A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on February 19, 2006.
Mark 2:1-12 (Epiphany 7, Year B).
Jesus is a rock star. Well, not really. But in the early chapters of Mark’s gospel he’s certainly treated like one. His fame builds and builds as he drives out demons, heals lepers, and makes the lame walk. Throngs of people follow his every move, he’s mobbed wherever he goes, they crowd outside every house he enters, he’s mercilessly hounded by the original Jesus freaks. Everybody wants a piece of him — a touch, a glance, a word, anything. Jesus has star power. And people are willing to go to desperate measures to meet him. And make no mistake, scaling a building, removing the roof, and lowering someone down on a rope is desperate. Shades of Beatlemania.
The rock ‘n roll lifestyle is seductive. The adulation, the crowds, the flunkies, the people telling you how great you are. And for the human side of Jesus it must have been at least a bit tempting. Why not just go around healing people, become a celebrity, be popular? Jesus Christ Superstar. Life would be so much more pleasant. No confrontation with the religious establishment, no challenging words of discipleship, no tough lessons about salvation, no hard wood of the cross. Just enjoy the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, let every day feel like the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday and forget about the agony of Good Friday. The way of the Rolling Stones is much more attractive than the way of the cross.
But of course, that’s not why Jesus came into the world. God didn’t come into the world in human form to win a popularity contest. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Jesus came into the world to bring the message of forgiveness and salvation and healing to a broken world. Which is why the encounter in this morning’s gospel turns out the way it does. Instead of reveling in his celebrity, Jesus gets back to the business at hand: pronouncing forgiveness, healing the lame, and riling the religious establishment in the process. It is what he came into the world to do and nothing, not even the cross, will stand in his way.
It is precisely this single mindedness that stands out when I think about the people in this morning’s gospel story. They would stop at nothing to bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. And Jesus takes notice. In fact, I would say that this small group of people embodies the primary message of Jesus Christ and highlights our primary responsibility as Christians. It’s quite simple really, something I say a lot. Our primary responsibility as Christians is twofold: to love God and to love neighbor. It’s the heart of the Christian faith. And it is precisely what they do.
Think about their faith in God. This is a group of people who had such faith in Jesus that they pushed their way through a large crowd, climbed up to the roof, hauled a man up on a stretcher, made a hole in the roof, and lowered him down to Jesus. That’s an amazing display of faith; a reminder that true faith, real faith, is never easy. A reminder that loving God often involves hard work and heavy lifting.
But then think about how much these people loved their neighbor. We don’t know if the paralyzed man was a friend or a relative, but it doesn’t really matter. The love they show him is heroic. They were willing to go to extreme lengths to help him and their effort was a true act of love. And Jesus takes note. So this small group of people love God, they love neighbor, and they are rewarded for their faith and love.
This, of course, is a challenge to us. Are we working hard enough to be faithful? Would we be willing to risk humiliation for our faith? Would we go to extreme measures to love one another? Ultimately faith isn’t about praying harder or proving our faithfulness through heroic acts. But it is hard work. And we could all be seeking God in more concrete and profound ways. We could all be doing more to demonstrate our love for those around us. The unnamed people of faith in this story are inspiring examples of what it means to love God and love neighbor.
I’m afraid the closest I’ll ever come to being a rock star happened at last weekend’s Episcopal Idol. If you missed me jamming with my electric guitar, that’s probably just as well. And as tempting as it would be to give this all up and start touring, I think I’ll keep my day job. And my wife. The rock ‘n roll lifestyle is seductive. But for Jesus Christ the message was always clear. Salvation trumped popularity. Even if it meant dying alone, nailed to a cross.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006