Dismantling Barriers

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.

Jan 9, 2016

Mark 2:1-22

We just heard a rather long passage from early in Mark’s gospel. As I’ve mentioned before, Jesus wastes no time after his baptism to get to work. He heals people. He preaches. He heals more people. He draws large crowds.  He escapes to pray, as Hillary preached about last week. And after the praying, he returns to the work of healing, preaching, and teaching. Drawing crowds so big he can no longer enter a town in the open, but has to sneak in through the kitchen entrance.

In today’s passage, he’s at home. But the paparazzi had let everyone know and the crowds have come. The house is full. The yard is full. And he just keeps on with his preaching, as the people keep coming.

There’s a lot I don’t know about Jesus. And after 2,000 years, there is only so many ‘facts’ we could discover about him. But I always learn something about him when I look at the crowds. There is something truly remarkable to me about the crowds that followed him.

This is not just celebrity.

This is more than that.

This is the desperate need that people had to connect to God. The stories of the crowds give us a clue about how desperate people were for the healing, the acceptance, and the message that Jesus offered.

The gospel is so compelling that people would do anything to gain access to him.

When religion makes the gospel boring, shame on us.

Because the message of Jesus is anything but boring.

The people who are drawn to it, though, don’t always like what they hear. It infuriates some of them. He’s accused of being blasphemous. His choice of companions is criticized. The fact that he heals people is criticized.

He gets put on religious watch lists that will eventually lead to his crucifixion as a criminal of the state.

The gospel is compelling. The gospel is healing. The gospel is saving.

The gospel is not safe.

And we’re told that 4 friends carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. But they can’t get through the crowds. It is not a handicap accessible situation.  

And so, logically, they decide to carry him up to the roof, remove the shingles, break out their shovels, and dig through the ceiling.

Of Jesus’ house.

Or maybe his mom’s house. All we know from the beginning of the passage was that Jesus was at home.

And now there is a person sized hole in his ceiling and a paralytic is dropping into the room.

Reason 482 that I’m not Jesus—I would have noticed the damage to the ceiling. I would have seen the destruction of personal property.

Jesus instead, we’re told, saw their faith.

Jesus saw their action, their work, the inconvenience and risk of potential lawsuit— the trouble they went through for their friend. And Jesus recognized it as faith.

Something in this story so quintessentially embodies the urgency of Jesus’ message. God’s love is so important that there can be no barriers between people and God. We see it at the beginning of the gospel where the very heavens are shredded apart at his baptism, never to be closed again in the same way. We see it at the end of the gospel, when the curtain in the Temple is torn apart as Jesus breathed his last breath.

The things that keep people from God’s love, God’s healing, God’s saving—those things must be dismantled. And the four friends got it. Presumably they had heard Jesus speak before.  And they knew their friend needed Jesus. And so they tore Jesus’ house apart to get their friend to Jesus.

Are we willing to do that?

When we see things that get between people and their ability to live into the love God offers, do we tear apart roofs?

Do we risk our comfort and safety?

Is our faith something that other people can see—as it digs through a roof, removing barriers so others can get to God?

This passage reminds me of how public faith can be. I know many of us would like to keep faith a quiet, private thing. And we don’t know what the paralyzed friend thought as his friends were digging through the roof. We don’t know what he thought about being lowered from the ceiling and dropped at Jesus’ feet. We don’t know how he felt as Jesus and the religious leaders, while he lay there on his mat, got into a fight over his healing. But we know that when Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk, he did.


And, we’re told, all who saw it were amazed and glorified God. Except for those who were threatened by Jesus’ message of inclusion.

There’s a saying in leadership that successful leadership is disappointing people at a pace they can tolerate.

And in this passage, maybe in Mark’s gospel in general, Jesus seems to be pushing that pace.

Don’t like me healing someone and forgiving sins? How about I add a TAX COLLECTOR to my group of disciples?
Don’t like that much? How about I have dinner at his house with even more tax collectors and sinners?
Does that offend you too? How bout I don’t have my disciples fast and carry on with the traditions that you think are essential?

See what I mean? He’s disappointing people at an immediate, breakneck pace.

And there’s something about God’s Good News that does that.

Just when you think Jesus is going to hate all of the same people you do, he proves you wrong.

Just when you think you get the ‘rules’ about how things are supposed to be, he rewards the guys who ruin his roof, paying no never mind to the people waiting patiently in the yard for their turn.

Just when you decide faith is a private, personal matter between just you and Jesus, the faith he sees is the one where the roof gets demolished in front of everyone.

The longer I’m on this faith journey, the more I’m reminded that it’s about disruption, and roof and barrier removal, and disappointing people at a pace they can’t quite tolerate.

I’ve also discovered the things that seem disruptive to some people seem to be just like another day to someone else. In other words, we aren’t called to just go disrupt. We are called to do the work of the gospel and then deal with the disruption when it happens.

Disruption isn’t the goal of our faith. It is the consequence.

A professor at Wheaton College in Illinois is facing this as well. To show support to Muslims facing discrimination, Dr. Larycia Hawkins wore a head scarf and claimed solidarity with Muslims because, like Christians, they are people of the Book, and because we worship the same God.

This is not a particularly disrupting claim. Presbyterians would make the same claim, as would most mainline Christians. Despite our differences, we recognize that Islam is also a religion that grew out of the same scriptures we read. They claim Abraham as an ancestor through his son Ishmael. The Pope even made a similar claim recently.

Yet Wheaton College is now firing her on charges of apostasy. She has said she is flabbergasted at what has happened.  “Our love for Jesus compels us to make no peace with oppression because Christianity is political or it is not Christianity. That drove my solidarity with women in the hijab, particularly Muslims in the hijab—because you know, Jesus’ mother Mary wore a hijab too.”

She has said she will not change her message to save her job. From her statement this week:

“Students, colleagues, friends, you inspire me to embody love of God, neighbor, and self. This is the sum of the law and the prophets. I can do no less than live Jesus’ politics. Friends far and near, let’s continue to walk in the truth of our common humanity. I believe that Jesus is Justice. And I will continue to walk in that justice.”

When she put on that head scarf and made her statement, when she started pulling the shingles off the roof, all she was trying to do was show solidarity to people who were facing exclusion, trying to remove the barriers that would keep them from God’s hope for their flourishing.

It was a bigger disruption than she expected.

We are about to start a capital campaign to build a new fellowship hall, gathering space, and commercial kitchen. And it will be disruptive. And it will require things of us, including a 3 year pledge to pay for it. And this new space will dismantle some roofs, allowing people better access to Jesus. It will be all one level, so people with mobility issues can get to fellowship without having to use stairs. It will include a gender neutral bathroom, making a more welcoming space for people. It will include a commercial kitchen, which will allow us to feed the hungry in the community and maybe even help with job training programs for homeless people, giving them a chance to build a better life.

We aren’t doing it to be disruptive. We’re doing it to answer God’s call to serve God’s people in this neighborhood.

What other roofs are waiting to be dismantled as your faith leads you to remove the barriers that keep people from God’s love, God’s presence, God’s healing?

Today we are celebrating Epiphany, the day in the church calendar when we mark the magi’s journey to follow the Star that led them to Jesus. And I think the journey of the four friends is epiphany-like. They were following something too, seeking the bright star of Jesus, and they wanted to bring their friend along and make sure he could see it as well.

Maybe our Epiphany journey this year is less about us trying to see Jesus and more about making sure others have access to see him. Let’s tear apart those roofs that are in the way. Jesus is on the other side of the barriers.


5 thoughts on “Dismantling Barriers

  1. You hit the nail on the head. I too was fed by your sermon. Thank you. I wonder what Jesus would say about our current Presidential Campaign and President Obama’s acknowledgment during last night’s State of The Union Speech of his disappointment in failing to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats. Each year he has reminded the public that “together, we can accomplish anything.” [Not a direct quote, but a paraphrase.] Yet it appears we are more divided than ever. Mutual respect for opposing views and an effort to critically examine the underlying reasons for our own views and views of those adamantly opposed. Everybody claims entitlement to their own set of “facts.” For a so called “Christian” Nation led by Congressmen and Congresswomen and Senators who self righteously claim to be servants of God, seldom do we see their actions as following the teachings of Jesus.

    This is a crucial time in the history of our people and democracy itself.

    “Can’t we all just get along.” Isn’t that the underlying objective of Jesus’ teachings of love for one another?

    Food for thought.

    Thanks again Marci

    Pat Callaway
    Member of John Knox Presbyterian Kirk in Kansas City, MO


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