Sermon
February 20,   2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

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Scripture Reading

Mark 2:1-12

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he

was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for

them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3

Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of

them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they

removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down

the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to

the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes were

sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this fellow speak in

this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 At once

Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among

themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your

hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,'

or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 10 But so that you may know

that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the

paralytic -- 11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."

12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of

them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never

seen anything like this!" (NRSV)

Isaiah 43:18-25 18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the

things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you

not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the

desert. 20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my

chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might

declare my praise. 22 Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have

been weary of me, O Israel! 23 You have not brought me your sheep for burnt

offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with

offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. 24 You have not bought me sweet

cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you

have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. 25

I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not

remember your sins. (NRSV)

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Sermon

I recently stood at a funeral home and looked into the eyes of a man who was

in the midst of realizing that his wife was gone. The sadness, the pain and

the loneliness were nearly unbearable. The folks that had come to be with

him knew that he was living in his own private hell and that there was very

little that we could do to help at that time.

This is only one of the reasons that I raged against this passage from Mark

during the past week as I was preparing to write this sermon. This text seems

to link suffering with sin. Once the sin is forgiven the healing will take

place.

My heart said "no God, don't tell me that forgiveness of sin and healing are

linked so intimately - I can't believe that one is contingent upon the other"

We all know faithful Christians who cried out to be healed, yet are gone

from us today. And it is painful. We all know people who are suffering with

pain or illness or a disability - and they are begging for relief - yet - the

suffering continues. How can this all be related to their sin? I don't

believe that illness and death and disability are the direct result of sin

and I don't believe that God causes suffering for God's own purposes.

I have wrestled with God this week - and I haven't liked it.

I have read every book that I could get my hands that might shed some light

on this passage. I have offended many of my colleagues who really wanted to

choose some simple way to get through this reading and not get mired down in

a theological tug of war with God. I have prayed and prayed - and I have

shouted angry words at God. I have argued with anyone who was willing to go

head to head with me - and unfortunately - I kept winning. Our theology

matched and the text flew in the face of it.

There is no neat way to interpret this passage - even the interpretation

experts have mixed recommendations for how to deal with this passage - they

mostly include ignoring that implied link and picking a side issue, like

intercessory prayer.

One of the problems here is that Mark uses this passage as a literary device

- a transition, between healing stories and controversy. Mark inserted the

story of the scribes challenging Jesus and Jesus meeting their challenge head

on into a healing story. That gives us a passage that is distorted - it's

general purpose is to be a link. The healing of the paralytic is incidental

to Mark. Our questions are not Mark's questions.

But yet, I assumed that there had to be a word from God in this passage.

My job was to find a way in, a way to understand it, and a way to let you

all leave without some big questions unanswered. Friday night I went to bed

praying and woke up praying - and amazingly enough in the midst of the snow

on Saturday morning I realized what we needed to do.

As you look out the window at snow you have several options. You can

concentrate on the big flakes that are close to the house and therefore in

focus or you can look further out and see the beauty of the snow falling on

the landscape… or you can look into the long view and see what appears to be

a sheet of snow on the horizon.

Mark may have used this passage for his own purposes, but God does have a

word for us - if we don't get caught in the short view. We have to look past

that to the more distant and larger view and notice what it tells us.

Jesus pronounces something incredibly important - that he is God's own son.

He does this by forgiving sin - not by healing. Prophets had healed before -

but the forgiveness of sin, that had been left to God. Here was Jesus with

a claim - "God is doing something new - sending his son - and here I am - I

was sent for more than just healing and teaching - I am here to relieve you

of the burden of your sin - I am here to bring the Kingdom of God into view…

for each of you…"

Remember our passage from Isaiah - "Do not remember the former things, the

things of old. I am about to do a new thing - now it springs forth - do you

not perceive it? I am the God who blots out your sins, who not only

forgives, forgets them completely."

What is sin? Sin is whatever separates us from the love of God. What does

it mean to have our sins forgiven? To have our sins blotted out allows us to

find our way to God. Forgiveness offered allows reconciliation - we are

separated no longer - all of the obstacles that stood in the path to God's

heart are removed - obstacles that were ours, not Gods. Anger, fear,

actions, hatred, - whatever keeps us apart - is removed. The path is

cleared - God's heart is accessible. Close enough to rest in - to trust, to

believe in, to help you move forward, to reassure you, to encourage you,

to comfort you… imagine - your sins forgiven - imagine yourself drawn right

into God's heart. Held close and wrapped with love…. Totally accepted.

 

Imagine the liberation you would feel - God's grace would set you free -

That is what Jesus came to do - to set you free - to clear the path to God -

to draw you closer - to offer you something that is irresistible - love -

love that has the power to transform your life, through all that it brings

to you.

"A way in the wilderness, a river in the desert…"

When we are lost and paralyzed by the obstacles that separate us from God,

the grace flies into our lives. We see new possibilities despite our

suffering, we see the helping hand outstretched, we realize that we never

have to be alone, we find that all of our memories are good ones in the midst

of the grief, Our hearts are struck by another persons prayer for us, we

find ourselves comforted by a friend, we are drawn through the hell of our

grief by those who stand by us, who offer themselves as comfort.

And the list goes on - you will make your own - you will remember -

Jesus - the son of God - sent to draw us closer to God - to lift our sins,

to clear a path in the wilderness - to offer us a cool drink of water in the

desert, so that we might go forward - to liberated by God's love and be

cradled in God's arms. Perceive this new thing that God is doing. For it is being done for you…   Amen.

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