Cooperative Ministry 2/19/12

Today is the last Sunday before Lent begins. It is traditionally celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday, when the Jesus goes up on a mountain and the sky opens up and he is transfigured, blessed just as he was at his baptism. This middle blessing, the Transfiguration is a highpoint before entering the wilderness with Jesus for the final journey to the cross. If the season after Epiphany lasts a little longer, there are a few Sundays of assigned readings that we don’t always get to. I decided today to read one, a familiar story about the healing of paraplegic person.  Listen for what the Spirit is saying to the church today.

Mark 2:1-12 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.” 6-7Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.” 8-12 Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

February 19, 2012

Cooperative Ministry: Tear the Roof Off

My father-in-law has been very ill for a while now and my wife has been going up to be with him every other weekend or so, trying to help him any way she can. His condition has become difficult enough that this weekend, he has decided to give up his apartment. It seems he will not ever be able to go back there. What a hard decision to make!

We have all been in situations where we are not sure what to hope for.  We want to hold out hope for miraculous recovery from an illness, and another part of us prays for the strength to face the reality of a situation and find the healing that comes with acceptance and the grace that comes from acknowledging a different stage of life; the grace that comes from knowing God’s presence with us in every part of life’s journey.

When Jesus asks which is harder to say, “I forgive your sins” or “Get up, take your mat and walk!” he is asking a question similar to our dilemma about which to hope for – the grace to accept our life situation, or a miracle to change that situation. Jesus did not ask which is easier to do, but which is easier to say. Both forgiveness and healing are easy to say, but both are really hard to do.

I have traveled with people who have tried out both roads.  One strong leader of a former church of mine found out that he had cancer. He decided he did not want to have any operations and he lived his last days with extraordinary dignity and grace. I admired him a lot. At the same time, I have also admired my father-in-law for his tenacity and will to live, and his desire to fight for life every step of the way. Modern medicine makes it possible to fight past the point where life is really of a great quality, and doctors often have trouble allowing people to make any other choice, the kinds of choices that hospice workers are great at allowing, but I don’t like to second guess people’s decisions to fight for life. Fighting for life is a natural instinct and the hope for life and even for a miracle can be a powerful model of resilience and trust.

Jesus himself, as he so often does, pushes in both directions at once in this story we read this morning.  Jesus is impressed by the bold determination of the paraplegic’s friends who dig through the roof of the mud hut in which they are meeting and he announces that the man’s sins are forgiven. In those days, people believed that all illness and disease was caused by sin, so the religious leaders around Jesus get nervous at this.  They question his ability to forgive sins, because they are used to getting a cut of the action of the forgiveness business. All through the gospel, they are in conflict with Jesus about taking away their livelihood and a part of their racket.

Jesus senses their discomfort, so he goes even farther and tells the guy to get up and walk – take his mat and walk on out of their.  That leaves everybody dumbfounded and takes care of both healing and forgiveness at the same time.  We know that it doesn’t always happen that way, but we may read the Gospel for hope in our quest for life and our quest for right living.

I’ve been reading CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity for the Journey class this week and I noticed something he wrote that helped me understand this dynamic.  He pointed out that our bodies have an amazing ability to be healed. When we get a cut, we know that our bodies have the ability to heal over time. This only works as long as our bodies are alive. In a similar way, he says, our spirit has a capacity to be healed and renewed as long as we are alive in Christ.

I have been in churches that are just going through the motions. The spirit has gone out of their worship and they seem barely alive. They sing all the old songs that are familiar to them. They say the same words and do all the same things, but there is no life in the rituals, so they can no longer find renewal and healing in the worship. They cannot be rejuvenated because they are not really alive.

Next Sunday, we will have a Church Council meeting right after church in which we will take a next step in the process of welcoming PlumbLine Fellowship to join us in a cooperative ministry venture that I sense will add extra vitality and energy to our worship and ministry in Bryn Mawr. I spoke last week about the risks of doing cooperative ministry. We give up some control when we work with another group of people and we sometimes have to compromise our sense of how everything has always been done, because the other group hasn’t always done things the same way.

Today, I want to invite us to notice that God is inviting us to some healing possibilities through this collaboration and through some of the new ministries and mission we considered at our winter retreat. There’s no magic to it. There will likely be no miraculous turnaround because of our prayers about poverty, or because of our willingness to try cooperative ministry. The key is not in those particular ministries, but in our acceptance of life in the Spirit, our determination to be alive in Christ, to trust in God’s healing Spirit, and to live toward God’s rejuvenating power.

I’m suggesting we tear the roof off if we have to, to get to that healing, that we do whatever it takes to avail ourselves of the promise of Christ’s Spirit.

Responsive Hymn: 374  Standing on the Promises