There’s nothing more intimidating than preaching to a chapel full of pastors. Well, maybe preaching your ordination sermon to them, or having the bishop show up. But on Tuesday, that’s exactly what I’ll have to do at our District meeting. So here’s a bonus sermon for this week. Enjoy!
The story of the paralytic let down through the roof is one of my favorite Jesus miracles. There’s something mind-blowing, maybe several mind-blowing things that happen in the midst of this story. I’m sure that most of you have preached on several of the subtopics or heard sermons on them before.
Here’s a quick recap:
Jesus is preaching, and people have gathered from all over, everywhere, to come and hear what he had to say. “The Man” has shown up to evaluate him; the poor in pocket and spirit have come to be uplifted; the sick have come to be healed and made whole.
Jesus’ actions were so upsetting to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law that they muttered to each other, calling Jesus a heretic for healing a man’s sins because God alone could do that! And what follows is that Jesus confronts them for thinking that he shouldn’t have forgiven the sins of this man, and so he goes ahead and heals the man, too. No big deal.
Because of the healing, many turn to faith and recognize that God is moving in and through Jesus.
Those points are the ones that every sermon I’ve ever heard have focused on. Jesus versus the Pharisees. Healing with forgiveness of sins. The power of the miracle to change lives. But today, I want us to focus on something else.
I want us to consider what friendship looks like.
Let’s read Luke 5:18-20 again, from the Message translation: “Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. When they couldn’t find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their bold belief, he said, ‘Friend, I forgive your sins.'”
Now, popularly, we end up with four men. Maybe we think four corners or four ropes to lower him down, but we don’t know how many men were there any more than we know how many wise men visited Jesus as a three-year-old!
We do know that these men rolled up on the house where Jesus was preaching with intent. They were focused on bringing their incapacitated friend, who could not walk or use crutches to Jesus. It doesn’t say why they brought him, but can’t we surmise? Can’t we see that four men who would carry a man for miles would want what they thought was best for them, couldn’t they see that if this man had a chance, any chance at all, that it was through Jesus?
Imagine their desperation upon arriving and finding no room. If there were as many people as is implied by the numbers and locations that these people came from to see Jesus, then they couldn’t even see Jesus through a door or window. They couldn’t even push their way in!
Imagine with me the conversation.
“There’s no way in.”
“What are we going to do, go home?”
“We can’t give up, we’ve come so far.”
“He needs this. We’ve got to get in there to see Jesus.”
And so, the friends carry their incapacitated friend up on the roof. And by the roof, we’ll assume that they went up onto the roof through someone else’s house, and carried their friend across several rooftops to get to the house where Jesus was. They tear the roof open to provide a way for the man to get to Jesus, and that’s when Jesus sees their faith and forgives their friend’s sins.
That’s my favorite part.
Jesus forgives a helpless man, who is “stuck,” because he has faithful friends.
Do you have faithful friends? Are you a faithful friend?
I wonder sometimes if I am. I wonder if I am the kind of faithful person and pastor who Jesus looks at and forgives someone because of my faith.
In his book, 11, Leonard Sweet lays out twelve “indispensable relationships you can’t live without.” Some of the highlights: Editor, Butt-Kicker, protege, Yoda, and Back Coverer. All of the characteristics serve some role in our lives, Sweet says. But I’d take it a step further and say that our faithful friends are ones who recognize what’s needed at what time.
Do we need to be encouraged or challenged?
Do we need to be comforted or condemned?
Do we need advice or an ear that is open with a mouth that is closed?
Do we need someone who needs our advice and experience so that we can learn as we teach?
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Kyle Idleman, megachurch pastor at Southeast Christian Church and author of Not A Fan. We talked about his new book, AHA, about the Prodigal Son, and how each of us has a series of ‘aha’ moments that we may or may not miss. But Idleman shared with me that he meets with a friend once a week and they ask each other, “what am I missing?” They don’t solve each others problems but they help each other ask the right questions.
Over time, I have come to understand who my faithful friends are. The people who pray for me when they say they will. The people who will look me in the eye and really ask, “how is it with your soul?”
In our scripture today, the question was, “how do we get our friend to Jesus?”
I’m sure we could apply the story of these friends to our churches: how we need to not let the structures in place in architecture or tradition to get in the way of people meeting Jesus, how we need to be willing to ‘go big or go home’ when it comes to our boldness in introducing Jesus to people.
But what about our circle of friends? Are we the kinds of friends who are willing to go the extra mile? Do we have the kinds of friends who see us “stuck” and are willing to do the same?
I know how lonely the church can be for people who wander in knowing they’re missing something, feeling like they don’t belong. And sometimes, that’s us. The pastors.
I’ve counseled four of our colleagues across the conference in the last year who were afraid their marriages were going down, another casualty of our profession.
I’ve seen the children of pastors struggling with their faith because of the role their parents’ jobs played in detrimentally impacting their faith walk.
I’ve seen the impact of the ebb and flow of a parish’s respect and adoration on pastors, and families, myself included.
And I wonder, what would our churches and district look like, if we were “faithful friends?” What difference would that make? How might our ministry change? How might our lives be bettered?
Are you ready to rip the roof off? Are you ready to boldly put your friends, family, and colleagues before Jesus so that they might be forgiven? Are you ready to be forgiven yourselves?
I pray today that God would look down at us and find us faithful friends. But I’d like to pray that with you. Will you join me?
Leader: Loving God, help me take seriously the call on my life to serve.
Response: Help me to take seriously my call to lead.
Leader: May I be a better mentor to those seeking wisdom.
Response: May I be a better friend to those seeking relationship.
Leader: Show me the relationships that need to be invested in and help me to put in the work.
Response: Show me the ways that I can be a better friend, and help me blow through the roof.
All: Holy Spirit, bond us together as one, more than collegiality and stronger than passing strangers. May our work together be for your honor and glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.