Kilmorack and Erchless Church

Sunday Service – 21st February

 

Now I pause from doing other things - to do what my soul needs

Now I pause from thinking about lesser things - to think about what matters most

Now I pause from worrying about hurtful things - to focus on what can bring healing.

Prayer

Our praise is offered to you, all mighty one, who in the beginning dreamt and worked our universe into being, and whose presence we still sense, whispering to us with gentle calls to enjoy the beauty, and share the love, and celebrate the wonder that you have woven into each moment.

We settle now to express our worship, and also to offer our confession.  For we know, and acknowledge, that we do not live as we ought in this world of wonders.  Our lifestyles damage the planet, our actions damage our neighbour, our words hurt those around us.  Having gladly received so much that is good, we have been content to give back little.  So we remember again how much we need your mercy, and your forgiveness and your gift of grace.  And we are humbled again to remember how willingly you offer it all to us.  With humility and gratitude, may we honour your generosity in our worship, and in our lives.  Amen

Story

A man was walking along the street, and he came across a sorry sight.  There was this poor looking fellow sitting on the pavement in a camping chair, all dishevelled and cold looking.  Worst of all, the poor man was holding a fishing rod which he dangled into a large puddle, as if he was hoping to catch something.

The passer by wasn’t in a hurry, so when he noticed that there was a pub right beside where the man was sitting, he took pity on him and invited him in for a drink in the warm.  As they sipped their beers, he asked him “have you caught many so far”?  The answer was not what he had expected.  “O yes”, the old fellow replied, “your my fourth so far today”.

That gives a different meaning to Jesus words about teaching Peter to catch people rather than fish, though I don’t think that was what he meant.  Well things are not always as they seem, and our assumptions about people don’t always turn out to be correct.  How we decide who we are going to trust and who we are going to listen to is one of the key things we need to get right if we are going to cope well with life and its challenges.  Indeed, perhaps even more than that, how we decide what we’re going to believe about God, what we are going to trust about God, is going to be key if we are going to flourish.  Certainly there is no shortage of people trying to ‘catch us’ with their ideas.  Not that they are trying to con us, just that there are so many different ways of understanding things, so many different ways of thinking about life.  I know that I often disagree with things I find that I have said before, and no doubt that will go on being the case, so I wouldn’t recommend you take me as some great beacon of truth.

That is why we come back,  week after week, day after day, to scriptures which go back beyond all our current preoccupations and preferences.  Of course we can still interpret them in many ways to suit ourselves, but there remains at the core of those writings a truth about the human experience that we don’t want to wander too far away from.  Fortunately, that truth also turns out to be life affirming good news, so I don’t want to ever wander too far from it.

With that, let’s turn to our bible readings for this week.

Bible Readings

The people of Corinth were not sure whether or not they could trust Paul.  Accusations had been made against him, people were arguing that he was not being honest with them.  He chooses here not to defend himself, but also to point beyond such disputes and personal opinions to a greater message and a higher calling.

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

18 As surely as God speaks the truth, my promise to you was not a “Yes” and a “No.” 19 For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was preached among you by Silas, Timothy, and myself, is not one who is “Yes” and “No.” On the contrary, he is God's “Yes”; 20 for it is he who is the “Yes” to all of God's promises. This is why through Jesus Christ our “Amen” is said to the glory of God. 21 It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart, 22 who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us.

Chapter one of Mark’s gospel has ended with news about Jesus healing a man spreading to such an extent that he was in great demand.  Wherever he went people came looking for help.  Chapter two is going to pick up that situation with another story which tell us that he will not be put off, but also that the religious authorities are already wary of him, listening in to what he is saying.

Mark 2:1-12

A few days later Jesus went back to Capernaum, and the news spread that he was at home. So many people came together that there was no room left, not even out in front of the door. Jesus was preaching the message to them when four men arrived, carrying a paralysed man to Jesus. Because of the crowd, however, they could not get the man to him. So they made a hole in the roof right above the place where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they let the man down, lying on his mat. Seeing how much faith they had, Jesus said to the paralysed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”  Some teachers of the Law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “How does he dare talk like this? This is blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”  At once Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said to them, “Why do you think such things? Is it easier to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, 11 “I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home!”  12 While they all watched, the man got up, picked up his mat, and hurried away. They were all completely amazed and praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Sermon

I’m frequently finding these days that passages from the gospels which had once seemed rather familiar, have a habit of sounding different than they had before.  So for example, when we read that on that day in Capernaum ‘so many people came together that there was no room left, not even out in front of the door’, I have a strange sense of nostalgia for those days of old when people could do that sort of thing.  No social distancing, and, whisper it, they probably weren’t even wearing face masks!  Will that ever come to seem normal again?  I’m sure it will.

Of course, while the context of the story may had dated rather more quickly than before, the heart of the story seems to only gain in relevance.  People had needs and they believed that Jesus could help them.  That wasn’t a very rational belief.  It would not have stood up to the kind of statistical analysis which we have grown used to as a basis for what we ought to trust.  This is still only the beginning of chapter two of Mark’s story so there isn’t a lot of evidence to go on – only one man has been helped by Jesus so far.  Yet Jesus was preaching and his words seem to have carried the kind of authority which is felt more than it is understood.  People were instinctively drawn to him, to listen to him, to trust him, and their instincts turn out to be correct, their faith turns out to be justified.  So this is a story of healing, a miracle story we might say, yet there are two features which make it stand out among the others; two features which I’m guessing we are meant to notice, and which contain some powerful thoughts for us today.

The first is that the paralysed man didn’t come alone to find the help he needed.  Yes, I know he couldn’t because he was paralysed, but there are other stories about Jesus healing the blind and lame without them being carried to him on a mat.  The first feature of this story which I think we are meant to notice is that the community was involved in making the healing possible, not just the individual.  That certainly has a resonance for our situation.  We have grown used to the idea that we obey the lockdown rules, we keep a safe distance we wear our masks, not only for our own benefit, but for everyone else’s as well.  For us all to be healthy we each need to do the right thing for each other.  Health and healing are community matters which affect us all.

One of the slogans which has come from the World Health Organisation in these days is ‘none are safe until all are safe’.  Unfortunately it seems that the definition of “all” in most countries is shrinking to mean “all of us”, and the virus doesn’t tend to work that way.  Yet we are hopefully more aware than before of our dependence on each other. Our paralysed man would not have been healed if his friends had not cared enough to bring him, and the writer explicitly values their contribution when he makes a point of saying that Jesus saw how much faith ‘they’ had.  It was the whole group whose work made the difference.  They needed each other, and I don’ think that this aspect of the story has dated at all.

The second feature of the story which I think we are meant to notice is that Jesus does not address the obvious issue.  e does not say to the paralysed man – your legs are healed.  Rather he says – your sins are forgiven.  Well there then follows a bit of a theological stooshie about who has the right to forgive sin, and we are reminded that then, as now in much of the world, the charge of blasphemy carried an enormous weight.  But the outcome is that the paralysed man, at Jesus’ instruction, leaves the room by a more a conventional route than he had entered, and most significantly doing so under his own steam.   Now he can carry the mat which his friends had once carried for him.

So while this appears as a story of a paralysed man being healed, the physical restoration is not actually the heart of the story.  If anything it is almost a by-product, a footnote, a little evidence that the main message is indeed powerful.  The main message is that there is something wrong in our human lives, and therefore in our communities.  Something which has been called ‘a built in propensity to mess things up’.  The outward consequences of this may be easy to see, but it is the underlying problems which need to be addressed, and until we recognise them and confess them and seek help for them, the physical problems can never really be dealt with.

That was the message of Jesus and seems as relevant today as ever.  It may be that this virus first spread to humans because climate change and deforestation have forced animals away from their natural habitat and closer to towns where people live.  It is certainly able to spread most freely and therefore mutate most quickly where people are poor and have no access to health care.  There are underlying issues which we all need to address, and that will not change even if a vaccine can deal with the symptoms in the individuals fortunate enough to have access to it.

Jesus did not address the obvious problem which was presented to him.  He understood that there was something deeper going on, and he addressed that.  It didn’t make him popular.  It wasn’t what people wanted to hear.  Yet it produced an effect which no other approach had been able to achieve.  It is just a healing story, just a miracle story, and it can all seem so dated in so many ways, yet it points to a way of understanding what goes on in the world which still has plenty of wisdom for us to consider.  It points to a way thinking which is still worth trusting, and way of living which is still worth following.

Prayer

In a time of pandemic, we come to you – the God who heals.  In a time of anxiety, we come to you – the God of brings hope.  We come with limited understanding, but we come with faith, still instinctively believing that this is what we need to do, that you are who we need to trust.  Today, in the light of the gospel story, we may reflect on how often we cripple others and enslave ourselves with our failure to forgive?  May we see what freedom have we given up by hoarded our grudges and holding on to our hurts: what peace and joy have we denied ourselves because of our pride and stubbornness?

Compared with you, God of abounding grace, our concern for others is short and narrow and shallow.  Yet we offer these prayers for our fellow human beings, praying that by the wonders of your grace, you may be able to work miracles.

We hold up to you those among our family, friends, or work colleagues who are going through unhappy times. In faith we bring them to you.

We hold up to you those who hold positions of leadership; the leaders of our nations, and the United Nations with its many agencies.  In faith we bring them to you.

We hold up to you our church, in all its many denominations, particularly those congregations we feel connected with.  In faith we bring them to you.

So may we move on from this time secure in the knowledge that we are a cherished people.  May we go as forgiven, healed people, to be a forgiving, healing presence in the world.  Let love speak through us, the love of Christ flow through us, and the joy of the Spirit sing in us, all because of your grace and mercy, Amen.