This Lenten Season, as a congregation we’ve been reflecting on Spirituality and Sickness. This sermon, and the sermon at the second service, are taken from that series. The series was inspired by the last three months of sickness that’s visited our family. Its just seemed this year has been a really nasty for sickness. Two weeks after my newborn, Benjamin, was born, he was flown down to Vancouver because he had a respiratory infection called RSV. I stayed home from Classis because the little guy got croup, and last night I had to take my oldest to the emergency room because he caught the same thing. All this, has been a bit of a motivator to reflect on how God is with us when we’re sick. I’ve found that when I’m sick its a lot more difficult to feel worshipful towards God. Its a lot harder to love my neighbour. I think this is probably true of all sickness, regardless of whether its pain, mental illness, depression, chronic fatigue, or whatever might be happening that makes your body not function the way its meant to. Have you ever noticed that God can seem really far away when we’re sick? But the reverse can be true, too. Maybe you’ve experienced Him draw right close to you in your sickness. Have you ever found that God can teach you things that you’d never otherwise be able to learn unless He got your attention through sickness and walked you through that dark valley? These are the sorts of thing I’d like to reflect on in this service and the next.
To start, let’s look at what came before the passage we read this morning. We’re at the beginning of Mark 2. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus did a lot. Jesus launched his public ministry. He enrolled his disciples, he exorcised demons, he healed many people, and He preached that the Kingdom of God is near! From reading that first chapter, I get the impression His life was quite full. So I’m not surprised when when in the midst of all that Jesus goes away for some alone time. It sounds like He needed it. But the disciples interrupt His quiet time saying, “Everyone is looking for you!” So Jesus launches a preaching tour throughout the region of Galilee. Chapter 2 begins with Jesus coming home. It starts out in Jesus’ house. I wonder if coming home was a relief. After all, I’m reading from the perspective of an introvert, and what happens next sounds like my worst nightmare. Remember, Jesus comes home after an intense time of ministry, and I can imagine wanting to curl up with a book and close the door. Then, all of a sudden Jesus’ house is just crammed with people wanting him to speak. Sigh. OK. Not only that, but half way into his talk he hears what sounds like someone’s shovelling a hole in his roof. Only to discover that somebody IS shovelling a hole in his roof. I wonder if He thought: What now? Jesus’ roof is totally destroyed and a paralyzed man get’s lowered down right in front of him. Maybe that’s why Jesus says “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He looks up at the hole they made in his roof, and shrugs his shoulders and says “Well, I forgive you.”
After all, that’s the part the part of this story that we really need an explanation for. Its bizarre, but we can understand the desperation that would drive someone to dig a hole in someone’s roof in search of healing. (Slide 2) What throws us for a loop is why Jesus would offer forgiveness when the person before him hasn’t said a word about sin. He simply wants to be healed. Is Jesus saying that this man is somehow paralyzed because of his sin? Is Jesus saying that his condition is somehow this man’s fault? Its an important question from our modern standpoint. In our day and age, it makes no sense to offer forgiveness to someone who just needs healing. They’re two different things. Our Modern Culture sees this world with very different eyes than Jesus and most other premodern cultures. Over the last several hundred years, our Western culture has developed a very different way of looking at the relationship between the material world, the spiritual world, our bodies, our soul, and our mind. In the last two centuries, we’ve shifted to seeing all these things as more or less independent from one another, except through cause and effect. Our body impacts the world, and the world impacts our body like one domino knocking over the other. There is nothing deeper connecting us. Direct cause and effect is the only thing that links one object to another in our modern world. That view is pretty unique to modern culture. Consider Psalm 82, which talks about some people (Slide 3), “who know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken.” These people stumble in the darkness and the foundations of the earth are shaken. That’s like believing that when a couple of dominos fall over on a table, the entire table will come crashing to the floor. The Psalm is saying that the earth falls apart when humans act in ignorance. The same thing plays out in the story of Noah. The people in the days of Noah gave themselves over to wickedness, and the impact was that the land fell into chaos, water covered the earth. Dominos fall over and the table comes crashing down. What about when Adam and Eve sinned against God, which resulted in sickness, death and the land becoming cursed. The table wasn’t the same after those two fell. All this is to say that the Bible doesn’t share our view that cause and effect is the only explanation for how things are related to each other. There is something deeper at play in God’s world. That’s where the connection between forgiveness and healing comes in. (Slide 4) Consider Psalm 103, which reminds us that it is the Lord who heals our diseases and forgives our iniquity. The cultural world of the bible, and most every other culture in history except for ours, sees something deeper connecting our mind, body, soul and creation. The view that things are only related by direct cause and effect, or one domino hitting another, is unique to modern culture. Jesus sees that there are other things at play in the universe that impact one another, that we can’t see. Sickness, death, destruction of the environment, famine, and wickedness are somehow part of the same problem. Sin. Of course, the story of Job, and Jesus himself, reminds us that you can’t make a formula out of this. You can’t say a person is sick because of a particular sin. Nonetheless, when we read the Bible we’re confronted with the notion that our need for healing, forgiveness, resurrection, and new creation are somehow part of the same solution. The domino of sin has fallen, and the whole world is teetering.
Our culture doesn’t share this world view. We prefer direct cause and effect, one domino hitting the other. It makes things more simple. No need to deal with sin, except maybe with a psychologist or a spiritual director. You work on your heart with a cardiologist, separately from your mind, separately from your soul, separately from your environment, because we can’t fix things which aren’t related by cause and effect. If the dominos don’t touch there’s no problem. And for the most part we’ve become pretty good at keeping these different categories separate from one another… and it works a lot of the time. It worked terrifically for my son, Davey, when we went to the Emergency Room last night. That’s why we’re so surprised when Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “your sins are forgiven.” We wonder why Jesus is mixing the categories of sin and sickness. Those two dominos aren’t supposed to be anywhere near each other.
When we feel terrific, when the doctors have a medical solution to our problem, its a lot easier to keep these distinctions straight. But our distinctions begin to break down when there are no answers. The difference between mind, body and soul fade away when we are sick for too long. They begin to affect each other, despite our best efforts to keep them separate. Its then that the ancient understanding of interconnectedness forces itself upon us. When sickness doesn’t go away we ask questions like, “Is this my fault? Is this someone else’s fault? Is God angry at me? Doesn’t He love me? Why am I still sick? Is there something in my environment that’s destroying me? Am I a different person because of this illness? Do I still have a role in my family? Am I losing touch with my community? Will people forgive me when I’m irritable and angry. Why does everything seem dark even when the Sun’s shining and people are laughing? I’m so angry at God. Which specialist will answer all those questions?
The deeper we go into the heart of sickness, the more our tidy modern distinctions of mind, body, spirit, community, spirituality, and creation all break down. Sickness touches everything. And Jesus comes into that collapsing world. He enters our deep questions of doubt, fear, pain, anger, and sinfulness with these words: “your sins are forgiven.” He says, “I am restoring you.” That healing and forgiveness that appear together in this story reminds us that God restores holistically. He’s restoring your whole person, not least your relationship with Him.
Think about Jesus’ house as a metaphor for the world, with its great big gaping hole in the roof. That’s sort of what Sin has done to this world. Its torn apart the beautiful, harmonious fabric that held this world together. Jesus came to patch the world back together. As He’s working, He comes to us, or perhaps we’re brought to him. Where will he start? Your heart? Your soul? Your body? Your family? Your memories? Your community? Your land? Surely restoring one thing will lead to the other, because we’re all bound up in this web of life. That’s shalom. Jesus starts His work with the simple, all encompassing declaration: (Slide 5) “Child, your sins are forgiven.” and He begins to heal you. Healing is restoration of the whole person, restoration of the whole community, the whole of Creation.
The experts of the law who are watching all this aren’t modern humans. So they don’t ask “why is he mixing the categories of healing and forgiveness.” They know they’re part of the same problem. Instead, they wonder, “How can this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” How can Jesus do what only God can do? Where does Jesus get the authority to say “you’re forgiven”
So in addition to saying “you’re forgiven,” Jesus says to the paralyzed man “get up, take up your mat and go home.” (Slide 6) He does this so “that you many know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Jesus has this authority to do so in our lives, just as he restores the life of the paralyzed man through forgiveness and healing. Jesus continues to come into our lives to bring restoration. So we rest in His presence as he knits us back together. Sometimes, this is painful. Sometimes its a long, demanding slog, as we patiently allow him to heal the most tender, bruised parts of our lives. The parts of our lives that have been torn apart that need to be brought back together. He has authority to do so. We trust him with all of our brokenness, all our self blame, self loathing, sickness, deficiencies and hurts and sinfulness… And he knit us back together along with the world.
Of course, this work will last our whole life long. This restoration will not be complete until the Final Resurrection, when our mind, body, soul, will finally be made new. On that day the whole Creation will be restored, and the knowledge of God shall cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea.
(Slide 7) Know this: He came to bring this restoration. He has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”