The place was so thick with people, you couldn’t get near.Here was Jesus back home, and in no time at all, the people press in … even the standing room only spots are taken, the crowd extends right out the door!He’s speaking to them … speaking the word to them, we’re told … word of hope, word of grace, word of a strange new world, word that awakens unimagined possibility in some, word that stirs a deep sense of threat in others … word of life, word of truth … for anyone who has ears to hear.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the village, there’s this group of people making their way to Jesus’ house. They’re on a mission. One of them can’t walk, can’t stand up – meaning, in those days, in his situation, he’s done … there is no future for him. He’s one of the beggars lying on the street at the mercy of peoples’ pity, cut off from the flow of life. We’re not told how he has come to be gathered up by this group of people … whether he’s related by blood, or not. All we’re told is that they’ve gathered him up as though he is one of their own, and four of them -- they’re carrying him to Jesus.
We know, before they ever reach the house, before the house even comes into their view, we know it’s packed out. There’s just no room.
We might be inclined to head out to meet them … to let them know, to save them the trouble, the energy, the disappointment of coming all the way only to be stopped at the last. We might want to suggest to them another time would be better … for their sake, for Jesus’ sake. We might even want to suggest another plan, another approach, another way to “handle the situation” … perhaps set up a fund for the man’s care, or wonder if they’ve heard of the shelter out in the hills for unfortunate people, or …
Anyway it’s good thing we didn’t, because, as the story unfolds, we come to see that any and all of that would have been just silly!
These people arrive and discover for themselves what’s up … the packed house, access entirely blocked. The next we know they’re on the roof … not only that, they are digging their way through the roof!!!You see these people are on a mission!! With a focus. With a hope. They are filled with enough of a sense of purpose and promise that obstacles are just that … obstacles— they’re not the whole story, but features within a much bigger picture! These people are filled with enough of a sense of purpose and promise that walls or roofs or anything else does not have the power to shut down the mission or eliminate the hope. These people are filled with enough of a sense of purpose and promise that this life they are carrying trumps all inconvenience.So here they are, digging through Jesus’ roof. Think about it … that means stuff is falling down … grit, dust, debris. The air is thick. It’s getting messy. To say nothing of the pitiful body that is lowered into their midst; this unthinkable intrusion in the midst of Jesus speaking the word.
And then what do we hear? “When Jesus saw their faith he said to the man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”“When Jesus saw their faith”.
He’s got a hole in his roof, and what does he see? FAITH! -- a glorious act of faith! We see Jesus responding whole-heartedly to this man and to the roof-wrecking faith of his friends!!
Now I’m not advocating that any of us get up on the church roof or any other roof and break through it with a sledge hammer. But I am hearing the Spirit through this story asking us “so if not through the roof, where is your faith taking you?” Not just you individually but you as this collective of friends. Where is your faith taking you? What’s it propelling us to be about?” When I look again at that group of people carrying that man, when I see them approach the house and see what they see, when I hear one of them say “what about the roof … why don‘t we try the roof?” and the others say “let’s go!”, I see more than a group of people carrying a person. I see this group of people, themselves being carried, themselves being strengthened for the task, themselves being susceptible to the wild stirrings, the limitless imagination of the Spirit. I see a group people who “somehow” know, who somehow have come to trust that they are part of something way bigger than themselves … and they’ve decided to go for it … to go with it … with all their might …with all their heart, their mind, their soul … with all that they are … for the sake of this man’s life.
When I look again at that group of people I see in them a deep commitment to do their part … knowing that theirs is only a part. The rest is quite beyond them which is what they’ve known from the start. That is why they come in search of Jesus. Their part is creating an opening for the connection. And now we see there are more ways than we might have imagined to arrive at that opening!
And that’s what we’re called to be about as this particular expression of the church, the body of Christ here in James Bay -creating an opening for the connection, -creating an opportunity for the Spirit of Life to be at work in the lives of individuals and in the life of our community.
Two Sundays ago during our Pentecost worship service we spent some time reflecting on and describing our sense of Love’s power at work - God’s power at work in and through the life of our church.
There were many responses bearing witness to Love’s power at work through experiences of healing, acceptance, belonging, forgiveness;through experiences of generosity, inclusion, love, tender care;through experiences of compassion, challenge, inspiration, peace.
And there were responses bearing witness to Love’s power at work calling us to share this goodness beyond this faith community - to deepen our relationships within and beyond our congregation, in order to be part of the building up, the blessing of the James Bay neighbourhood.
Karen spent time with your responses and distilled them into the statement that is on the front of today’s bulletin – I think it bears reading aloud …
It is our God-given purposeto be a living expression of the Beloved Communityin which the welcome is widethe receiving and giving of care is palpableand through which the Lovethat meets and deepens and enlivens uspropels us outwardin the service of Lifein the sharing of life.
If this is indeed our purpose I wonder if we are in much the same place as that group of friends from that moment in this morning’s story who found themselves standing outside Jesus’ house wondering - what’s the next move?
Two years ago this congregation made a decision to go further with the priority of deepening our connections in the neighbourhood. A two year Communication and Neighbourhood Engagement Initiative was launched and Gordon was hired to lead that experience.In these two years we have made some significant moves in ways that have made a difference to others and ourselves.We have become more widely known in the neighbourhood for our generosity, our welcome, our care and creativity.We have become known as a supportive partner in the building up and the wellbeing of the neighbourhood.This work of intentional engagement with people in the neighbourhood is shifting our way of being the Church.
So what’s our next move? we might ask.That’s the focus for our congregational meeting next Sunday.The church board is asking that we create an on-going staff position that will help us continue and deepen this shift towards intentional engagement with people in the neighbourhood.The goal is that we might grow in our capacity to be agents of God’s transforming love in this neighbourhood - where we work and live, worship and play.
Just like the four friends who carried their friend through the roof in order to make a life-giving connection, our part is creating an opening for that life-giving connection with the One who calls all life into being, into wholeness, into abundant life. I wonder what the shape of that opening, those openings, will look like through us and for usas we join more fully with our neighbours as the next years unfold.
I wonder if this is the moment that we are in … standing outside the house, refusing to be stuck or stopped, and asking ourselves “so what’s our next move?” I truly believe it’s not our question alone, nor are we alone in our asking. In and through our asking I’m hearing the Spirit wonder with us: “If not through the roof, where is your faith taking you?” Not just you individually but you as this community of friends. Where is your faith taking you? What’s it propelling us to be about?
Rev. Beverley Tracey
James Bay United Church
June 23, 2019