A Hole in the Roof
The below reflection followed the baptism of David Evan Marshman
Readings: Psalm 47 (redux) & Mark 2:1-12
The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that we’re having a bit of building work going on at present. Yes, the scaffolding is still up, the builders are in and the work being done on the back wall and roof is nearly finished, soon putting to an end weeks of banging and worry, missing computers and newly found leaks, emergency buckets, tarpaulin and, at one point, a freely acquired additional baptismal pool in the hall. Yet in spite of the upset caused, we are very fortunate to be able to afford to do the work and blessed to have those within this community who have the gifts, time and motivation to oversee the whole process – from the application of grants to the mopping up of leaks and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Chris and Pam, Marcia and Lynda, Margaret and Chris Morris for all they’ve done to help us get to this point.
And here is a photograph of the fruit of their and the builders’ labour.
Apparently, they discovered all sorts of things up there – moss, buddleia…and I didn’t realize that we even had some gargoyles on the roof, did you? If you look closely in this next photo you might be able to spot one…
…I’ll pay for that later!
Well, in this morning’s excerpt from Mark’s version of the story of Jesus, it wasn’t the odd spot of rain that dropped from a hole in the roof but a fully grown adult!
Can you imagine the scene? A throng of people are packed in a crowded house, curious to see whether there’s anything to all this fuss about the latest preacher-man from Nazareth. “He grew up down the street,” one says. “I heard he’s healed a few people’, another chimes in. “Well I heard his mum was pregnant out of wedlock,” gossips another.
Anticipation is in the air, as is the odour of sweaty bodies forced close together. Suddenly there’s a hush and the man of the moment begins to speak. “God’s New World is near,” he says assuredly, “God’s New World is now. Listen up folks, for I’ve got a lot of Good News to share with you…”.
You strain hard to hear over the excited murmur when all of sudden, some flecks of dust fall from the ceiling. Then some bigger clumps fall. “The roof!,” someone shouts, “Look at the roof!” Some cracks begin to spread right across the ceiling and you can make out some kind of banging from above. Perhaps it’s the Romans, come to have their fun with clubs and spears. Perhaps it’ the religious leaders, come to silence this unsanctioned holy man…The crowd in the house spill out of it, making space in the middle of the room for the collapsing roof and just as you’re forced back to the wall, you catch a glimpse of Jesus’ face and he seems to be taking it all in his stride. Maybe he is a little imbalanced after all. And then, after the hole in the wall grows wider and you get sight of a few men with makeshift work tools, a man is lowered down on a makeshift pully.
As interruptions to sermons go – it definitely outweighs the rustling of sweet wrappers…back row, I’m looking at you! Of course, Jesus was an expert at improvising and he used the incident as an opportunity to enact God’s New World whilst also challenging the religious and political powers who oppressed the poor and ill.
“Friend, any wrongdoing you’ve committed is forgiven,” Jesus says to the paralysed man. “Now pick up your mat and go home.”
The crowd was amazed. The religious leaders were furious. The paralysed man was healed.
This miracle story in Mark’s gospel is packed with all sorts of theological talking points and to do each one of these justice we’d be here way until the early hours…but some of us have the I’m A Celebrity opener to catch so given that today we have welcomed Evan into this church family, I thought we might focus on what the story of the paralysed man might have to say regarding the Church.
Firstly then, Jesus’ healing of the paralysed man is an account which speaks to us about the importance of community. The story is really about five friends, one of whom is in need of some healing, some help. We don’t know how they first knew each other. Perhaps the five of them had grown up together and had been there for each other through thick and thin. Perhaps they were newly bonded friends, brought together by a mutual interest or need. We can’t say. But what we are told is that four of the friends brought the fifth to see Jesus. They were hopeful that this holy man could help in some way. They were determined when they saw the rabble barring their way. They were creative when they did not let four walls, a roof and a crowd stop them from helping their friend.
And so when Jesus comes face to face with the paralysed man, he offers him healing and forgiveness because of the faith of his friends. We don’t hear the paralysed man ask for healing himself, nor does the text say anything about his faith…perhaps he was cajoled into being there just as some of us get cajoled into being here! Yet whatever his spiritual story, it is the faith of his friends which leads him to meet with Jesus and transform his life.
The same might be said of Evan’s baptism today. Evan did not ask to be baptised but was carried here and because of the faith of those who brought him here today, he has met with Jesus in baptism and been welcomed into God’s New World. And as Evan grows up, perhaps he won’t often be physically carried here but there will be times in his life when Evan faces his own challenges, shame or sorrow and when he does, we will be here to carry him to Christ; we will be here to hold him in our prayers and hearts; we will be here to love, bless and forgive him; to be hopeful, creative and determined on his behalf. For none of us can carry our faith on our own. We need other people to encourage and enthuse us; to challenge and comfort us. That is what the Church may be for Evan and for each one of us – a family where we are fed and forgiven; a place where God’s love is revealed in the words, touch and very presence of others.
And yet, just as we welcome Evan into the Church, we must also give him a word of warning about us for sometimes we can act like we’ve got all answers sown up and when we try to contain God in a box it’s then that we need others to blow a hole through our roof! In Mark’s story of Jesus and the five friends, we already see the tension between the guardians of religion and the radical new preacher, with charges of blasphemy thrown at Jesus. You see, in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders thought they had got the whole God thing sorted – they knew exactly how and where and why God worked in the world and this Jesus of Nazareth was throwing everything up in the air.
When the religious leaders kept the poor and ill out of the Temple, Jesus said, come, pull up a pew, let’s share a meal. When the lawmakers said God’s mercy came through animal sacrifice and expensive ritual Jesus simply smiled and said ‘friend, you’re forgiven’. And when the Chief priests pointed to the sky, saying God lived up there, Jesus pointed to the hole in the roof and said, come on down, for God is in your midst.
Two thousand years later, there’s some in the Church who believe that they now have the monopoly on God – that forgiveness, judgment, access to God is all confined, controlled and dispensed by the Church but the truth is far more wonderful than that. Don’t get me wrong, I do pray that Evan meets with God in the Church. I pray that here he is built up and blessed by God in innumerable sublime ways through this community but I also pray that he meets with God well beyond our walls and roof – on mountaintops and back alleys; in crowded houses and quiet spaces, through faithful friends and the most unexpected of people…for God is at work throughout creation.
So, Mark’s account of five friends, one hole in the roof and a healing tells us of the joy of the Church community, warns us against thinking that we’ve got God in a box; and finally, it reminds us of the good news that the Church has to share – the story of a loving God who comes to us.
When we baptised Evan earlier, we heard how God loves us even before we come to love God – and that’s the foundation of the whole Christian message. It’s not about us being good enough or clever enough or holy enough to earn God’s love because if it was, we’d all be in trouble. Rather it’s about God saying ‘I forgive you’ to the paralysed man even before he asked for it. It’s about God saying ‘I adore you’ to Evan, even before he understands what those words mean. It’s about God saying ‘I love you’ to each and every one of us here, even if we feel we don’t deserve it. We might then want to respond to God’s action, be it with thanksgiving, service or blessing other people…but God always acts first and always in love.
In Christian terms, we call this ‘grace’. Perhaps you’ll glimpse it today in the waters of baptism or breaking of bread but you don’t have to be in church to encounter it. Just ask Sian…for I suspect she sees it every day – playing, sleeping, eating, growing, living as her miracle baby Evan – the beautiful boy whose very name means ‘God is gracious’. I pray that he lives more fully into that name day by day. I pray that we all do. Amen.