10 February 2003

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In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The reading began with the one from Isaiah, and as you look through its perhaps good to appreciate that Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel who were in exile. They were without a home, and without hope. Their lands had been taken over, they had been turned into refugees, they had been dispersed, or taken off, away from their home. They had very little opportunity to gather as a people with their own identity.

And then we have the word of Isaiah, the prophet proclaiming to them that there is another way to look. In other words you can stay looking at where you are, and at what is, or you can look out of that and look ahead to a future that is based on a new beginning, from where you currently are. And I wonder, in the modern world, how often we are encouraged to look for a new beginning? Is it more the natural order that we are more ready to maintain what is, to actually hold on to the way that things are? And I thought it was really interesting that we’ve got that expression that says “Better the devil you know…” and, when you hear it, there is almost a ‘Yes, well, yes, of course!’ Why break into something new? So it’s a very apt phrase “Better the devil you know…” It almost locks us in and yet, if we seek God and trust in the promises of God, then would we not be constantly encouraged to look for new beginnings, to look for a new start? To create a world that looks different from the one we are currently in?

Paul, in the short reading that we had from his letter to the church in Corinth , again is  speaking to a people troubled. The Corinthian church has been expecting Paul and why not, he said he was going to come to them, and he doesn’t turn up. Now Paul has told them lots of things. He told them about the Resurrection of Christ, he has told them about a new way and they believed him. Then he says ‘I am coming to you’ and he doesn’t turn up, so they start to doubt. And it’s again that doubt in the promise that locks us back in, and if we stay locked in where we are then we are likely to be manipulated into the way someone else wants us to be. If we stay locked in, if we doubt the promise, then we don’t get hold of the true energy that can take us wherever, wherever we seek to go. Because if we let that go and say look, it’s alright, just leave things as they are, don’t do anything, don’t go anywhere…

Sp Paul writes to the church at Corinth again to reassure them that when he says yes, when God says yes, it is always a yes. He hasn’t failed in his going to them because he’s changed his mind. There were other circumstances and as far as he is concerned it is still a yes. ‘Yes, I’ll be there with you.’ Yes, the word that you have received is still true, it hasn’t changed, I haven’t changed. Stay with it, don’t drift back.

And then we come to that story which, for those who went to Sunday school, is a story we are all familiar with. And we probably can all picture these flat topped houses in Capernaum with their flat roofs, because the Sunday school teachers used to spend hours going through the architecture of Capernaum, these whitewashed walls. I mean, I can almost feel as though I lived there, having heard that story as a kid. What they never said was, though, as they let the thing down, they made it sound so easy. They had straw roofs, but if you read the narrative, it wasn’t just straw, that was to keep the sun and heat and a lot of other stuff out, but there was quite a lot of other stuff in the roof. So there’s Jesus there preaching and you’ve got four people digging in the roof above him! The scene isn’t quite the scene that I was given: I think of this wonderful letting down at the foot of Jesus, almost but not quite interrupting his sentences. But in fact the roof would have fallen in on them, everyone would have known what was happening.

So I wonder what that story is all about. Is it about the healing and the power of Jesus? I don’t think the healing is quite that important, because last week and the week before, we have had healing stories. Again I think this is one is about the authority of Jesus, authority in the sense of his authorship. What is it that Jesus is Author of? What is it that comes out of his being and that is also called to come out of our being?

What is being born in him, what is out of his being? The people in the days that we are talking about had, in their culture and their religion, a direct connection between sickness and sin. Jesus wasn’t happy with that connection and a lot of his teaching seeks to break it. I don’t think we are happy in the modern world with that connection, albeit it is understandable, because when we are right with the world and with God we actually feel alright. And when you are not, then quite often, when we know we have set out on a path that isn’t right, then quite often that is when you get those stress aches and those pains, and whatever. So to have made that connection many years ago  makes sense.

But Jesus is using that connection which is within the culture to again make a point to those around, so he says to the paralytic “Your sins are forgiven” So the paralytic in that culture is a sinner, because he is not full of health. Jesus is addressing that first, but the interesting this is that he doesn’t address the person who is delivered on the mat. If you read the story the person on the mat was a man who was a paralytic. Jesus refers to a child, he uses the Greek word ‘male child’ which we translate as Son. So there is a play there, that would suggest that son, in other words one of the children of god, your sins are forgiven. There is an emphasis on child. An acknowledgement of the dependence that this man has along with everybody else.

Just in case the point is lost there is this emphasis made later on in the passage: “It is done that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive.”

And so the healing is really about an authority to make whole. It is very easy to see the physical needs of people. However when they came to the home in Capernaum Jesus didn’t set up a clinic, he sat down and he spoke the word of God. It’s why we come together Sunday by Sunday. We don’t come to some sort of odd clinic, for something that we need. But rather we come to hear the word of God, to hear that word because deep within we know it has the power to heal and to make whole.

The other interesting thing in the story of the paralytic, is when Jesus refers to the faith, he doesn’t actually point to the faith of the paralytic, he refers or rather he draws attention to the faith of those who brought him. When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Son your sins are forgiven’.

It actually adds weight to our being together as a worshipping community. It also adds weight to the importance of doing things together. You see on our own, on my own, I don’t know that I would have enough faith to overcome the doubts that I have. Because quite often for much of the time, particularly, I think, in the modern world, the doubts hold almost as much weight as the promises, and yet in community the one thing that I experience is the promise not the doubt.

And if you picture those carrying the mat, it was their faith that enabled the one on the mat to be healed and forgiven, so I wonder if it is not a call to all of us to be aware of who we are carrying and if we are not carrying anybody, who is lying on a mat somewhere who might need picking up and carrying?

Become aware of those who carry us. Who do we turn to when our faith is weak, when we no longer can function, when we are paralysed by fear, anxiety, by the busyness of the world. Who do we turn to? Who carries us?

And become aware that the faith of others can be generative of our wholeness and our faith can therefore be generative of the wholeness of others. That’s the authority that Christ has, to generate wholeness and it is also our authority too.

The Lord be with you.