Sunday, January 11, 2015

Amazing Grace--A Sermon

"I wonder what he charged for chairs at Nazareth
And did men try to beat him down
And boast about it in the town--
'I bought it cheap for half-a-
From that mad Carpenter.'

And did they promise and not pay, 
Put it off another day;
O, did they break his heart that way, 
My Lord, the Carpenter?

I wonder did he have bad debts,
And did he know my fears and frets?
The gospel writer here forgets
To tell about the Carpenter.

But that's just what I want to know
Ah! Christ in glory, here below
Men cheat and lie to one another so;
It's hard to be a carpenter."
          --G.A. Studdert-Kennedy 

Our pastor, Rusty Brock began a book study of the Gospel of Mark last Sunday. And he wanted me to preach on Mark 2.1-13 while he was out of town. I don’t know a better book to study during this season of Epiphany than this particular Gospel. Epiphany means light or manifestation. Wise men followed what? A star—and what they found in Bethlehem was more light than they ever imagined. There is an old play in which one of the characters says: “I came here seeking light in darkness—and stumbled on a morning.”

And the Sundays following Christmas are to help us open our eyes and see things about this faith business that we never saw before. It was the church’s great hope that here and there someone might just: “stumble on a morning.”

The book of Mark was the first gospel written. This gospel shed light where there was not much light. Somewhere around 64 AD we think the book came into being after the death of Peter and Paul. Not only their deaths—but many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ work were old and tottery or dying out. And if somebody didn’t tell the story in a few years it would all be lost.

Mark had heard many of the Jesus’ stories from Simon Peter. And so he saw down for all times a record of who this Jesus was and what he was about. Some say he wrote for a little struggling house churches weak as water. The central problem of the early church was apostasy—falling away. When times got hard, many turned away and went back to their former lives. Some that stayed were fighting among themselves. Some said you had to be a real Jew to be a real member of the church. Couldn’t be a Deacon if you did not have a Jewish heritage. Others said No. No—Gentiles don’t have to ride in the back of the bus. Some in those little church said that Romney should have been President. Jesus, they knew, was a Republican. Yet others said: You’re crazy Jesus voted for Obama.  He was a Democrat. Others in the church didn’t know what the squabbling was all about. So those little fragile churches floundered and fussed while the world sat back and watched. It was a hard time for the church.

This was the world in which the first Gospel was written. The book sheds light on what faith really is and what Jesus was really all about—and the church, too. Mark has no sweet little Jesus boy. There are no Shepherds or Wise Men and not an Innkeeper in the book. And Mark did not choose up sides on Republicans or Democrats.

Mark opens the Jesus’ story with Jesus as an adult. Jesus asks for baptism---just like we do. Mark wrote that he was baptized in the River Jordan. And then he went off to pray, just like we do. And out there in the wilderness he was tempted again and again—just like we are. The devil tried to get him to do all kinds of exotic thing. Just like we struggle with. Just wow them, Jesus and they’ll follow you anywhere. This Jesus didn’t do that.

What he did do was to call disciples. The weirdest collection you’ve ever seen. Just like us. He called Simon with his big mouth and his brother, Andrew who hardly ever said a word. Jesus did not go up to the Country Club or down to the College where all the influential people were. He called fisherman—Zebedee’s boys—whoever they were—James and John. Mending nets—of all things—doing servants’ work. He called them. Just like us.

photo by SummerSizzler / flickr
He went back home and taught in the Synagogue and the Chairman of Deacons whispered, “Just who did he think he is. Authority—we’ve got the authority.” Jesus ignored him. There was a man there with an unclean spirit—deeply disturbed—kept interrupting the services—and the Ushers were in a snit. What do we do? He won’t shut up--they said. Jesus healed the man. And Mark writes that word began to spread that this Jesus cares about people—even the crazy people.

He heard Simon and Andrew talking about how sick their Mama was and Jesus went to their little nondescript house on a little dirt road and healed her. He loved Mamas—even the bossy ones that lived in little houses.

Mark says that they lost him and found him praying by himself. Praying—the Savior praying. What kind of a Jesus prays and sometimes seems as desperate as us? Healing after healing. Jesus saw a leper, Mark writes, a leper. They had to live outside the gates. They would not let the lepers into the town—why they might catch something like AIDS or some other incurable disease. Jesus reached out and touched the leper. You weren’t supposed to do that. The Health Department was furious—nobody touched lepers—the Lord only knows where they got that leprosy. But this did not stop Jesus.

And so at long last we come to our text in Mark 2. Don’t get scared, we’ll get out on time, maybe. And even if we don’t you tell our Pastor that the sermon was only nine minutes long. Chapter 2—what kind of Jesus? He taught in a crowded house of a neighbor—so many people squeezed in those little rooms that you could hardly breathe. And the strangest thing happened. There was in that village a paralyzed man. He couldn’t walk and had not worked for years. His wife had left him long ago. And he wanted to be healed—to walk and work. He wanted his old life back. And so four men—we don’t know their names—but they couldn’t get in the house. Too many people. So they slowly, slowly dragged the cripple man on a pallet up, up, up the steps to the roof of the house They tore a hole in the roof of the ceiling—and shingles flew in all
photo by Nick  Thompson / flickr
directions. And ever so carefully they lifted this crippled broken man down at Jesus’ feet. And Mark writes—when Jesus saw the faith of the four men—their faith—he healed the crippled man. This Jesus touched something so deep down in the hearts of those four men that they had to do something. They couldn’t just sit there with there fiddling their fingers. They brought their friend to Jesus. Mark says this Jesus draws feelings and emotions and actions out of people and they are never, ever the same. Jesus whispered so low that most could not hear him—even in that crowded room.” Take up your pallet and go home.” And the crowd—dumb-founded—just moved back—made a path through the crowd and watched this man with tears running down his face—as he headed toward home. And Mark writes that the crowd said: “We’ve never seen anything like this!” And so old woman at the back of the room, from Mississippi whispered, “Well...I never...”

If that wasn’t enough—Jesus walked along the road and saw Levi. Everybody knew Levi and they all hated him. He was a tax collector—and had gotten rich off the nickels and dimes of the poor people. He collected for Rome—but he kept more than his share. And what did Jesus do? He asked Levi to follow him and he did and it changed this man’s life. And Mark said it ought to change our understanding of the gospel. There really is a wideness in God's mercy.

And so Mark had written for the new converts and the fussy church and so many who did not know—he wrote down what they said about Jesus: “We never, ever saw anything like this!" Mark worked hard to tell us who Jesus was and what he did—and what he would do. This Jesus struggled as we all struggle...he called unlikely people—as unlikely as some of us. He cared about somebody’s old sick Mama who didn’t have a dime. And the disturbed and the depressed found more than they ever realized or hoped or dreamed. They kept saying: “We never saw anything like this!”

And Mark, God bless him summarized it all up in a prelude for all that would come:

“That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city gathered round the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (Mark 1. 32-34)

Do you think, here is this room, today of all days, somebody here has been touched much like all those that Mark wrote about. None of us are left out. And contrary to popular opinion none of us are left behind. Not even the mean ones and the crippled ones and the depressed ones and the cheating ones and the lonely ones and the ashamed ones that carry their shame like a burden on their backs. We’re all there. Each one of us. Do you see your face? Can you find your name? We're all there—every one of us.

Touched by this Jesus.  Touched by his amazing grace. “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  And this, my friends is why we come. To be reminded over and over again.   “We’ve  never seen anything like this!” And this is why we are here.

                              (This sermon was preached Sunday, January 11, 2015 at the First Baptist Church, Clemson SC)

                                                 --Roger Lovette /

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