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“Behold, How They Love One Another”
Mark 2:1-12


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany—February 15, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, the story of the four men lowering their paralyzed friend down through the roof to be healed by Jesus. 

There are many important aspects to this text.  First of all, it teaches us WHO Jesus really is.  Because, those who reject Jesus are quite correct when they ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Their mistake is refusing to accept the obvious implications of what they are saying.

Jesus’ power to forgive sins, and his power to say to a paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and walk,” is proof that Jesus is God, come down to earth and made man.  Jesus himself put it this way: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”  Only God has power to forgive sins and perform such miracles.  As the Gospel of John says, after Jesus’ first miracle, “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

Also, even though the event in today’s Gospel Reading is not a parable, but really did happen, it does have a symbolic, parable-like significance for us.  The paralyzed man represents YOU, paralyzed and held captive by sin.  As Paul says in Galatians, “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”  Like that paralyzed man held prisoner by his sickness, without Christ we are all spiritually captive to sin.

And, just as that paralyzed man could do nothing to help himself, you can’t do anything to earn your own salvation.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

“He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”  The GOOD NEWS is, just as Jesus pronounces forgiveness and grants healing to the paralyzed man, he forgives you all your sin.  He earned forgiveness for you, by his life, death and resurrection, and he spiritually heals and restores you.  As the Lord declares in today’s Old Testament Reading, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

Jesus address the paralyzed man as “son,” and that is also who YOU are through Holy Baptism, God’s beloved child. As Paul says in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  In Titus, Paul describes Baptism as, “The washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  Just as Jesus addresses the paralyzed man as “son,” through Baptism YOU are born again as a child of God.

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus proclaims that same Good News to you in his Word.  As an old prayer says, “Since you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus proclaims that same Good News to you in Holy Absolution.  As Jesus said to the Apostles, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them.”  Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “When the called ministers of Christ deal with us by his divine command . . . and absolve those who repent of their sins and are willing to amend, this is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself.” 

In Absolution, the pastor is only the spokesman for Christ, as Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”  In Absolution, it is really Christ himself speaking to you, just as he spoke that day in person to the paralyzed man, proclaiming forgiveness to you, through his servant: “As a called and ordained servant of the Word . . .  in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus proclaims that same Good News to you in Holy Communion.  “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you . . .  this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  In today’s Epistle Reading, Paul describes Communion as “the cup of blessing,” because through this Sacrament, Christ’s gives you the blessings of forgiveness and strengthening your faith in him.

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus addresses you today as “son,” God’s child through Holy Baptism.  And just as he proclaimed the Good News of forgiveness in person to the paralyzed man, he proclaims that same Good News to you today, through his Word, through Holy Absolution, through Holy Communion: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

That is the symbolic significance for you of the paralyzed man, and the forgiveness and healing he received.  But, what about the paralyzed man’s four friends, who carry him to Jesus, and, when the house is too crowded, lower him through the roof?  What do they symbolize?  What lesson does their example teach us?

They first of all represent all those who bring others to Jesus.  For many of us, this was primarily our parents, who brought us to Baptism, worship, Sunday School, Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper, who kept us in their prayers, who brought us up, as Paul says in Ephesians, “In the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Fathers and mothers, when you do these things for your children, you are like those friends of the man who carried him to Jesus. 

These men also represent any others who help to bring people to Jesus, pastors, missionaries, Sunday School, Confirmation, and Vacation Bible School teachers, Bible study and youth leaders, relatives, neighbors, friends, co-workers, all who witness to their faith.  Whenever and however you share the Good News of Christ, you are like the friends of the man who brought him to Jesus.

Finally, these men and their act of love for their friend are an example for us of how we as Christians will have compassion and help others in their need.  Like the members of our congregation who last summer helped build a home for a woman and her children; taking an elderly person shopping or to the doctor; bringing meals to someone who is sick; visiting them in the hospital; supporting charities that help those in need; in these and countless other ways, YOU can be like those loving friends.

The title of today’s sermon is, “Behold, How They Love One Another.”  That is taken from an historical record of what was said by outsiders about the first Christians.  The success and spread of the Christian faith was astonishing, really unparalleled in history.  But, those first Christians didn’t spread the faith through TV or radio, billboards or mass mailings, or even going door to door, or any of the church growth techniques employed today.  We are told by ancient writers that what attracted people to the faith was how Christians acted, especially toward each another.  That the pagans looked upon Christians in awe and said, “Behold, How They Love One Another.” 

I’ve been reading “The Story of Christianity” by David Bentley Hart, and he puts it this way:

“Ultimately, even pagan critics of the new faith . . . had to acknowledge that Christians were characterized in great part by their sobriety, their gentleness, their fidelity to their spouses, their care for the poor, their willingness to nurse the gravely ill even in times of plague, and for their . . . virtues like courage and self-restraint . . .  And it was this special character of the Christians that, in a very profound way, constituted the chief appeal of the Gospel they preached.”

You will notice that today’s Gospel Reading says that Jesus “saw their faith,” referring to the four men, who brought their paralyzed friend for healing.  In this act of love, Jesus “saw their faith.”  Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” 

Much more than anything we do as a congregation for outreach and evangelism, THAT is really the key to winning the lost, and church growth.  Letting the light of Christ shine in your life by living out your faith in acts of love for others, like the friends of the paralyzed man.  As Jesus said at the Last Supper: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I d you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Holy Communion was called in the New Testament and the early church the “love feast,” for three reasons.  First, it is a sign from God of his for for us in Christ.  Secondly, partaking together of this Sacrament is a sign of our mutual love and reconciliation with one another.  The very word “communion” means “fellowship,” which is what taking this Sacrament together is a sign of, our fellowship with one another, and love and forgiveness for one another.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “We, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Finally, Holy Communion is called a “love feast” because, to use a word we’ve heard a lot lately, it is a stimulus, a stimulus from God of our love toward one another.  This is expressed in a familiar prayer, written by Martin Luther and often used after Communion: “We give thanks to you, almighty God, that you have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore you that of your mercy you would strengthen us through the same, in faith toward you, and in fervent love toward one another.” 

Participating in this “love feast,” and the rest of the worship service, will stimulate YOU to show love in your life.  This is beautifully expressed in today’s closing hymn: “The Supper is ended, O now be extended the fruits of this service in all who believe.”  Professor John Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary puts it this way: “The holy gifts—the forgiveness of sins, the life, and the salvation—which we receive in the Divine Service . . . bear fruit in lives which are lived in fervent love.”

In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul describes the change in your heart and life and the love that the Divine Service and Holy Supper will stimulate in YOU: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, quarrelling and harsh words, and every form of hostility.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God. . .  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds you together in perfect unity.”

Just as when the four friends brought the paralyzed man to Jesus and he “saw their faith” in this act of love; just as Jesus said at the Last Supper, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”; just as the early church grew primarily because the first Christians let their light shine in a dark world; we pray that it will still be said, of all Christians, and especially of us and our congregation, “Behold, How They Love One Another.”

Amen.

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