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Why am I here? (Sermon: 5 Hard Questions)

Scripture: Mark 2:1-8

“Why am I here?”

According to legend, Billy Graham, the famous evangelist and advisor to Presidents,

told about the time in a small town when he asked a boy how to get to the post office. After getting directions, Mr. Graham invited him to come to his revival that evening.

“I’ll tell everyone how to get to heaven,” he told the boy.

The boy’s response? “I don’t think I’ll be there. You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

Today, as we dig into one of the 5 Hard Questions from Dr. Gregory C. Ellison’s book, Fearless Dialogues - “why am I here”. This is not a question about directions - whether to the post office or heaven. This morning, I am not asking why you are here in church, though I am glad you are here. Nor am I asking you about how you came into being. No one came to church this morning to hear the nitty gritty details of that moment. Nor am I curious what brings you into Maryland or DC or Virginia or wherever it is that you call home right now.

In the words of Dr. Ellison from his book:

Why are you here? Here? Here? Some split-second decisions were made so that you could be here and not somewhere else. Recall that moment when you could have followed the crowd, but you turned the other way. So, now you are here, and they are there. How did you get here? Somebody sacrificed so you could be here. Somebody worked long hours and prayed all night so you could be here. So, what are you gonna do, now that you are here? Grandaddy used to say, “We sit under shade trees we did not plant and drink from wells we did not dig.” So, are you planting trees and digging wells while you are here? Or are you here just to be here? Why are you here?

This week as I reflected on the tenth anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry, I spent time thinking about the names and the people who have shaped my journey - who have challenged me and encouraged me - who dug wells and planted the trees - that made my journey possible. In Christian talk, we can call them out great cloud of witnesses. Some might call them your ancestors or the saints.

I wonder who those names are for you, who those faces are, who made you figure out not just who you are but why are you here. Your purpose. Your path. Your “why” in life.

I lament all the people of this world who never get to experience or live out that “why” - because of violence that has taken their life or of generational poverty or of a system that has shut them out. These people are not just young people - some of them are you. What would it look like to be a church that helped people find their “why”? What would it look like to be a faith community in this neighborhood who helped people of all ages and backgrounds answer that question with boldness?

How does Jesus change our why when we decide to follow him?

In our scripture today, the gospel writer, Mark, begins by grounding us in location - in the here of his day. The scene unfolds at Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern edge of the Lake of Galilee in Jesus’ modest home. The crowds have heard Jesus is back in town after being away on the first preaching circuit through the countryside, proclaiming repentance and good news, so they come by the hundreds, packing into every available space, sitting, standing, elbow to elbow.  Curious. Hungry. Expectant. Standing room only.

They are there to hear the one who already been called “the Holy One of God”.

But then this bizarre scene takes a strange turn - someone, maybe so desperate to hear what Jesus had to say, starts digging a hole through Jesus’ roof. It’s outright property damage. In Jesus day, the walls of his home would have been coarse, probably some kind of stone, but the roof was a combination of mud and straw. It wasn’t too difficult then to begin to dig there and widen a hole.

I imagine Jesus pausing in mid-sentence in his sermon - dust and debris trickling down.

A beam of light piercing into the space.

Everyone looks up, craning their necks to see what is going on.

Suddenly, a mat slowly lowers down through the hole, carefully, inch by inch, right to the floor. On the mat is a man, a man who is obviously not well. Jesus looks at the man quizzically, not sure whether to laugh or get angry, and looks up again, squinting at the newly made sunroof and the sweaty faces of this man’s friends who probably looked on with faces filled with hope.

Now, some people used to wear those bracelets - what would Jesus do - but let me tell you - if you come put a hole in my roof, I’m probably not going to think of forgiveness right away.

But Verse 5 says:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

“Their faith”.

“Their faith” suggests Jesus was moved not just by the need and sorrow of the paralytic man on the mat - but the faith of his friends who labored persistently forward in their “why” thought brought their friend “here” so that he may be healed.

One of my favorite things about scripture is that we are always invited in to go deeper. We are invited to wonder about the love of these friends of this paralytic man. The text just says they are “some people”. Maybe they are family and close friends, aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and siblings, who have gathered together with courage to bring their beloved into the presence of this rabbi, Jesus. Maybe they are neighbors who have staying up long nights to pray for this child, offering sacrifices at the temple that God might have mercy for this man’s life. Maybe they are best buddies - maybe among the group is a fiancee or betrothed who longs to be with their love.

Their faith caused them to gather, to stand in solidarity with this man in their midst, to carry him, literally shoulder his weight along who knows how long of a journey, and to cause a ruckus, literally dig a hole in this notorious rabbi’s home, risking his wrath and the scorn of the gathered community.

But in the presence of Jesus, the Lord’s gaze is one of mercy, grace, and compassion.

Jesus recognizes the audacity of their faith. Their courage. Their determination.

He looks back into the eyes of the paralytic man, he sees him, and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Whatever guilt or pain or regret or shame that the man carried alongside his physical challenge - erased by the mercy of Jesus.

And though some of the other Jewish religious leaders began to grumble - how can a teacher like Jesus forgive sins - Jesus announces his “why” to that crowd  - “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic — ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”

Jesus isn’t here to mumble in the corner or to debate the humanity of anyone who comes before him or to go half way in offering the love of God to all who hunger.  Jesus is here to bring the fullness of salvation to the world - forgiveness and healing to all who cannot live the fullness of life to which God promises.

The man gets up and passes through those stunned jam-packed crowds, embraced by his family and neighbors, shouting in praise to God, and his life begins again.

The crowds can only wonder in response, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

For that man who was healed that day, his friends were those who dug those wells and planted those trees for him. They did not give up on him. They prayed for him. They did more than pray - they participated in God’s kingdom. They dug with their bare hands and sweated for his sake - so that that he might know life.

Our mission as a community of followers of Christ is to introduce people to Jesus -

- not so that our church gets bigger
- or get more musicians for our music ministry
- or have more kids in our children’s ministry
- or have a bigger budget
- or more volunteers

We want to bring other people to Jesus so that they may experience the forgiveness and healing found in the Risen Lord. We become the ones who dig the wells and plant the trees for those who come next. We may not get to enjoy the shade - or the fruits of those fields - or the refreshing drink that we pull up - but those who are hungry for something true and whole in this world of broken relationships and anger and injustice.

This is not something new - this is the story of our church - founded as a “mission church”. How many stories can we tell of those moments when we grieved over the loss of someone close, when we prayed together for healing and held each other tight, when we brought our hearts and broke them open in quiet conversation, when we invested hours in one another’s life so that we might bloom in God’s care, when we kept showing up even after a nasty disagreement or uncomfortable moment?

For those who are visitors, life can be lonely and difficult. There are many places in our world where we can find community, and indeed, no church is not perfect. We sure aren’t. But you deserve a community of friends who would dare rip off the roof of God’s house to bring you closer to healing and forgiveness in your hour of need. You deserve that, no matter the kind of life you lead.

In Jesus’ gaze, there is mercy for all.

“Why am I here?”

Is it all just a coincidence?

Or can I make a difference in my own way?

Can I dig a well so that someone else might drink?

Can I plant a towering oak for the shade of my neighborhood?

Can I take a brick down from the walls of injustice around me?

Can I be someone else’s saint and encourager and friend to draw them closer to their wholeness in God?

Is it possible that we can continue to be the kind of church, with God’s help, where people say “we’ve never seen anything like this?”

(posted 9/21/18)

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