Sermon for March 24

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen

March 24, 2019

Scripture: Luke 5:17-26; 1 Peter 3:8-12

       The forty days of Lent are set aside in our tradition. During this season we remember Jesus time in the wilderness; a time that he spent alone, wrestling with some of the same things we wrestle with. The temptation to give into some of the pressures of the world, the temptation to seek power. The gospel tells us that he stayed strong during this wilderness time and that when it was over that the angels came and “waited on him.” We can rightfully assume that when Jesus was in the wilderness he was strengthened by his faith and felt the presence of God.

       So we have this tradition where we are invited to take a look and maybe even enter our own wilderness- to look at the things that tempt us, to maybe face some of the darker corners of our own lives. And the hope is that when we dare to do so that we will encounter God’s presence. There are times when perhaps you have had such a Lenten experience. A time of deepening, of new insights, perhaps even some transformation.

       But there are those other times- when the grief is just too raw, or the despair just too deep, or the guilt which only seems to paralyze. Sometimes as hard as we try, we just don’t feel God’s presence. We wonder if perhaps God has abandoned us. And we might wonder, are we doing something wrong? Do we need a different technique?

       This morning’s scripture focuses on a man who has been paralyzed. During those days, it was assumed that if someone had a physical or a mental disability, that it was a direct result of either their parent’s or their own sinfulness. As a result most of time they would become isolated. No moral person would stand with them, because that old standard was true back then as it still is today. We are judged not just by our behavior but by the company that we keep. So we are given this image of a man, who was immobile and also had probably spent a good deal of time isolated. Talk about a wilderness experience. Those factors make this story quite remarkable.

       Somehow a group of people found compassion for this man, and they determined that they wanted to find help for him. They had managed to get beyond the cultural norms and this man had become their friend. They had heard stories about Jesus. Could it be that he could help? They had heard that Jesus was teaching in a house so they carried him on a cot. But when they arrived there was a great crowd outside and the house was overflowing.

       But they would not be denied. They had come this far- they would find a way. So somehow they got onto the roof and they removed some tile and then somehow got the man on the roof and lowered him down at Jesus feet. I’m sure there were some there that were appalled, “What in the world are they doing?”  But Jesus reaction was quite different. What he witnessed was the faith of these friends. What he saw was the paralyzed man in all his humanity. What he declared was something that equally surprised the crowd. He told the man that his sins were forgiven and interestingly enough, the man was freed from his paralysis. The darkness that had been with him for so long was overcome with the light of love.

       It is curious that the crowd was more upset about the forgiveness that Jesus offered than they were impressed by the healing that they had witnessed. Jesus was modeling that God’s love was so great that it could even contain grace. But he was also demonstrating that the love of these friends could also have the same impact. Because of their love, darkness was not as powerful for this once paralyzed man.

       I am always moved by videos of youth where friendship has such great impact. The boy on the team who has autism is brought out at the end of the game to score the final basket surrounded by his cheering teammates. But it is even more powerful when it is witnessed up close, something which I have witnessed right here in church with some of our young people: friends doing what they need to do to lighten the load, to bring some light, to help another face the wilderness.

       When Suz had her knee replaced last summer, she couldn’t drive for several weeks, but she did feel ready to go back to work. Since her practice is in Massachusetts, I was no help. But what happened was that friends took turns driving her back and forth to work. It sounds like a little thing, but it made a huge difference, it made the wilderness a little less foreboding.

       The truth is that there are times when each of us needs help. Each of us goes through periods when the power of darkness seems particularly strong- times when we wonder if God is there at all. If we find ourselves in that space too much of the time or if it scares us a bit, we should listen and get some professional help. But often all we need to know is that we are not all alone. We need to know someone understands.

       Lillian Daniel wrote a Still Speaking devotional last year that described a particularly hard stretch in her life. She wrote that during that time some people in her life didn’t stand by her, which was hard, but there were a few who helped get her back on her feet and out of the wilderness. She wrote, “I don’t need a folder to keep track of the friends who stuck with me. They are too small in number and too enormous in grace. Even when I thought that God had dropped me, their stubborn love became my evidence to the contrary. I aspire to be that kind of friend one day.”  

       Sometimes we are needy- and sometimes we wonder where God has gone. I think we have all been there but if you haven’t, brace yourself.

       The friends brought the man through the roof. I can guarantee the homeowner was not a happy camper. But they risked another’s ire for the sake of their friend. They asked for a healing, what Jesus brought was grace. The combination is always a winning one.

       I really do believe that sometimes God shows up in the world through our friends- those folks who reach out, who dare to love, who dare to provide grace. But Jesus taught another thing, reminding us that it is in giving that we receive. When we reach out to another, when we lift another with care, the darkness that we feel seems to wane and the light gets a little brighter. Sometimes all it takes is a little kindness, and lo and behold, we get that feeling that, hmm, maybe God is right here after all.

       It’s a day for us to celebrate the friends we have known along the way. Those who have lightened the load, those who have forgiven or helped us once again find our way. But it’s also a time for us to consider how we might do that for another. How we might reach out. Perhaps that’s something we can take on as our practice for the rest of this Lenten season. Whether we are the giver or the receiver, the result is really the same, because the wilderness gets a lot less frightening, the darkness less intense.

Lillian’s words are worth repeating, “Even when I thought God had dropped me, their stubborn love became my evidence to the contrary. I aspire to be that kind of friend someday.”

Thanks be to God for friends. Amen