Let It Happen – Radical Discipleship Part I
Sermon Title: Let It Happen (Let God Set You Free)
Good News Statement: God sets us free for a better tomorrow
Preached: Sunday, January 09, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NRSV): Mark 2:1-12 Today’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Mark chapter two verses one thru twelve. Listen to the words of the Apostle Mark…
Jesus Heals a Paralytic
2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, Amen.
A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules, so the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, with his wife flying down the following day.
The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the email.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. He was a minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack. The widow decided to check her email expecting messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:
To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived
I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.
P.S. Sure is pretty hot down here.
Have you ever done something in which you realized that after you have already done it, it was too late to take it back? Whether what you did brought laughter, worry, and just a moment of uncertainty, what happened was something that you didn’t want to have happen in the first place, but yet, it still happened. You wanted to take it back but it was too late! Several years ago, I encountered a similar situation as the man from the joke. However, instead of an email, I sent a text message to the wrong person. And instead of predicting someone’s death, I sent awkward words of endearment to my Supervisor.
It was Valentine’s Day, and I was on the train in Chicago heading from Evanston to the South Side of Chicago to hand out Valentine’s Day cards and candies with my Supervisor at the time. A trip that would have normally taken an hour and a half, felt like it took an eternity. I had to get up pretty early so my mind wasn’t fully awake quite yet; but I knew it was Valentine’s day so I wanted to send Emily a Happy Valentine’s Day text message since she was sleeping.
Well a text message was sent…but it was sent to the wrong Emily. Out of the other Emily’s in my phone, it went to an Emily who I would see in just an hour and half. That’s right; it went to my Supervisor…. Before I realized what I had done, I received response that simply said, “Wrong person? I am happily married!” with a smiley face after it. After handing out Valentine’s Day cards and candies, I quietly got back on the train and headed back to Evanston. By the time I returned, Emily was awake so I called her instead of texting her!
As much as we try to cover our basis before we do something either by making a checklist or going through everything in our head multiple times, there is always something that we miss: there is always something that we do or say that we wish we never would have done or said. When these moments happen, we feel paralyzed; we can’t move or say anything. We lean on others to help us out. We cry out for help and pray to God that what we did or said could just magically disappear. But we know that is not the case. Sometimes in life we have to be set free from the past before we can move on into the present or even the future.
The story of the Paralyzed Man, found towards the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, is our reminder that being physically paralyzed is not the only paralysis that we can be diagnosed with. At times we are paralyzed by fear, by guilt, or by worry. There are other times when we feel as if we are spiritually paralyzed. Have you ever felt spiritually paralyzed: you need God in your life but you can’t get to Him because you are tied down or chained down by something else or there is a crowd before you blocking your way? Have you ever just felt paralyzed?
Let us pray… Heavenly Father, there have been moments in our life by which we feel as if we can’t move—as if our past is weighing us down. Lord, remove the chains of our past so that we can be set free by your unending love and amazing grace. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your name we pray, Amen.
The Gospel of Mark, written by Mark or by John Mark as he is referred to as by many scholars, is writing his accounts of Jesus prior to the Jewish revolt which began circa 66A.D., approximately 33 to 36 years after the death of Jesus. This means, that although the Gospel of Mark is the second book in the New Testament, it was actually written before Matthew wrote about the accounts of Jesus’ life. As a matter of fact, if we were to go in order of when the Gospels were written, our New Testament would not begin with Matthew: it would actually begin with Mark followed by Matthew (after 66A.D.), Luke (85A.D.), and end with John (90A.D.).
Do you know why the New Testament begins with the Gospel of Matthew? It begins with the Gospel of Matthew because Matthew begins the story of Jesus by enlightening us with both the genealogy and birth of Jesus Christ. The genealogy of Christ is specific to Matthew meaning that it doesn’t appear in any other Gospel. And the birth of Christ is only found in the Gospels of Matthew (chapters 1-2) and Luke (chapters 1-2).
Neither Mark nor John talks about the birth narrative of Jesus Christ. John begins his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). The Gospel of Mark immediately fast-forwards to the baptism of Jesus by John: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:9-11). Essentially, when we read Mark, we are placed at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and then we are rushed to get to the end when Jesus is crucified and the ladies leave the tomb in fear (Mark 16:1-8).
The Gospel of Mark is an introduction to what the other Gospels elaborate on. Needless to say though, Mark’s Gospel does prepare us for what we need to do before we can fully accept the answer to Jesus’ question to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am” (Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20)? Mark teaches us that we need to be set free from our past so that we can become the radical disciples that Jesus needs us to be today.
According to author and theologian Janet Wolf, a radical disciple is not something to fear or run away from. Instead, a radical disciple of Jesus Christ is one who looks at a situation and sees transformation. Wolf notes in her book, Practicing Resurrection: The Gospel of Mark and Radical Discipleship, “[Radical Discipleship] looks for transformation of the reality that denies life” (38). It is something that seeks to have “healing happening.” Radical Discipleship is what we live in: we live in a world that seeks to be transformed and set free from the things in life that keep us from living like Christ. Radical Discipleship is embedded in Mark’s gospel; and it all begins with the story of the “paralyzed man.”
After travelling from Galilee, Jesus finds refuge in Peter’s house in Capernaum near the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. Picture this: Jesus after being tempted in the desert for forty days, after hearing that John the Baptist has been arrested for talking back to King Herod, after asking people to follow him, and after healing the sick and casting out demons, Jesus is tired—probably filthy from walking the streets—and simply wants to rest. However, when he gets to Capernaum, his preaching doesn’t stop: he preaches to the crowd that has gathered around and in Peter’s house. Jesus hasn’t had time for himself.
During his preaching he is interrupted by dirt and straw and other debris falling on his head. When he looks up, he notices that the roof above him is being removed and dug into. And then a mat begins to lower from the sky. This is what Mark has to say, “Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:3-5).
Notice what the text says here: First, some people came to Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to Peter’s house to preach. Jesus came to Peter’s house to rest and escape from the never ending ceasing crowds. Jesus sought solitude but yet people still came to him; specifically four individuals. They sought Jesus out and fought their way through the crowd to save someone that they either knew or didn’t know. To be a radical disciple, we must not wait for Jesus to seek us out. We must be willing to seek him with others by our side.
Second, four individuals were carrying the paralyzed man. These people could have been family, friends, neighbors, or strangers of the paralyzed man. Presumably each person had a corner of the mat. This is a task in itself and then having to hoist this man to the top of the roof must have been daunting and extremely challenging. Needless to say, the text doesn’t say that these four people were friends of the paralyzed man or even relatives. The four people could have been strangers to the paralyzed man, but yet they chose to help him even if they themselves needed to be healed. They put the needs of a stranger or friend or family member before their own needs. To be a radical disciple, we must help transform the lives of others before we seek transformation for ourselves, even if we don’t know the person.
Third, “…having dug through [the roof], they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw [the faith of the four people], he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 4-5). The four have made it through the crowd, the roof has been removed and dug through, and the paralytic man has been lowered to be with Jesus. Notice, that it is the faith of the four individuals that convinces Jesus to save the paralytic man. The paralytic man doesn’t even say a word, but because of the faith that was exemplified by the four strangers this man was saved. This situation sheds let on the words of James, “So faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). The four persons certainly had to work in order to have this man saved by Jesus. Now, I say saved instead of healed because of what Jesus says. Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Son, stand up and take your mat and walk” (Mark 2:9). No, Jesus says your sins are forgiven.
I strongly believe that Mark chooses to use the word “paralyzed” to describe this man to challenge us. In today’s context, we often associate the word “paralyzed” with one’s lack of physical motion. However, Mark’s understanding of paralyzed has a deeper meaning. In the original Greek, paralyzed is pronounced as paralutikos (paralutkoV). Paralutikos is a combination of two Greek words: para (meaning from) and luo (meaning ‘to be loose’; or ‘to be set free, to be redeemed, and to be saved’). Mark is hinting at the reality that the paralyzed man was paralyzed because he hasn’t been set free from or redeemed from or saved from the sins that he has accumulated, gathered, collected throughout his life. Because of these sins, the paralyzed man was physically paralyzed because he was spiritually paralyzed: he didn’t have the same faith as the four. Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” If he didn’t have faith then, he does now! Do you have faith? Are you willing to be set free and to help others? Are you willing to put your faith to work?
Do you remember the question I asked you at the beginning of this message? I asked, “Have you ever felt as if you have been spiritually paralyzed as if something has been weighing you down and keeping you from getting to Jesus?” So, have you ever felt paralyzed and needed to be saved or set free or redeemed from something? To be a radical disciple, we must be willing to let this happen; to let Jesus save us and forgive our sins so that we are not weighed down by the past but ready to be filled with his transformative love and grace in the here and now.
After Jesus saved the paralyzed man, Jesus’ face appeared on every wanted sign throughout the region. Jesus’ ministry would always be attacked, scrutinized, and questioned from this point onward. But that didn’t stop him from saving and setting free those who exemplified faith. The paralyzed man, after regaining his faith, “stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God…” (Mark 2:12).
To be a radical disciple, to seek transformation in our world today, is to seek out Jesus and to help others get to Jesus; to be one of the four who is carrying the mat and putting others before yourself; to make sure your faith is filled with works; and to allow Jesus to remove whatever is making you feel paralyzed in your life. God sets us free for a better tomorrow: we just have to be willing to accept that we need his help.
We will constantly do or say something that we regret doing or saying; but know that Jesus is there to take away that regret and to help us move forward. It’s time to be set free. It’s time to become a radical disciple. It’s time to be a transforming presence for others and for our church. It’s time to be saved. It’s time to no longer be paralyzed! Are you willing to put your faith to work?
Let us Pray… Dear Heavenly Father, we seek you because we want to be saved, we want to be redeemed, we want to be set free from whatever is weighing us down. Lord, help us live a life that puts our faith in action as we carry the mat for others in our life. Help us to be transformative by your unending love and amazing grace. Helps us to stand up and walk. In your name we pray, Amen.
As you strive to be a radical disciple, one who seeks transformation and to help save others, I encourage you to look out into the world (or possibly your own mirror) and ask yourself, “What or who out there needs to be transformed and saved by Jesus and how can I or we help?” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go, transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. Amen. Amen. Amen.