(Luke 5: 17-26)
It happened on one of those days, is how one translation begins. It’s a rendering as close to the original Greek as English can get. I like it. It happened on one of those days – as if what happened could happen on any day, could happen when you least expect it to, which is usually the way these things happen.
It happened on one of those days when Jesus was teaching and had drawn quite the crowd. Drawn even the Pharisees out of the woodwork, those with perhaps less-than-noble intentions. It happened on one of those days when “the power of the Lord to heal was with him” – him being Jesus, of course; which I like to think is the Bible’s way of saying that everything is teed up for one amazing miracle to take place here.
Which it does. Just not the one we’re expecting.
I mean, we know about this paralyzed man brought by some friends to see Jesus, and how near the end Jesus tells the man to pick up his mat and walk, which he does. And how that’s pretty miraculous.
But today I want us to consider the possibility that the real miracle of Luke 5 has nothing to do with one man walking; and everything to do with the friends who brought him there.
Now we’re not told how many friends there are. When Mark recounts this same story in his gospel, he mentions four – which makes sense, if you think about it; one for each corner of the mat. So let’s assume it’s four here. These four friends bring this man to Jesus, presumably because they’ve heard he might be able to help him. As it turns out, lots of other people had the same idea. They’re all there, seeking some kind of healing – healing of the mind, healing of the heart, the spirit, the soul. All coming to Jesus that day because, in the end, they simply want to be with him.
It happened on one of those days that these four bring their friend to see Jesus, but the house is jam packed; so much that this mass of humanity is spilling out of the doorway. They can’t even get close. It’s hardly worth it.
And this, right here, this is where the miracle begins to unfold. Are you paying attention? Because when it comes to miracles, there is always this moment right before the miracle when we find ourselves at the intersection of despair and hope. And we have a choice to make there. We can turn away from that which lies ahead, because the possibility of failure is too great. It’s way crowded. We’ll never get in there. Let’s just go home.
Or we can dare to see that there is, in fact, a way forward. Or, in this case, a way up.
I like to imagine the first guy who says, Hey fellas, I got an idea! Or better yet, if they all start thinking it at the same time, kind of looking at each other without saying a word. I can’t imagine it’s easy getting him up there on that roof, carrying him up on that mat, things like height and gravity and physics being the barriers they can be. And then when they’re up there, another barrier: the roof itself. Thick and hardened mud and straw, baked for years in the Middle Eastern sun. And under that, stone slabs – what our passage today calls “tiles” – stone slabs pieced together to create an even more formidable barrier.
It happened on one of those days when these friends, finding themselves again at the intersection of despair and hope, again choose the latter. They dig through the mud and straw; they pull up the tiles one by one, just enough to create a hole the size of a man’s mat. And they lower him down on that mat, all the way down to Jesus.
Now that right there, Trinity Presbyterian, that is the real miracle of this story. It is the miracle of four friends who work through every obstacle and break through every barrier to bring someone they love to Jesus – and, in doing so, bring themselves to Jesus too.
Because even though scripture doesn’t say it, I find it hard to believe that those four friends would sit up there on that roof the whole time. Their friend is down there, Jesus is down there. I know what I’d do – I’d jump right through that hole in the roof, because holes like that are not designed for only one person to go through. I have to think they longed to be with Jesus because some deep part of themselves realized that, though their brokenness may not be as obvious on the outside as their friend’s paralysis, their brokenness was just as real and equally in need of healing.
We have a name for this kind of miracle in the church. We call it “mission.” Mission. It’s a word we throw around an awful lot. We like to tag it on to various things – it gives it a little more “umph.” So we talk about mission statements, or mission ministry teams, or the work of missions, or mission trips. More often than not, I think, we imagine mission as a thing. Something we do, an action or endeavor we undertake.
But I want to suggest to you this morning that if we as a church are going to live out the miracle of Luke 5 and live into our 2020 Vision, then we have to start thinking of mission in a totally new and radically different way. Not as a thing, not as something we can choose to do, or not do. Not as a choice we get to make at all. You and I in the church have to start thinking of mission as nothing more and nothing less than the very essence of who we are. Our DNA – what makes church the church.
As you know, we’re in the middle of a sermon series on our 2020 Vision, starting last week with our first guiding principle, Create space for children and youth to fully engage in the life and leadership of the congregation. Today we look at our second guiding principle, which you can find in your bulletin. If you would, please turn to it:
Foster a strong congregational identity and vitality through life-changing, relational mission.
Now I want you to know that, from the moment we started working on this 2020 Vision, we knew that something would need to be in there about mission. Because mission is important to our church, the idea of helping “the least of these” is important to our church, the desire to think outside ourselves and be attentive to the needs of our other sister and brothers, that is important to our church.
But we also knew that we wanted to dig deeper than simply “engage in mission” or “be a missional church.” Our desire was to craft very Trinity-specific language that would clarify, as I said before, how mission is not something we do as much as who we are; how this miracle is the kind of miracle we feel God leading us to be part of here.
It’s the kind of miracle that South African missiologist David Bosch wrote about in his seminal work Transforming Mission, where he make this powerful statement: mission “is not so much the work of the church as it is simply the Church at work.”
Mission is not the work of the church, it is the church at work.
I think back to those four friends of the paralyzed man. I think about how they broke through all the barriers they found in their way for the sole reason of bringing their friend to Jesus. That’s why they did it. They didn’t do it because they were on a church committee that had as one of the bullet points in its job description, take paralyzed friend to Jesus and bust a few ceiling tiles if necessary. No! They did what they did because they loved Jesus and loved their friend. They did it because that’s being the church at work.
In fact, that’s why our guiding principle speaks not just about “mission” but life-changing, relational mission. Those words are key. Because mission – connecting people to Jesus – is not just about us doing the connecting. The minute we start thinking that we are the healing agents, that mission is a one-way street where “we” help “them,” that is when we lose a sense of what God’s great miracle is about. Our job, our only job, is to bring people to Jesus and let Jesus perform his healing work in all of us together.
That’s why mission needs to be more than just financial support for worthy agencies – although that is good. That’s why mission is more than offering particular programs to help underserved populations – although that’s good. Mission, in the truest sense of the word, is about connecting people to Jesus in a way that meets the deepest needs and heals the greatest wounds in all of us.
So in addition to offering Room In The Inn, a fantastic ministry that our church has been part of for years, what if we also begin to dig deeper into the root causes of homelessness and become part of the effort to bring more affordable housing to our communities?
In addition to supporting NationsFord Elementary with supplies and teacher recognition during the school year, what if we also take it upon ourselves to tackle head-on the economic disparity that exists in our schools where some of our children are tremendously underserved for no other reason than where they live?
In addition to collecting food for Loaves and Fishes, what if we are part of an effort to expand our gardening efforts here to support urban gardens all around town in areas where people do not yet have easy access to healthy food?
Do you see how this understanding of mission is so vastly different from what we typically think of in the church? It’s not just “the other” who is impacted – it’s all of us. It’s a two-way street. Because we all need the healing miracle of Jesus.
Our 2020 Vision is calling us to remove a few tiles – no, more than a few – and dare to enter head-first into the miracle of being the church at work:
Of making ourselves vulnerable to go outside our comfort zones – because Christ is there.
Of being in relationship with those we are called to serve, so it’s no longer “us” and “them” but everyone together – and Christ is there.
Of being bold in our capacity to dream up new ways of being the body of Christ for people, with people, knowing Christ is always there.
Of seeing the need in someone else, and allowing them to see the need in us, a need that only Christ can fill there.
Of fostering a strong congregational identity and vitality through life-changing, relational mission – and not because it’s what Jesus tells us to do, but because we recognize the need for it in our lives and the lives of those around us. So much, in fact, that we want nothing more than to be part of the miracle. Nothing more than bringing people to Jesus – and finding that’s where we’ve wanted to be all along too.
I want to invite each of you here today, and those listening our sermon podcast, to think of how you and your family and this church can live into this second guiding principle of our 2020 Vision. I want to invite you to be the church at work – connecting people to Jesus in ways that will most certainly be life-changing and relational for all. It may require removing a few tiles. It may require breaking through a few barriers. But that’s okay. Because we are the church at work, called to connect people to Jesus, called to be part of his grand and glorious miracle.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
*Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
 Bruce Barton, Dave Veerman, Linda Taylor; Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997), 123.
 David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis Books, 1991), 372.