the healed man as he begins to wind his way through the crowd, back outside to his waiting friends.

It is a funny story when you think about it. At least it used to be funny to me. Now it’s a personal story. One April 23, on a day that looked and felt and smelled just like any other ordinary day, I became a widow in the twinkling of an eye, just after my husband and I had a brief conversation in which he told me he felt fine….and then he fell backwards and was gone.

After the doctor officially pronounced my husband dead and I left the emergency room to drive myself home to a house that was suddenly so empty, I became paralyzed with fear and grief. I knew I had to call my children and tell them their father was dead. I debated not telling them but realized that wasn’t an option. Did I think that this was news I could shield them from? I was terrified. Every decision, every movement was painful.

The saving grace is that I have a good community, a huge circle of friends. Tom and Angie Hostetler arrived at the house only moments after I got home. They began the process of taking care of the details at church. They gave sage advice, made me tea and offered whatever I needed and didn’t know I needed. Flowers, cards, food appeared on my doorstep and in the mail. People helped plan a memorial service and a reception. People lifted up my family in consistent and constant prayer…of that I was so aware. I felt held and carried by your prayers. You all were ready to do anything for me even though you were told to give me space and grace….which is what I most needed. You did but all the while you were chomping at the bit to dig a hole in the roof. I know it was killing you that you couldn’t do more.

But what I want to tell you is that you did dig a hole in the roof for me. After the ER doctor pronounced Bryan dead he came over next to me and said, “It is at times like this that we need others. Do you have a community?” And all of your faces filled my mind. “Boy, do I have a community,” I said. I know now, at a very deep level, what it means to have friends who will carry you miles and dig a hole in the roof….whatever it takes….to bring you to the foot of Jesus….for that is what I needed most.

I felt like I couldn’t get there myself. I was paralyzed. I needed you to carry me; pray for me; remind me that I am loved by God; remember Bryan with me. I needed to have my wounded body and soul set down at the feet of Jesus and hear that I was forgiven for every precious moment of my 36 years of knowing Bryan that I took for granted…forgiven for ever thinking that any day was an ordinary day that I could walk through without being grateful for each wonderful second. It wasn’t until I felt forgiven for everything I hadn’t notice about the gift of my life that I could hear the Spirit of God whisper in my ear, “Stand up and walk”.

We need each other. Who we are as a community of faith is so vitally important. My sister said to me in the days after Bryan’s death, “How do people without a community like this make it during times like this?” “I have no idea,” I said.

Who we are to each other matters. Sometimes we need to be carried. Sometimes we need to be the one doing the carrying. How blessed we are to have each other. Look around you. Thank God for these people who are sharing this sanctuary with you this morning. Thank God for friends who love you enough to carry you to Jesus when you are most in need. Thank God that you get to do the lifting sometimes.

I have read and reread this scripture for years. I have laughed out loud imagining the look on the homeowners face when someone dug a hole in their ceiling. I imagine the disciple Matthew whispering to Judas, “Do you think they will expect us to pay for the repair?” But now, all I can think about are those wonderful friends….those friends who found no obstacle too great. What possessed them to do such a crazy, reckless thing? Love. Love possessed them.

It is the gift we give each other, given to us to share by a crazy, reckless God who finds no obstacle too great to journey to us. Amen.