FEBRUARY 3rd. 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
RIGHT ON THE MARK MARK 2:1-12
"FELLOWSHIP OF THE MAT"
In short, quick sentences Mark sets the scene: Jesus' miracles over demons, leprosy, & illness, draws crowds of people to the places Jesus stays. Back in Capernaum, Jesus is the celebrated guest of a local family, connected to the fishing business. Here we find Jesus teaching the people about the kingdom, forgiving the sins of a cripple and then abruptly, publicly healing him. Jesus also celebrates the bold faith and friendship of this guy's buddies. I mean, you gotta love these guys!
In the face of formidable obstacles —time, stigma, inconvenience —they chose to become friends They became, as John Ortberg puts it, the fellowship of the mat, and as such invested themselves in one another. They made time and allowances for one another. After all, "everyone comes with a mat"! A great John Ortberg quote. And for much which is to follow, I give John the nod.
Anyway, when this circle of friends hears that Jesus is in town they drop everything and tell their friend that they'll pick him up bright and early the next morning, and when they say they'll pick him up — well, you know! But when they arrived, "The house was so packed with visitors that there wasn't room even for one more person, not even outside the door!" (Mark 2:2)
Apparently this all took place before that crucial verse was written: "Thou shalt reserve thy seat and anyone who sitteth thereupon shall be cast into outer darkness."
So they put their heads together...until one of them gets an idea: 'Dude! What if we make a hole in the ceiling and lower him thru the roof..! It would be totally wicked!' They look at each other with raised eye-brows. "Okay," says one, "any other lame ideas — any body?!"
So it is that these dedicated friends climb up on the roof and start remodeling this guy's house. Can you imagine being the guy who owns the house? I wonder who he was and what he was thinking. Mark gives us a clue: "When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread that he was back home..." (Mark 2:1) Back home? I thought he was from Nazareth? The reference here to his return several days later, calls back to what we read last week, that "Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum..." (Mark 1:21), where he taught in the synagogue, cast out a demon there, after which, "Jesus left the synagogue with James and John, and they went to Simon and Andrew's home" (Mark 1:29) where Jesus healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law and she fed them.
Apparently, Capernaum became Jesus' new home, his base of operations if you will, and his home away from home, thanks to Peter's in-laws. It was there that Mark told us that "that evening after sunset (after Jesus' healed Peter's mother-in-law),many sick and demon-possessed people were
brought to to Jesus and the whole town gathered at the door to watch" (Mark 1:32-33)
So there you, Peter's-father-in law, watching as yet another crowd shows up, not merely at your door to watch and listen, but they've actually taken over your entire house!
So if its not bad enough that all these people showed up unannounced and uninvited, eating you and your wife out of house and home but now a group of young scalliwags from the other side of the tracks has shown up and are busy installing a spontaneous skylight... Your wife wanted the living room to have more light but I don't think this is what she had in mind.
The fellowship of the mat - you gotta love these guys - they're not about to let a little roofing stand in their way. Relentless, they become roof-crashers for their friend. True community is built on the kinds of friends who make irrational, roof-crashing commitments to those around them, who gladly carry each other's mats and crash thru roofs without asking, `What's in it for me?'
But what about the man on the mat? Imagine for a moment what this experience was like for him. You're about to go through the roof — literally! How will those who arrived early enough to get a seat respond? What about the fellow who owns this place with the gaping hole in his ceiling?
I don't know — the whole thing sounds pretty risky. What if it starts to rain? What if the ropes the boys are using don't hold? What if one of them sneezes, for goodness sake? Clearly you have a decision to make. If you go thru the roof, you could get dropped, you could get ridiculed, you could get rejected. On the other hand, if you don't go through the roof, you'll stay stuck in a rut, flat on a mat. This is your shot at being whole. So you nod your head...and become a roof-crasher too.
Then there's Jesus. You've interupted the preacher! He looks up with dust and dirt and chunks of first century plaster in his hair and as the dust clears four smiling faces appear...
Mark tells us that as Jesus looked up he saw their faith; but what exactly was it that he saw? He saw four hopeful faces peering down, eyes glistening with anticipation, eyes reflecting their motivation - "If we can just get our friend close to Jesus..."
Jesus saw evidence of a radical commitment, a little of what God intended when He created human community. He saw an island of peace in a sea of brokenness, a glimpse of the love of God in human faces! "If we can just get our friend close to Jesus!"
So Jesus turns and looks down at this twisted, motionless body on a mat. He sees not only a broken body but, as in every one of us, a broken, fallen soul. Their eyes meet and Jesus speaks tenderly, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5) His words prompt others to murmuring...
"What is he saying?" The question isn't asked out of curiosity but as an accusation. They've already drawn their conclussion: "This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins." (Mark 2:7)
Perhaps the man on the mat is wondering the same thing. He hadn't really signed up to have his sins talked about! What is Jesus saying? He's saying that if we want to be whole we've got to get real.
Consider Joe. His mat was a sexual addiction he'd wrestled with for years. In desperation he sought help and wound up in a therapy group. After a couple of weeks Joe suffered a relapse. Then for the first time he shared his deep sense of shame and failure, how, as a Christian, he was the biggest hypocrite. And yet, for all the pain his behavior caused him, he couldn't stop. As he told his story, his voice strained, he couldn't look anyone in the face. "Look up at the group," his counselor said.
"I can't. I'm too ashamed."
"Look up at the group. I want you to look into the eyes of the people listening to you, Joe. You must do this...for your own good "
Fearfully Joe looked around the circle. Every pair of eyes looking back at him was filled with tears. Every heart ached with pain for his anguish. There was no condemnation — just compassion. The fellowship of the mat before him saw his depravity, yet still chose to be his friends. For the first time he had a few mat-carriers who helped carry him to a place of healing. Joe's addiction was broken that day.
Oh, he still had a long way to go. There were confessions to be made, new habits to be formed, inner lies and wounds to be healed but in that moment he was changed...by love and compassion and it was in the fellowship of the mat by which Jesus offered a glimpse of that love.
Many of us were raised that you don't air your dirty laundry, you bury it. We tell ourselves and others that we're fine, we can handle it, that we're in control..and the grip of lie based thinking tightens. To be sure, the fellowship of the mat doesn't come easy. They're often heavy and awkward and there's always a roof of busyness, fear or doubt that needs to be crashed thru but it's precisely in such a fellowship where Jesus can be found. As he promised, "Wherever to or more are gathered in my name..."
There are seasons in our life when we are called to carry an incapacitated friend and there are others in which we ourselves must be carried. Such is the subtext of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring, particularly of the two Hobbit friends, Frodo and Sam.
At the outset of their adventure Frodo is the stronger of the two, a friend of Gandolf the Grey, the wizard who scolds Sam first for spying and later for not keeping up. As their journey progresses the evil ring plays off Frodo's weaknesses, deceiving him to believe lies about himself, about his sense of purpose and about the trustworthiness of his dear friend, Sam. But when Frodo is in danger of losing hope and perspective Sam repatedly steps in to show what kind of friend he is...
[DVD, The Return of the King, scene # 9, 2:34:03 — 2:36:12]
Frodo's greatest asset was that of his friend, Samwise Gamgee, just as the greatest asset of the man on the mat was his four friends. Thanks to their reckless abandon and fierce determination he and his mat wound up at Jesus feet, where Jesus set him free from his guilt & his mat, and sent him home dancing: "Your sins are forgiven. Stand up, take your mat, and go on home! You're healed!"
(Mark 2:5, 11)
What's he saying? He's saying that our spiritual health or lack thereof influences everything and that he has the power to set things right and make you whole, if you will but bring your mat to him.
So what's your mat? Maybe it's a temper you can't seem to control. Just under the surface is a button that those closest to you seem to always be pushing. Maybe your mat is an inability to trust or the need to be in control, or a terrible secret of an awful thing you did, or some deep hurt that seems to define you or perhaps its a lie based belief entrapping you in a disabling addiction.
Here's the thing, it is only when we allow others to see our mat, when we give and receive help from each other, that healing becomes possible. If you want deep friendship, you can't always be the strong one. You will sometimes have to let somebody else in...and let them carry your mat.
For this, Jesus gathers us together, as the Fellowship of the Mat, that among us he may make his presence known, fill us with his compassion for those in need of a lift, in need of hope and healing, and set us all on our feet once again, utterly mat free, and with a renewed sense of purpose,like that of those roof-crashing friends: "If we can just get our friends close to Jesus..." !
Is there anyone you know who needs some help crashing Jesus' party, who needs a friend willing to help carry them up the mountain, to help rid them of the baggage of guilt and shame that weigh them down? What roof would you be willing to crash through...?