There are days when I’m ready to give up on our community. Even though I’m convinced, our community is filled with people wanting better circumstances and more than a few working very hard for change, there seem to be too many obstacles standing in the way.
But our biggest obstacle is a lack of cooperation, which I believe, is driven by a misperception of scarcity.
Our message last Sunday focused on invitation. The premise asserted that one of the primary reasons Jesus was killed was His insistence that every person is cherished by God and should be welcomed. Which is contrary to the notion that God shows favoritism.
On the other hand, His detractors argued that Jesus was breaking too many rules that they held sacred. Of course, their most significant concern was that Jesus threatened the power they held onto that was fueled by division and fear.
It’s apparent that the church, from its beginning, was a gathering place for the community. Granted, the belief that Jesus is God was the common glue, but nothing in the teaching of Jesus excluded anyone. Frankly, the only expectation was loving God and each other. As a result, the first church focused on ensuring everyone had what they needed as an antidote to scarcity.
In a New York Times opinion article, journalist Jessica Grose explains the increasing numbers dropping out of the church. She quotes Pitzer College Professor Phil Zuckerman, who argues that the image of today’s church is too closely linked to conservative Republican politics. Unfortunately, there’s ample evidence to support this assertion. Still, their insight is only one of the challenges we face in our efforts to inspire transformation within our community.
After all, even an outsider cannot mistakenly lump Asbury with conservative politics, given our consistent emphasis on unqualified inclusion. Nevertheless, progress in our community continues to be painfully slow. Impaired significantly by bickering and completion for scarce resources.
I don’t believe the problem involves believing the right things. The real crux is whether we treat one another with love and forgiveness. Setting aside our varied and nuanced interpretations of scripture to focus on working together for the good of our community.
One of the stories in all three synoptic gospels involves a charge that Jesus was offending God. But first, l et’s double-click on who’s in the audience that made this accusation. Luke tells us that Jesus was surrounded by Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Pharisees were not clergy but were generally associated with political power and the interpretation of scripture. Their focus was orthodoxy. A twenty-five cent word for having the correct beliefs. Their premise was clear and pervasive in the first century. Believe what they believe, and God will bless you with health and wealth. In their view of scripture, God picks favorites and sits with them at the lunchroom table.
Jesus says to a crippled man, “Your sins are forgiven!” And their reaction was visible shock and condemnation. Only God can forgive sin. “Who does He think He is?” was visible in their expressions and muttering.
If you’re familiar with the stories of Jesus, there is nothing beyond the ordinary about this story. But let’s set the scene and discover why Enigma is the best title I could find for this week’s message.
Is it easier to say, Your sins are forgiven you, or to say, Get up and walk? I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins
Jesus is in some unnamed person’s home. It’s standing room only inside, and the crowd is blocking the door. The “right believers” are several persons deep, making it impossible for anyone else to enter the house. Remember that everyone in this crowd appears to be doing okay for themselves. They walked there on their own power, were likely in good health, and were well fed.
And they believed that their good fortune was a reward for their faithfulness to following all of the rules as they interpreted them.
Where are the less fortunate? Somewhere at the back of the crowd, I suspect. Out of sight and unable to see or hear Jesus with many righteous people in their way.
An unnamed man, unable to walk, is carried by four neighbors to the house in the hope that Jesus can heal him. We aren’t told anything more about his condition. However, based on the common belief that God used disease and disabilities as punishment, it’s a wonder four neighbors were willing to take him to Jesus.
But they did. However, too many “good” people were in the way.
There is something about human ingenuity that inspires me. And I suspect we’re the most creative when we’re the most desperate. The group finds a way to get the crippled man up on the house’s roof. Now what?
The differences between Mark’s version and Luke’s is interesting. Mark envisioned a peasant’s home with a thatch roof that the group dug through to make a skylight large enough for the man to fit through.
On the other hand, Luke writes that the group removed roof tiles, describing a wealthy person’s home. Given the audience sitting in the choice seats, I’m going with Luke’s telling.
So the crippled man is lowered from the roof onto the floor in front of Jesus. Seeing the faith of this group, Jesus is moved and says to the crippled man, “Your sins are forgiven,” apparently creating a synchronized gasp among the crowd. The Pharisees and law teachers began muttering to each other that what Jesus said to the man was offensive. Jesus violated orthodoxy.
Alan Culpepper reminds us of the likelihood that the crippled man also blamed his condition on his failure to follow God’s rules. So Jesus responded with the words the man most needed to hear, knowing that He was hemmed in by persons focused on pursuing their version of right beliefs. He was sure to hear objections to His declaration. But Jesus had an important point to make while illustrating compassion for the crippled man.
Jesus offers a challenge to the naysayers. “Which demonstration of power is more compelling,” Jesus asks, “to tell someone their sin is forgiven or to tell this man to get up and walk?” Of course, healing someone who is obviously crippled is immediately verifiable. While forgiveness is less so.
But Jesus makes an even bolder claim that He is the One from Daniel’s dream. And the Son of Man has all authority, including forgiveness.
Jesus tells the man to pick up the stretcher he came in on and walk out on his own power. And the man walks out praising God.
I invite you to follow along with us during our series. You can obtain a copy of Angela Hunt’s book online, in bookstores, or look for it at the library. Our copies went fast, but you can contact our office if you need help finding a book. We have more copies coming.
You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by:
Angela Hunt. Daughter of Cana. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.
Jessica Grose. “Christianity’s Got a Branding Problem.” © New York Times, May 10, 2023. Retrieved from: link
R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” The New Interpreters Bible, Vol IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 121-126.