Feb. 4, 2018 – Following Jesus

These last few weeks, in reading the Gospel of Mark, we’ve followed Jesus from his baptism at the Jordan River, to the Sea of Galilee where he called his fishermen (first) followers.  We’ve reminded ourselves of our own call to ministry: preachers, musicians, readers, yes, but just the same, teachers, lawyers, administrators, homemakers, electricians, dieticians and statisticians and everything in between, for we are all called in our own ways to share our gifts and follow Jesus.  But as we read last week, following Jesus often leads us into places we don’t feel properly prepared for, as Jesus taught in the temple and met a man with demons, curing him.  Like the fishermen, like us, we’re taken at face value – accepted loved warts and all – issues and all – loved for who we are and who we might be.[1]

We come to this week’s story of healing that I really wanted to share because it rarely hits the lectionary (and it’s one of my favourites), and surprisingly, it’s not really about Jesus.

There are three players in this story.  We meet Jesus first, but he’s “at home,” and while important part of the story, it’s difficult to resonate with Jesus, because we’re not him.  I’m not Jesus, you’re not Jesus, we don’t heal the way he does, and while human his presence seems otherworldly…but we are the other two players.  The next (group of) people we’re introduced to the four carrying the mat.  And upon the mat is the paralyzed person.  That’s it – there’s scribes and other people in the house, but I want for us to just focus on the person on the mat and their carriers.

Because I believe at least once point in our lives, maybe today, we have been carried.  We found ourselves ill, or alone, weighted down by grief or sorrow, unemployed, struggling with mental health[2], in need of a food bank, emotionally broken or fragile – something we were struggling with overwhelmed us to the point that we needed the help of others just to get through the day, or week, or year(s) depending on our condition.

It is a humbling position to be in, to accept the help of others.  I’m not particularly good at it, I was raised to be nobody’s problem but my own.[3]  To owe nobody nothing, to not become indebted to them by accepting their help.  It’s an incredibly isolating way of life, to rely only on your strength.  It’s also very prideful.  To think that everything relies on you – it’s empowering when you’re well, and financially stable, and emotionally the same, but it’s defeating when you’re none of those.

In fact, it becomes paralyzing.  We find ourselves unable to act.

I can imagine the person on the mat, paralyzed both by condition, or some psychosomatic manifestation of inner turmoil; paralyzed, unable to move.  Life is not kind to those who need the help of others.  If you’ve ever been there, think of the unhelpful – unkind things that were said to you: blaming you for your current state of being, the sins or faults or problems which have paralyzed and keep us immobile.  Jesus doesn’t help this, saying that this person’s sins are forgiven, but it’s from an ancient understanding of cause and effect, seeing health conditions or life ailments as curses rather than just a part of living in this world:  there is finite time, money, and true or not health, hope, wellbeing.

It becomes essential to accept help in those humbling times.

While in the case of this story the person on the mat is seemingly passive, I can imagine the four came to them, asking if they wanted to be well, hyping this would-be-prophet and the healing that was possible, if only to reignite the extinguished candle of hope.  They might have even sung that song, that we get by with a little help from our friends[4]¸

Asking and then accepting help means putting aside our pride, our need to fix our own problems, and trusting that maybe we’re too close to situations to have proper perspective.  We also have to have great faith in those who offer help.  And that’s difficult.  While we might get disappointed in ourselves when we’re unable to act, we become even more disappointed when we’ve mustered the courage to ask for help and those around us let us down.

I can think of nothing more courageous than asking for help.

It’s easy to go get groceries but if you’ve ever walked into a food bank when they’re helping those in need, you see the paralysis of this person on the mat – the shame in their eyes, the fear that what they receive won’t be enough, the delight about their next meal and then the guilt knowing that there still might be someone worse off than them.

I can think of nothing more courageous than asking for help.

Second to it, are those that offer help.

Because if you don’t find yourself in need of help, the only other role, since you can’t be Jesus, is to be the role of the helper, the carry-er.  You’re not responsible for anything more than the tiny corner of good that you’re bringing into the world, knowing that that good didn’t exist before you picked up that corner of the mat.  You’re not out to save every paralyzed person, as the Gospel story doesn’t follow these four as they travel the countryside looking for people to carry.  They change the life of one person.  In fact, it’s an easier burden than that, it takes four of them to change the life of one person, as in the most powerful analogy for the church: we each do what we can, knowing that we are not alone.

I think of the Board members who have served their term and now stepping back, who some of whom came on with Rev. Heather (or before), served through Rev. Meg, and now me…some of you didn’t know what you were signing up for when you offered to carry that mat.  Jim Mosgrove, who is retiring this year as a chair of Trustees served the church in this role for something like thirty years.  I think somewhere after Jim signed on board did we talk about term limits…because you think to those four people carrying the mat – one of them had to think to themselves…

what did I sign up for?
How far do we have to carry?
Now we have to commit a crime and pull the roof off?
And dig down, through the roof just to lower this person?

I’ve been that guy, signing up to committee work in the church thinking it’ll be a cakewalk and realizing that the carrying of my corner was a lot more effort than I thought it would be.

Yet, that emotional fulfillment of doing good, of feeling needed, serving sisters and brothers in need, breaks open your heart to the need of the world.  And not in an overwhelming way.  In a way that you can see that your presence makes a difference.  That your care and concern is so desperately needed, as even Jesus can see your faith.  In the story, it has less to do with this person’s need for healing, and the faith of the friends which move Jesus’ heart.

So…thinking about your life in this moment in time, knowing we find ourselves both as carried and carry-er at different times in our lives, in the situation you’re in, can you find the language to either ask for help or offer it?

Knowing, that through the grace of God, and living into this intentional community of which we are a part, we are not alone.

[1] To make this point of acceptance even further, in one of the passages we skip over to get to this week’s scripture, Jesus heals a mother-in-law!  Simon Peter’s mother-in-law!

[2] http://business.financialpost.com/telecom/how-bell-lets-talk-became-a-triple-win-for-bce-consumers-and-the-mental-health-cause

[3] Lumineers, Aint Nobody’s Problem But My Own, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxXa5W0kwhU

[4] Beatles, With a Little Help of my Friends, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75Oct1Qv8x0

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