Through the Roof Sermon on Mark 2:1-12

Through the Roof Sermon on Mark 2:1-12

Through the Roof

Friends help their paralyzed pal.

This week, our children at VBS learned the story in Mark 2:1-12 of five guys. I love their burgers and fries. No, not those five guys. Five Bible guys, a circle of friends. Something happened, leaving one paralyzed. Lying on a mat was no fun for him or his friends. Helping him get dressed must have felt like dressing a wound. But to their credit, they never abandoned their disabled pal.

They knew that Jesus had a reputation for healing and that he was currently meeting with people in a house nearby. Some scholars think the text indicates that it was Jesus’ house. So, the guys fashioned a stretcher and carried their friend to Jesus.

But when they arrived, they found throngs of people packed close together inside and outside the house. Our VBS participants appreciated Mrs. Melissa’s use of a felt board to depict the narrative. She wedged more people into the scene when there was no more room. Even the doorway was jammed with people. There was no way the guys could access Jesus.

Cut a hole in Jesus’ roof.

So, they came up with an idea. Let’s haul him up to the roof, open a hole in the mud and thatch roof, and lower him to Jesus. They gathered some rope and set about their arduous task. They showed their faith by not giving up when confronted with an obstacle. Hauling a grown man onto a roof is no easy feat. But they held steady. They got on their knees and got their hands dirty. They did the work, not caring what people would say about the spectacle they created. Dirt clods sprinkled down into the hair of the people seated inside.

Their cutting holes and our campaign to fix holes have a common goal.

But wait! You may say. Didn’t you bring us here today to celebrate our progress toward fixing holes in our roof? Why choose this story? Because we share a common purpose with these men. It’s all about helping people access the holy to find the healing, support, strength, or forgiveness they need—our task and their task share the same goal.

I imagine the crowd going silent as a stream of sunlight bursts into the living room, and in the glare, a man on a stretcher descends. Instead of growing indignant with the interruption and the destruction of his property, Jesus delighted in the faith of the men who made this happen. May he delight in what we do in faith, too!

Forgiveness? I thought the problem was paralysis.

He looks at the man and declares, “Your sins are forgiven. Get up, take your mat, and be on your way.”

Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” seems to come out of left field. The presenting issue was paralysis, not sinfulness. Any doctor will tell you the presenting symptom is not necessarily the root problem. Pain relievers won’t solve the issue if high blood pressure is causing headaches. Perhaps there was some psychosomatic connection between the man’s physical symptoms and a sense of unworthiness and shame. Somehow, doctor Jesus discerns that the root issue here is unforgiveness.

Although the man did not ask for forgiveness or display anything that looked like faith, Jesus declared that his sins were forgiven. Now get up, take your mat, and go on your way.

Taking the mat is an odd detail. Maybe it will remind him how far he has come, like how scars on our bodies or hearts tell a story of our healing and how our experiences shape us.

When he walks out, everyone is happy. The guys on the roof high-five each other and scramble off the roof to greet him with a hug. Shouts ascend, and the celebration begins. But not everyone is happy; there are some grumps. Religious leaders, go figure.

Why did religious leaders freak out?

Why did the religious leaders freak out and accuse Jesus of blasphemy, which is about the worst thing someone could be charged for? They were taught that to achieve God’s forgiveness, one must go through the religious process that involved offering an animal–the more heinous your sin, the bigger and more expensive the animal you’d need to give. In a complex ritual, the temple priests sacrificed the animal on an altar, and the priest then pronounced that one’s sins were absolved.

Jesus willy-nilly blurting, “Your sins are forgiven,” negated the entire religious practice of forgiveness. Who did he think he was to declare sins forgiven without offerings and rituals? They learned only God can say if God forgives sins, and God gave us these rituals for the path to forgiveness. In this case, none of the steps had been followed. You can’t ignore them and act like you are God, telling people the rituals aren’t necessary.

But Jesus doesn’t seem to have patience for the elaborate rituals. “Isn’t it easier to say that your sins are forgiven?”

Seeing God as automatically forgiving.

The gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus was claiming his authority to forgive sin. Even though the man hadn’t even asked to be forgiven, Jesus had already forgiven the man. This is consistent with Jesus’ message throughout the gospels. By nature, God is gracious, merciful, and forgiving. The forgiveness you seek has already been declared. Your rituals do not cause God’s forgiveness, God’s nature is what makes it happen.

The religious leaders were mad because Jesus went against what they had always been taught. That is always upsetting. I think his message also upsets what most of us have been taught. We have been taught that to be forgiven, one needs contrition–a true feeling of sorrow for falling short. We need to have repentance–a turning around of our attitudes and behaviors toward what is right. Then we need confession, admitting our failures to ourselves and God. Next, we have to ask for forgiveness. Instead of an animal sacrifice, we were taught that Jesus’ crucifixion is the sacrifice, and if we believe that, then God will forgive our sins.

What if we’ve made forgiveness more complicated than it really is?

What if God forgives because of who God is, not because of our actions of contrition, repentance, confession, requests, and beliefs? I think this way of thinking about it is closer to what Paul argues in Romans. We don’t make God forgive us by following the right steps because God has already granted us this forgiveness in a way that is not conditional on anything we do.

The problem with saying there are steps you have to take to attain forgiveness is that it makes religion transactional. We do this, God does that. Jesus had no room for transactional religion. Transactional faith denies the sovereignty of God, and it sets up religious leaders as the gatekeepers who broker the transactions. Those who have made the transactions are deemed more valuable than those who don’t. No wonder the religious leaders lost their minds when Jesus declared that man’s sins were forgiven; it threatened their power, control, and role in the community.

Instead of gatekeepers, our job is to let people know they are forgiven.

The church’s job isn’t to tell people what conditional steps they must take to ensure their forgiveness. Maybe our job is to follow Jesus by simply declaring to people that their sins are forgiven. When we take this approach, there is no transaction to mediate and no need to judge people for not following the right steps. There need not be any more divisions between the insiders who have forgiveness and the outsiders who have not followed the steps you say are required. Instead, the idea is that we are all forgiven already; everyone is saved already.

What if we don’t need religion to be forgiven?

That is not to say that there isn’t something good that happens with contrition, repentance, confession, and belief. These practices help give us a sense of connectedness to the divine and empower our faith journey.

Declaring forgiveness of sins has powerful effects. Like the paralyzed man in the story, many people are paralyzed by guilt and shame. Religion has often been used to keep people bound up in that. When you hear that you are forgiven, you can shake off the bindings, get up, and walk again in a new and joyful way.

So the man took his mat, now walking tall. He’s wandered through the halls of history Into this sacred hall. For we are him and he is we, you see. Forgiven, loved, and free.

If you like your sermon in three points here they are: In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.