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Steve Lindsley
(Luke 5: 17-21)

Here’s the thing I most want to know about this story today.  If I could somehow go back in time and watch this scene unfold; if I could do like Harry Potter and look in Dumbledore’s pensieve, that large dish thing that lets you relive past events – if I could somehow do that for today’s passage from Luke, here is what I would most want to know:

It’s which of the four was the one who said, Hey guys, I got an idea…..

We assume it was four carrying the man to see Jesus that day.  Mark’s account mentions four specifically.  Which makes sense – four corners of the stretcher, one at each corner.  These four bring this man to Jesus, presumably because they’d heard he was in town and might be able to help.  As it turns out, plenty of others had the same idea.  The house is jam-packed; this mass of humanity is spilling out the front door.  They can’t even get close.

Kind of reminds me of going to the grocery store these days, pulling into the parking lot and seeing it full of cars, people coming in and going out, some without masks, social distancing a near impossibility; and turning the car around and thinking,  yeah, I’ll try tomorrow….

Of course, it wasn’t a virus that stopped them a distance from the house.  It wasn’t fear of a sickness.  It was the fear of dashed hopes and delayed dreams.  They had brought their friend to Jesus to be healed that day.  But there were too many people. It’s way crowded.  We’ll never get in there.  Let’s try tomorrow.

I really want to know which of the four was the one who said, Hey guys, I got an idea….  You’re going to think it’s crazy when I tell you.  And the truth is, it is crazy!  It might even get us in trouble.  But it’s the only way we’re going to get our friend to Jesus.  Who’s in?

Crazy, right?

I mean, what would you have thought, if you were one of the lucky ones inside the house with Jesus, watching Jesus do his thing; and then suddenly being aware of a strange sound from above, the sound of tiles being shifted out of place; and then sunlight shining in from where sunlight was not supposed to shine, and the sound of voices above you: Okay, you grab that corner, everybody good?  Alright, let’s slowly lower him down on three, ready?  One…..two….three…..

Or what would you have thought if you were the owner of the house?  Hey, you – get down from there.  And put that tile back! 

Or what would you have thought if you were the man on the stretcher? We don’t hear much from him, do we?  Actually, we hear nothing from him.  While everyone else is speaking and acting, he says nothing.  He does nothing.  He is the most passive participant in the entire story, and yet he is the reason the four are doing what they’re doing.

Which makes me wonder if the real miracle here is not just a crippled man being able to walk again, but four friends doing something extraordinary.  And the truth is, it wasn’t just what they did when they got to the house that was miraculous.  We don’t know exactly how far they had to bring him, although scripture makes a point of saying that people came from great distances.  This was not some little neighborhood block party.  These four had carried this man from God knows where.

They carried him there not knowing for sure that Jesus would even be there.  Sure, they’d gotten a heads-up, but you know how signals can get crossed, right?  Even, so, they carried him.

They carried him not knowing if they’d be able to make it that far, because it is not easy carrying one-quarter of a human being’s weight evenly distributed on a stretcher.  Try it sometime. Still, they carried him.

They carried him not knowing for certain that Jesus would be able to help him, because even though they had undoubtedly heard stories that certainly gave them hope, there were no guarantees.  Still, they carried him.

Now I have always loved this story, for a whole host of reasons.  I love the fact that these friends faced an obstacle but chose to view it as an opportunity.  I think we in the church have in many ways been doing this for a while now – long before a global pandemic forced us to stay at home; long before we had to figure out how to worship virtually or remain connected while apart.  Honestly, for the better part of my two-plus decades in ministry, it’s been a lot like trying to figure out how to bring people to Jesus when you cannot just walk in the front door.  I love the fact that these friends found a way – a “yes-and,” as former Montreat speaker MaryAnn McKibben Dana would say.[1]  I love it because I think that’s what those of us in the church have been doing, are definitely doing right now, and will need to continue doing going forward.

I also love the fact that the man being healed barely says or does a thing.  I love this because it flies in the face of our American mindset that tells us we are the masters of our own destiny, we plot our own course; this rugged individualism that makes for good epic movies and captivating novels but is a lousy way to actually live your life.  I see this echoed throughout the protests and pushback on stay-at-home orders and social distancing and mask-wearing.  All the signs and slogans that say all kinds of things, but honestly can be summarized in six words: I am only accountable to myself.  Which is a lie. We are not just accountable to ourselves but to everyone around us.  Every decision we make, every choice we choose has a ripple effect.  Like the man on the mat, we are not solely responsible for our own healing.  In the words of a classic U2 song (if I can dare quote U2 two weeks in a row), “we get to carry each other.”[2]

Which brings me to the thing I love most about this story – the reason these friends carry him in the first place, the reason they don’t just turn around when they see the packed house, the reason one of them dares to say, Hey guys, I got an idea….  That they are doing all of this because they love him. 

I wonder this morning if you have people like that in your life.  People who, when everyone else sees an obstacle, they see possibility.  When others fear failure, they’re willing to press on.  When everyone else is stuck seeing the way things are, they are able to perceive what might be.

I am certain you have those people in your life.  Sometimes they are easy to see; other times you may have to look a little bit.   I want to invite you to take some time in the coming days to think about who those people are, and then reach out to them and tell them how much you appreciate them.  Because chances are that you have carried them at some point. And maybe your reaching out to them now will be in an of itself another instance of getting to carry each other.

As the people of God, as this family of faith, we get to carry each other – and the good news is that we have in Jesus the perfect model for if.  We carry each other because Jesus has carried us.  Long distances, even; through holes in roofs and brick walls if need be.  Even in those times when we feel it’s just us, Jesus is carrying us.

There is an old story you may have heard, about a man walking on a beach with Jesus, scenes of his life flashing before him and the two sets of footprints in the sand assuring him that Jesus is with him all the way.  That is until a couple of instances when there’s just one set of footprints – during some of his darker days, actually.  He wonders why Jesus would leave him alone in times when he needed him the most.  And Jesus assures him that he is never alone, and that the single set of footprints is in fact his, because that is when he is carrying him. 

I want to close this sermon with a song I wrote some number of years ago; a song that keeps coming back to me as songs often do.  It’s called “Carry Me.”

Sometimes when the road gets rough and darkness is all around
I look to see your footprints in the sand, but only mine can be found
And so I wonder why in times of need I feel like I’m all alone
And it’s then you remind me that your love will carry me home

Carry me across the shifting sand, carry me to more solid land
Carry me along the winding road and put me on my feet again
Carry me and never let me fall, carry me keep me standing tall
Carry me, and help me find the strength
To stand up on my feet again, on my feet again

And so when you feel like there’s no one by your side
Just turn your eyes to the one above you
Let him be your guide

Carry me across the shifting sand, carry me to more solid land
Carry me along the winding road and put me on my feet again
Carry me and never let me fall, carry me keep me standing tall
Carry me, and help me find the strength
To stand up on my feet again, on my feet again

Beloved, we get to carry each other, we get to bust holes in roofs for each other, because Jesus carries us.  And for that, in the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 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.

[1] If you missed that retreat, or if you’d like a refresher, check out MaryAnn’s book at https://www.amazon.com/Improv-Living-MaryAnn-McKibben-Dana/dp/0802874649/.
[2] From “One” off Actung Baby.  Two U2 references in two weeks.  Winning.

Featured image from https://westgatechapel.com/tear-a-hole-in-the-roof/