Sunday Sermon 03/21/2021 by David Hodgson

The Faith of our Friends

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven…rise, take up your pallet and go home.’” Mark 2:5&11

In our scripture lesson a paralyzed man is healed and forgiven by the grace of God, and there is not one single shred of evidence to indicate that the man even believed in God! He was carried on a stretcher by his friends to a place where the Word of God was being preached. He was lowered into the presence of Jesus by friends who believed that it would make a difference in his life. It was clearly not the faith of the paralytic which Jesus noticed, but the faith of his friends: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven, rise, take up your pallet and go home.”

In most of Jesus’ healing miracles, it is the faith of the one afflicted that seems to cause the miracle to happen. The woman with the hemorrhage, the man born blind, the lepers in their affliction ~ all of them cried out to Jesus because of their faith, and Jesus replied in words such as these: Go in peace. Your faith has made you well. But this timeless miracle is different ~ profoundly different, delightfully different ~ for it is as though Jesus were saying to the paralyzed man before him, Go in peace. The faith of your friends has made you well!

At first glance, this miracle rugs abrasively against some of our favorite theological attitudes, for we have grown all too comfortable with the notion that one has to believe in Christ in order to experience his saving power, that one has to confess Christ in order to be forgiven. But perhaps that is precisely where we need to be disturbed before we can understand the nature of our own paralysis and appreciate the unmerited grace of God which so often comes to us through the faith of our friends.

Does it really matter what our friends believe when our lives are paralyzed by fear? Whether we stand before the opportunity of a lifetime or face some great personal danger, fear paralyzes the human spirit, preventing us from living at our best. Sometimes it is the fear of failure ore the fear
of success, the fear of disappointment or the fear of some familiar temptation; but whatever the fear, the paralysis is ever the same. In those moments, does it really matter what our friends believe? ~about the power of God? about the value of human life? about the work of human
compassion? You bet it does!

Does it really matter what our friends believe when we are unwilling and unable to help ourselves? Whether we face life’s transitions in the classroom or in the boardroom, in the family system or the social structure ~ lethargy sabotages the vitality of the human spirit. Sometimes it is physical or emotional burnout, mental depression or spiritual fatigue; but whatever the condition, the experience of helplessness is ever the same. In those moments when we are ready to give up on life, does it really matter what our friends believe? ~ about the purpose of God? about the inspiration of truth? about the nurture of companionship? You bet it does!

When my faith has failed before a crisis, and fear began to threaten my wellbeing, I have been brought back to the presence of Christ by the faith of others, and after listening to your prayers each night at six, I know that you too, because of your faith, bring family and friends into the presence of Jesus.

What then about the other side of that equation. When our friends are paralyzed by fear or handicapped by depression, does it really matter what we believe? When our friends are down and cannot walk through life on their strength alone, does it really matter what we believe? ~ about the love of God? about the sacred bonds of friendship? about justice? about rebirth? If, as I suspect, God has placed these crippled lives in our midst precisely because God is counting on us to be there for them in redemptive ways, then it is profoundly important to God and to them what we as their friends believe!

I have known the faith of others to fail, only to discover that that’s why God put me in their lives. True story. After a late-night Christmas Eve service I found one of my members sitting alone on the front pew after everyone had gone. She was crying and so I sat next to her and learned that she had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and then this confession: “And I’ve also lost my faith in God!” (That’s not unusual, when dreams are broken and relationships are lost to also lose faith in God for a time).

And I heard myself saying… (has that ever happened to you, when words come out of your mouth you know you didn’t put there, and you feel the need to pay attention to them?). Well, I heard myself say, “Well, that’s okay, I still have faith and you can borrow mine!). To this day I am amazed at that revelation, because it is possible to drew strength from the faith of others when you need to shout and scream at the heavens. When our friends lose their faith, it matters greatly what we believe about God, about the value of life, about the power of friendships!

Therefore, suspecting that the miracle before us is somehow the story of our lives, let’s go back to the experience that Mark describes and take our place in it. Jesus was preaching in what we would call a house church, only the crowd that turned out to hear him filled the house and spilled over into the courtyard. In the midst of his sermon, however, there was an interruption which was to become more memorable than his sermon: a paralytic was lowered into his presence by four men who took the roof off the place just to set this man’s problem squarely before Jesus.

A hush fell over the crowd, for those who listened with their ears. But Jesus could hear what people were thinking before they ever expressed it in words, and he could feel the emotions of others long before they revealed them openly. So it was that for Jesus, the crowd was far from silent. Some were upset that the sermon they had come to hear was interrupted, others cheered inwardly thinking that Jesus had been put on the spot and that there was no way he could avoid the situation. Still others were gossiping in their own minds about the cause of this man’s paralysis ~ whether, for example, it was punishment for his sin!

To silence their ignorant speculation ~ and I suspect disturb their comfort levels all the more ~ Jesus said to the paralytic, My son, your sins are forgiven. That set them off in a new direction, thinking such things as Who is this man to forgive sins? and That’s easy for him to say but how
do we know his sins are forgiven, he’s still paralyzed! He let them play those silly mind games for a while, and then looking up at the faces of the man’s friends, and noting their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your pallet and go home!” And he walked out to the astonishment of the crowd.

The names of those four friends have been omitted from scripture because they change for all who read this passage. But if you take a moment, and look up in your mind to that hole in the ceiling, undoubtedly you will be able to recognize them by faces. The face of one who believed in you when you did not believe in yourself. The face of one who led you back to God when you felt unworthy to make that journey alone.

Likewise, the name of the paralytic has not been mentioned, for it too changes for all who visit this passage of scripture. But if in your mind you look down through the hole in the roof to the one you laid at the feet of Jesus, perhaps you will recognize his or her face. The face of one who never learned to love himself or herself. The face of one who always valued the opinions of others more that his or her own values. The face of one who always thought the happiness of others was more important than any happiness he or she deserved. The face of one unable to be what God intended because his or her spirit has been paralyzed by fear. Have you identified now the one you have brought into the presence of the Lord?

And by some ineffable mystery, we discover in our own experience that our friendships become the stuff of which the Lord’s miracles still are made.

David Hodgson
March 21, 2021