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Sermon at Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church, Feb. 23, 2003

Sermon at Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church

Good morning. Today's Gospel reading comes from Mark, chapter 2, verses 1-12.

Here begins the reading:

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, Rise, take up your pallet and walk'?10 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic --11 "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." 12 And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" Here ends the reading.

In the name of God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Friend along the way. Amen.

This is a story about faith. It is also about justice, and about a bunch of guys getting together to get justice for their paralyzed friend. These men had a staggering amount of faith in Jesus' power to heal. They knew too, that if they worked together, they could make a difference in the life of their friend. Jesus knew and appreciated this too. This was a reason why he was so astonished by their faith. It took a lot of courage, not to mention nerve and imagination for these men to "think outside the box," and cut a hole in the roof of this house in order to get their friend to see Jesus, but they were desperate. Desperate people sometimes take desperate measures seeking justice. Albert Einstein said, "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." I also want us to be aware that Jesus engaged both this man and his critics in conversation before he made this cure.

It seems to me that we in the USA also have a situation which will demand from us a tremendous amount of faith in the capacity of Jesus to heal. It cries out for justice, engaged conversation, and nerve and imagination too. This is because we have not only a parlayzed friend, but a paralyzed nation which we must bring before Jesus for healing, and wee are guilty if we don't. We have to start thinking outside the box about this situation as well. This is because we have closed our eyes, not to see, not to hear and not to know what has been happening to three million people who live in Palestine. And if we take the parochial attitude that only local events interest us, it is nothing short of criminal. Here are a few examples that have recently been brought before my attention. 5 unarmed Palestinians, probably desperate workers who were using a ladder to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip to find work, were shelled by a tank and killed on a Thursday last December. That Monday, soldiers killed a Palestinian who was mentally handicapped. On Sunday, soldiers shot two women and three children in Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt. One of the women, a mother, was killed along with her two children, aged four and 15, and the other woman suffered serious injuries. The soldiers said they thought the women and children were terrorists.

The previous Friday, 10 people were killed, including one woman and two employees of UNRWA, otherwise known as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, in a failed liquidation operation in Al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Earlier that week, a 95-year-old woman who was traveling in a taxicab near Ramallah was shot to death by a soldier. And a couple of days before that, soldiers demolished a building, burying under the rubble a 70-year old man who was inside. All told, when I began to work on this sermon in December,more than 30 Palestinians were killed in the first 10 days of the month, and , at least half of them were innocent civilians. The killing is still going on today. What was once an "anomaly" has become a daily event, and what the Israeli army used to investigate, it no longer even reviews. Whole cities, parts of which lie in ruins, are under almost unceasing curfew; an entire population is unable to move from one village to the next or from city to city without the authorization of the occupation army. Innocent victims - women, children, the aged - are being killed. To this data I have to add from a spokesperson in the Israeli Defense Force's office, the fact that 3,094 Palestinians are currently incarcerated in military facilities alone; 932 of them have been placed in administrative detention, which means arrest without trial . In other words, there are nearly a thousand individuals detained for a six- month period without any prospect of trial, many of them in two makeshift detention facilities, Ketziot and Ofer, in which the conditions are apparently particularly difficult. It is not too hard to explain why the Israeli Army has prevented reporters from visiting these sites for months.

Are Israelis afraid to sit in cafes? It's been a long time since Palestinians could even dream of that. Is it scary to travel on a bus in Israel? There is no longer any such travel in the territories. Afraid to fly? Most Palestinians have never flown. Unemployment is rising? That is nothing compared to the malnutrition and near hunger in the territories, where the great majority of the residents are not terrorists. This is an utterly horrifying and very serious state of affairs. No terrorist threat, however murderous, is grounds for a wholesale annulment of values; no suicide bombing can justify the daily killing of innocent people or the large-scale incarceration of others without trial.

Daily killing of innocent people and mass arrests without trial are issues that should at least be the subject of public discussion. But that is not enough. If the acts of killing and the arrests are marginally reported by the media, the imprisonment of the entire Palestinian people is continuing uninterrupted and unreported. No one asks why, or for how long, or whether this state of affairs does not induce terrorism rather than prevent it. The security experts say in an appallingly uniform voice that this is the only way, and hardly anyone protests.

These are facts and statistics that should be of great concern to us, even if our public is not constantly threatened by terrorism, and I simply do not know what Jesus would say about this awful situation. Would he say to the Israeli Army, Your sins are forgiven? Would he say to the Palestinian public to take up their palate and walk? Does anyone out there really care?

I certainly do not know the answers to these questions, but believe strongly, that Jesus would be engaging everybody in conversation about this, and keeping the line of communication open. I also feel compelled to make all of us aware of the situation in light of today's Gospel. Here, we have a story of a group of men who were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help their friend see Jesus. Jesus didn't condemn them for wrecking the roof of his house. Instead, he was startled and amazed by their perseverance. He also clearly appreciated the plight of their friend.

It is interesting to me that he thought of this paralyzed man's spiritual needs first. Only after he forgave him his sins, did he encourage him to take up his palate and walk. Perhaps this could be an approach all of us could take regarding the horrors in Israel and Palestine which I have just described. In other words, to think of forgiveness first, hard as that may be. As I have said, I do not know the answer. But what I do know, plain as the nose on my face, is that millions of people in that area of the world are suffering, and desperately seeking justice from God. They will go to any lengths to achieve it. One thing we can do for them is to talk about it to anyone who will listen. Another thing we can do is pray.

Come, let us pray: Dear Lord, We thank you first of all for our families, our friends, this church, and for the earth, our island home. We want you to know that we do not understand why you created humankind the way you did, and allow so much utterly needless hatred and suffering and fear to exist among us. Nor do we understand many of our own actions. But we do understand and believe you are merciful, and you love us, and came to us in the form of Jesus to demonstrate this. We thank you for his insight and ability not only to heal our spiritual needs, but our physical needs too. We thank you for this Gospel story, and for showing us how important it is for us to use ingenuity and imagination when we bring our friends to you for healing.

Hear us Lord. Please be with us and with all of the people in Palestine and Israel through their suffering, pain and difficulty. Forgive us for falling short in so many ways. Give us faith in your ability to heal. Show us how to think outside the box,and engage each other in conversation about this. Help us learn how to truly love and forgive each other, as we know we are loved and forgiven by you. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.