Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Luke 5: 17-26)
It happened on one of those days, is how one translation begins this passage. It’s as close to the original Greek as English can get. I rather like it. It happened on one of those days – as if what happened could happen any day, which is usually the way these things happen.
It happened on one of those days that Jesus was teaching and drawing quite the crowd and “the power of the Lord to heal was with him,” which I like to think is the Bible’s way of saying, “get ready, y’all, something miraculous is about to happen.”
And indeed, there is a miracle here. Just maybe not the one we’re thinking of.
I mean, the healing of a paralyzed man most certainly qualifies as a miracle – don’t get me wrong. This paralyzed man who friends bring to Jesus, this man who is told by Jesus to pick up his mat and walk, which must’ve sounded like a ridiculous thing to say, offensive even. And yet that is exactly what happens. A paralyzed man walks. Any way you cut it, it’s pretty miraculous.
But on this Together at Trinity Sunday, friends, I want to submit to you that there is another miracle in this story, one we often miss, one that is not all that flashy or mind-blowing but is a really big deal. I want to suggest that the real miracle of Luke 5 has nothing to do with a lame man suddenly being able to walk; and everything to do with the friends who brought him there. Because honestly, that’s pretty miraculous too.
Let’s assume for a moment, as the gospel of Mark does when recounting this same story, that there are four friends here. Makes sense – four corners of the mat the man is lying on, one friend for each corner. These four friends bring this man to Jesus, presumably because they believe at some level that he might be able to help their friend. As it turns out, lots of other people thought the same thing that day. This house is crawling with folks, all seeking some kind of healing from Jesus – healing of the mind, healing of the heart, the spirit, the soul. All of them coming to Jesus that day because they believed he could heal them.
And so it happened on one of those days that four guys bring their friend to Jesus, but lo and behold the house is packed; so much so that this mass of humanity is spilling out the front door. They can’t even get inside.
Friends, we are on the cusp of a miracle here. Can you feel it? Because when it comes to miracles, there is always a moment right before the miracle when we find ourselves at the intersection of despair and hope. And we have a choice to make. 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 inside. Let’s just call it a day and 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 of the friends who said, Hey fellas, I got an idea! I can’t imagine it was easy getting him up on that roof, carrying him up on that mat. And then when they’re up there, there’s still the problem of the roof itself. Thick and hardened mud and straw, baked for years in the Middle Eastern sun. And under all that, stone slabs – what our passage today refers to as “tiles” – stone slabs pieced together to create a sturdy structure.
It happened on one of those days that four friends, finding themselves at the intersection of despair and hope, 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 that mat and their friend on it down through the hole in the roof, all the way down to Jesus.
And right there is your miracle! It is the miracle of people working through every obstacle and breaking through every barrier to bring someone they love to Jesus. Anytime that happens, it is a miracle. It’s a miracle because, in doing that, they didn’t just bring their friend to Jesus. They brought themselves as well. You don’t think they sat up on that roof the whole time, do you? Even though scripture doesn’t say it, I have to think it wasn’t very long before those friends found their way through that hole, longing to be with Jesus themselves because they recognized their own brokenness – different from their friend, of course, but brokenness all the same. A brokenness that only Jesus could tend to.
Well, Jesus and the gathering, right? Those four friends, and the man they lowered, and everyone else who had come there that day, they were all seeking Jesus. They knew he was what they needed. What they may not have realized initially, though, was how much they also needed each other. They needed each other because, while seeking Jesus is one thing, following him is an entirely different matter. It is not easy – not in the world they were living in, not in our world either. They needed to learn and grow from each other, gathering together, staying connected. They needed that in a big way.
And anytime that happens, it’s a miracle, don’t you think?
For a long, long time we have been living into that miracle as the church, gathering together, connecting with Jesus and connecting with each other. And we haven’t even had to cut holes in the roof to do it! For a long time we’ve been gathering together because some part of us realizes that as much as we need Jesus – and friends, we need Jesus! – as much as we need Jesus, this journey is not meant to be an individual excursion. We need each other as well. If the Christian faith were designed to be a solo endeavor we could follow Jesus through an app on our phone or something. But that’s not how it works. For a long time we’ve been gathering together because that is what we do as the church, what we’ve always done.
That is, until March 2020 when you get an email from your pastor and clerk of session saying, I’m sorry, we won’t be gathering together this Sunday. We’ll be on this thing called Zoom. That goes on for three long months. After which we do gather, but it’s outside under the Oaks with lawn chairs and masks on. After which it’s online at our Watch Worship page for the rest of that year and half of the next. After which it’s finally back in here.
And now that things are supposedly “normal” again, we expect everything to suddenly go back to the way they used to be – or is it the way we like to remember things being? I’ve heard some of you remark how you’ve missed seeing some of the people you remember seeing here before, and I get that. I’ve heard many lament the optics of an “empty sanctuary” – which, if I’m speaking the truth here, have we not always faced an uphill battle, even before the pandemic, of making this beautiful but massive sanctuary of ours look full? I like to jokingly tell people that we at Trinity were doing social distancing before social distancing was cool. It’s true. And besides all that, when it comes to following Jesus, should that even be the point?
Here’s the truth that’s staring us right in the face: however we remember things once being, we cannot go back there. We just can’t. We can only go forward. And thanks be to God, that is all God asks of us – to go forward. Our scripture today tells us as much. The past couple of years for our church, for the two schools on our campus, it’s been a little like a hole cut in the roof, a hole that you don’t just repair to look and function like it did before. Instead, we’ve learned new ways of being church, new ways of being school, ways that still enable us to live into our ultimate mission and purpose, and perhaps even do it better. Ways that still bring us together.
And anytime that happens, as we’ve seen time and time again, it is a miracle.
That is why your ministerial staff decided to adopt a new term for this second Sunday in September, Together At Trinity Sunday, living into the miracle that is two or more gathering together in Jesus’ name. And this is about more than just our church. It reflects an effort led by your two pastors and the directors of both our Weekday School and Philips Academy, Amy Vaughn and Deborah Hofland, to redefine the essence of our collective relationship. Back at the beginning of this year, the four of us adopted a statement that read in part:
For almost two decades the Philips Academy, Trinity Weekday School, and Trinity Presbyterian Church have lived together on the same campus. The relationship goes deeper, however, than simply existing in close proximity. We are mutually dependent on each other and should strive to be the best version of ourselves in how we relate to and interact together.
And in the few short months since, this statement has become something far more than just a statement. Together At Trinity is transforming us all. To delve into this a little more, I want to invite Tonia Delgago to join me up front, so we can unpack together what it means to be “together at Trinity.”
(To hear the conversation between Steve and Tonia, please go to www.trinitypreschurch.org and click on the “Watch Worship” button).
I want to invite all of us here today to think about how we can be part of Together At Trinity. Connecting with Jesus, connecting with each other. What proverbial roofs will need a hole knocked through them? What old ways of remembering things will we need to let go of, and what “new normals” will we need to embrace? And how might all of this impact us and the wider community of which are part?
It happened on one of those days, we are told. A day like today. And anytime that happens, beloved, it is most certainly a miracle. And for that, in the name of 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.
 Bruce Barton, Dave Veerman, Linda Taylor; Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997), 123.