Bringing People to Jesus

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 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. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:1-5

Bumper stickers rarely contain profound truth, but I saw one recently that helped me see this text in a new light. The bumper sticker was in the shape of a dog’s paw with the simple question “Who rescued who?” written in the center; the context being that the driver of the vehicle had adopted a dog from a shelter.

I struggled with the idea of using this metaphor because it compares the paralyzed man to a rescued dog.

But isn’t this exactly how conventional readings of this story treat the paralyzed man – as an individual in need of pity and that might be somehow subhuman? “Good thing for him he had such good and decent friends!” – we think to ourselves before thinking about all the ways we can use our strength and power and connections to bring those in need to a place of help.

Thinking about how can we use our friendships and connections to help those in need. Figuring out how bring those in need of healing to the healer. Following the Samaritan’s lead and loading the dying onto your camel and tending to his wounds – even at great personal cost – this is part of loving our neighbors.

But I want to explore this story in a new way by asking a simple question of this familiar text – isn’t the paralyzed man somehow responsible for bringing his friends to Jesus?

Does loving our friends and neighbors – and perhaps even our enemies!? – bring us closer to Jesus? In a better positions to see the wonder and grace of Jesus? More in touch with our humanity and our own need for healing.

We are not called to merely love our neighbors – we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, I think, means seeing our shared humanity with all of those we encounter – and seeing this humanity in all of its complexity and nuance.

The five men – the paralyzed man and his friends – came to Jesus together. In the midst of shared needs and strengths, they came to Jesus seeking healing and receiving both healing and forgiveness.

The Communion liturgy invites us to “come to Jesus not because you are strong, but because you are weak” and it is in our weakness and humbleness of our humanity that we encounter the Lord who offers healing and new life.

It is by serving others that we come to experience Christ and the people we serve lead us in this process.

The Gift of Abundant Life

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—

they do no wrong
but follow his ways.

You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.

Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!

Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.

I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.

I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

This week’s devotions have borrowed the language from the Deuteronomy text that offers abundant life to the people as a choice. “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” And this is true; living the abundant life God offers is a choice that takes mercy, wisdom, honesty, grace, and love.

But the abundant life that God offers is also a gift, a source of happiness, an unexpected blessing. Think of the prodigal son returning home; he did not choice the abundant life but instead choose his own destruction. Yet the loving father welcomes him, rejoices with him, and offers life again. Our choices in life matter – but abundant life is a gift from a loving God that is offered to us freely. Receive this good news in the very core of your being.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us to accept this gift of abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Wisdom to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:27-32

What does it mean to be a committed fan? Not a fair-weather fan but a tried-and-true fan? As you form your picture, let me offer three observations about the nature of fandom. Being a fan is sometimes difficult, an act of imagination and hope, and a matter of the heart – formed by habits, history, and community.

I hope this image of a fan can reveal some truths about God’s call for us in our commitments to spouse, neighbor, family, and church. These commitments are sometime difficult and, as Jesus’ graphic example reminds us, may cost us something. These commitments spring from hope and seek the best for others. Lastly, honoring these commitments goes beyond outside observation but instead requires a heart formed through practice over time and directed by the wisdom of God.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Give us wisdom so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Mercy to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:21-26

As a native Midwesterner, I know summer means orange traffic barrels and signs for road construction. And the same scenario plays out every summer: traffic slows to a crawl for a lane closure marked well in advance. Then, without fail, a car zooms past the line of stopped traffic to cut in at the very end. I feel my blood boil as I begin to plot ways to stop this driver and his deviant behavior.

Yet despite the injustice of this moment, I know in my heart that my rage did not change my travel time nor did my rage offer any help to the other drivers on the road. Anger and rage are the natural responses to many of the situations we face in the world – the call of Jesus is to work with these feelings and seek the way of reconciliation.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Teach us how to be merciful so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

“Where are you”

“Where are you?” Is the first question of the Bible, the first question God asks humankind. They have just eaten the fruit, committed the first sin, and broken the most important relationship in the world. They are hiding in their shame and trying to cover their nakedness.

And God, in the cool of the afternoon, walks in the Garden to ask them “Where are you?”. Why ask this question and what is the tone of God’s voice? God does not ask to learn of this action-

Where are you?The omnipotent and omniscient God asks a tired and broken humanity hiding in their own shame and lack. God’s voice, announces not God’s judgement but God’s presence – in the midst of suffering and lack. Perhaps in this question we can hear a it of the divine truth that wherever we are, God is with us, in the midst of our pain and suffering. For where can we go from your presence, Oh God?, and where how can we run from you?

God comes to find us and offer us reconciliation.

We have been told that God is angry, God demands blood and vegence, and that God’s words are meant to further shame the already shame-filled people. To hear these words as the words of a mother to her creation, as the words of a heart broken parent to a scared and  hurting child – this is the truth offere to us in God’s word.

Perhaps we feel the need to hear divine judgement and disapproval and shame because – in light of our shame and sin – God’s offer to love and forgiveness and reconciliation seems too much to bear. We could not bear the responsibility to live contently in the Garden – why should receiving the costly forgiveness from a love, self-sacrificing God be any easier for us? But God offers this to us – again and again and again and again.

The Honesty to Choose Abundant Life

‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

Matthew 5:33-37

We live in a world full of half-truths and outright lies – these ideas and fears wash over us and lap against our hearts and minds, trying to slowly erode and corrode our lives. In this quiet moment, take time to reflect on this simple truth and so be refreshed and restored:

Jesus loves me—this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong—
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Remind us of these truths each day and help us to trust the promises of scriptures.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Teach us your truth so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

Love and the Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

I try and keep the towels neatly folded in my apartment. My wife doesn’t ask me to do this – but I know she appreciates it and I do it out of love for her. The few seconds I spend folding towels each day are moments that bring her to my thoughts and allow me to silently express my love for her. I hope that my towel folding practice is shaping my soul to become more loving and selfless and caring.

What does folding towels have to do with the call to love one’s enemies? Loving our enemies seems overwhelming – is there some small way we can start to practice this love? Perhaps this small way is through prayer or offering forgiveness. Abundant life is defined by love – let us look for the small ways we can begin to practice this radical love.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us to love so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor – and enemy.

The Grace to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

Have you ever settled a dispute with a tape measure? I know I’ve relied on exact measurements to settle close calls on the Bocce court. My family settled many contentious car rides by measuring out a line to divide two squabbling brothers. Sometimes rulers and tape measures provide something useful and even good.

However, Jesus tells us that there is a time and a place to set aside rulers and tape measures. Setting aside the conventions of the world, Jesus offers stories that shape and challenge our moral imagination.  Poet and theologian Wendell Berry makes the same observation about the Kingdom when he writes: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world.”

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Fill us with stories of your Kingdom so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

 

God Offers Abundant Life

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…”

This passage seems to pose a simple question for the people of Israel – and for you and me: “Do you want life and blessings? Or do you want death and curses.” Only, of course, this question is not as simple as it seems. How often did God’s chosen people reject God and reject God’s promise for abundant life? How often do I reject the fullness of life and choose death by failing to forgive? By hoarding my time and money as if they were mine to hold? By failing to work for compassion, mercy, and justice in the world?

In a moment of honest truth-telling, let us confess our own tendency for self-destruction and remember and rejoice in the truth that God has offered life to us – and offers life to us each day.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.