Tearing Off the Roof
Tearing Off the Roof
February 25, 2018
So, this morning, I want to stuff twenty five pounds of sermon into a 10 pound bag! Let’s get to it…
One of the amazing things about Scripture, after thirty years of preaching, is that it continues to speak in different ways. My life changes. The lives of the people I care about—you all!—change. The culture changes. As a result, I hear things and see things differently. Sometimes, you just run into a resource—the work of someone out there—that changes what you see.
Our text this morning is familiar—the story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof. However, this year, before I ever opened up this text, I was listening to Mark’s Gospel in a different way. This time, I’m hearing it with an eye towards Mark’s particular interest. Among many things, he was very interested in Elijah, the prophet from the Old Testament.
Without belaboring the point beyond the scope of a sermon, Elijah was the people’s favorite prophet because he stood up to some terrible “powers that be” and he was able to do some amazing things. In perhaps his most famous moment, he had a showdown with the followers of the god, Baal. He announced that they were going to have a contest to see whose god was stronger, Baal or Yahweh. They would build altars of wood. They would call on their gods. Whoever’s god set the altar on fire would win. Elijah says, “And guess what…I’ll even let you go first!” The followers of Baal do everything that they can think of to do…but nothing happens. Then, Elijah builds his altar, drowns it with water repeatedly, waits for the water to soak in. Then, he “calls down fire from heaven,”—lightning?—and the altar is turned to ashes. (Then, I assume, he drops the microphone and walks away!)
Who doesn’t like a prophet with amazing skills, right? Well, apparently the answer would be: anyone in power. He tormented the kings of his day and spent a good deal of his life either on the run or hiding as a result. Still, everyone was still convinced centuries later that when the Messiah was going to come back they would know because Elijah would appear. And how would they know that it was Elijah? Well, Elijah was famous for wearing a hair shirt with a leather belt and having wild hair and a wild beard and eating stuff that no one else would eat and hanging out in the wilderness and calling on people to repent…
Do you have the connection yet? I know, right…it sounds a lot like John the Baptist! When Mark opens his Gospel by telling us about John, it is as if he is mentioning a lanky young man with a beard and a stove pipe hat who always tells the truth—at which point we would all yell, “It’s Abraham Lincoln!” because we are steeped in American tradition. Only…Mark’s audience is steeped in Jewish tradition. They hear about John the Baptist and think, “It’s Elijah!” This is not an accident. This is exactly the connection that Mark wanted them to make…because then, if John is Elijah then the implication—the conclusion that folks would have reached for themselves—was that Jesus was the Messiah.
Now, if you are with me, (I hope you are!), you should be asking yourself, “Hey, Mark…what’s that have to do with a paralyzed guy being lowered through a roof?” Fantastic question! Here’s the thing… Centuries before, there was a really awful king named Ahaziah. He was a terrible man and, it turned out, a bit of a klutz. One day, he trips in his bedroom at the top of the palace and falls through the roof all the way to the floor. He’s horribly injured. He decides that the way to find out whether he will survive is by sending some of his troops to the people who worship the god, Beelzibub, to get a prophecy. Mind you…this is the Jewish king placing his ultimate trust in a god other than Yahweh—thats a big “no-no” folks! (By the way, that god’s name literally means the “Lord of the Flies.’ They think people worshipped a statue of a giant fly which only makes sense if you have spent time in a hot place that was full of flies and Deep Woods Off was 2000 years away from being invented!)
Here’s the kicker…the troops go out and, on the way, who do they run into but…Elijah! (I know!) Elijah is so angry when he learns who the king trusts that he calls down fire on the soldiers (more lightning!) and toasts them all. Eventually, he sends word to the corrupt king that: A: don’t ever consult foreign gods; B: you’re already doomed because you did. Because those who live get to write the history, Elijah becomes even more of a legend and King Ahaziah becomes the all-time laughingstock of a king.
So, roll the film forward hundreds of years. Mark tells this story. Jesus was in Capernaum in a house. (Some think it was Peter’s home.) Word gets out that Jesus is there. Word is spreading. People are being healed. Amazing lessons are being taught. People who were so poor and overlooked that they had nowhere to go now had no choice but to find Jesus. What unfolds is a whacky story that would have reminded everyone of the story of King Ahaziah and Elijah—but in a different, twisted retelling. If there were crowds around the king, it would only have been servants. No one wanted to be have anything to do with him. Now the house is bursting at the seems and surrounded on every side with people who just wanted to catch glimpses ofJesus.
When the crowd surrounds the house, four amazing friends show up with their paralyzed friend, desperate to do anything that they can to help him. Maybe you’ve been there. I have been in that position with any number of members in this church—in an emergency room or in your living room or in some parking lot conversation. I hear your situation and I say, “I will do anything I can to help—whatever it takes!” We all go their for our families. I remember when Tracy had medical issues early in our marriage, I kept laughing and telling her that I was learning how to channel my “inner jerk!” “I don’t want to be rude but this is my wife and something good is going to happen here!” Eventually, we are do this for each other. We dig in our heals and roll up our sleeves and announce, “We are going to get this done!” There is no way out but through…
Or, in the case of the four men and their paralyzed friend, there is no way out but up…and then down…after they have torn the roof off. Presumably, they drag their friend up some ladder or maybe up some steps. When they get there and see the roof, they start clawing and tearing at that roof until it begins to come apart. After a while, a hole opens up and pieces of roof start to fall down on the crowd inside. (At which point, knowing what a piece of work Peter was, if this actually was his house, he must have been livid!) Then, the most surprising thing imaginable happens: a man on a pallet gets lowered down through that hole straight into the presence of Jesus.
So, you have a king whom everyone feared who managed in all his loneliness to fall like a stone through the ceiling and you have a man who was so loved by his friends that they did everything necessary to keep hope alive and put him in Christ’s presence. Here’s to the friends who do whatever it takes! Here’s to the moments when we get to be one of those friends or when we are on the receiving end of that kind of friendship. Mark tells us that Jesus recognized their faith—the faith of all five of them. Sometimes it takes a small army of compassionate people to keep faith and hope alive.
Recognize, too, that the King in the ancient story went to the wrong god. These common men. though, whom God had never anointed as a king, who just knew what it meant to be a friend, knew exactly whom to seek—Jesus of Nazareth. God bless the faithful friends!
Then, Jesus blesses the paralyzed man! He turns to him and calls him, “Son.” In that ancient world, an awful lot of people would have disowned a paralyzed person—whether that person was a brother or a sister or a friend. Everyone knew, because everyone had it drilled into them, that people who were sick were sick because God made them that way as punishment. When Jesus—the hottest speaker/traveling healer around looks at this man and calls him, “Son!” the moment is revolutionary! It challenges everything that people thought they knew for sure. Now, this ought to make us challenge ourselves when we think Jesus is just here to tell us what we already know. By all reports, Jesus didn’t really do that…
So, the lonely, dopey, awful king falls and injures himself and appeals to the wrong god and runs into the wrong prophet and dies and becomes a joke. Here, though, the paralyzed man who would have been overlooked has the world’s best friends, makes it to the right person, and is healed. At which point, the religious authorities who happen to be there are…wait for it!…furious! Probably like everyone else who had ever struggled with an illness, the paralyzed man had regrets and moments of despair. (That takes me about 10 minutes to get there when I don’t feel well!) Jesus says those things are forgiven. The authorities say to each other, “Who said he gets to forgive anyone?” Jesus asks a really interesting question: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? The trick, of course, is that both of those questions are just words, just saying things. The implication is that if you want to see something that matters look at this man who is forgiven and watch him as he walks out that door! Piling up words isn’t what matters. What matters is doing whatever it takes to help this suffering soul.
Elijah delivered the death sentence to poor King Ahaziah. Jesus delivers words of forgiveness and new life. Because four faithful friends tore the roof off the joint, Jesus tore apart every regret and moment of anguish that had bound their friend and every judgement that society would pass. The care of four friends and the love of Christ changed this man’s world forever.