GOOSEBUMPS // Sara Wolbrecht // May 31, 2015 // Mark (1:40-45) + 2:1-12
We have been making our way through Mark’s gospel seeing the life of Jesus as an example for us to follow as we consider this outside-the-box kind of life Jesus offers us. And we are finally finishing chapter one today!
If you remember, Jesus’ first words were this: “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” -Jesus, Mark 1 These first words from Jesus are significant. Do you remember writing research papers in school? Near the beginning you include a very succinct sentence, called what? Your thesis! The point you are going to make, the mission you are on with what you’re writing. So it is for Jesus – this is Jesus’ thesis. Everything he does in Mark’s gospel is framed through this lens of the Kingdom of God. And we talked about how the “The Kingdom of God” is God’s dream for the world, the way things are supposed to be. And in saying that the Kingdom has come near, Jesus is saying it is literally within arm’s reach, we can reach out and touch it. Which we then, experience as an everyday reality, noticing those places where God is intersecting our lives, getting our attention. And it is our choice whether we step into those moments (we call them Kairos moments) and see what God does in our lives and world, or not.
So what we can observe then in everything Jesus says and does – he is showing us what the Kingdom of God is like. So far we’ve seen Jesus doing some pretty incredible stuff and showing us a pretty awesome life. And that’s just the first chapter, people.
But that key is the Kingdom of God. That’s the point to what Jesus is doing. So with this lens, THAT is how we now look at this incredible story we have for today.
First, we’re going to hear of Jesus healing a leper, someone with a very contagious skin disease – we’ll make a few quick comments about what’s happening in that text. Then, we’ll shift to the real focus for us today: this incredible story of four dudes who relentlessly dig through a roof of a packed house where Jesus is teaching in order to bring their friend to see Jesus. You with me? You have a greater sense of awe when we remember that bigger picture of the Kingdom of God.
Mark 1:40-45 A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.” Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people.” But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.
Jesus heals a leper – and for us, we don’t know the context of what’s happening here so we miss some pretty amazing stuff – which I shall share with you now! Just two things to say about this. First. Leprosy. Leprosy sucks. Given the unsanitary conditions of life at that time – apparently no hand sanitizer available – there were a large number of highly-contagious skin diseases that fell under the name of “leprosy.” God had given the Israelites very specific instructions on how to deal with leprosy and other skin infections (Leviticus 13). Anyone suspected of having this disease had to go to a priest for examination (Leviticus 13:2-3). If found to be infected, “the leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). Um, that sounds like an awful way to exist.
A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family, and that was extended to 150 feet when the wind was blowing. Lepers were outcast. Alone. They lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy.
So a leper is on his knees, begging Jesus: “If you want to, you can cleanse me.” And Jesus, does he keep the six foot bubble, safe from this man? No. The text says Jesus is deeply moved with compassion, Jesus actually touches the infected skin of this leprous man. And I am a bit of a germ-o-phobe and this makes me shudder. But Jesus, actually touches this guy. A guy who is an untouchable by the standards of the culture. And Jesus talks to him, gets close to him, touches him, heals him. Here’s the point: we begin to see how Jesus reaches out, literally, to the people who are untouchable, outcast. This is what the Kingdom of God is like. Isn’t that beautiful?
The second thing for us to notice, is that this is one of those places where Jesus says, “Now, tell no one of what has happened.” And I know Sean asked me a few weeks ago WHY Jesus would do that, why someone who has been healed would be instructed to keep quiet. I want to point it out here, because here is a place where there is a specific reason for the hush-hush. The man needs to be declared ceremonially clean, inspected for leprosy and declared to have a clean bill of health by a priest. If he just shows up and says – hey guys, it’s all good, I’m healed! It is highly suspicious. THAT is why Jesus does that here – he tells the man to go through the proper channels so people know he really is healed. We’ll hear more about this in a minute from our next piece of text, too.
Ok – now on to our next piece of text that we’ll really focus on today.
Mark 2: 1-12
2 1-5 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”
6-7 Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.”
8-12 Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”
Alright – at first glance we see Jesus teaching in a packed house, dude lowered down in front of him, Jesus forgives him, there is a squabble of words between Jesus and the religious experts there, Jesus then heals the man, he moon walks out, and the crowd is amazed.
As you might guess there is more to this than what we see at first glance. Because: every time we read scripture there is always – as our beloved Transformers teach us – there is: always more than meets the eye. More going on culturally, historically, other dynamics we just don’t know at first when we read Scripture. Which makes the bible frickin amazing because there is always more to it. There’s depth, humor, poetry that’s there when we look.
I want us to pay attention to this little verbal squabble that happens between Jesus and the religious experts who are there. Because – can we just point out – these are like the good church folk, the guys who church, who when witnessing Jesus forgive and heal a man who has been suffering, shouldn’t they be the ones who are cheering, excited, fist-bumping Jesus, right? But they grumble. Why is that?
So – there’s something going on here. It overlaps with what we observed in the previous account of the leper – that the leper needed to be cleared by the priest as being healed, right? That is the official process, the system. Did it surprise you that it is the job of a priest (not a doctor) to give the all-clear about leprosy? Surprising, yes? So why are priests the dudes in charge of assessing sickness in this way?
There was a cultural understanding and religious belief at play that had been around for centuries that sickness and sin were tied together. As in: if you’re sick – man, you must have done something wrong. You sinned and THIS is your punishment from God. Dun-dun-dun. Or it could also be generational sin, as in your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents reeeeally messed up and you are still receiving the punishment from God for that. Dun-dun-dun.
So when this man, who cannot walk, is placed before Jesus, everyone there is totally sure that he can’t walk because he really messed up – that is assumed. And then when we hear Jesus doing the very Jesusy thing of forgiving someone, right? He says: “Son, I forgive your sins.” That’s just what Jesus does. No, no, no that is what priests do. Which is why the religious experts start grumbling, Jesus isn’t supposed to do that: “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.” And the priests who speak on behalf of God – that is how their system works.
Now Jesus’ response is brilliant. He does this ninja-move of dismantling that whole association of sickness and sin being tied together. He says, Nope, they are NOT tied together. This is how he says it: Which is simpler: to say to this man, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Jesus is saying they both are important! And he goes on: Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the man), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.”
Boom! Jesus says: I can do either or both because they are separate issues! He has just forgiven this man AND healed him and with a bit of sass has made it abundantly clear that God does not associate those two together. God sees it all completely differently. God sees the hurting and moves to respond. Any kind of suffering in body, mind or spirit, that’s the stuff that Jesus has the authority and power and desire to deal with. All of it. Jesus is saying this is what the Kingdom of God is about: holistic health. In the Kingdom of God: God enters into all the stuff that paralyzes us, whether that is internal – the painful emotional woundedness that sin causes us – the fear, the grief, the addiction, the anger that paralyzes us, yet God also addresses the physical needs of our bodies, the ways in which we are paralyzed, hurting, not quite whole – God heals us.
When we hear of that association in the bible it seems archaic, yet we hear that rhetoric today, too, sometimes. But it is not true. So no – God does not give people cancer, or AIDS, or earthquakes or tsunamis. Please never see the awful things that happen in this world as punishment from God or even as “God trying to grow your character.” No. No. Shit happens because this world is not yet what it should be and there are other forces at work in the world that are not God. But God dives into those places with us and God WILL grow your character and bring beauty and blessing and shape you to become more compassionate and generous – God will bring beautiful things out of the suffering we face because that’s what God does. But God is not the source of that pain – because God is on our siiiide. Amen?
We can understand how appealing it was for those religious leaders, the wider culture, to cling to this system, this official process they had. It was obvious if someone had sinned, right? We love clear cut rules, black and white lines. That’s easy, right? We like having a little box in which we can put God, and say, “Yeah, when we do this, God does this.” But Jesus, shatters that box. God doesn’t follow the rules, especially when those rules oppress people.
But. The religious leaders? They don’t like this. This is part of why Jesus often tells those he heals NOT to tell anyone that Jesus has healed him. Because Jesus is upsetting the status quo. He’s kinda stickin’ it to the man. Throwing out their system. The priests were a part of the Temple system, which was a complex, money-making system where people would come to the temple and offer sacrifices to the gods. For good crops, to be forgiven like the leper and others who are sick, for fertility. And the priests made a lot of money – most was given to the emperor.
This scene we have just read of Jesus healing and forgiving this man shows us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God – but it also shows us a glimpse of where this is all headed for Jesus. The other thing about the Kingdom of God is that is upsets the status quo. When Jesus begins messing with the systems of power and money that rule a culture, people don’t like it. This tender scene of friends bringing a friend to be healed – which is just awesome – this is the stuff that drives the religious leaders and those in power to plot to murder Jesus. Because no one, no one, can mess with the political leaders, and the ways in which they hold power over those who are hurting. But this doesn’t apply to us today, does it? Well, yes it does. This abundant life of Jesus will push us, too, to change the status quo if we let it. …But that is a whole sermon for another time.
But you see there are all these layers underneath what’s happening between Jesus and the folks in that house. And we see some beautiful things about the Kingdom of God, about what Jesus is about, and the kinds of things that God does in the world.
Which is awesome. As in full of awe and goosebumps. Holding on to all of that, I want us to come back to our reflections on awe and goosebumps from earlier in the service. Recognizing that humans have been uniquely designed to experience goosebumps sometimes when we experience awe. Putting yourself in that house that night with Jesus teaching, how would you have responded? If you had been snuggled in there with the rest of the folks. Would you have been amazed? That’s what it says about the house full of folks – the man got up and walked, and everyone was amazed. Would that have been you?
The Kingdom of God will keep your jaw hitting the floor if you let it. That’s part of this amazing reality we live in. I have been a pastor now for eight years and I have seen miraculous things happen to people. A 20-year-old whose small Volkswagon was literally run over by a lifted pick-up truck that ran a red light. His skull was smashed in – and I held vigil with his parents in the ICU. But today he is a middle school teacher. Miraculous. That is awe.
I have seen cancer mysteriously disappear. Pain go away through prayer. Awe.
But I have also gotten those goosebumps from the little miracles, too. Just watching my son try to crawl and marveling at the little pudge folds in his skin. Awe.
I have driven home from here on Sunday evenings with the windows rolled down and the sun setting and the cottonwood blowing through my car and marveled at how we get to do this together. Awe.
I have stood in my empty dorm room, my empty apartment, our empty first house – with all my possessions packed up as I move to the new home, place, job – and marveled with gratitude and goosebumps and tears at what it means to be a part of a community. Even when that season comes to an end, and trusting there is a new one to belong to.
I have seen a man on the streets of Oakland stop, remove his own shoes and hand them over to a shoeless homeless man. Awe and goosebumps.
Two weeks ago we talked about how Jesus took time in a solitary place, where he got away from the voices and demands around him and reconnected to the voice of God telling him who he really is. I can only imagine that even for Jesus time spent with God is goosebump time. And so it is for us – in worship here, watching the sunset, in prayer, in reading, in running, in whatever we do where we can hear that love God has for us. And part of why that matters is that everything else in our lives flows from that place of knowing we are loved.
Like for Jesus who had his three primary relationships (Three relationships from triangle two weeks ago) where he balanced his time, with God, that solitary place, then hanging with his friends, the disciples, eating, life together. Then out in the world with those of great need. All three relationships: necessary. But the love and grace flow from that place of awe and connectedness to God.
It turns out that the study I read points to this reality, too. That awe and goosebumps is a starting place to having a better perspective on who we are and a renewed sense of caring for others. Which was awesome to read! These were the conclusions out of three experiments they ran:
1. We found that participants who reported experiencing more awe in their lives, who felt more regular wonder and beauty in the world around them, were more generous to the stranger.
2. Participants who had spent the minute looking up at the tall trees — not long, but long enough, we found, to be filled with awe — picked up more pens to help the other person.
3. Participants experiencing awe, more so than those participants experiencing emotions like pride or amusement, cooperated more, shared more resources and sacrificed more for others — all of which are behaviors necessary for our collective life.
And one of the overall conclusions they made was this: We found that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities.
Pretty cool stuff right there. The Kingdom of God is all around us – that is what Jesus said and demonstrated. Which means our lives are filled with moments of wonder simply because we live with full access to what God is doing in the world – the beauty around us, did you know there is a beach 5 minutes from here? And mountains like 20 minutes from here? We live in an amazing place. And did you know that there are people in Evergreen hospital right up the road who are actually healing? Like, God actually made their bodies able to heal – and that certain medicines and surgeries can make their bodies get better? And did you know that in less than two hours the sun is going to slip behind the horizon once again, but that it’ll be back in the morning?
Our jaw will keep hitting the floor, the goosebumps will keep coming, if we open ourselves to see what is all around us. The Kingdom of God offers us an invitation to pay attention and be amazed. To let Jesus break the boxes that we keep trying to put God in. And to be open to the surprising beauty that comes in the moments when we least expect it. Like a guy coming through a hole in the roof, and getting up to walk into new found freedom.
Please pray with me…