So There I Was – a sermon

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: Psalm 111:1-4,10, Isaiah 43:18-25, Mark 2:1-12
Hymns: “How Firm a Foundation”, “God of This City”, “Trust and Obey”, “Be Still and Know”, “Standing on the Promises”, “Fill My Cup, Lord”, “10,000 Reasons”

“So There I Was…”
So there I was.
Friday, May 12th, 2000. It was a calm, beautiful Arizona afternoon. The student body of Phoenix Christian High School was enjoying lunch on the quad. Those of us soon-to-graduate seniors were savoring our final lunch hour at the school, as we would be leaving on our senior trip on Sunday afternoon, with graduation the day after we got back.
Suddenly and without warning, the calm was shattered. The door to the men’s restroom next to the cafeteria slammed open, and out marched the VanHofwegen cousins, armed to the teeth with filled water balloons. As they began flinging them with reckless abandon at the hapless, unsuspecting underclassmen, that was the cue for the rest of us in the senior class to take up arms and join in the water fight.
After a few minutes of sheer mayhem bordering on anarchy, the door to the office of the dean of students flew open, giving us all momentary pause. We all knew that this could mean trouble, and braced for the worst…
Which came a moment later as the dean of students stepped out of her office, armed with one of the largest SuperSoakers I’ve ever seen. She grinned, and just kind of said, “Heh, heh, heh.”
True story.
The phrase “So there I was” is commonly used among those of us in the Navy and Marine Corps – and likely the rest of the military – to introduce a story that seems unbelievable, but is actually entirely true. Admittedly, there may from time to time be a bit of exaggeration, but by and large, any story that starts “So there I was” is going to be as close to the gospel truth as you’re ever going to get out of a Sailor or Marine who isn’t in the Chaplain Corps.
For example…
So there I was, driving up Highway 169 north of Smithville. I flashed my high beams at somebody coming toward me with his own on. This incited him to flip a u-turn, and proceed to do stupid things like pass me illegally and brake check me, then get back behind me and chase me up 169 toward Trimble, trying to run me off the road until I was able to evade him and hide in a subdivision by Smithville Lake.
True story.
Or, for something a little more humorous, told from the perspective of Ray Schwarz…
So there I was. Out working on the farm, when out of nowhere, a Jeep Cherokee comes crashing onto the property, followed by police cars from half the jurisdictions in northwest Missouri. Ten minutes worth of Smokey and the Bandit outtakes later, every electric fence on the farm was down, and the Jeep was headed for St. Joseph, where it would cause multiple car crashes before the suspect finally got out of the car and turned himself in.
True story.
Try this one on for size:
So there I was. A few of my buddies had invited me over to this house meeting. This dynamic young preacher was going to be there, and they wanted to hear what he had to say. The place was PACKED – standing room only. There was no way anybody else was going to get in.
About halfway through the preacher’s talk, something ridiculous happened – tiles started getting pulled off the roof, until a man-size hole was created. Then, the guys on the roof actually lowered a bed with one of their friends on it down in front of the preacher.
Needless to say, the homeowner was less than pleased and demanded to know the meaning of this stunt. “Our friend is paralyzed,” the culprits said, “and we couldn’t get him in the door because of the crowds.”
So the preacher looks at him, and what does he say? “Your sins are forgiven.” Now, this didn’t sit too well with some of the religious folk who had come there to see what he was up too. You could see from the looks on their faces and hear from the way they were grumbling that they were pretty ticked off.
Now, either the preacher could read their minds, or he just knew that they were going to cause trouble, because he turned around to have some words with them. “What’s easier for me to say?” he asked them. “Your sins are forgiven, or stand up, take your mat, and walk?”
That’s the point at which he sighed in frustration, turned back to the paralyzed guy, and said, “So that these folks can know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, stand up, take your mat, and walk on home.”
AND HE TOTALLY DID.
True story.
So let’s talk about this for a moment. Prior to the beginning of the second chapter of Mark, Jesus has been on a remarkable tour of Galilee, where he’s going to every little town and village, preaching in their synagogues and tabernacles, healing the sick and casting out demons. His ministry has just barely begun and here he is, already making a name for himself as one with the authority to overcome illness and cast out demons.
At the beginning of the second chapter, Jesus comes back to Capernaum, which in Mark, is the town which essentially serves as his base of operations. Now, Capernaum was a town about the size of Gower, and with the fame that Jesus had garnered in the previous weeks, I have to guess that his return was about as inconspicuous as East Buchanan’s homecoming parade.
Anyway, he goes home to his house, which is packed with people who want to hear what he has to say. In the middle of his talk, these guys bust a hole in the roof and lower their paralytic friend down in front of Jesus. I have to imagine they did this because they had heard about Jesus’ other healings, and figured they could do the same for their friend. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth, though, have nothing to do with healing his physical infirmity:
“Your sins are forgiven.”
Now, I’m sure that Jesus did not intend to set a rather dangerous precedent here. I’m sure that he did not intend to set off generations upon generations of people who were unwell and infirm being judged because they must have been sinful – even though they were incredibly pious. And so it is that we ourselves must be careful to remember that illness is not the result of our own personal sin, but is because we live in a fallen world where nothing is perfect except by the grace of God.
In this case, we still must ask why that was the first thing that Jesus said. Clearly, he had to have known WHY this man was being brought to him – why not give him what he and his friends wanted, and call it a day?
Well, let’s consider something. They hadn’t actually SEEN the works that Jesus had done as he traveled throughout Galilee. They had simply heard about it, and on the word-of-mouth alone, had decided to take their friend to see Jesus. Not only did they do that, but they knocked a hole in his roof to get him in – all on a belief that he could do it. That requires some serious faith, and with that kind of faith, of course Jesus’ first reaction is going to do what he was sent into our world to do – show the man just how great his faith was by forgiving him his sins.
I think it says something about Christianity that to many of us, the remarkable part of this story tends to be that Jesus then proceeded to heal the man’s paralysis, rather than the fact that he forgave him his sins. To us as Christians, the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an engrained and ubiquitous part of our faith, and at times, something we take almost for granted. But what we must remember, especially when reading stories like this one, is that for Jesus to stand there and forgive sins was not only NOT a ubiquitous part of the faith of first century Jewish people, it bordered on religious blasphemy for him to say it!
And of course, leave it to the religious “professionals” to remind Jesus of this fact. Yes, several of the scribes from Capernaum’s synagogue had been attracted to Jesus’ home to hear him talk, and they were pretty cheesed off by his declaration of the forgiveness of sins. You see, back in those days, forgiveness of sins was something that could only be declared by the priests at the temple in Jerusalem, and then only after you had made the journey there from wherever you lived, and then ponied up the cash for the necessary sacrifice. Forgiveness of sins was a serious monetary racket in first century Israel, so for this Jesus to come along and tell people that their sins were forgiven was a serious problem for the scribes. After all, the temple priests were their bosses, and you better believe that the scribes were getting a cut of the temple profits. With Jesus going around telling faithful people that their sins were forgiven, said profits were going to take a nosedive, and then not only would the scribes not be getting paid, but the scribes would probably be hearing it pretty good from their bosses as well.
So you’ve got these guys giving Jesus dirty looks and grumbling against him in their hearts, and he turns around and has a few words for them: “Is it easier for me to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘take up your mat and walk’?” And of course, for the scribes, the answer for them is to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” They’ve seen it done before. They get a cut of the cash when their bosses say it. And that’s why it was considered blasphemy for just anybody to tell somebody that they were forgiven – it’s just four words, and if anybody can say them, the priests are in serious trouble, so they’d better lock that down!
As we all know, Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and here in this moment, he decided to do both. “If you want proof that I have the authority to forgive sins, then hold onto your hats and WATCH THIS.”
It’s pretty incredible stuff. The audaciousness of the scribes to declare that only their bosses had the authority to forgive sins, the nonchalant manner in which Jesus absolutely blows up their entire worldview by using a physical healing to demonstrate the authority over sin and infirmity which he has been given, and the fact that in the first place, this paralyzed man had enough faith for him to get his friends to lower him through the roof of the house to see Jesus in the hopes of a miracle.
As a matter of fact…
So there I was.
I’d been stuck in my bed for years. Got kicked by a donkey when I was about twelve. Paralyzed from the waist down. One day, my friends started telling me about this guy they’d been hearing about, going around Galilee, preaching and healing. They said they wanted to take me to see him.
I figured anything was worth a shot. If this guy was who he said he was, then maybe there was something he could do for me. When we got to his house, though, it was just insane. No room to get in.
So my friends just stood outside, holding my stretcher, but as we listened to him speak, I knew. I knew that this guy could do everything they had heard about him. “You guys gotta get me in there,” I told them. “I know he can help me.”
They talked to each other for a minute, and then one of my friends – the one who had a real knack for getting into trouble – said, “We’re gonna see if we can get you up on the roof and let you down that way.”
Well, now, that seemed like the worst idea EVER, but at the same time – “If you think you can get me in to see him, go for it.”
So they did, and next thing I knew, I was being lowered through the roof down in front of this preacher who had stopped talking and had a look of utter bewilderment on his face. When I touched down, I didn’t know what to say – I just looked up at him.
He looked back at me, and then said the last thing I expected – “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now, you might say that’s not such a big deal in comparison to my paralysis, but you have to understand, I haven’t been to the temple since I was a kid. I haven’t heard those words in years.
And as soon as he said them, some of the synagogue scribes started complaining, so he turned around and said, “What would be easier for me to do? Say that, or heal him?”
Without waiting for an answer, he turned around, looked at me, and said, “So that the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins may be seen, my son, take up your mat, walk, and go home.”
AND I DID. I stood up for the first time in ten years. I walked out of that room, carrying my mat under my arm.
But you know what? Not only did I leave that place healed, but I left it with a lightness of spirit, knowing that those words that he had spoken were the truth – the words that my sins were indeed forgiven.
True story.
Amen.

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