I Don't Believe That
First United Presbyterian Church
“I Don’t Believe That”
Rev. Amy Morgan
May 27, 2018
Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
4 As for me, I said, "O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you."
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'?
10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-- he said to the paralytic--
11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."
12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
My husband’s uncle has become known for saying, in response to anything he doesn’t want to know, “I don’t believe that.” It’s become kind of a running family joke, this stated disbelief in the face of the obvious.
It’s funny because it’s so true to life. When any of us reach the point where we no longer want to hear the truth, when we no longer want to engage a different viewpoint, when we no longer want to challenge our preconceptions, “I don’t believe that” simply shuts it all down.
Well, today’s gospel story does all those things. It’s one of the miraculous healings of Jesus. And while most of us probably want to believe that God can perform miracles – the blind can see, the lame can walk, the leper healed, the dead made alive – in our heart of hearts we are likely proclaiming, “I don’t believe that.”
The miracle in today’s story involves a person being lowered through the roof of a house to reach the healing power of Jesus. He is suspended above the crowd, dangling precariously between points of safety. It is a tenuous position.
This is the space where miracles happen. Not safely on the ground, not solidly held in the comfort of our tribe, but suspended.
This is what philosopher Soren Kierkegaard described as the leap of faith. There is this gap between what we can understand as human beings and the infinite truths that make life meaningful, such as God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. The only way to faith, Kierkegaard argued, was a leap, a suspension above the chasm that exists between knowledge and belief, between rationality and faith.
Kierkegaard had, and has, plenty of critics, but today I’d like you to consider his position as we explore this story. See if you can experience a state of being suspended in belief. If only for a moment, if you can find yourself dangling precariously between points of safety. And just see where you might land.
Intro to guided meditation. Imaginative exercise. Locating yourself in the story.
Imagine the party. The excitement. The energy. If Jesus was coming here.
Forget about selfies with famous actors or rallies for politicians. Jesus is coming! Not in judgment and wrath. He is bringing healing and hope.
Picture the Rialto, or the Budweiser Center, perhaps, packed with people. And Jesus in the midst of them, hemmed in on every side with people longing for a cure, begging for relief, seeking answers. Folks with terminal cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness. Those limping through neuropathy, stooping with chronic back pain, shuffling along with walkers. People suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia. People with diabetes, addiction, nameless pain.
There are grandfathers and young mothers, soldiers and teachers, executives and lots of people who can’t work because of their afflictions.
Medical science has let them down, offering, at best, palliative care, experimental treatment, medications with side effects almost as debilitating as their disease.
They are pressing in on Jesus, hoping for his healing touch.
Are you in the crowd? What is your ailment? How deep is your hope? How serious are your doubts?
Did you get there early? Find a parking space? Make a reservation?
Or did you get the word too late? Did you have to park across town and walk? Are you at the back of the crowd, waiting on the outskirts, worried you might not reach Jesus before his time is up?
Or did you come as a skeptic? Standing to the side, watching all these hopeless people waste their precious time and energy on a charlatan?
Or did you come as a friend, carrying the burden of another? Arriving too late to squeeze in through the crowd. You look around at your group of friends. Shrugging. What can you do? You look to your friend in need. Is it the anguished one who lost a child? Is it the broken one whose marriage is crumbling? Is it the angry one who can’t forgive? What is their ailment? How deep is your hope? How serious are your doubts?
When you look at your friend in need, you see their pain and suffering. But you see something else. Something much more compelling, and it motivates you to move. You see faith. An inexplicable determination to hope in something they can’t prove, to touch something so true and mysterious and real that it can’t be seen with anything but the eyes of faith.
As you return your gaze to your other friends, your fellow burden-bearers, you see that same faith in their eyes. And you know that they see it in yours, too. And so you move. You climb. You break and enter, you vandalize. Before you lower your friend precariously down through the roof, you have to ask: is it worth the risk? If the rope should slip…
Faith says “yes.” Risk it. Risk it all.
And so, down goes faith, down to the feet of Jesus as the bewildered crowd parts to make way for this descending, determined, broken person.
And Jesus looks up at you, at your friends, at the one at his feet. What does it feel like to look at Jesus with the eyes of faith? To trust this one so entirely? To see in his eyes the mixture of confidence and compassion.
There is no magic ritual. No special touch or healing ointment.
Forgiveness, oddly, is the cure. Relief from the crippling burden of separation from God and one another. The sin that permeates our existence, uninvited, is vanquished with a word.
Can you imagine the quizzical looks in the crowd? Even the believers are puzzled. Is this all they have come here for? “Spiritual healing”? They could have gone to church, or synagogue, or meditation for that. This crowd is looking for miracles.
The skeptics among us are having a good time now. Who does this guy think he is? The Pope? The President, offering clemency? What a let-down he will be to all these suckers.
He hears the gibes, the mockery. And he raises his voice over the crowd, like a lion's roar but with the warmth of music.
Get up and walk. You are healed, inside and out. Don’t hide it. Go live it.
And with that, everything is possible.
As this miraculous scene fades out, and we return our attention to this time and space, you are welcome to open your eyes when you are ready.
This story leaves us with more questions than answers, more mystery than assurance. While first-century Jewish theology held that physical maladies were the result of spiritual dysfunction, I’m not sure this is the connection Jesus is making. Later, when he is asked whether a man’s blindness is the result of his sin or his parents’, Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.”
Perhaps there is a spirituality to healing, as several scientific studies have shown. And perhaps forgiveness is a part of that. But not because our sin causes our illness or disability. Forgiveness is a part of healing so that God’s works might be revealed in us, so that we might see our worth, our beauty, our wholeness in God’s esteem.
A man does not get cancer from displeasing God. But he may need to be forgiven for how worthless he feels while he’s undergoing treatment. He can’t work, he can’t play with his children, he can’t support his friends. And he needs to be forgiven for that so that he can attend to his healing, so that he can feel like he is worthy of healing.
A soldier does not lose a leg in battle because she is sinful. But she may need to forgive herself for all the minuscule decisions, all the what-ifs, that could have prevented her injury. She may need forgiveness for how this injury will change her life, and the lives of all those who care for her, inalterably. She may need to forgive herself for the new limitations this injury will impose on her life, at least temporarily. She needs forgiveness so she can attend to her healing, so that she can feel like she is worthy of healing.
Today, the Presbyterian Church (USA) recognizes Disability Inclusion Sunday, affirming that disabilities of all kinds and from any cause can allow God’s works to be revealed in us. Sometimes this looks like a miraculous healing or medical advances. And sometimes it looks like forgiveness, grace, kindness, compassion. It looks like bringing our friends who are hurting – physically, emotionally, spiritually – to a place where they can experience forgiveness, and healing, and wholeness. It requires us to accept that we can’t pick ourselves up off our mats and walk any more than we can live a sinless life. Whether we are carrying another or being lowered through the roof ourselves, God is at work in every kind of brokenness and in every kind of healing. God is at work, in mysterious and sometimes barely perceptible ways, in our abilities and in our disabilities.
So instead of falling back on “I don’t believe that,” let us carry hope for one another. Let us suspend our disbelief long enough to experience forgiveness, and healing, for ourselves and others.
To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.