8/19/18: Grab a Corner of the Blanket, Mark 2:1-12--Julie Long, guest preacher
Grab a Corner of the Blanket
Second in the series, Practicing Community
Rev. Julie Long
In my Bible, this very familiar story has a heading which reads “the story of the paralytic.” And for good reason. Throughout the years as I have studied this story, the paralyzed man gets all the attention. I remember seeing pictures in my children’s Sunday School classes, and it was the one on the blanket who was pictured with Jesus. It is his story.
After all, it is a story about the forgivenessof hissins.
It is a story about the healingof hisbody.
It is a story about the miraclethat Jesus performs for him, the paralytic.
But ifIwere writing the headings for my Bible, I would call it “the story of the faithful friends.” After all, nothing is mentioned about the faith of the paralytic. By reading Mark’s version of the story, you can’t even be sure if he had faith or not. “And when Jesus saw their faith,” says Mark; when he saw their faith, the faith of the friends, Jesus acted.
What were all those people doing there that day?
Some in the crowd had come for cures. They were desperate.
Some came only out of curiosity. They wanted to be in the know.
Some had come to see if this miracle worker could really do what others said he could do. Could he really cast out evil like they had heard? Did he really cure a leper with a single touch?
No wonder the desperate and the curious were there.
Many people crowded the house that day. Yet none of them were present quite like those four faithful friends who grabbed a corner of his blanket. Curiosity crowded the classroom, but faith dug through the roof. Those four came determined to make a difference.
The story is rich for reflection, but two ideas jump out at me from this Bible story.
The first is this: People rarely come to Jesus alone.
People seldom come to Jesus alone. Oh, I know that to come to know Christ is a deeply personal and individual experience. No one can come to Jesus for you. No one else can work out your salvation. Meeting the Holy in life is a highly personal and transforming experience. One must stand before God on one’s own.
Sometimes our experiences with God are so personal that we can hardly stand to reveal them. I bet some of you look around this place on Sunday mornings and get a lump in your throat.
You see people whose lives you admire and you are filled with gratitude
Your heart swells when you are surrounded by other voices singing out congregational
You are taken to new places by the prayers or the Bible reading
You hear a sermon that so deeply connects with your place in life that it tugs at your heart. And something happens. You have an experience with God that is so personal that you can’t even express it in words.
The Bible will never let us minimize the personal life of faith.
But while faith is personal, while each of us meets Jesus for ourselves, isn’t it true that someone usually helps us to enter into Jesus’ presence? At the times of your despair, you usually don’t come to Jesus alone. A book. A song. A verse of Scripture. A memory of the one who first introduced you to Christ. This is the work of others.
When you most need care and healing, you cannot drag yourself out of bed and pick yourself up. Usually the community of faithful friends bid you to lie down. They grab a corner of the blanket and carry you through the tough times of life. It is what Stanley Roberts has taught us to call the “ministry of presence.” It is simply being there to do the very practical, tangible things that sustain us when we need a friend.
Remember the paralytic? He could not get up to stretch his legs after a long night’s rest. He never rose to take a stroll or to get a breath of fresh air. He did not gather around the well to socialize with his neighbors. He couldn’t even get a change of scenery without inconveniencing someone. What could he possibly be grateful for? Except….his friends.
They were the ones who gathered his groceriesand fed him.
They were the ones who bathed him and clothed him.
They were the ones who offered arooffor him to sleep under.
They were the ones who made sure that he was provided for.
And when they heard the news that a miracle worker was in town, they were the ones who grabbed a cornerof his blanket and hauled him across town to receive a blessing.
I have friends like that. In the summer of 1996, I had just turned 16 years old and had back surgery. A vertebra had slipped in my back to the point that it was pinching a nerve, and the pain that it caused me forced me to have surgery to fix the problem. For the summer of ‘96, I had a horizontal life. Following surgery the brace I wore prevented me from sitting up, and so I lay flat for six weeks. During that time, I could do nothing for myself. My mother was extremely devoted to my care. She bathed me. She prepared my food. She helped me dress. But my mother could not do it alone. It was during that time in my life that I learned about faithful friends.
Many friends in my church and school sent me cards, flowers and made calls and visits, all of which were deeply appreciated. But for a week or two during that time, some close family friends who had moved away came back and stayed with us to help. Those friends cooked for us, helped to wash my hair, washed our clothes, ran our errands, and stayed with me to give my parents a much-needed break. When I went back to the hospital in Atlanta to remove that back brace after 6 weeks, we stayed at their home. They helped me to transition from bed to a wheelchair, and then to a walker, and then they held my hand as I walked again for the first time on my own. Those are faithful friends, those who laugh and cry with us. They see our deepest needs and provide for us, very tangibly, what we most need to make it through difficult times.
Like those four friends of the paralytic, my friends helped me stand and walk again. They gave me a future to walk into.
Hopefully, all of you have stories you can tell about friends who did that for you, who carried you when you could not stand on our own. Friends who cared for you when you were flat on your back, either physically or emotionally. Friends who helped to rebuild your home or help you find work. Friends who laughed with you and friends who let you cry on their shoulders. Friends who grabbed a corner of the blanket and started walking by your side.
I wonder how many people you know are waiting to be helped into the presence of Christ. How many people do you know who need faithful friends? How many people need to find some meaning in their lives?
Rarely do people come to Jesus alone.
The second idea that comes leaping out at me from this text is that
Each of us needs to grab a corner of the blanket.
Several years ago, our church hosted a guest speaker, Dr. Henry Mugabe, president of the Baptist Seminary of Zimbabwe. Dr. Mugabe is a prominent Baptist leader in Africa who comes to the United States each year. When he is in the States, he teaches in seminaries and shares with churches about the work going on among Christians in that part of the world. Dr. Mugabe described the need for Christian missionaries in Zimbabwe. He spoke of the need for a “theology on the ground.” He meant a theology of action. Practical action that heals hurts and grows crops and hammers nails.
The Zimbabwe people need the word spoken to them. They need to know the love of Christ. They need to see the hope of the kingdom of God. But they also need help with practical problems. They need a theology on the ground.
The Zimbabwe people need to be taught English.
They need someone to provide them with basic healthcare.
They need someone to teach them agricultural skills so that they might grow
their own sustenance.
Only when the missionaries help to meet these basic needs of the people, Dr. Mugabe said, can they get a hearing. Dr. Mugabe said that the missionaries need to have “a theology on the ground.” Sounds to me like they want missionaries who are willing to grab a corner of the blanket.
Henry Mugabe knows now what Jesus and those four faithful friends knew then. A theology of the Kingdom of God is not worth much if it is not “theology on the ground,” theology that can be put into action. When Jesus saw the faith of the four friends, he saw four sweaty brows. He saw eight hands with dirt under the fingernails. He saw their chests heaving as they panted with exhaustion and were breathless with anticipation. He saw four pair of eyes that quivered with fear and danced with hope. He saw the urgency with which the men cared for their friend. He saw the way that they shared in his pain. He saw their faith that Jesus couldand woulddo something for their hurting brother.
Today, just as in those early days with Jesus, people do not only want to hearabout the love and compassion and kindness of the gospel. They want to see it. Faithful Christians are those who grab a corner of the blanket. Jesus’ example gives us a model. Jesus’ commandment to “love one another” gives us the reason.
Be a faithful friend who is willing to bear the heavy load. Get your hands dirty digging through the muck of other lives. You may just deliver those you care about to the healing, comforting presence of Jesus. Can you think of anything more satisfying than to stand before the Almighty and hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Isn’t that what we want most in life? Divine approval? A sense of purpose? An identification with the work of Christ in our world?
This church offers you opportunities to grab a corner of the blanket. One of our wonderful ministry initiatives is called the TLC Ministry, “TLC” for “Tender Loving Care.” This is a desperately needed ministry to our homebound and elderly members. It is a ministry to those who need some extra attention. Several of the leaders of this ministry have passed on or have become ill so that they are not able to do the work themselves anymore. Others of you have carried on. You have made phone calls. You have written cards. You discovered needs that were hidden. Practical, tangible needs as well as spiritual needs.
Another blanket-grabbing ministry is the Backpack ministry. Some of you go each week to a little house next to Forest Hills United Methodist Church and fill bags of nourishing food to send home with children for the weekend. These school-children receive breakfast and lunch at school during the week, but without extra help on the weekends, they would go without enough to eat.
Volunteers staff our crisis closet. Every month you provide a bag of groceries to persons in our community who are in need.
Others of you tutor children at Ingram-Pye Elementary through our church’s partnership with the school and with First Baptist on New St. That hour a week reading to a child may not seem like it matters much, but school administrators told us that last year, they saw a measurable difference in test scores since our tutoring program began.
All of these, and many, many more, are examples of ways that our church operates out of our “theology on the ground.” And more good ministry ideas are formed all the time. We need people to dream them up and carry them out. And that is exactly where we need you. We need you to grab a corner of the blanket. One person can’t get there on his or her own. It takes a community, bearing the load together.
No matter your gift, you can use it for Jesus. The people Jesus needs most are the people who are willing to grab a corner of the blanket. In God’s kingdom, the teachers and the construction workers and the painters and the well diggers are just as important as the preachers of the word, as long as they are willing to grab a corner of the blanket wherever they are.
Some of you have graced these pews for years and have not yet grabbed hold of the blanket. Some of you may be in church for the first time in a long time. You may have never committed your life to Christ and his service. You may be looking for a place to grab hold, a place to use the gifts God has given you. Perhaps today you wish to unite with this church and commit yourself to helping us lift the heavy load.
We need you. You need us. The suffering of our community and our world need us working together.