There were a couple of things that distracted me when I was a teenager and it came time to listen to a sermon on Mark’s story about a paralytic let down through the roof so Jesus could heal him. First, I wasn’t sure what a paralytic was. Second, it always seemed that the preacher spent most of his time explaining the roof and how they got through it. Was it tiled? Thatched? Sticks and mud? No doubt there was more to those sermons than that, but that’s what I remembered.
The story rose again in today’s Morning Prayer, and again I was distracted, this time by thoughts of the “missional church.” I’m having a hard time with that term. For all the publicity, and its constant use in daily clergy speak, I don’t know what a missional church is, except that it has something to do with being sent out. Today’s lesson turns that upside down. What happens when someone is trying to break in?
I wonder what the people sitting inside thought. The man who had been brought to the front door to get in was unclean, and I can imagine the disruption as his four friends, hauling him on his pallet, tried to muscle their way in only to be rebuffed because there was no room. Must have been quite a racket along with shoving, arguing, and angry words. Jesus probably kept on speaking, but his audience paid little attention as they turned to see what was going on making pursed lip lemony faces with loud shushes.
Ah, peace at last; the interlopers left, and they could get back to the business of listening to the preacher.
Not for long. It turned out that these four guys were not only persistent, they were violent and destructive. Whatever the roof and ceiling were made of, they began to rumble, pieces of ceiling began to fall, daylight appeared, a small hole growing quickly as if the whole building might collapse. Who were these guys? Bad, evil, uncivilized, intent on breaking in to attack this good preacher and his godly assembly.
Think about it. We talk so much about being sent out, what happens when someone tries to break in, especially if that someone appears to be not like us, even disreputable, threatening? Shoot, we get upset if a baby starts to cry too loud and mom or dad fail to do anything about it quick enough for us. Holy Innocents in Lahaina is located on one end of Front Street, the main drag. Every Sunday, right about the start of the Eucharistic Prayer, a herd of Harleys thunder by, revving their engines as they pass the church. Without fail the tourist filled congregation looks askance (how does one look askance?). Bill, the priest, stops to explain that they go out of their way to help the church provide Christmas to the children most in need, and the Harley thunder is their weekly salute to the ministry of Holy Innocents.
OK, it’s a small enough example, but what about this idea of the way we treat people who are trying hard to break into God presence in our churches, but doing it in a way that we find disruptive, intrusive, and maybe even destructive? Can we handle it? Can we maintain our equanimity, whatever that is, our dignity, and our identity while, at the same time, making room? It’s a tough question.