Sermon 06-23-13: “The Main Thing”

Jesus moved from his hometown of Galilee to Capernaum, where he likely worked as a carpenter.
Jesus moved from his hometown of Galilee to Capernaum, where he likely worked as a carpenter.

Sermon Text: Mark 2:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Mark Burgess told me the story of his first Sunday at Hampton UMC. It turns out it also corresponded to the first day of Vacation Bible School. So Mark got up and preached what he thought was a good sermon, but he had barely finished his benediction, he said, when these people marched up and took the pulpit away. And Mark thought, “Was I that bad? Are they not going to let me do this anymore?” I am so grateful to Mark for his faithful, effective, and grace-filled leadership over these past seven years, and his love and support of me during this transition. He has left a strong foundation for ministry on which each of us can continue to build. Praise God?

Corin Tucker, on left
“My favorite band perspired on me!”

As you will surely learn about me, I am passionately interested in music. Back in the late-’90s I saw one of my favorite bands in concert at a sold-out club in Atlanta. They were a female punk-rock trio called Sleater-Kinney. In fact, one of members of the group was a woman named Carrie Brownstein, who now stars with comedian Fred Armisen on a show called Portlandia. She’s even featured in an American Express commercial. Anyway, this small club was packed, wall-to-wall, with people. Standing room only. No elbow room. To make matters worse, the air-conditioning wasn’t working, and it was very hot—and everyone was sweating profusely. Anyway, I was standing near the door that led backstage. Shortly before the show started, the three members of this band that I idolized walked out of that door. And they walked right up to me, and they politely said, “Excuse me,” and they squeezed past me on their way to the concession stand. Each of them brushed against me as they passed. And after they did so, I turned to my friend Keith and said, “I’ve been perspired on by my favorite band! I’ll never wash this shirt again!”

Isn’t that silly? Of course I did end up washing that shirt. But still… It was a thrill to be up close and personal with bona fide rock stars! That had never happened to me before.

In today’s scripture, Jesus is like a bona fide rock star—in the eyes of the crowd of people who have come to see him. And I imagine that the house where he’s preaching is probably a lot like that crowded club—standing room only, wall-to-wall people, no elbow room. Word had gotten out about his power to heal people and drive out demons. That’s what motivated these four men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus. And when the place is so crowded they can’t get through the door, they climb up on the roof above where Jesus is preaching. And they break a hole in the roof and lower the paralyzed man by ropes down in front of Jesus.

Now, as a preacher, I can tolerate many distractions—I don’t mind crying babies, or talkative children, or texting teenagers, or snoring adults. But I’m pretty sure that if the roof were caving in above my head while I was preaching—well, I would probably have a hard time staying focused, if you know what I mean. So if I were Jesus I would probably be angry that these guys were not only interrupting my sermon but also breaking my house!

Well, I’m obviously not not Jesus—and my family is like, “Amen to that!” Unlike me, Jesus doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by this interruption or the damage to his house. On the contrary, he kind of likes these guys. Among other things, they are stubbornly persistent. My wife, Lisa, is like that. Last Tuesday, while the movers were moving all our furniture and boxes into the house, I tried to make myself useful by setting up our cable modem so that we could have wi-fi in our house. The cable company assured us that it would be no problem to do this ourselves—and I was an electrical engineer, after all. I know about that “electronical” stuff. But I couldn’t get it working. After spending hours on the phone with tech support, they finally told me that they would have to dispatch a cable guy to our house. But the earliest he could get there was Thursday. And I’m like, “Thursday!” Ugh! I mean, I know this is what’s called a “first-world problem,” but I’m pretty sure that our family could not survive two days without wi-fi! So Lisa, who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, was overhearing this conversation, and she’s like “Give me the phone.” In no time, she was talking to the supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor. And she finally gets them to agree to come first thing Wednesday morning and fix the cable. What a relief! Of course, they didn’t show up until Thursday afternoon—but still… If it were up to me, we’d probably still be waiting for the cable guy! I take “no” for an answer easily and often. I give up too easily. Lisa doesn’t. And neither did these four friends!

And their stubborn persistence pays off. Because when they finally lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus, he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Wait a minute… Your sins are forgiven? Who said anything about sins? That’s not what these four friends wanted. They wanted Jesus to do for their paralyzed friend what Jesus had done for all the people mentioned in Mark chapter 1: they wanted Jesus to heal the man physically. They wanted their friend to be able to walk again. Why is Jesus talking about “forgiveness of sins”?

Jesus is talking about forgiveness of sins because forgiveness of sins is the reason Jesus came into the world. Forgiveness of sins is the main thing.

This may surprise us because according to our modern way of thinking, forgiveness of sins—that’s the easy part for God. God forgives sins all the time. By contrast, how often do we see miraculous healings? But that’s not the right way to think about it. If Jesus is God’s Son—the Messiah, the Second Person of the Trinity, God from God, light from light, true God from true God—then working a miracle is no big deal. The whole universe came into existence through Christ. But forgiveness…? To say the least, it cost Jesus a lot more than the repair bill for the damaged roof. It cost him his own life—God’s own life—on the cross! God the Son gave his life, willingly, out of love, in order to purchase our forgiveness. On the cross, God in Christ took upon himself all of the world’s sins—including your sins and my sins—and suffered the penalty for them that we deserved to suffer; died the death that we deserved to die. “God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

It may be easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” than, “Get up. Take your mat and walk”—because forgiveness isn’t something anyone can see. But forgiveness is much harder to do. And the good news is that God did it for us, through Christ, on the cross. Every sin that we’ve ever committed—past, present, or future—was nailed to the cross with Christ. Amen? And because of our faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross we can be confident that we’ll have eternal life—which isn’t just everlasting life on the other side of death, but a better quality of life now. It means we can experience true happiness, true joy, true peace.

Have you experienced this gift of forgiveness yourself?

I have—when I was 13 years old. What I remember most vividly about being 13 was being afraid… And you know what I was afraid of more than anything else? Nuclear war. Don’t laugh! This was the early ’80s. This was the last gasp of the Cold War. This was “Star Wars” missile defense. This was a time of video games like “Missile Command,” in which you tried to save American cities from nuclear attack—which, if you recall from that depressing game, was ultimately hopeless: the missiles kept coming faster and faster! Matthew Broderick starred in a movie called War Games in which he hacks into national defense computers and almost triggers World War III by accident. But the worst thing for me was this controversial TV movie called The Day After, which referred to the day after a nuclear holocaust. I was too afraid to watch it myself. But I remember our high school teachers wanted to “rap with us kids” about how the movie made us feel. Well, I didn’t feel good about it! I was reasonably certain that I would die in a nuclear attack! And that scared me. But I wasn’t only afraid of death. I was afraid of what happened after death. I knew that I hadn’t gotten my life right with God. I was afraid of hell.

And in the midst of all these fears—not to mention my normal fear and insecurity regarding girls, fitting in at high school, finding my way in the world—I found Jesus. Rather, Jesus found me. He met me in my room one night. I was deeply into music even then, and I was listening to an early Genesis album called Foxtrot. And in the middle of a 23-minute spooky-sounding song about the end of the world called “Supper’s Ready,” Jesus came to me. I didn’t see a blinding light. I didn’t hear a voice. But like John Wesley, I found my heart strangely warmed. I had a strong intuition that Jesus was there with me. I sensed that he loved me and forgave me of my sins and accepted me and would take care of me—now and forever. And all those fears… subsided. God loved me—with a love from which “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us.” And I prayed my first real prayer—which wasn’t of the “Now I lay me down to sleep” variety. After that, I knew I was going to be O.K. Even if I died in a nuclear war. For the first time, I felt a sense of peace.  Peace with God, made possible by God’s free gift of forgiveness, which comes through the cross.

A couple of months later, I went on a youth group retreat in Black Mountain, North Carolina—I believe Lynn Swan is from Black Mountain—and I made public my decision to follow Jesus and was later baptized.

I don’t know you people yet—obviously. It’s possible that some of you haven’t yet accepted for yourself God’s gift of forgiveness. If you haven’t, I can’t think of a better day to do it than today. It’s as if you are lying on that mat in front of Jesus. You need the healing that only he can provide, and he’s offering it to you. Will you accept it? If that’s the decision you’re ready to make I’m going to invite you to do so in a few moments. We call this in our Methodist tradition making a “profession of faith.” You’ll come forward, pray a prayer with me, and I’ll ask you some questions. And you can leave this place knowing for certain that you have forgiveness and eternal life.

As for the rest of us—who’ve already accepted this gift of forgiveness—well, we have work to do, don’t we? This man who could now take up his mat and walk. He now had the power to work for God’s kingdom. He now had a responsibility to do so. None of gets to sit on the sidelines of God’s mission field and wait for the clock to run out so we can go to heaven when we die. We all have to get in the game. Saving faith isn’t simply believing certain facts about God and Jesus. No… saving faith is faith in action.

Isn’t that something we also learn from today’s scripture? In verse 5, after the men lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus, what does it say? “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven!’” It doesn’t say, “When Jesus interrogated them about their understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity,” or “When Jesus made sure that they held the correct view of the authority of scripture…” No, it says, “When he saw their faith.” And what did Jesus see? He saw four friends working very hard to heal someone they loved, trusting all the while that Jesus had the power to heal. It was faith in action. Faith in action means doing something that only makes sense if Jesus really is who he says he is.

Will you do something this week that only makes sense if Jesus really is who he says he is?

One thing that we can admire about these four friends is the great lengths to which they went to bring their paralyzed friend to the healing and saving power of Jesus Christ. Since everyone needs the healing and saving power that Jesus offers—including our family, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers—our church’s mission is the same as these four friends: to bring people to Jesus. And isn’t that what we’re doing this week with Vacation Bible School. We’re bringing people to Jesus!

What else can we do together to bring people to Jesus? I look forward to finding out!

One thing’s for sure: once we bring them here, I know first-hand that they will experience the life-changing love of Jesus Christ through you, because that’s what my family and I have already experienced through you—so thank you for that.

I’ve told you a little about myself. I look forward to learning about you. I look forward to putting my faith into action with you. I look forward to running my race alongside you. I look forward to dreaming dreams with you. I look forward to crying with you down in the valley and laughing with you up on the mountaintops. I look forward to being challenged by you. I look forward to being inspired by you. I look forward to going into our community, our nation, and our world and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Amen?

Will we be successful in this mission? Of course we will! It’s not our plan we’ll be following. It’s God’s. He’s got it under control.

6 thoughts on “Sermon 06-23-13: “The Main Thing””

  1. Great sermon, Brent. I especially like, “Faith in action means doing something that only makes sense if Jesus really is who he says he is.” Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a REWARDER of those who seek him.” We trust that whatever we are giving up, or undergoing, or doing that is hard will be more than made up for by God in the long run (even if the rewards only come in heaven).

    This point is, unfortunately, somewhat downplayed by a fair number of Christians today. I was substitute teaching in my Sunday School class of married adults recently and mentioned rewards, only to be met with, “O, but just to be with Jesus will be the thing–why bother with any issue of rewards?” This seemed to be the predominant sentiment of the class. Why bother? Because God does! God speaks of rewards for obedience and punishments for disobedience from Genesis to Revelation!

    Ultimately, would we really like a God who was any other way? Who neither encouraged “good deeds” nor sought to dissuade anyone from “bad deeds”? Also, why not rewards? Just think of the joy of Christmas morning when the packages are opened! As much a thrill for the parent as for the child!

    Well, that may be making a bit more of your point than might be called for, but, given the class’ response, it is sort of a “sore spot” with me that people want to downplay the “gift-giving” or rewarding aspect of God. (Or its motivational aspect for us.)

    1. I’ve talked about this issue with a theologian friend of mine. He agrees with you—and I do too, although I don’t think that there’s any kind class system in heaven. Who knows? What rewards would we receive that, in the interest of Christ-like love, we wouldn’t also want to share with others?

      1. Good point about sharing. But even so, wouldn’t there be something to be said for having more to share?

      2. Yes. I think that’s right. And—now that all of us have been made perfect and free from sin on the other side of resurrection—we will be happy that others have been thus recognized and rewarded. There won’t be jealousy or bitterness. Right? I confess on this side of resurrection it’s sometimes hard for me to celebrate with others’ success because I worry too much about my own.

      3. Totally agree with you. Everyone will fully understand what they did or did not get based on what they did or did not do, and be fully satisfied with the differences based on that.

      4. Hey, I think we’re onto something here! The reason your Sunday school class (among many other Christians) struggles with the issue of rewards is because we know how badly we often feel when we don’t receive them. That simply won’t be the case on the other side of death and resurrection.

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