This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, February 22, 2015. Throughout the Lenten Season, we will be reading through the Gospel of Mark. To find our 40 day reading plan, click here.
Reading: Mark 2:1-17
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
On Tuesday of this week, Gallup released its latest poll which took a look at frequency of church attendance in the United States.
Slightly more than half of Utah residents say they attend religious services every week, more than any other state in the union. Residents in the four Southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas are the next most likely to be frequent church attendees, with 45% to 47% reporting weekly attendance. At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont, where 17% of residents say they attend religious services every week.
Interestingly: five of the six states that make up the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church have the lowest rate of church attendance. Connecticut ranked ninth on the list with 25% or respondents attending worship weekly, and over half attending seldom to never. While it would be easy to look at these numbers in despair, I look at them with great hope.
Dear friends, we live in the greatest mission field in the United States. Three out of four people you work with, are related to, and/or you meet on the street are not regularly—or at least not with great frequency—connecting into a community of faith to hear, discover, and experience the Good News of God’s love found in Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, when faced with such a daunting task of sharing the Gospel—which literally means good news!—with the overwhelming majority of folks in our lives, let us not be like the paralytic. Do not let fear seize you. Do not let the knowledge of your own frailties keep you from sharing God’s love with others. Don’t be bound by the comfort of your surroundings—the bed on which you lie. Let us not be like the paralytic.
Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We live in a region of the United States where there are an overwhelming majority of not-yet, fully committed disciples of Jesus. The harvest is ripe (c.f. Luke 10:2 & Matthew 9:37). Let’s get to work: doing whatever it takes to bring people to Jesus. Let’s be like the paralytic’s friends. In fact there are a few things we can learn from them.
It’s not our job to forgive sins or work a miracle. Novatian, one of the early church fathers, writing in the third century says about this text, “If Christ forgives sins, Christ must be truly God because no one can forgive sins but God alone.” It’s a job only God can do. And, let’s be clear, it is only through the grace of God that we are able to forgive others (to be clear: we are to “forgive those who sin against us” but it is not our job to absolve all sin). It’s not our job to change people. That is a job only God can do.
Our only job is to setup the introduction with Jesus and we must be willing to risk it all in order to do so.
There’s a lot in this story that we do not know. We don’t know if the paralytic came willingly. We don’t know what the friends really expected of their friend’s encounter with Jesus. What we do know is that the friends were willing to take a great risk in introducing their friend to Jesus. They were willing to overcome barriers, scale walls, and tear down roofs to make sure their friend had an opportunity to see Jesus. The friends didn’t know what to expect, all they knew was that an encounter with Jesus would make a difference in their friends life; and that’s a conviction we all need to have.
The great tragedy of our day isn’t that the church isn’t what it used to be 10, 20, 40 years ago. It’s It’s that those who claim to follow Christ don’t care enough about the world God so loves to share God’s love with the world. If Jesus really makes a difference in our lives—if he really does offer us a peace that defies all understand and show us the way that leads to an abundant and full life—why are we so unwilling to be like the paralytic’s friends? Let’s believe that Jesus is the answer to what the world needs. Let’s care enough about our neighborhood to share God’s love in real ways—not just with words—with our neighbors. Let’s work, like the paralytic’s friends, to tear down the barriers that keep people from Jesus. Let’s not be afraid to scale walls and tear open roofs so that the world might see and experience the living Christ who forgives our sins, heals us, and makes us whole.
I wonder what it might look like if this Lent we stopped giving up chocolate, social media, and television; and, instead, committed to being like the paralytic’s friends. What might it look like if we committed, in the next six weeks (through Easter) to introduce at least one person to Christ? How might our church, neighborhood, community and world be different if you and I encouraged one of the three in four people around us who are not committed, to see Jesus anew?
So how are we going to do it?
Lent is the busiest time of the church year. We’ve got worship on Sunday at 10:30am, the Table on Tuesday at 7pm, and volunteer opportunities at the Sprague Community Center. We have ecumenical Lenten services on Wednesday. We’ve got a Maundy Thursday experience, a Good Friday Tenebrae, and an exciting Easter Sunday morning. There’s plenty of opportunities for you to introduce people to Christ through the church. Will you?
Who will you invite? How will you scale the walls and tear down the roof so that a person who desperately needs to meet Jesus can?
Dear friends, we live in the richest mission field in the United States of America. Let us commit, beginning now, this first Sunday in Lent, to helping our neighbors see Jesus so that people’s lives and the world might be transformed. Amen.
 “Frequent Church Attendance Highest in Utah, Lowest in Vermont,” by Fank Newport, Gallup.com, February 17, 2015 < http://www.gallup.com/poll/181601/frequent-church-attendance-highest-utah-lowest-vermont.aspx?utm_source=Social%20Issues&utm_medium=newsfeed&utm_campaign=tiles> Accessed February 19, 2015.
 Rhode Island did not make the list of lowest or highest percentage of weekly attendance.
 As quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament II, Mark, Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, editors (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p26.