Isaiah 43:18-25; Psalm 41, II Corinthians 1:18-22, Mark 2:1-12 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I wonder if it was a lot easier years ago to preach, because when you got a text like ‘your sins are forgiven’, all one really had to do as the Church in times past, was to point out what the sins were that needed forgiveness, sometimes even point to those in the congregation that were committing them and tell them to stop it! But in today's world somehow it’s no longer that simple. We no longer see the Bible as a simple book with a set of rules, that if we follow them all will be well. There’s something, something more that we need to engage. If we look at the gospel reading today it’s handy just to go back three Sundays, we were still a little earlier in Mark’s gospel. We’ve finally got onto chapter two of Mark, but back in chapter one we heard that they were all amazed and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this, a new teaching with authority? He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him’. That was early on in Mark and now we’re seeing that developed a little bit more. The healing of the paralytic, I think is an amazing illustration of the new paradigm that comes with Christ: those who are paralysed are given the capacity to walk.

I wonder how times in our day-to-day lives we all come to the conclusion, ‘Well what on earth can I do?’ We find ourselves paralysed in relation to the corruption of the Government; we find ourselves paralysed in relation to the waste of financial resources by pretty well every institution we know; we find ourselves paralysed in relation to the implementation of capital works that seem primarily for the benefit of the developer; we seem paralysed in relation to the creation of a fear of others and the driving toward protecting what we have; we seem paralysed in relation to the invasion of other countries so that we can seize what we want and impose our controls; we seem paralysed: we don’t know what we can do about the profaning of creation. But I wonder if when we get to that point of ‘what can I do?’ that’s where we might find ourselves as the paralytic in Mark’s gospel.

The question, I think it’s worth asking, is what are we truly paralysed in relation to? There are so many things where we experience paralysis, but overall where is it that we are unable to walk and where is it that we are blocked from going? It’s amazing that in the modern world so many people seem to get involved in the business of unblocking - from plumbers to psychoanalysts. We can be unblocked and set free from just about anything, we can be helped to freedom from our childhood issues, from emotional trauma, from past abuse, from phobias, from addictions, from financial difficulties, from dysfunctional marriages; we can be freed from almost anything, even unwanted pregnancies. But somehow all that unblocking and setting free seems only a scratching of the surface. Mark, I think, is directing us toward a deeper healing. And the gospel draws very much on the message that we heard this morning from Isaiah. So we’ve got Mark drawing on the Old Testament prophesies of Isaiah, pointing us toward a future that is healed and free, and in drawing from the past and pointing towards tomorrow, perhaps we can find a relevance in the present. And I think that it’s in the present that we can find ourselves paralysed in relation to the unfolding of creation’s wholeness - our fullness of life and the fullness of life of others.

If we have a look at what Isaiah says, in verse 18, ‘Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old’: look not to the past, to the paradigms of familiarity. Somehow we’ve got to replace that old-fashioned notion that statisticians and accountants keep alive, that everything occurs by way of trends, you join the dots of the past and they will point you towards the future. We need to replace that notion with a trust in the potential to make shifts, to create movements that have got nothing to do with the joining of dots from the past. In verse 19, ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’: seek a new world view, a new paradigm, for it springs forth, it is there, do you not perceive it? If we look for the new rather than for a continuation of the old then perhaps we begin to glimpse something of the paradigm that was Christ.

Many of our values today, much of our culture, the creation of our environment and a large number of our belief systems are constructed on trends that were established on misconceptions. Heaven above, hell below and a flat earth in between; Adam and Eve, who walked the earth and gave us an example on which we have based relationships and a theology of marriage; Noah’s flood, showing the power and control that God has over creation; the New Testament miracles that give us a super-Jesus, able to work wonders; the crucifixion and a theology of atonement that says our sins, and if our sins, therefore a majority of our actions, are just wiped into insignificance by the blood of the lamb; and that old favourite, the Second Coming, which hopefully we can see is like writing letters to Santa. Verse 19 says ‘I am about to do a new thing, do you not perceive it?’ Do you not perceive it? ‘I am about to do a new thing, it springs forth, I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.’ And it’s in that verse 21, ‘the people whom I formed for myself, so that they might declare my praise’: to discover our paralysis let us look to ourselves and to every word and action that does not declare God’s praise. Let us reflect on ourselves as creatures of the Creator, ‘the people whom I formed for myself’, created in order to realise the Creator. God is love, we’re therefore creatures of love, created in love in order to realise the fullness of love. That chasm between the Creator and the creature is closed when we realise that the Creator is love. We pick it up again through the psalm in verse 12: ‘But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.’ There is no gap between the Creator and the creature: ‘because of my integrity you set me in your presence forever’.

Now with that as the backdrop, let us come again to the gospel reading: ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.”’ We’re on our way towards Lent and Easter. It’s great to have this reading now so that we can be reminded early on that it is not the death of Jesus that brings forgiveness of sins: ‘when he saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.”’ It is our faith, our orientation towards the sacred, our orientation away from the profane, it is in our giving to the Divine, that we will find forgiveness of sins. And it’s faith that derives from our integrity, our wholeness of self, the place where we don’t keep anything back to hedge our bets. We probably do glimpse that place now and again and then rapidly go somewhere else, because it is so hard to imagine a faith where we hold nothing back, that we give all of ourselves to the Divine, to the sacred, away from the profane. It is our all-ness, given in a loving response to the all-loving Divine, that enables us to walk, that frees us from our paralysis, that takes us off, either the comfort or the discomfort, of the mat on which we live. There is a movement and a change that takes place as we once again receive the power to walk. If we go back to the gospel reading it’s pretty clear that it is not something that we do on our own - the paralytic on the mat stays the paralytic on the mat, unless there is a community there to help carry him and bring him into a place of healing. In our wholeness and in our looking toward the Divine, we can find that place within ourselves that need no longer be paralysed and from that place within ourselves, we then become creative of a new paradigm, a new order; we no longer join the dots of the past, but we let those go in favour of something that is new, some thing that is amazing. The starting point for that is our wholeness and our completeness.

It’s picked up very well in the phrase of Irenaeus - one of the few times, certainly in the past few months, weeks, years, that I can say something stunningly positive about what a bishop has said, for Irenaeus was the bishop of Lyons and the phrase that is very much attributed to his paradigm is that, ‘Life in Man is the glory of God and the life of Man is the vision of God’, which when we bring that up to date is the vision of God is Humanity fully alive, the human person fully alive is the glory of God, the vision of God is that we and all people will walk toward the fullness of life. We will leave our mat behind or we will roll it up, no longer stuck there, and carry it with us. And the human person fully alive, is the glory of God.

Let us, as we move toward Easter, become aware of the mat on which we are stuck, become aware of those who are willing and able to lift that mat and create some movement, then become aware of the orientation in ourselves and ourselves in the fullest sense that we can imagine, as we turn then to give of ourselves to the Divine. There we perhaps glimpse a new creation and a new order - not at some future time, but here, in the present moment.

The Lord be with you.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Epiphany 7