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The Front Room

[This is the first sermon I preached over a decade ago. It holds special meaning for me. I hope it will for you also.]

Not long after I left the practice of law for USF&G, when discussing possible promotion with the CEO, I told him he was crazy. I had absolutely no management experience and could not imagine how I was qualified for the position he offered. I feel like I should be having that same conversation with God now. The fact that he has me standing here before you definitely proves he has a sense of humor!

I grew up in mill town in Western Maryland.  We had two doors to our home—front and back. The back door opened on to the kitchen. It was the entrance the family used to the house. Always.  The front door opened on to a room that we cleverly called “The Front Room.” The Front Room held the best furniture and rugs. It hosted our tree at Christmas. We received and entertained our visitors there. The Front Room was absolutely, positively, upon fear of unspeakable punishment, off limits to children.

In quainter times  the Front Room would have been called “The Parlor.” It was a special place for special people and events.  When we were in that room, we were expected to be on our best behavior and focus on the guests or event, not ourselves. So the Front Room was not only just a place, but also an attitude. We were expected to be respectful of others.

As I studied today’s Gospel lesson I kept coming back to this idea of the Front Room. As I picture in my mind the scene, I see Jesus standing in the front room, perhaps the only room, of the home, preaching to a throng spilling out the door. I see the crowd behaving the way they should have in the front room of my childhood. The were behaving differently than normal. Respectfully.

What happens next in that front room in Capernaum, however, would have put me in the doghouse for a long time as a child. The quiet crowd 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. Then a large hole opens in the roof and four men lower a cot with a paralyzed man through the roof and place him before Jesus. Certainly not the respect expected from someone in the Front Room!

What do you think was the reaction of the crowd? I suspect that human nature came forward in all of the ways that we could expect.  I suspect the folks were critical and would have been expecting Jesus to also be critical. After all, the roof had just been destroyed!  You can almost hear them saying,

Look at the mess they are making!

What a way to treat someone’s home!

Quiet! I can’t hear Jesus!

 Hey, you can’t put him ahead of me! I was here first!

But Jesus was not concerned about the place.  The respect for the place meant nothing to him. His concern was with the spiritual “front room”: that point where we invite him into our lives; that point where we reach out to him. Jesus saw that while the four men may have had no respect for the physical room, they had the proper attitude for the spiritual front room. 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.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Butesus t 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 cot. 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 for the paralyzed man; healing for the paralyzed man. And in doing so he revealed himself and his authority to all present.

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 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…

And that revelation came through a totally unexpected way:         A Hole in the Roof!

We meet Christ in our spiritual front room 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, 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. We cannot meaningfully and sincerely worship Christ when our focus is on what we will receive, rather than on Christ and what we will give through 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 church. 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.

Verse 1 from the reading from Psalm 41 also emphasizes that aspect of God’s nature:

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble.

God shows mercy to those who express their faith through regard for others. Christ reveals himself, when we approach him in worship —- our spiritual front room—– with our focus on him, and each other, not just ourselves. That may seem elementary to some of you, but to me I had never really been struck by the need to approach worship with an attitude of selflessness until I was in Johnson City, TN one summer with the Appalachian Service Project. During Sunday worship service, I was reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I use “recite” because I must confess that I had grown tired of the Lord’s Prayer. We say it so frequently that, at that time, it had become more of a ritual for me than heartfelt prayer. I had been saying the words and hearing them as they left my mouth, trying to find meaning for me  in a phrase or two, but frequently I was just going through the motions.  That Sunday, however, I did not hear my words, but rather the entire congregation instead. I realized that I was hearing the prayer more from God’s perspective than mine. That God stands outside of time and hears the Lord’s Prayer of all Christians collectively, as one voice, at one time.

As I listened, I was struck by the power flowing through the congregation as members prayed for each other. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray for “us”, not “me.” Give “us.”; Deliver “us.” Lead “us.” Mentally substitute “me” for “us” and hear how hollow the prayer becomes. It is almost embarrassing how the focus changes and the power evaporates. Give me. Lead me. Deliver me.

In his prayer, Christ was teaching us not just how to pray for ourselves, but how to reach him as his church. That experience, and today’s gospel, leads me to yet another confession. I have often come to worship as the paralytic, passively waiting to be lifted up to Christ rather than focusing on lifting up the congregation to Christ so that he will reach all of us. I was looking for the personal experience and missing the collective revelation that comes through joint worship and faith. I missed that Christ recognizes my faith  as he sees me expressing it through others, and reveals himself to me, only through others. On those days, I leave here saying or thinking things such as:

  “Pastor’s sermon was so long that I got nothing out of it.”

 “Communion at the altar is the only way I like communion.”

 “I hated the music we sang. I just don’t feel like worshipping when we sing those songs.”

I have had all of those thoughts at one time or another, and they still come. If you have ever them too, then you can carry that burden with me. I submit that on those times we are not on the roof of the spiritual front room, but on the floor looking at the dirt falling on us! But reality is that sometimes we’re on the roof lifting up, and sometimes we’re on the floor waiting to be lifted. That is our nature.

There are times, however, when we as a congregation all reach beyond ourselves and focus completely on Christ and each other. One time that comes to mind was the death of our pastor Kiyul Chung’s daughter. Her accidental death was a great tragedy, but I told Kiyul then that I was amazed at how God had used that tragedy to strengthen this congregation in ways I had never seen. Everyone here was on the roof lifting up our brother and placing him before Christ. It was extraordinary. Christ’s presence and grace could be felt everywhere by everyone. It was a time when we got a glimpse of what Christ’s kingdom on earth is supposed to be, for the kingdom is found in our connectedness. It was a time when Christ showed us how strong we can be as a worshipping congregation.

If each of us can spend more time on the roof than on the floor,  remain focused in our worship on Christ and placing each other before him, those glimpses of the kingdom would 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.

But never forget that on that day in Capernaum, Christ revealed himself to all, not just those on the roof. And he did so as a result of something no one would have expected, and many would criticize—–a hole in the roof! Just as he raised the paralytic from the cot, he stands waiting to help us up.  His grace is available to everyone—even those on the floor. Sometimes we just need to look for it coming through a hole in the roof rather than the way we expect! The hole may be a sermon that runs too long, a song that is unfamiliar, or the visitor next to you in the pew. If you have never surrendered your heart to Christ, then take this moment to ask him to forgive your sin and lift you up. If you have already given yourself to Him, and today or the next day is one of those when you’re on the floor, just give up to Him what’s holding you down, and let his grace, found in the hand of another, help you back up to the roof. And when your on the roof, remember that your job is to put others before Christ. Don’t worry about the hole!

© Thomas M. Trezise, 2010

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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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