Friends and Foes by Rev. Leah D. Rosso

Sacred Stories Week 2 Mark 2:1-12; 2Corinthians 5:16-21

Sacred Stories. We are talking about Sacred Stories this fall because each one of us has a sto-ry. We are taking the time to talk about stories this fall because each one of our stories is sacred. That doesn’t mean everything goes right in them. It doesn’t mean that we leave out the painful parts or whitewash the things we’ve done wrong. Sacred means that God is and was and will be a part of our stories all along the way. Sharing our stories creates real community, not a superficial one. Knowing our stories creates real community because when I am able to name my own story with all of its pain and joy, than I am less likely to need to step on your story. And in our multicultural world, this is an important skill for us to have as people of faith— to be able to listen and appreciate and recognize the sacred in every person’s story. And we also are sharing our sacred stories this fall because the practice of telling our stories prepares us for those times and places in our lives when people need to hear our story in order to connect with God, and if we practice them here, then we will be ready to share Christ’s love through the telling of our own story.

We often think of the Biblical stories as being sacred, holy, “Scripture” we call them. We take time to give this collection of stories— this library that we call the Bible— to our third graders every year. We read from it every Sunday, every time we gather in worship. I hope that you’re reading it at home and with friends. But if you spend any time reading the Bible— any time at all— you’ll quickly find that these are not stories about perfect people. These are not stories that the people who lived them, may have even thought were sacred. Think about our story this morning from the Gospel of Mark. What was the paralyzed man’s life like before he met Jesus? In a culture in which his paralysis was blamed on him, I can only imagine the pain— physically, emotionally, spiritually— that this man endured most of his life. His family may have loved him fiercely, but they would not be able to protect him from other people’s meanness; from the guilt of knowing that you are totally dependent and cannot help provide; from the shame of believing that your suffering is because of something you did. I’m sure this man did not look at his life and think of it as sacred.

And what about his friends? It’s really too bad we don’t get a back story. I would love to know if these four men just adopted him for the day after seeing him on the side of the road; or did they all play some equivalent of chess or video games together once a week? Had they known each other since childhood? Or are they new to the community and were able to see in this paralyzed man something that his own family could not? Or are they just tired of hearing him whine every-day? We don’t know.

Whatever the case may be, whatever the back story to this sacred story this morning, these four men carry the paralyzed man on a mat to Jesus. And when they get to the house and they realize that they’re not going to be able to get in through the door— especially with this large mat— they immediately find another way. It is an unconventional way to be sure— tearing out someone’s roof is a strange act no matter what culture or time period you live in! But they have the audacity, the boldness, to take apart the roof and lower their friend down until he is at Jesus’ feet.

If we were to stop the story there, I would still call it a Sacred Story. Because the love of these four men for the paralyzed man is so evident. The paralyzed man may not have any hope or faith left; but these four men show us what true hope and faith looks like— they will go to any means to get this man to Jesus.

And yet the story doesn’t stop there. We are told that Jesus looks up at this man’s friends and he sees their faith and he is moved by the deepness of their faith. He then looks at this para-lyzed man, and there is a two-fold healing that happens. Up to this point, it has seemed obvious to those of us reading the story what this man needs healing for, but apparently Jesus sees something else— and maybe this is actually why his friends bring him to Jesus. Jesus looks straight into this man’s heart and he sees that something is keeping this man from God— we call that sin: anything that keeps us from God. Now to be clear, sin is not what keeps God from us. Romans 8 tells us that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. God is always with us. But there are things in our lives that we do or believe or hold onto that keep us from con-necting with God. And it is this that Jesus heals first. His biggest need for healing is in his need for forgiveness— connecting, reconciliation with God.

And then, in the next moment, Jesus heals the man’s paralysis, telling him to get up, to take his mat, and go home.

In just a few minutes Jesus is able to forgive the man and heal him from whatever is keeping him from God. Jesus is able to heal the man of his physical ailments so that he can stand up and walk. And Jesus restores the man’s dignity and makes it possible for him to fully participate in his community. And it’s all because of the four people who dared to dig through a roof. They didn’t do the healing, but it is their tenacity, loyalty, and courage— perhaps even creativity— who make it possible for Jesus to interact with the man and heal him.

Who are the people in your life who have led you to experience the love of God? Who are the people who have carried you in times when you were unable to feel God’s presence and love?

Brooke is an eight year old who has been having a difficult year. She’s in a brand new class this year with none of the friends she made in 2nd grade, and a teacher who she has not connected with. This past week she came home from school with a scraped up knee. When her Mom asked her about it, Brooke began to smile. “Mommy, I feel today on the playground. I was crying and feeling alone and then I looked up and Taylor was running towards me. Mommy, I didn’t even know Taylor was my friend until I saw her running over to see if I was okay!” In that simple interaction, Brooke began to see her story differently— to see God’s love at school.

John’s wife died the year she retired. They had so many plans for their retirement together, so many trips they were going to take. John felt lost. But people stopped by to bring him food. Oth-ers stopped by to pray with him. And someone he had barely ever talked to called to invite him over for supper. John’s grief didn’t ease because people reached out. But he didn’t feel so alone. He was able to see that God’s love was with him, even in the depths of grief.

Bob had been dealing with his addiction for years, and finally decided he wanted a new life. He reached out to get the help he needed and realized that a community was something that he wanted to connect with, so he decided to talk with his Pastor. They talked for a long time, pray-ing together, and then Bob’s Pastor asked Bob if he could connect him with someone in the congregation for him to pray with. Bob immediately said he wanted the Pastor to ask Rudy. The Pastor was surprised. Rudy was an immigrant from Liberia. He sat in the back and was very quiet. “Rudy has been through civil war in his own country, creating a new life in this country, and facing discrimination all along the way,” Bob said. “It seems to me he knows something about going to hell and back, about creating a new life. Maybe he can show me how too.”

Sometimes we get to be the friends who carry someone to Jesus; and sometimes, we’re the one that needs to be carried. And sometimes, in the middle of it all, we don’t even know which one we are.

That’s what makes our stories sacred— the fact that God chooses to show up time and time again, often in the most unlikely of places, and turns everything we thought we knew upside down so that pretty soon we don’t know if we are the one helping or the one receiving healing. And isn’t that just like our God?

God turns pain into joy; sorrow into connection; death into life. Thanks be to God for the people in our lives for whom we can share God’s love, and who continue to love us, making our stories sacred.