Going Through the Roof

Mark 2:1-12

First Baptist Church · August 24, 2014

By now, I am sure that most of you have heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge. In fact, I suspect that many of you like Carl, Tommy, Adair and myself have participated in the challenge which is connected to raising awareness and donations for the ALS Foundation which is more commonly known as Lou Gherig’s Disease.

If you are not familiar with the Ice Bucket Challenge it is really rather simple. A person pours a bucket of ice-cold water over their head all while being recorded by someone else. During the recording, they also challenge several friends to do the same calling them out by name. The friends who have been “challenged” are then given 24 hours to complete the act while also having someone film them in order to document what they have done. If one fails to complete or accept the challenge, they are asked to donate $100 to the ALS Foundation. Truth be told, many folks do both by receiving cold water and giving a donation too.

Simply put, the Ice Bucket Challenge has become a social media sensation. Sound silly? Well, I don’t disagree. But, at the same time, you can’t argue with the result either. ALS has received an amazing amount of exposure as a result of this silly activity. And, did you know that according to the ALS Website, between June 29 and August 12 of this year, their foundation received over 4 times the amount of financial contributions as were received for the same period last year.

We live with challenges all of the time. Now, let’s be honest and admit that most of them are far more daunting than the challenge to dump a bucket of ice water over our heads. But, even the ALS Ice Bucket gets at the basic idea of life challenges and obstacles which are situations, experiences or people that place any kind of roadblock in our way that might prevent us from moving from where we are to where we want or need to be or to where God wants and needs us to be.

Our passage for today from Mark’s gospel is a perfect example. This text is the story of an unnamed, paralyzed man. Evidently, all he wanted to do was to meet Jesus, who had come to town, in hopes of being healed by him. But there was a problem, a challenge, an obstacle that stood in his way. A huge crowd had already gathered around Jesus and it was difficult to get anywhere near him.

In the story, something beautiful happens at this very moment. Four friends, assist the man in overcoming this obstacle. Picking him up on his mat, they help him reach Jesus. How do they do it? Well, in the Biblical period, the roof was literally an extra living space for most homes — sort of an upstairs patio if you will. Most roofs were flat and most were accessible by permanently attached ladders. Somehow, this man’s friends hoisted him up the ladder and got him on the roof. Then, they literally dug through the mud and straw type material of the roof and lowered him into the presence of Jesus. In a nutshell, their assistance helped him to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way of his desire to encounter Jesus.

In fact, according to New Testament expert Alan Culpepper, this story is an excellent illustration of something that we see that is quite pronounced in Mark as a whole. That is the idea from Mark that as much as anything faith is measured by the level of our courage, determination and persistency. Said another way, faith is about our ability to overcome whatever challenges or obstacles get in our way.

In light of this, let me very quickly suggest to you as Deacons and to all of us as a congregation that what these four friends did for the paralyzed man in this story is exactly what we must do for each other. Here is what I mean.

On the one hand, as deacons, you must become the friends that we need as individuals and as a congregation. You must help us overcome any obstacle or challenge that gets in our way or that seeks to separate us for where we are and where God wants us to be. Whether it is misplaced priorities, unexpected issues, the struggles of everyday life or the regular things that crop up on a daily basis that must be dealt with as congregations in the 21st century world – you must be the ones who continually take us by the hand and help us overcome whatever seeks to get into our way. Your role is to consistently help us to get as close to the presence of Jesus as we can while helping us to navigate anything that might get in our way along the journey.

On the other hand, we must play the same role for you. For you must always remember that there are going to be times when obstacles get in your way. Life is going to happen at times in this next year very differently than you had anticipated. Issues are going to arise in your life. Doing everything that is in front of you and being a deacon at the same time are going to be tough responsibilities to reconcile. In turn, you must allow us to assist you, to encourage you and to help you shoulder the load. Just as your job is to lead us into the presence of Jesus, our job at times will be to do the same for you, whatever may come your way.

In truth though, these mutual dependence is at the heart of faith. We need you and you need us. At times, we will need to be vulnerable and allow you to carry us and at times, you will need to be vulnerable so that we can do the same for you. In the end, this is how the presence of Christ is always attained, it is as we help one another get there. Those of us who don’t recognize that at times we must be carriers and at times we must be carried will likely never make it very far beyond where we are right now.

There is a beautiful story told about Howard Kelley who was a world renowned doctor and chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. One summer, while he was in medical school, Kelly tried to earn money for the following school year by selling books door to door. On a particularly hot day, he stopped at a farmhouse and asked for a class of water. Unlike many people who were anything but hospitable, the girl who came to the door was gracious, kind and caring. Rather than a glass of water, she offered him a cold glass of milk, which Kelley liked and enjoyed.

Years later, after ascending to the heights of his profession at Johns Hopkins, Kelley operated on a woman for a poor farming area. The operation saved her life and she was quickly able to return home. As the woman was preparing to go home, she received some very unexpected news. All of the costs for her procedure had been taken care of. For you see, somewhere along the way, Kelley realized that the woman had once been the farm girl who showed him love, hospitality and compassion when was a poor college student who had nothing. In turn, he simply scribbled a note on the itemized bill that read “paid in full with one glass of milk”.

Sometimes it is our job to care for, love and minister to others. Sometimes, it is our job to allow others to care for and minister to us. For you see, being a leader means recognizing that leadership means both helping and being helped for we all desperately need to do both. This is the Jesus way. If you don’t believe me, at least believe the gospels, for this is the story they tell and the example they set for us. Amen.