Open Up

Epiphany 7

Often our closed worlds need to have the roof lifted so that we can meet Jesus and so that He can meet us.

They dug up the roof! Can you believe that? Four guys couldn’t get into the house, so they climbed up on the roof. They were so determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus that they tore up the roof! Can you imagine the reaction of the landlord, homeowner, or Jesus’ family? Who’s going to pay? Who’s going to fix the roof?

It’s like so many people have come to St. John’s to hear Jesus’ words and to receive His healing that people climbed up on our roof, tore off the slates, cut a hole and lowered someone down right here in the middle of the sanctuary. The property committee would hyperventilate and the vestry would have corporate coronary infarction. The choir would, of course, complain about the change in acoustics and the sexton would be worried about filling up the Dumpster in Canterbury Green with all that debris. Leander and I would probably look at each other and agree that sometimes you just got to open up, let some light in and allow God to show the way.

The more I read this passage the more I couldn’t get the hole in the roof out of my mind. This is the first Bible passage that I can remember. It was taught to me by Mrs. Clark and there was a rolling illustration that she cranked and pictures of the story were displayed. I have a visual memory and my highest aptitude is spatial relations, so I tend to get hung up on the imagery.

The room must have been about the size of the floor of our sanctuary, certainly no smaller than the chancel. There were people in there and still room for a cot to be lowered into its midst. The walls must have been rough and there were probably cooking and sleeping areas. People could meet in the room, so the house must have been of fair size. Teachers, scribes, were there with others. It was urban, or village-like, not a tent, lean-to or shanty. The family must have had some status, not utter poverty.

After traveling, working miracles, preaching and healing, Jesus came to the house. It is referred to as “home.” Probably the sense is that there was some family in the area, and he was welcome and known there. It was a place where there might be some teaching and some room for debate. Jesus was emerging as a powerful presence. His personality, His actions, His teaching and preaching were forceful. He was no longer a local carpenter. He was a prophet, a holy man changing people’s lives through words and actions. This brought about miracles and healings. Thus more and more were attracted to Jesus. At the same time Jesus was becoming an anachronism. His preaching and healings were uncovering a nascent conflict with the religious views of the time.

The conflict was this. If you remember the Deuteronomic histories of the books of I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles, when the nation was faithful to God’s laws and His will, the nation prospered. When it strayed and went after false idols, the nation fell. This theological thought was carried over into everyday life. The Book of Job struggles with this very issue. How can Job, who did nothing wrong (he did not sin) have so much evil befall him? Answer: he must have sinned. If you were sick, then you must have done something wrong - either liturgically, ethically, cultically or doctrinally. Sin caused sickness. Sickness was the result of sin.

Back to the story. When Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends, He was moved. He said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” The scribes were outraged. Only God can forgive sins! “Jesus confronts the scribes and says, “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘pick up your bed and walk.?’ ” Jesus adds that since the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He will tell the paralytic to pick up his bed and go home. People were amazed and they praised God.

A great story. Protagonist, antagonist, conflict and resolution. And no body worries about the hole in the roof, because there has been a dramatic shift in the story. It is remembered and told because of the extraordinary power of Jesus. It is remembered and told because of the faith of the friends. It is remembered and told because the story of Jesus has changed from being a story of miracles to a pronouncement story. Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah. The blind see and the lame walk. The Son of Man title, with which Jesus identifies Himself, refers in Daniel and I Enoch to an apocalyptic figure who comes from the end of time and comes down from heaven. Jesus is now identified as the one who has come down. Not only has the theology of the scribes been turned on its head, the story told in Mark has been turned on its head. The story is now not about someone (a paralytic) coming down to Jesus. No. The story is about Jesus, the Son of God, Son of Man, coming down into the world and releasing man from the paralysis of sin. The box of the story has been completely opened up. The top has been torn off.

You and I live in all kinds of houses or boxes, metaphorically speaking. There are walls, limits. There are ceilings (sometimes of glass). The walls and the roofs protect us. They also confine us. Our box can be our health, our work, our family, our relationships, our marriage, or our psychological and emotional state. We can be paralyzed in any one, or combination, of those boxes. Sometimes we have to go through the ceiling. We have to lift the roof off, poke a hole in where we are. We can do this through counseling, training, education, medical procedures, reformation of family and personal relationships and even by change of scenery such as a vacation. Often we can lift the lid through a visit, phone call or letter. Maybe even by an email.

But often we can’t make the change alone. We need to let others help us - family, friends or neighbors. An intervention may be required as with an alcoholic or drug addict. AA or a twelve-step program can function like the four friends to bring a person to healing. Other support groups can do the same. Through prayer, evangelism, education and witness many come to the presence of Our Saviour and find healing. (Friday we had a service for Frances Dobbs, who was tireless in bringing others to church. She changed the lives of more than one.)

While all of this is true, the essence of the Christian message is not that we need to dig a hole in the roof to get to Jesus, but that Christ has come down to us. We need to let the Son of Man, the Son of God, come into our hearts and heal our paralysis. As the Messiah, as our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus heals the paralysis of fear, anger, regret, sorrow, disappointment and guilt. As He does this, and in doing this, the walls and barriers in our lives come down - not all at once, but a window is opened here, a door there, light comes in, there is access and movement to the human heart and to the soul. We have opened up.

For some of us the process of repentance and conversion can be sudden and dramatic. For others of us, and perhaps for the Church as a whole, it is an ongoing process of daily repentance and daily regeneration and conversion. There is an ascending and descending in the place where we are.

Today. This week. Look at the house, the box, the room in which you live. Perhaps you need to dig through the roof and help a friend get healing. Perhaps you need to let others bring you to forgiveness and healing. Look at the house in which you live. Let Christ into it. Through prayer, meditation, confession and the sacraments allow Jesus to be an active participant in your life.

In a moment, this two-way process of ascending and descending will actually take place. Through the Eucharist we come to Christ. Through the Eucharist He comes to us. Through the bread and wine and through the Holy Spirit He dwells in us and we in Him. Allow this process to continue to be an ongoing part of your life. Today, tomorrow, every day, open up. Raise the roof. - Amen.