(Mark 2: 1-12)
As I mentioned in last week’s sermon, a couple of Mondays ago a woman who the church has helped out for the past several years called me looking for help. I’ve gotten to know her and her significant other fairly well as we’ve worked on some of their livability issues. They’re a little rough around the edges but I really do like them and, I think their hearts are in the right place. They just can’t seem to catch a break. In any event, she called to tell me that two of her homeless friends were staying with them and wondered if we had any blankets they could have. I had previously given her some blankets because staying warm in their little drafty trailer this time of the year is tough. They turn the heat off at night to save on propane and it gets cold fast. She needed blankets for her friends. Because this church has been helping her out for years, she knew exactly where to go. I told her to bring her friends by and I’d see what we could do. One of the women was pretty sick and it seemed like she couldn’t get warm. When I gave her a blanket, she immediately wrapped up in it. I believe she may have had a fever. I gave her a new, warm jacket and her friend picked out some warm clothes for her. The other woman had been living in her car for over a year and also needed a blanket. We fixed her up with a warm throw, a blanket, a pillow, and some warm clothes. As I said last week, we also fixed them up with hygiene kits, extra hygiene items, backpacks and fire starters. The first woman went out to the car to lay down, so I took some time to visit with the other woman and learn a little more about her situation. I sent her off with a prayer, thanking God for sending her to us and made her promise to come back if she needed anything else.
Like the four men who carried their paralytic friend to see Jesus, the woman brought her two homeless and helpless friends to our church because she had faith that we could do something to help and we wouldn’t ask for anything in return or be judgmental.
In our scripture reading for this morning Jesus again entered Capernaum and that the people heard he was back. So this tells us that Capernaum was a home base of sorts for Jesus and a place he could go to and rest from his travels around the countryside teaching and preaching. Obviously, he had quite a following as we are told so many gathered to hear him at the home where he was staying, there was neither room left inside or outside the door where they could at least hear him preach the word. Mark tells us that four men came bringing a paralytic friend with them to see Jesus. But because of the crowd they went up to the roof. Houses at that time were built of stone and had flat roofs made of a mixture of mud and straw and there would usually be a stairway leading up to the roof as it would be a cool place to relax on those hot Middle Eastern nights. Once on the roof, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the man, mat and all, down to Jesus. It’s obvious they didn’t come to hear Jesus teach because if they did, they would have just cut a hole large enough for them to hear. We’re not even sure if they were believers, but we can certainly assume they felt Jesus could help their friend as they had probably heard stories about how he had helped others he had chance encounters with. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: Son, your sins are forgiven.
Well, this created quite a stir with the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were present. They had been monitoring Jesus and were trying to figure out a way to neutralize the affect he was having on the people. People were beginning to talk, and he was developing quite a following. They thought to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them; Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home. At that point the paralytic got up, took his mat in plain view of everyone in the house and left. And, Jesus didn’t say; “Oh, by the way, we’ll see you in synagogue on Saturday, won’t we?” Needless to say, everyone was amazed and praised God, saying; We have never seen anything like this.
Jesus had just shown the Pharisees up by healing a man right in front of them in the name of God. How dare he help “those” people. Why we don’t even know if they are believers! If you want help, you’ll have to go through the proper channels. You just can’t show up expecting a miracle! Who do you think we are?
Yeah, “those” people. If they really wanted a better life, they’d get a job, or a better job, or two jobs. “They created the problem.” Yeah, they created the problem, is a comment I read on a Facebook thread last week in response to the homeless situation here in Jefferson County. It was like, it’s all your fault that you find yourself in this horrible situation, so why should I/we do anything to help you. You caused it; you fix it. I was stunned and couldn’t even think of a rational response that wouldn’t ignite a firestorm. The initial Facebook thread was the result of two requests made to the Commissioners Court about the homeless crisis in Jefferson County. The first suggestion was from Bayside Housing and Services recommending that the county convert the little park next to the Tri-Area Community Center into a place for tiny homes. The second suggestion came from the pastor at Community United Methodist Church who recommended the same location be used for overnight parking for the homeless who are living in their vehicles and just want a safe place to park for the night, and would leave each morning. My suggestion didn’t draw much heat as I took great pains to explain that we had gotten to know these people through the help we’ve rendered them over the past several years and that they are pretty harmless. Most are over sixty years of age and the majority of them are women. I explained that they could show up sometime after six in the evening and leave around nine the next morning and that the Sheriff’s Department could check on them throughout the night to make sure everything was alright.
It was the other suggestion that drew the fire bringing out the NIMBYs, you know, the Not In My Backyard folks, those who find problems with solutions and not solutions to problems. You want to fix it? Fine, fix it somewhere else. The comments were unsettling, especially the ones from the people I knew or was familiar with. I will say, however, I did get several likes on my comment about not vilifying the homeless or lumping them all under one umbrella. I guess it was the knee-jerk reaction of seeing some sort of Seattle-style homeless encampment here in the Tri-Area and that building tiny homes would encourage them to move here bring all their crime and substance abuse issues with them. If nothing else, I guess it steeled my resolve to do more for these folks as they had so many people speaking against them out of fear and ignorance, and that we, as a church that professes to love our neighbor, should be the ones who speak for them out of love and compassion.
It wasn’t the paralytic’s faith that impressed Jesus, but the faith of his friends, and Jesus responded to their faith and healed the man. I like to think that is how I, as your pastor, acted when the woman brought her two friends to us for blankets. I don’t know if the two homeless women were Christians. But the point being, the woman who brought them to our church had faith that we would do something and not turn them away or ask embarrassing questions about how they got in such a pitiful state. I mean, Jesus paid the price for their sins so why should that matter to me? It’s none of my business! It’s between them and God as to whether or not its been resolved.
For better or worse, our faith affects others. We can’t make another person a Christian during our initial interaction, but we can do much through our words, actions, and love to give them a chance to respond. And, they may never respond, but they will know they have been helped by one of God’s servants who asked for nothing in return other than they come back if they need anything else.
So, talk is cheap, especially on Facebook. We just have to remember that our words lack meaning if our actions do not back them up. We can say we love God or our neighbors as ourselves, but if we are not taking practical steps to demonstrate that love, our words are empty and meaningless, just like “those” people, the NIMBYs.
Please pray with me.
What an amazing grace we have been freely given that saved us when we were looked upon as just another one of “those” people. We were lost in our sin but were found by the grace of a loving God and, though once blind to the plight of others, we now see through the eyes of a loving Christ. It was that unmerited grace that changed our lives forever and we will never be the same. We now have the promises of our Lord that he will never abandon us and will be our shield against all that life throws at us and that our lives will be filled with joy and peace as we sing God’s praises for loving us just as we are. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.