Friday, July 17, 2015

Getting Our Story Straight

2015 ELCA Youth Gathering
Detroit, Michigan
Mark 2:1-12

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Do you realize how important it is for us to spend our first full day at this Gathering proclaiming the story… story, your story, our story….all caught up inside of God’s great story?

It’s so vital that we begin this Gathering in this way….focusing our attention on the Story that defines us, the Story out of which we live….not just for a few days here in Detroit….but for the all the days of our lives?

If we want to go places in this world, we need to know our starting point, our foundation, what makes us and others and the world all “tick.”

And we really, really, really need to know what makes God tick!

So we begin today by getting our Story straight!

And we go about this important work together, knowing that the Story we’re focused on today exists within a sea of other stories, alternative narratives, various other ways of saying:  “this is who you are, this is who God is, this is what life is all about.”

We begin by getting our Story straight….and the best way to go about that is to get God’s story straight…

….and that isn’t easy to do, because there are all sorts of stories circulating about God in this world….and most of them are pretty scary.

Most everyday, garden-variety stories about God have a grim edge on them….they’re stories that portray a God who is beyond us, above us, always keeping tabs on us, forever making demands of us, constantly expecting us—always expecting us!—to “measure up, OR ELSE!”

At the risk of over-generalizing:   most of the stories this world tells us about God convey this basic message:  “God’s gonna get you for that!”

So when we look at this story from St Mark’s gospel, chapter two, it might at first glance seem to be more of the same.

A paralyzed man is brought to Jesus and Jesus begins by talking about the man’s sin.

For as long as I’ve been hearing this story….for 60 years, that has seemed odd to me--out-of-place, jarring, unsettling.

This poor paralyzed man is carried to Jesus, and Jesus seems to miss the point entirely.    This man is sick, for crying out loud!  He can’t move and he hasn’t been able to move for a long time.  He has a physical condition holding him back….

…..and Jesus zeroes in not on sickness but on sin.   What’s with that?

Somebody off the street could hear the way this story starts out and jump to the conclusion that Jesus is one more religious nut who believes that every bad act has its due punishment, that this man must have done something awful to be cursed with paralysis, and that before the man could be healed he needed to confess his wrongdoing, be forgiven so that maybe, maybe he might also be healed.

The way this story starts out, it could have played out that way….

BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENS HERE….because that’s not what Jesus is all about.

Jesus is not just pursuing his own agenda with the paralyzed man.   Jesus is not wanting to shame this man or “guilt” this man into shaping up, repenting, doing what needs to be done to deserve forgiveness.

Nothing of the sort!

Jesus, rather, opens up for us a different God Story…..NOT a story about a “God will get you for that” sort of God….but a Story, actually THE Story about the kind of God God really is.

Jesus beholds the amazing faith of the paralyzed man’s friends, Jesus witnesses the lengths to which they are willing to go—taking the house apart!—to bring this poor man into Jesus’ line of vision…

And Jesus sizes up the situation perfectly, going after not just the symptoms of this man’s dire condition….but going to the heart of what was ailing him, indeed what is ailing all of us.

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus was NOT ignoring the man’s real problem, here.

Rather:  Jesus was addressing the heart of the man’s problem.   Jesus wasn’t just trying to anesthetize this man’s pain; Jesus was reaching deep down to heal this man in the deepest possible way, from the inside out.

Jesus went after the man’s underlying condition, the deeper condition that we call sin.

What is sin?  

Sin is more than the sum total of all our mistakes and evil acts, sin is more than more than a rebellious streak, sin is more than a propensity for always making wrong choices.

Sin is everything that holds us back from being the people God made us to be.   

And God’s answer to sin—what we call forgiveness—is more than a transaction, a balancing of the books, a correcting of our “sin ledger” in God’s own handwriting.

The Bible uses a number of words, corresponding to a variety of powerful images that taken together describe sin and forgiveness.

Here in Mark 2, the word for forgiveness involves a “sending away.”    Sin is an obstacle to be removed…..sin is everything that separates us from ourselves, from God, from one another, from the creation itself.

“Son, your sins are forgiven…..I, Jesus, am setting aside, sending away all the obstacles to life with your Creator, your fellow creatures and the creation itself.”

A second word-picture for forgiveness involves the notion of “covering.”    Sin is everything that ever leaves us feeling naked or ashamed or ugly…..

….and forgiveness covers over all that in such a way that God and our neighbors and the world itself see us as our Creator meant us to be.

“Son, your sins are forgiven….I, Jesus, am covering you, wrapping myself around you so that when anyone looks at you they will no longer see you as sick and stuck….but they will see the new covering, the new self I have bestowed on you.”

A third word-picture for forgiveness conveys the image of rope all tied up in knots….knots that reflect a life all tangled and twisted up in itself.    Sin is everything that binds us, captivates us…

….and forgiveness is what unties all the knots, unbinds all the restraints, loosens and frees us to do just what this man does:   to live in God’s all-encompassing forgiveness, to dwell in the freedom of that, to take up his sick bed, and to rise up and walk on his own two feet—for the first time in years!

My dear friends, your Story does not begin with a “God’ll get you for that” God.

Your story….the story of your whole life, from your first breath to your last….your story begins with these words of Jesus….washing over you in Baptism, feeding you at Holy Communion, filling you with faith every time you hear them:  “Dear son….beloved daughter….your sins are forgiven.”

That’s what God’s story, the true story of the one true God, is all about:   removing all the obstacles to the full, free, rich life God created us to live…..covering all that shames us…..untangling the twists, untying the knots that get us stuck.

Jesus poured himself….Jesus emptied out his whole self at the Cross….Jesus died, was buried and rose again to set aside all the obstacles, to cover us completely with his righteousness, to untie all the knots of our lives, to get us unstuck so that we can rise up, and walk in God’s light.

And as we are so amazingly, so wondrously, so awesomely freed by Jesus’ forgiveness….we walk toward our neighbors, we walk with our neighbors, we walk for our neighbors.

We exercise our freedom on behalf of our neighbors and this good earth.   We rise up and walk in Jesus’ freedom, picking up the stretchers on which other paralyzed folks are still waiting…..waiting to receive God’s justice, to be brought into Jesus’ healing, restoring presence… hear the words everyone longs to hear:  “Precious son, precious daughter….your sins are forgiven….rise up and walk!”

That’s the Story we proclaim.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.