Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
June 5, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about receiving help.
“I do it.” That is a common phrase we currently hear out of our two year old niece, Piper. The other day Tracy was helping her get dressed. As Tracy picked up her shorts to get her changed, Piper stated “I do it”. Piper took the shorts and proceeded to put both legs in one pant hole. She stood up and said “too tight” to which Tracy responded, “that’s because both legs are in one hole, let me help”. Piper replied “no, I do it”. So she tries again, pulling the shorts down and once again putting both legs into the same hole. Frustrated she finally says “help” and lets Auntie Tracy help and voila, she gets each leg into their individual place and the shorts go on nice and smooth.
Help. Help has become a four letter word in our society. We are taught from an early age that independence is success and we should not have to rely on anyone else. To ask for help is to be inept, to be not smart enough, not strong enough, and to be a burden. To ask for help is showing weakness.
This week prior to my ankle surgery I chose today’s passage for selfish reasons. I chose it because I know one of my weaknesses is asking for help. Luke, the author of our scripture, is a medical man, likely a doctor by training so I wondered what could I learn this week from yet another medical professional. As I sat with our scripture reading about a paralyzed man, I wondered about him. What caused his condition? Did he want help? Was he independent before his injury? Did he have deep faith? Was he annoyed at having to be carried around by his friends?
Let us reconstruct this story. Here we are in a village with Jesus in someone’s home. This small one-room house is packed with people, with scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law. Imagine so many people are there that you cannot even walk in the door. Everyone wants to hear what Jesus has to say. Then some men who are running late come carrying a guy (who is paralyzed) on a stretcher. Imagine a cot with a piece of fabric wrapped around two long poles and there is this paralyzed man lying in the middle. They get to the door of the house and realize there is no way they will be able to get inside, especially with this guy on the long cot. Now what do we do? What might the paralyzed man on the cot have been thinking?
I wonder if the guy on the cot was reluctant in the first place to go with his friends to see Jesus. After all, many likely believed his condition was caused by a “sin” which he committed. Then once they arrive at the house, realizing they can’t get in through the door, did the paralyzed guy say, “never mind, let’s go home?” And did his friends respond, “no we have come this far we are taking you to see Jesus.” Finally, did the paralyzed man reluctantly accept the help (since he can’t go anywhere on his own anyway) saying, “well, ok thank you.”
His friends know he needs help and that Jesus is the one who can help him. So two bearers ascend the roof by a ladder, and by means of cords they draw up by the same way the paralyzed man after them, being assisted by two other bearers. Now they are all up on the roof, in the middle of the roof there would have been a square place, open in summer to give light and air to the house, but closed with tiles during the rainy season. After opening this passage, the bearers let down the sick man into the inner court immediately below, where Jesus was teaching.
Imagine you are sitting there listening to Jesus when all of the sudden from the ceiling a man is lowered down. It reminds me of a concert with the musician coming down from the rafters to start the show. If I was the paralyzed guy I would have been mortified being the center of attention. Yet when Jesus “saw their faith” he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” (v.20) and the man got up and walked out of the room.
It is easy to get tied up the miracle of the man being able to walk again and to look at this story and say the man’s paralysis was caused by some sin he had committed. But I do not believe that to be the case. I do not believe we are given punishment for our sins; rather I look at this passage and see the miracle in the man receiving help.
Having been incapacitated this week I have been a first-hand witness to how hard it is to accept help. As I sat in the hospital outpatient center, I remembered a patient I met while doing clinical pastoral education at a hospital up on the North Shore. This individual was an overweight man in his twenties, who had many complications from his weight, including diabetes. The diabetes had progressed so much so that he was having complications including neuropathy and foot damage. The nerve damage in his feet had progressed so much that he had developed serious infections which ultimately required amputation of a couple of his toes.
As I walked into his hospital room he was lying in bed, curled up on one side. He was angry about the amputation and angry at people suggesting that he just lose weight; he was just angry. I introduced myself and just stood at the end of his bed and listened. I told him I was sorry he was going through this all and validated his feelings. I let him direct all his anger at me. When it was time for me to leave I asked if it would be okay if one of my colleagues, who was on call tomorrow, stopped in and visited him. He said “sure whatever.”
My colleague went the next day and found the man in slightly better spirits, he talked to her some more about his situation and his temperament and mood began to improve. On the third day when I stopped in again he was getting ready to be discharged. The fellow I met that third day was vastly different. His body language was brighter, he was sitting up on his bed and conversing with the nurses. He said how much it helped to have me and my chaplain colleague stop in and talk. He said he felt heard and cared about. And just like the paralyzed man from our scripture he got up and hobbled home.
The miracle in this man’s story and the paralyzed man from our scripture, is that they each accepted help. They, on some level, had faith or grew in faith that others and God could help them and when Jesus “saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” (v. 20).
Jesus saw their faith…their faith, not just the man’s faith but the faith of his friends as well. The power in both stories is not singular, it is not only that the ill men believed and had such strong faith in Jesus, rather it is twofold. First, the power is in the paralyzed and diabetic man’s ability to accept help from his friends and strangers. They each were in a vulnerable position, having lost all of their autonomy and all of their independence, yet they were able to accept help. The second powerful moment is in the actions of other people being faithful and helping the men. It was because of their faith that Jesus was moved.
Throughout scripture Jesus teaches about community and helping one another. He called a community of twelve disciples and taught them. He held communion with groups of people, and today he praised their, the community’s, faith.
We are social beings, and God encourages us to be with one another and to help one another. As a person who does not like to be the center of attention and one who does not like to ask for help, it has been humbling and amazing to see all the help that has been offered to me this week from friends, family and even strangers.
I saw a television show a few days ago where the characters decided they were going to have a “yes” night, where they had to say “yes” to everything. For example, would you like dessert, “yes” would you like to dance “yes” etc…This could be a great model for us in receiving help. Instead of doing it alone, when someone offers a helping hand what if we said “yes”? What if we took on the spiritual practice of accepting help?
We are taught from an early age to be like my two year old niece and say “I do it”. We are taught to be independent. But when we look to scriptures, when we listen to God, we learn that we can gain so much more when we accept help. By accepting help, we are building community, we are becoming closer to one another, and we are deepening our faith and trust in God.
This week I invite you to not just offer to help someone -- you are all already really good at that -- but to also accept help. Open your heart and say “yes”.
Thanks be to you and your help and thanks be to God.