Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
What are the obstacles that are standing in your way? As you reflect on the things that you hope to do and have set your mind to accomplish what are the obstacles that you are facing? When I was much younger I was enamored with the circus. I had visions of walking on the high wire and flying through the air being propelled by a trapeze. However, my dreams of ever making the big time were dashed by mother. I informed her of my desire to join the circus and she remarked simply, “are you crazy?” Of course the question was rhetorical, but nonetheless, my hopes and dreams of achieving fame from a circus career died that day in our kitchen. Several years ago I had the privilege of teaching a course titled Ethnic America. In this particular course we explored the experiences of various immigrant groups in America. One of the common threads that all immigrants in America shared was that they all faced challenges and obstacles when they first arrived. In almost every case the two greatest obstacles that every group faced were language and representation. They had to learn to speak English and they had to use English to speak up for and on behalf of their own people.
Obstacles, we all face them and we all must overcome them or we are condemned to be thwarted and stymied by them. In 1962, Victor and Mildred Goertzel published a revealing study of 413 “famous and exceptionally gifted people” called Cradles of Eminence. They spent years attempting to understand what produced such greatness, what common thread might run through all of these outstanding people’s lives. Surprisingly, the most outstanding fact was that virtually all of them, 392, had to overcome very difficult obstacles in order to become who they were. What about us, what will it take for us to overcome the obstacles we are facing?
Admittedly, some obstacles are easier to overcome then others. In the second chapter of the gospel of Mark we read about a paralytic. According to the text, the man suffers from paralysis. That it to say, he is unable to move his arms and legs. Paralysis is a condition that attacks the muscles and renders them immobile. The text also offers insight about the cause of the man’s paralysis. In verse five Jesus says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The word forgiven here in the Greek means to “let go,” or “to give up a debt without demanding it.” In essence Jesus released the man not only of his sin debt, but also of the guilt associated with his sins. Psalm thirty-two verse five says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Guilt is a very powerful human emotion. It is right up there with fear. Guilt like its first-cousin fear is a thief, and like all thieves guilt takes things from us. Guilt can rob us of experiences, relationships, opportunities, and even life. Guilt also has the power to render a person immobile and unable to move.
Apparently, the weight of remorse for the things this brother had done weighed so heavily on him that they incapacitated him. And so, before he could walk again he needed to be released. I have always loved going to the beach. When I younger I loved to be buried in sand. It is one of those things that kid’s love to do. I still remember today the feeling of wet sand pressed against my body and trying to struggle free, but no matter how hard I tried to free myself I could not because the weight of the sand was to heavy for me to move. Last week my wife and I were at home watching a movie and in one of the scenes a man who had returned from war and was suffering from PTSD broke out into a jealous rage. He was drinking and saw his girlfriend get out of a car. Her boss who was also a female dropped her off to pick up some papers. All her boyfriend saw was a male driver. In his attempt to make a point he grabbed their children dangled them out the window and dropped them. The children fell to their death. The woman was inconsolable. She attempted suicide and when that failed she decided to give up because life was not worth living. An older woman came to check in on her and told her that there was too much life in her to sit around and wait to die. The older woman said that she had to accept some of the responsibility for what had happened, but how much she chose to accept was up to her.
One of the problems with guilt is that it causes us to take on more than our fair share of responsibility for wrongs we have committed. In dealing with this man Jesus teaches us that in order for us to get off the mat and walk again we need to be released. We need to accept our share of the wrongs we have committed. If we have done something and it is wrong we need to own our part in the wrong. The biggest obstacle the paralytic faced was that he needed to be released. Once he was released then he could get off the mat and move on with the rest of his life. Jesus could not empower him to live until he was released. After he was freed from the thing that had kept him down then Jesus could say “Get up!”
Most interesting in this text is that there are three groups of people present while this is taking place. The first group is the spectators. The text opens by saying that there were so many people that inside and outside the house was completely filled. These were people who heard that Jesus was back in town and they came to see and hear him. Spectators are people who stand around looking and listening they are waiting to see what will happen next. Spectators are very interesting because sociologically speaking people attract other people. If you have a group of people invariable they will attract the attention of others. People will come by just to see what is going on. One of the reasons we know that these folks were spectators is because as the friends of the paralyzed man brought him in no one moved. As they worked to get the man to Jesus no one helped. Unfortunately, spectators can sometimes get in the way. Instead of helping out they just stood around watching and waiting to see what was going to happen or how things were going to work out. Here was a guy who needed help getting to Jesus and no one in the group made any effort to make a way for this man to get what he needed. There are times when the best thing we can do is make room for others. There are times when others need what is being made available more than we do and to facilitate their ability to get and receive we need to move out of the way. One of the ways we make room for others is by moving out of the way.
Another group of people in the crowd were the critics. It would only stand to reason that these were the teachers of the law. Today we would call them the religious. These were the folks who stood on ceremony and subscribed to formulas and protocols. They held to the letter of the law and any deviation was considered a breach punishable by death. Critics, people who ignore the glowing radiant beauty of a portrait and hone in on a speck of imperfection. Not all critics are bad. They actually serve a purpose. Critics help us to look at and consider things that in our zeal we may not have thought about or overlooked. However, because they tend to only focus on the flaws in something they very often miss the big picture. While most people use a wide-angle lens through which they view the world, critics use very narrow lenses. George Burns once said, “it is a shame that the people who could run this country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.” If you want to know all the things that are wrong with our nation just ask a taxi cab driver or your local beautician. They will provide you with a litany of issues that need to be addressed and corrected. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with critiquing, the problem lies in incessant criticism. Critiquing fosters discussion about making things better or bringing about improvement. Criticism is destructive and promotes acrimony. This is perhaps the biggest problem with critics they too get in the way of progress by killing momentum and dreams. An old Chinese proverb says, “let the man who says it cannot be done not get in the way of the man doing it.” I recently came across a piece titled “How to bury an idea.” It offered several suggestions for permanently killing good ideas. Among them were:
- it won’t work
- we have never done it that way before
- we are doing fine without it
- it cost too much
- we are not ready for it
- it is not our responsibility
Rather than seeing the good that Jesus was accomplishing by liberating this man, the critics only saw what was wrong with the approach Jesus used.
The third group was the doers. These were the four men who brought the paralytic to Jesus. The one characteristic that jumps off the page about these men is their initiative. Doers are characterized by their initiative, the drive and desire to get things done. Doers are people who find a way. There is no such thing as no way for a doer, they will keep looking and searching until they find a way to get the job done. As these men sized up the situation they realized that getting to Jesus was going to take work and it was going to take some doing. Here we see the resourcefulness of doers. Instead of complaining and lamenting about what they did not have, they worked with the resources they did have. Instead of worrying about how hard and how difficult the job or task in front of them was they simply rolled up their sleeves and went at it. All of the obstacles that stood in their way did not matter because they had a can do attitude. It is said of John Wesley that he rode approximately 250,000 miles by horseback traveling 20 miles a day for forty years. He wrote 400 hundred books and spoke ten languages. At the age of 83 he became frustrated with himself because he could not write more than fifteen hours a day without his eyes hurting. At the age of 86 he was ashamed that he could only preach twice a day. He complained in his diary that there was an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5:30 in the morning.
Initiative like hope wakes us up in the morning. It is the alarm that goes off inside of us and reminds us that regardless of the obstacles we may have faced yesterday and those that we surely will face today, we have a date with destiny. Initiative is the intangible that causes an individual to say, “yes, I am my brother and sister’s keeper.” Initiative is the thing that helps a person become willing to sacrifice credit for collaboration.
When we look at the work these four men put in to get one man to Jesus it is absolutely astounding. Not only did they do what it took, but they also decided that we can accomplish more together then we can alone. They were doers.
What about us? Do we sit around and wait for someone else to take the lead or do we take the initiative to do what needs to be done? These men were in-tune with the need of their brother and while he may not have been their biological brother by birth, at this particular moment in time he was a brother in need. He needed to get to Jesus. Are we aware of those around us who need to be brought to Jesus? Are we in-tune or do we recognize that there are persons in our midst who are unable for various reasons to come to know the savior? What is our response? Are we spectators, critics, or doers?
Before you say, I cannot physically take someone to Jesus who does not want to be taken. You are absolutely correct, physically that may not be feasible, but what about taking them to Jesus in prayer. Remember for doers there is always a way. While we may not be able to physically bring people to Christ, we can bring them spiritual through prayer. Or, we can also take Christ to them. It just depends on what the situation calls for. Some people will be open to us bringing Christ to them and others the only means of getting them to Christ at this time is through the channels of prayer. Either way, yes we can.
We are talking about things that make a difference. A can do attitude makes a difference. As you and I examine our lives what are the obstacles that stand in our way from accomplishing the things we need to do, have we identified them. That is the first step and once we have identified them the next step is to do what needs to be done to overcome them. When we do, we will see a marked difference not only in our lives but also in the quality of our living. Yes, we can!