Sunday, March 22, 2009

Healing Hospitality

Mark 2:1-12

If you’re a stickler for making sure that there’s “a place for everything,” and that “everything should be in its place,” then you might not want Jesus to stop by for a visit. From everything I’ve read, chaos usually follows in his wake. And as we’ve seen from today’s text, even houses get damaged when Jesus comes to town, though it would appear that in this case, it’s Jesus’ own house that gets damaged when he opens it up to the community.

As the story goes, Jesus had just returned home to Capernaum from his sojourn in the desert. When word gets out that the preacher boy is ready to make his local debut everyone in town stops by to hear a word of wisdom or argue a fine point of theology. The house got so crowded that no one else could get in, which was unfortunate, since there was a disabled man in town who needed to see Jesus for some healing. But, this man’s friends had a lot of faith and they weren’t deterred by a full house. They simply climbed to the roof and began to dig through so that they could lower the man down to Jesus, hoping that Jesus would heal this friend of theirs. Jesus seems to have been greatly impressed by their faith and their compassion, and he responds to their request.

Now, the title of this sermon is “Healing Hospitality.” This morning I’d like us to consider how these two words go together, especially as they relate to evangelism and prayer, which is the focus of our Unbinding Your Heart Lenten emphasis.

1. Hospitality

Diana Butler Bass writes that hospitality was the primary virtue of the early church. Everything that the church did was rooted in this core value, and as she puts it: “Hospitality is the practice that keeps the church from becoming a club, a members-only society.”* Not only that, but hospitality, which is more than being friendly and offering coffee and cookies to people, was the primary “motivator for conversions.” Those early Christians created a community that was inclusive and loving, where the helpless and the outcast were welcomed.

In this passage Jesus shows us what it means to be hospitable. He opened up his own home to the crowd so that they might hear the good news, and he didn’t seem all that concerned when this group of men dig a hole in his roof or when dirt fell on him and on his floor. He understood that hospitality means putting one’s possessions and one’s life at the disposal of another, which serves as a good reminder to us, that while we should take good care of our resources – including our building – as followers of Jesus we’re called to make our church available for others – even if it causes a bit of damage to the furniture or the walls. Too often we treat our churches and our homes, as if they were museums. You know: Look, but don’t touch!

2. An Offer of Healing

Jesus not only offers hospitality, but he also offers a word of healing. When he saw this man lying in front of him, he commended the faith of the four friends, and then said to the disabled man: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” You might have been expecting a word of healing, but first he offers forgiveness, and this offer upsets some of the legal experts in the room – how dare he grant this man forgiveness, who does he think he is? God?

Now, many of us probably hear this statement a bit differently. We might be wondering what does forgiveness have to do with healing? Is Mark implying that sin has something to do with illness or disability? Well, back then people did make that equation, and there is some truth to the equation – even today. The reality is that we all carry with us spiritual and emotional baggage, and that baggage often has physical consequences. We carry with us guilt and anger and frustration, which affects how we live physically, as well as spiritually and emotionally. By offering this man, and us, forgiveness, Jesus removes an internal barrier that hinders us from sharing our lives and our faith with others.

But Jesus wasn’t finished, just yet. He turned to his critics and asked: which is easier to do? Offer forgiveness of sins or heal the body? Having asked this question, he turns to the man and tells him to get up, take his bed, and walk. And that’s what the did – all because these four friends had faith.

By making his house available to the crowd, he removed a barrier to faith. In digging through the roof, these four friends remove another barrier to faith. Both Jesus and the four men offer us examples to follow. Through their examples, we’re invited to take down the barriers that keep the people of our community from experiencing God’s healing grace.

3. Issuing the Invitation

When the people saw the man get up and walk, everyone in that house and on the roof was awestruck and began to praise God. It would appear that even the legal experts, who had been questioning Jesus’ credentials, joined in this time of worship.

As we reflect on this story, I’d like for us to hear in it an invitation to remove the barriers that exist in our lives and in our church, that keep us and our neighbors from experiencing God’s healing grace. In the spirit of this text and its invitation, I’d like us to spend a moment in guided prayer and reflection. These past several weeks, as we’ve studied, talked, prayed, listened to testimonies of faith, we’ve been asking that God would unbind our hearts so that God might transform us, our church, and our community. I want us to reflect on what we’ve been hearing and experiencing during these several weeks, asking God to reveal to us how we might put what we’ve learned into practice.

To begin this time of prayer, I’d like you to close your eyes and try to visualize in your mind:

  • First of all, your own self being lowered down on that mat, and as you do, I would like for you to ask God to reveal any baggage that keeps you from enjoying God’s presence. In what area of your life do you need to experience forgiveness and healing? As you pray, ask God to remove this baggage so that you might experience healing of your body or of your spirit.
  • Second, I’d like you to put yourself in Jesus’s place, and look around at the people gathered to hear the word of God, and as you do this, try to visualize this community in which we live. Consider the needs that are present. Consider the barriers that exist that might keep people from experiencing God’s healing grace, and ask God to help you show true hospitality to the stranger – even as Jesus did that day.
  • Finally, I’d like you to visualize these four friends who go to such lengths to bring their friend to Jesus. Put yourself in their place, and pray that God would reveal to you a person or persons you might invite to church – maybe to the Good Friday Service or the Easter Sunday or to the Unbinding Your Heart luncheon on Sunday, April 26th. On that Sunday the Unbinding Your Heart team is throwing a party, to which we can all invite someone who is seeking a place to worship and experience God’s grace. I’d like for you to pray for wisdom and guidance in inviting that person to worship with you and perhaps share lunch with us on the 26th.

As we conclude this time of guided prayer, I invite you to open your eyes, stand together, and join in glorifying the God who dwells in our midst, bringing to us healing of body, mind, and spirit, with a song of praise.

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