It began as a regular day. "One day," Luke says, "while [Jesus] was teaching…" Earlier, chapter 5 begins, "Once, while Jesus was standing by the lake….", then he calls his first disciples. "Once," Luke says in verse 12, one time, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. One day, today, this day, like any other day, Jesus was teaching and people began to gather.
But immediately strange things began to happen. Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, Luke says. There was something about him that made these scholars notice, wanting to figure out what this roving preacher was up to, checking his theology. As the crowd swelled some guys show up with their buddy, paralyzed, lying on a bed. We don’t know anything about their background or anything about his injury or disease. All we know is that they cared enough about him to want to help. And that they had some sense that Jesus was someone who could do the helping.
It was already crowded, so they somehow get him up on the roof. Mark’s version of this story envisions a house with a mud roof they dig through. Luke talks about the removal of tiles, which would have covered more affluent Hellenistic homes.1 Have you ever been to a house party, where the rooms are packed, people moving around each other, then the host begins to speak? People press into the main space to see, but most are backed up into each other, back to the kitchen, out the front door. And somewhere in the midst of the people listening very attentively, something shifts in the ceiling. Luke describes this strange act plainly: "they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles in the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus." The tone then shifts. When Jesus sees their faith, pistis, trust, loyalty – this is the first mention of faith in Luke, and it’s both confidence in Jesus and faithfulness to their friend.2 Your sins are forgiven. Then the religious leaders get excited, and they have an interesting exchange about the relationship between physical healing and forgiveness. Then to clarify, Jesus says, I’ll do both. Stand up, take your bed, and go home.
There’s a lot going on in this rich text, and I want to hold out a sermon on the relationship between physical and spiritual healing for another day. But what inspires me, and what I think inspires a lot of church community, of being a covenant people before God, is the commitment of that man’s friends, to carry him up and dig a hole in a stranger’s roof. This is amazing to me. What a gift it is to have friends like that.
I think we’ve seen it. I’ve seen a schedule set up to drive her to chemo, week after week for months. I’ve seen meals delivered – of astounding variety and quality – when babies are born. I’ve seen friends get together, month after month, and simply talk about where they are – what’s hard, what’s going well, the exhaustion of raising young children, the weariness of caring for spouses, life and work, vocation and call and what really matters. All of us pastors have shown up to hospital rooms all over town and seen you there already. When we first moved here and our son was sick and the days were pretty dark, you were those friends to us, playing with our daughter, bringing by food, having your kids color pictures for his hospital room.
But it doesn’t just happen. Sometimes people live in neighborhoods where community forms naturally. There’s a culture in place. People move in and the others make clear that part of what they do is stay connected to each other, they get the mail and the newspaper and roll out the trash and check on each other when they haven’t seen them in a few days, mow their lawn when someone is sick. But it feels like those kinds of connections happen less and less – we’re so busy, we live further away from family, in places shorter periods, moving more often.
Either way you have to work at it. Community takes effort. It takes being willing to adjust your schedule for someone else. It also takes people asking for help, which is harder sometimes. There are many of you that will be working through some pretty tough stuff and not want anyone else to know. But being willing to be vulnerable is important – you know we don’t have to have it all together all the time. We don’t. We all have problems and struggles, and a critical part of the call to be community is being willing to share that stuff with each other. None of us are perfect. And the energy we put into trying to maintain the façade is exhausting.
Part of what we’re working hard to do in this second portion of our strategic plan, under the LOVE KINDNESS part of Micah 6:8, is to be as intentional as we can about our connectedness. More people are staring at screens or passing casually by every day, but there are fewer and fewer chances for people to sit and break bread, breathe for a moment, be bound to brothers and sisters in Christ. We are working hard – and technology helps us here – to better track who does what, who is in an ongoing smaller group, like a church school class or doorways or way or seekers or the men’s book group, who is around and comes to events, who goes on retreats. Then we can look at this data and do a couple of things – reach out more effectively to individuals who may not be connected, as well as plan opportunities for groups around certain topics or interests. We want everyone to find a place. If you haven’t found one, come find me. Come find any of us on staff. We’ll walk you through the great options available. But it needs all of us – to invite someone to your supper club, or out for a cup of coffee. Community takes effort. Those friends had to dig a hole in someone else’s roof. It takes that kind of commitment.
But my favorite part is the last line in this text. After this big crown gathers, after the friends climb up and dig a hole in the roof, after Jesus met them with grace, healed him. He gets up and WALKS. Amazement seized all of them, Luke says, and they glorified God, and said, "We have seen strange things today." I love that. We have seen strange things today. Strange, wonderful, remarkable things.
What a gift it would be if we were a community where strange things happened on a regular basis. How strange is it that those guys put all that effort in for one of their friends?
How strange is it that people would make room in their busy schedules for someone else, maybe someone they don’t know very well, maybe for someone who is poor or homeless or left out?
How strange is it that we might be willing to open up and welcome community ourselves, being willing to share when we’re having a hard time, risking taking off the mask we wear as we demonstrate to each other just how perfect our lives must be?
How strange is it that we might do a serious assessment of our time, our gifts, our finances, and really think about how we allocate our resources? What would it look like if you took that kind of time to think about what percentage of your income you give to the church? After last Sunday I’ve had a handful of conversations with some of you who actually went and crunched the numbers to see if you were tithing. It doesn’t matter whether you are a member or not, or only connected peripherally, or bring your kids to Sunday school or drop your kids at youth group. You are a part of this family. There’s a lot we are called to do – from increasing mission funding to building partnerships to supporting our growing ministry for all ages to supporting your amazing staff and all of this campus. There’s a lot to do, a lot we all feel called to do, and none of it happens if we don’t all work to be generous. Everyone’s generosity matters.
Wednesday mornings at 10:15 the entire preschool files, filling up the first 5 rows on each side, for Celebrations, a brief worship service – to get them used to being in here, invite them a little bit into the rhythms of worship and faith. We have a greeting and a benediction, a story and prayer and a couple of songs. Sometimes we’ll read a story from a book, sometimes we’ll tell a story from the bible. This past week I decided to tell the children this story. I might have embellished it a little bit, but told them about the crowd gathering, all of these people, of these special friends and how they took their buddy on a stretcher on top of the house, letting him down through the roof into the middle of the room while Jesus was talking. We talked about how kind Jesus was to them, and how much those guys must have wanted their friend to be healed. I saw one particular child’s parents at a preschool gathering that night, and these parents said their son had come home talking about Celebrations. Great! I thought. This stuff is starting to sink in. "But he didn’t read a story," this child said. "I think Chris just made one up today."
Maybe it’s because this story doesn’t make much sense. We have seen strange things today, the people said after all. When God’s love in Jesus the Christ gets to you, you can’t help but be a part of that sharing to someone else. You don’t have to dig a hole in someone’s roof. But then again you might end up doing that, or something even more strange. God’s love does strange things. Very strange things.
May it be so, for you and for me. All praise be to God. Amen.
1. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p 123.
2. NIB, 123.