February 11, 2024

“Being a friend for Jesus” (Full Service)

Passage: Mark 2:1-12
Service Type:

  Sermon starts at 27:50

 

“Being a friend for Jesus”

Scripture: Mark 2:1-12

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to talk with a lot of you about the impact that knowing Jesus has had on your lives.  You've told me about how being able to reach out to him in prayer has helped you make it through the week – and, sometimes, just make it through the day.  You've told me about how trying to follow in his footsteps has helped you to chart a path through life – to make the tough choices when the tough choices needed to be made, and to be able to live with yourself, and those choices, afterwards.  You've told me how much it means to you to be a part of his body – part of his people – to have a place where you really belong.  Some have even told me about how their faith in Jesus has enabled them to face death – whether it's been their own impending death, or the death of someone they've loved – with a sense of peace that baffles them as much as anyone else.  And some of you have shared with me, very openly, how much you owe him, and how you can't fathom how others can make it through life without him...

 

And the fact of the matter is that they can't.  Not in the way that their Creator wants them to.  He is the source of life – life abundant, and life eternal.  And, so, the reality that we face day after day is that we are surrounded by people who need Jesus just as much as we do...

 

 

They may be people who are struggling with the conflicting demands of work and family – living pay-cheque to pay-cheque in this era of high inflation and crazy housing costs, and wanting to know that there is something more.  They're the people who still feel all alone in a city of millions – the new immigrant whose family has been left behind, the single parent who's suddenly shouldering the responsibilities of two, the senior whose family lives too far away.  They're the young people – the youth of the nation – who need to know that life does have that bigger purpose that they’re looking for.  They're the people who want desperately to be able to put the past behind them – to find forgiveness and release, or, just as often, to be able to forgive and let go.  And they're the people who know, deep down, that our bodies have a best-before date – that they’re mortal – and yet are trying desperately to pretend that they are not.  They're people who are just as human as we are – and who, just as much as we do, need what Jesus gives.

 

And chances are that the only way they’re ever going to find that – the only way that they're ever going to see Jesus – is if they've got a friend like the guys in the passage that we read this morning.  A friend who loves them.  A friend who cares about them.  A friend who's going to go out of his or her way for them.  A friend who's willing to tackle any obstacle that might stand in the way of getting their friend to see Jesus...

 

 

And these guys in the passage are the perfect example of that.  First of all, they're willing to tackle the obstacle of their friend's situation.  They weren't going to let his handicap stand in the way.  They'd heard that Jesus was going to be in town, and if their friend couldn't get there under his own steam, then they were willing to carry him if they had to...

 

And, often, it is the situation that people find themselves in that keeps them from finding Jesus.  It could be that they'd love to look for answers to the questions that keep nagging at their spirits, but there’s no one or nothing in their lives that offers them any suggestion that there are answers to be found.  It could be that they simply have no time for themselves – that between work and family and housework there's no time to pursue a relationship with anyone, let alone a relationship with Jesus.  Or it could be that it's something within themselves that's holding them back – pride, or depression, or bitterness, or simply a sense that they could never be good enough...

 

I often look back on my late teens, and realize that, in those years, I'd gone into a kind of isolation.  And if it hadn't been for a couple of really good friends, who persistently came to invite me out – and sometimes even drag me out – I never would have become involved in our congregation’s youth group.  I never would have become involved in a Church camp.  I never would have met Cynthia.  I never would have heard God's call to ministry.  I never would have been where I am now.  If those good friends hadn't recognized my need for Jesus -- and if they hadn't been willing to tackle the obstacle of my situation to ensure that I found him again -- my whole life would have been very different.

 

 

So, people need friends who are willing to help them overcome their situation. They also need friends who will help them get past the crowds who stand in the way...

 

I'm not sure what would have been in my mind if I'd been one of those guys carrying the stretcher and, when I finally got to the house where Jesus was speaking, I couldn't even see the house because of the crowd.  I suspect that, being as Canadian as I am, I probably would’ve lingered – patiently and politely – at the edges of the crowd, hoping for a chance to see Jesus after everything else was done...  Years ago, I spent one very cold evening outside of Massey Hall hoping to do the same with the members of U2…

 

But the friends in our passage weren't willing to wait.  They weren't willing to risk the chance of missing Jesus now that they’d got so close.  How they got to the house, and ultimately up to the roof, we don't know.  But they weren't willing to let that crowd of people be an obstacle either.

 

 

For a lot of people, there’s similarly going to be some crowd of people who are likely standing in the way of their getting to see Jesus.  And, for most of them, it isn't going to be a crowd that’s physically blocking their access.  It's far more likely to be someone who's simply pulling them in the opposite direction.  It may be the kids who can't understand this sudden desire to got to worship and who don't want to give up sleeping in on Sunday mornings.  It may be a spouse who's scared that you're going to go and get "all religious" and who's afraid that they'll be expected to get "religious" too.  It may be parents – or even the memory of parents – who had nothing good to say about their experience of church, or even of the people within the church itself.  These days, it may well be people whose only experience of Jesus is what they see in the media – people like a few we saw interviewed in the videos for the Bible Course who thought Fifty Shades of Gray was likely to have been a bigger best seller than the Bible…

 

Whoever it is, and whatever the motivation, there are frequently people who get in the way of others meeting Jesus.  And, so, the people around us need friends who aren't going to let those others stand in the way.  And, today, I especially want to point out the role we can have as parents and grandparents in overcoming the obstacle of the crowd.  I think of those words that Paul wrote to Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.”

 

Now challenging the influence of the crowd is certainly something that’s easiest to do if it’s done right from day one.  But if the relationship is still there, then so is the opportunity to be an influence.  Even within our families, we need to be that kind of friend who, patiently but persistently, works at making our way through the crowd so that the people we care about are brought into the presence of Christ.

 

 

So, the people around us need friends who will help them to overcome their situation, and who will help them find their way through the crowds.  They also need friends who aren't going to let a building be an obstacle.  Now I'm not advocating making holes in people's roofs or anything like that.  What I am suggesting is that we need to keep in mind that buildings themselves can be a barrier to those who need Jesus.  I know that, for those of us who call St. Andrew’s home, this building has come to mean a great deal to us…

 

But we need to be conscious of the fact that many of the people in our society today have almost no idea of what the Church is about, or of what goes on inside these doors.  We’ve now essentially raised two, and maybe even three generations of Canadians who have virtually no Christian memory.  To them, this is foreign territory.  This is another world.  And it takes enormous courage to enter a place that’s totally foreign to you – where you may not know anyone, and you’re not really sure what you’ll find.  And, so, the fact is that most people in our society will never find their way into this building unless someone invites them.

 

Now, we’ve helped overcome that obstacle, to some extent, by making our worship available on-line.  That, in itself, has gone a long way towards giving people a sense of what they’ll find if they do take the risk of coming through our doors.  In fact, what we’re finding is that many people have worshipped with us “virtually”, and sometimes for quite a while, before we ever get to meet them here.  Monica was just telling me this week about welcoming someone new to St. Andrew’s, and introducing herself, and being told that they knew who she was: they’d been watching us for three months!

 

 

Now there's one more obstacle that we may need to overcome if we're going to be the kind of friend that the people around us need.  And this obstacle has very little to do with them, and almost everything to do with us.  And that's our own conviction about whether the people around us really need Jesus or not.

 

Think about the passage that we read.  Can you imagine that the events in the gospel would ever have taken place...  That the roof would ever have been opened…  That the crowd would ever have been parted...  That the stretcher would ever have been lifted, if that group of friends hadn't believed that Jesus could make a difference?

 

What the passage tells us is that, ultimately, it was the faith of those friends – their confidence in Christ – that prompted Jesus to heal the man – both body and soul.  And if you and I are going to be the kind of friends who bring friends to Jesus, then you and I need to have that same faith ourselves – the faith that Jesus is precisely what people need, and the faith that, whatever their situation, Jesus can make a difference in their lives…

 

For some of us, this may be the biggest obstacle of them all.  This may be the biggest hurdle that we need to overcome.

 

 

And I'm convinced that it's not that we don't believe in the difference that Jesus has made for us.  It's that we've been told so often that people are entitled to believe whatever they like that we've become frightened of even offering them options.  We've been told that faith is supposed to be private, but we've forgotten that in order to believe anything people need to have somehow heard it first.  As the apostle Paul tells us (Romans 10), "How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?"

 

And so many of the people that we work with, many of the people we go to school with, many of the people who live in our neighbourhoods simply believe in nothing for the simple reason that no one has ever offered them something in which they might believe...

 

Again, think about the man in the story.  Unless those friends had been willing to take the risk of bringing him to Jesus, he would still be in his bed.  Unable to walk.  Unable to work.  He would still be paralysed.  And, what's even worse, he would never have heard Jesus speak those all-important words, "Your sins are forgiven."  Because hearing that is something that no one in this world can do without.

 

And, so, Jesus has given us this task – the task of being friends.  Being friends who bring friends to him.  Friends who are willing to tackle any obstacle.  Friends who are even willing to overcome their own reluctance in order to speak the truth in love.  Because that's precisely what friends do when they've found something as precious as this.  Bringing someone into the presence of Jesus is, in fact, the greatest expression of love there can be.

 

So, this week, be a friend.  Tackle an obstacle.  You don't have to do it all at once.  But patiently, persistently, persevere at the task that you've been given.  The task of being a friend, for Jesus.  Amen.