IN THE STEPS STOPS OF JESUS…INTERRUPTED WHILE PREACHING
September 24, 2017
There have been certain occasions when I have been interrupted while preaching…
Several years ago I had a gentlemen named Bruce in my congregation. Nice fellow. But he had a bad habit of sleeping during my sermons. I didn’t take it personally. I knew he worked the graveyard shift at Merck. He always sat at the end of the pew and propped his elbow on the corner of the molding.
One particular Sunday, though, while Bruce was sawing the logs, his elbow slipped. Thud!!! He hit the floor. We at first thought he was dead. But then he roused up and began cussing before he realized where he was!
I’ve had some pretty disrupting interruptions. But they all pale in comparison to the disturbance Jesus experiences one particular morning!
WHATEVER IT TAKES…
I love the account in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus is back in Capernaum. He’s preaching in the living room of someone’s house, most likely Simon Peter’s bungalow. A flash mob has gathered. The house is crammed with a mass of humanity. It’s tighter than a hippo in skinny jeans. The big shot Pharisees are in the front row, scrutinizing every word. Everyone else is shoulder-to-shoulder. They are even standing 4-5 deep around the outside perimeter listening through the open windows.
Five latecomers arrive—four men and their paralyzed friend. They’re carrying him on a makeshift stretcher—each one manning a corner, toting their friend down the road, trying to stay in step with one another. It must have been a bumpy ride for the paralyzed man, and for all we know, he was trying to get them to stop and take him home. But they are determined to get their friend to Jesus.
Can’t you just hear the air go out of them as they turn the corner and see the crowd that beat them there?
They stop dead in their tracks. “Oh, no! What are we going to do now?” says one. The paralytic strains to raise his head and see what’s going on, and when he sees the crowd he drops his head back into the stretcher and says, “I told you this was a waste of time. Now take me home.”
Some of us have been where he is. We know what it is like to be too paralyzed to have faith. Life’s circumstances have kicked us hard and often.
“There’s got to be a way,” says one of the friends. “We’ve come too far to turn back now.”
He surveys the scene. “I’ve got a plan—the steps. Let’s use the steps. If we can get him up to the roof we can drop him right down at the feet of Jesus.”
“Are you crazy?” one pipes up. “Have you lost your mind? We could get in a lot of trouble for that, you know—tearing up people’s houses. In case you haven’t heard, they call that vandalism.”
But the man is committed to his idea: “Well I’m not coming this far to give up. If we can get him through the roof, we’ll pool our money together and fix it when we’re done. I’m telling you, it’s the only way.”
Overhearing the conversation, the paralytic rolls his eyes and says, “Would you guys just take me home … please?”
His friends ignore him. “Let’s go for it,” they said. And they do. Huffing and puffing, they made it to the top. A couple of them are wiping their sweaty brows, another is shaking out his arms. And one puts his ear to the roof to pinpoint as best he can the voice of Jesus.
“Right here,” he announces. They start digging. And it isn’t all that hard. A couple of them had their knives. They only have to break up the clay coating, dig out the brushwood and branches beneath, and stuff their paralytic friend, mat and all, through the opening.
Meanwhile, while in the middle of his sermon, Jesus hears a scratching noise from above. He looks and gets dirt in his eyes. “What the…” And then a hole starts opening up in the thatched ceiling above! And before Jesus can say anything, the paralyzed fellow is lowered down on a mat tied to ropes from the roof above, all engineered by his four buddies.
Yes, there are times when we need our friends to have faith for us. We just don’t have it in us to approach God, but, praise God, there are others who will take up the slack.
We read in Mark 2, 5 When Jesus sees their faith, he says to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And then, after some theological debating with the Pharisees, Jesus adds, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He gets up, takes his mat and walks out in full view of them all. This amazes everyone and they praise God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Yes, the entire house erupts in laughter and joy. These four fellows would let their friend down, yes, but they would not let him down. They had carried him many miles and they had hoisted him up on a rooftop and they had made darn well sure he would get the attention of the Master.
Here are some
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
Who has gone to the rooftop for me, lifting me with Christ-like compassion?
Allow me to share a brief testimony:
In December of 2011 I had the big one. Heart attack. The cardiologists at Rockingham Memorial Hospital implanted stents to open up the arteries. After 3 months—I suppose they wanted to make sure I survived- I got a call from the public relations department of the hospital. They wanted to feature me in a short video highlighting the cardiac program.
Little did I know this would morph into my 15 seconds of fame. A portion of that video was edited into a commercial that ran every morning and evening on the channel 3 news. Old ladies would walk up to me at Walmart and ask me if I was ok and tell me they were praying for me. They plastered my mug shot on ads in the Daily News Record, on city buses, and to top it off—on a huge billboard right behind August Medical Center on Rt. 250—all with the caption “Take Me To RMH!” Remember that….
Fast forward 2 years later to late April, 2014.
I’ve always heard tales there are catfish in Sherando Lake up in Augusta County that are large enough to swallow a human. That Thursday afternoon I almost got to discover if this was legend or fact.
You see, about a month prior, I purchased a brand-spanking new bright orange 10 ft. Wilderness kayak for the purpose of getting away from it all, paddling for some exercise, doing some fishing. And that Thursday afternoon I did some not-too-bright things with that kayak.
I arrived at the remote mountain lake with plenty of Powerbait and plans to catch me some trout. The lake was almost completely deserted, only a couple of cars in the parking lot. The skies were cloudy and chilly, water a bit choppy, as I launched my kayak at the shallow end.
Foolish mistake #1: Don’t go kayaking by yourself on a cold windy day when no other folks are around.
Well, I paddled my kayak into the wind toward the deep end of the lake, near the dam, figuring that trout prefer to swim in 30-40 feet of deep water in cooler weather where the water temperature is about a constant 45 degrees.
Foolish mistake #2: Don’t go kayaking by yourself on a cold windy day at the deep end of the pool where the water is frigid enough to raise goosebumps on a penguin.
I had just mounted a new rod holder on my kayak. I wanted my kayak to look all cool and pimped out for fishing. But the rod holder got in the way of my paddling, so I located it way up on the bow of the boat.
Foolish mistake #3: Don’t mount your fishing rod holder out of reach.
Did I mention the water was cold? I thought to keep my feet good and warm I would wear wool socks and my thick, rubber boots I wade rivers with- they have thick felt on the soles.
Foolish mistake #4: You should never wear heavy footwear while kayaking.
I also had on my cool camo trout fishing vest that is supposed to double as a life jacket. It will support a 120 lb person in shallow water.
Foolish mistake #5: A person who weights 225 lbs should always wear a life jacket that will support 225 lbs in deep water.
Well, friends, by now you’ve figured out what transpires next:
I am at the deepest end of the lake. My fishing rod is mounted in the holder at the front end of my kayak. I can’t reach it while sitting safely in my seat. So I get up on my knees and lunge forward to grab it.
Before you can say “Shamu” I flip the kayak. The rod holder hits me in the temple. I’m dazed. I’m bloodied. And I am now plunged into the iciest water I have ever felt in my life!
I manage to turn the capsized kayak back over. I attempt to dive back into it, but by this time my boots have filled up with water and are essentially 10 lb weights on each of my feet. I cannot remove them.
My life vest is not holding me up. Each time I make an attempt to get back into the kayak I flip it over on top of me again which, in turn, forces me 4-5 feet under the water.
My heart is pounding. My legs are now completely numb. I cannot feel them. I cannot move them.
I am hyperventilating from the cold and sputtering and gasping from taking on water in between my screams for help. My vision is narrowing.
It’s been at least 20 minutes now. I am barely able to hold on to the edge of the kayak.
I scream feebly “Help me, please!” one last time. And I realize there is probably no one there. There is no hope. I have resigned myself that this it. This is the end of the line. And the only prayer I remember praying is one of utter and complete self-contempt, “God, what a dumb ass I am!—please help my wife and kids to somehow forgive me!”
Suddenly I hear a voice that sounds like a mirage. “Hold on! Help is coming! Hold on!” My prescription sunglasses are long gone, but I can fairly make out the shape of a canoe in the distance. An old African-American man and his grandson are paddling furiously. They pull up beside me and instruct me to hold on to the kayak while they tow it and me to shore.
The only problem, though, is that now my hands have gone numb. Try as I may, I cannot grasp the edge of the craft any longer. I’m on the verge of losing my grip, passing out and going completely under.
I suddenly feel my weight being supported. Someone is lifting me by the armpits. A teen-aged kid has dove into the water and is now holding me up until we reach the shore of the lake.
He and the old man from the canoe and a couple of elderly bystanders from the campground drag me out of the water. I am shaking profusely from the cold and cannot breathe and am now worried that my damaged, pounding heart is going to stop on me.
After collecting myself a bit, the teenager introduces himself to me. His name is Tuck. He is from Boston on Easter break from school. He informs me we have about a half-mile hike to civilization from that far corner of the lake. I tell him I don’t know if I can make it. My legs feel like spaghetti.
He says he will carry me if necessary. He puts my arm around his shoulder and holds me up as we traverse the steep pathway. He is barefooted. His feet are bleeding from stepping on the jagged rocks. He doesn’t complain. All the while he keeps telling me, “Sir, you’re going to be okay. Lean on me. I’ve got you.”
We eventually make it to the picnic area at the edge of the lake. The teenager collapses on the ground exhausted. He smiles and wishes me well. I thank him profusely. The rescue squad from Wintergreen has arrived. The squad members hoist me onto a stretcher and heap blankets upon me to warm my 88-degree body temperature.
We begin the long journey to the Augusta Medical Center Emergency Room. We arrive. The personnel in the ER are giving me the evil eye as I am wheeled in on the stretcher. They are murmuring. They recognize me from that horrendous billboard with my mug shot on it that sits directly behind their hospital on Rt. 250—the one that says “Take Me to RMH!” They are not in any particular hurry to attend to me.
The EKG reveals no damage to my heart and the X-rays show that my lungs are now clear of lake water. And after 4 hours of reaching room temperature I am finally released from the hospital, physically and emotionally spent but quite okay. My wife and kids eventually spoke to me again.
Friends, that Thursday afternoon on that cold day in late April I honestly did not dream I would be alive and well and here sharing this message with you this evening. And yet, by the grace of God, I am still here–a God who still manages to instill goodness in the hearts of people to the degree they will heroically risk their own lives to save a stranger and a fool like me. In spite of myself, I am here.
I was and am so grateful for those Good Samaritans who went to the rooftop for me, lifting me with Christ-like compassion, saving me when I couldn’t save myself—that elderly African-American gentleman and his grandson, and that Yankee teenager named Tuck.
They would not let me down. They refused to let me drown. They risked their lives for me. They gave me hope when I had lost all hope. Indeed, they were Jesus to me. In them I met the grace of Almighty God, grace when I was least deserving of it.
We meet the grace of God in many places, often when we are least deserving of it.
The question I find myself now wrestling with is this:
Would I dare go to the rooftop for someone else, lifting him or her with that same Christ-like compassion?
Perhaps that would be a question you wish to ponder also….