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Healing and Wholeness in the Kingdom of God

I preached this sermon on February 23, 2013 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, NJ.

I was born in West Virginia and raised in a small town in the mountains of Appalachia in western Maryland called “Westernport”. The sense of community that we had was incredibly strong. Indeed, I did not even realize how important that sense of community was to me until I left it behind. As is so often in life, you do not realize what you have until it is gone. Everyone went to the same school, participated in the same community events, shopped at the same stores, went to the same movie theaters, and in sum, lived our lives together connected one to another. I have never experienced that again until the arrival of Facebook, where one of the guys I grew up with created a virtual Westernport that has almost 2000 members and we again experience some of that sense of community through re-living common experiences and sharing photos.

The downside of small town life is that everyone also knows everyone else and everything about you. I’ll give you are short example. When I turned 16 and friends started getting their drivers licenses, my father ruled that I was not to leave town in a friend’s car. I say ruled because my father was omnipotent and his word was law. One evening I went just a few miles out of town for pizza with some friends. We returned directly to my house, a trip of about 15 minutes, and I was dropped off at the end of the street and I walked from there to home. As I entered I was met by my father who told me where I had been and with whom. Someone from town not only knew where I had been, but also knew it was against my father’s rule and, in that special “It Takes a Village” sense of community, called my home to report me.

That small town involvement by everyone one with everyone becomes a real negative, however, when someone does not fit the mold. If you do not fit within the community norms in any way, the strong sense of community can become a thick wall that leaves you on the outside. Mental illness, physical illness or deformity, or just behavior that the community deems odd can leave you rejected and on the outside looking in.

Jesus grew up in such a community. Galilee is a rural area of a lake and mountains interspersed with small towns. Nazareth was one of those small towns. Jesus had spent approximately 30 years of his life in and around Nazareth and undoubtedly was well-known to everyone in the town. So when he stood to read from the Torah that probably was no surprise. At that age he probably had read many times. But his message immediately put him outside the wall. He essentially declared that he was the fulfillment of prophecy, the Messiah. Whether he was seen as a madman or a blasphemer, Jesus became an outsider among those who knew him best. He had to leave the town never again to be part of the community. We all know rejection, but the rejection of an intimate community hurts deeply. The experience had to have been very painful for Jesus.

Rejected in Nazareth, Jesus establishes his base in Capernaum. There he apparently is received well. He preaches in the synagogue and heals. And he does not just heal as a demonstration of his power and divinity, but out of great compassion. One or two dramatic healings would have been sufficient to have people talking about him and his power. But Jesus goes far beyond. We know for example, that immediately after Jesus healed the man in the synagogue, as related in one of our Gospel messages for today, he left the synagogue and continued to heal many others until well into the night. Many of those who were ill at that time were considered unclean and not permitted to participate with the community. They were outside that small town wall of acceptability. Jesus knew the pain of that rejection and understood that not only were they ill, but also they were not living a whole life because they were considered unclean. They needed not only healing, but also restoration to the community. So moved by compassion, Jesus healed all.

The healing in the synagogue, however, perfectly represents what Jesus accomplished through his healing ministry. A demon-possessed man interrupted when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. At that time many illnesses, particularly mental illness, were thought to be caused by demon possession. The sufferers were considered unclean and shunned by the community. Whether or not you believe they were possessed by actual supernatural beings, they were possessed by demons in the broader sense. Their conditions completely took over their lives and drove their existence, not only their physical existence but also their relationships as well. This man undoubtedly was well known in the community and this probably was not the first time he had interrupted a public gathering. The people also were probably ready to cast him out of the town again, or worse, because their focus undoubtedly would have been on the disruption that he caused in their lives rather than what was happening to him and his life. But Jesus looked to the man and commanded the unclean spirits to come out, restoring the man to sanity and enabling him to rejoin the community. Jesus did more than cast out demonic spirits; he healed this man’s isolation and loneliness.

A few days after the healing of the man with the unclean spirit, Jesus returns to Capernaum and again is presented with a throng of people seeking healing. He probably was staying with Peter in his home and would have received the crowd there inside the home. The crowd would be gathered about the home and again Jesus turns none away. The crowd is so large, however, that many simply cannot get to Jesus. But the friends of one man would not be deterred.

What happens next lives wonderfully in the mind’s eye! The quiet crowd that was listening to Jesus and watching him heal would first just hear some grunting and groaning on the roof. The dirt and dust would start falling on them. Then parts of the roof would also fall. Then a large hole opens in the roof and four men lower a stretcher with a paralyzed man through the roof and place him before Jesus. The quiet crowd undoubtedly exploded with noise. I can just hear Peter roaring about the damage to his roof! You know that people in the crowd immediately started complaining about how unfair it was that they jumped ahead or what a mess they were making. I imagine that is what we would hear today and I doubt that human nature was much different then.

Jesus saw that while the four men may have had no respect for the house, they had the proper attitude for the Kingdom of God. He noted their faith instead of their disrespect for the place. In verse 5 we find:

                                   When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

This passage is dear to me as it was the source for my first sermon in my home church many years ago. Fortunately, unlike Jesus in Nazareth, I was not run out of town! I love it though, as it shows us so much about how we should live in the Kingdom. What was important to Christ was not how the building was used, but rather the faith of those who had lifted the man to the roof. We know nothing about the faith or attitude of the man on the stretcher. We know only that through the faith of his friends he was literally lifted up and placed before Christ. What was Jesus’ response to the faith of the four? Forgiveness and healing for the paralyzed man. And in doing so he revealed himself and his authority to all present. The faith of the friends alone, not the faith of the man on the stretcher, brought the man healing and salvation.

The significant event that occurred was not the hole in the roof, but that through the faith of the four, through their worship, Jesus was revealed as the Christ to the assembly. The faith of the four not only put their friend before Jesus, but also put Christ on his throne before the crowd. As Jesus said in verse 10 to the lawyers in the group, he healed the paralytic, for whom he had already forgiven his sins,

                                         that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…

We meet Christ not only through our personal relationship with Him, and but also through our worship as a congregation. Our personal relationship with Christ is the bedrock of our salvation and sanctification, but we sometimes focus so much on what is happening with us individually, that we do not emphasize enough the importance of our collective, and connected, intercessions and worship.

As in Capernaum, Christ reveals himself to us not just individually, but acting on our collective expression of faith and intercession for others. Worship and intercession go hand-in-hand. Intercession, however, means more than just intercessory prayer. It is a perspective where we present others to Christ in all aspects. It is a perspective that leads us to interact with each other and the needs of the other that can be met by Christ through us. We cannot meaningfully and sincerely worship Christ when our focus is on what we will receive, rather than on Christ and what he may bring to others through our faith. For although Christ first reaches and heals us individually, as he did with the paralytic, he embraces us and uses us as a part of his Kingdom. It is our connectedness that matters. As he did with the four on the roof, he acknowledges our faith when it is lifting up others and reaching out, and reveals himself to us through the intercession of others. It can be said almost universally that no one lives in Christ who was not first brought to Christ by another in some way.

Jesus still heals today through the touch of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and caregivers of many kinds, including all of us. Through us, he also restores to wholeness those who are outside the community. In our Lenten study, The Way, Adam Hamilton characterizes us as “stretcher bearers” just as the men on the roof. Life in the Kingdom of God has us bearing the burdens of others and placing before Christ those who are sick in body, mind, and spirit. We are never alone in the Kingdom. In God’s Kingdom we live in a caring community that draws us one to another and all to Christ. If you doubt the power of your intercessory faith, remember that on that day in Capernaum, the paralytic was not just healed in body, he was not just restored to the community, but his sins were forgiven because he was lifted up by the faith of four friends. And as we are lifting up our brothers and sisters, they are lifting us up. We are all made whole through our connectedness and through our connectedness we see the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom of God is not a collection of individuals but a community of believers connected one to another in Christ and living life for each other through Christ as God intends us to live together. And the Church, as imperfect as it is now, is the world’s gateway to the Kingdom that will be perfected in Christ.

Neither our vision nor our understanding of God’s Kingdom is clear now. Yet the more time each of us can spend on the roof opening holes for others than on the floor waiting, the more time each of us can spend as a “stretcher bearer” focused on Christ and placing each other before him, our glimpses of the Kingdom will widen. We can do it only by surrendering ourselves to Christ and allowing him to change our hearts; by welcoming the visitor and your neighbor with a smile and a blessing; by singing songs to Christ, rather than for our own pleasure; by finding meaning in the sermon to share with others; by interceding through prayer; by reaching out to comfort your neighbor who is sick in body, mind, or spirit.

If you have never surrendered your heart to Christ, then take this moment to ask him to forgive your sin and lift you up. Come to me and I will go to Christ with you if you need a hand to hold as you take that step. If you have already given yourself to Him, and today or the next day is one of those when you’re in need of a stretcher, just give up to Him what’s holding you down, and let his grace, found in the hand of another, help you back to wholeness. And when you are called to bear the stretcher of another, remember that your job is to put others before Christ. Be relentless. You may have to make a hole in a roof, but you will find Jesus is there.


  1. Don Stephens on April 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    This is beautiful and timely, Tom; One of many things we’ve forgotten and must be reclaimed for the for the sake of the Kingdom.

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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