sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/12/2014
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New Humanity theme…(recap via whiteboard)
2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
So he said to the man, 11“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
13Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
First things first: Mark 2 starts with a profound picture of child-like faith in action. A group of friends helping a paralyzed man bring his needs to Jesus for Jesus to address, none of them particularly concerned with propriety.
This is what the New Humanity is all about. Vulnerable, needy people bringing their needs to God in child-like faith and trusting God for whatever happens next. Not wrapped up in concerns about strength and appearances and right and wrong and justifying themselves. Trusting God will address their needs however he sees fit. Ready to follow his instructions, whatever they might be.
How easy would it be to critique their actions from tree of knowledge of good and evil perspective? They’re cutting in line – everyone else had to get up early to get good spots, and these guys just push right through. And what’s the rush, anyway? The guy’s been paralyzed his whole life for all we know, and it’s not like everyone else doesn’t have important, pressing needs, too. They destroy property; roofs aren’t cheap to replace, you know? They interrupt Jesus’ teaching, which is rude and inconsiderate, disrespectful to everyone around, not least of all Jesus himself.
They seem single-minded, though, in getting their friend to Jesus. He needs Jesus, and they are going to do whatever they can to bring him to them, seemingly confident that they’ll be received with favor by Jesus despite the potential reactions of everyone else around. It’s worth a shot – what have they got to lose? Which is so child-like, isn’t it? The tree of knowledge of good and evil be damned; all they can see is that the tree of life is so close!
What’s Jesus response? Jesus receives them like a loving parent would receive a beloved child – even calls the man “Son.” Jesus just seems delighted to see their child-like faith.
He starts by forgiving the man’s sins, whatever that means. No doubt it’s a big deal, given the controversy it sparks. And then Jesus heals him, which is universally acknowledged as cool and amazes everyone.
Since “sin” plays such a prominent role in the drama of this part of the story, and later on, with Levi and all the sinners Jesus is eating and drinking with, let’s begin there. What does sin mean? How is sin understood by us, usually, and the characters in this story? How is it understood by Jesus? How does the New Humanity approach questions of sin and its counterpart, righteousness?
Then we can dive into the more significant application for us: what do these stories tell us about Jesus and the New Humanity he’s inviting us to be part of? What do they tell us about the old humanity he’s inviting us to leave behind? What do they tell us about ourselves?
When we think of sin, we usually think of it in terms of some kind of moral transgression, some kind of objectively wrong behavior or action. Sort of like breaking the law, except that the law we’re breaking has deeper roots than a code of ethics or governmental legislation. We think of sin as violating some kind of fundamental morality.
Research in the field of moral psychology suggest we have a variety of warrants we appeal to when we make moral judgments. Warrants such as harm/care, or justice/fairness, or authority, loyalty, or purity, for example. When a behavior or action violates one of these warrants, we say that it’s a wrong behavior or action.
We tend to think of sin the same way, with the slight tweak that it’s not our moral warrants we are talking about, but God’s. Which adds some intensity, some punch to it, doesn’t it? (7 deadly sins, Sin City, sin/guilt/punishment web of associations)
The Greek word from which we get the translation “sin” here, and the root of the word translated “sinner” later, is hamartia. It’s a word that is used for something like what we usually mean when we say sin – i.e., some kind of moral transgression, some kind of wrong action. But its primary meaning is a little different.
The first meaning of the Greek word hamartia is to be without share in. And its secondary meaning is related, to miss the mark. It’s not until you dive into the 4th and 5th layers of meaning down that you find concepts of morality and wrongdoing.
Which makes powerful sense in these stories here, doesn’t it? The paralytic man is without a share in much of life, isn’t he? He can’t participate in so many things because of his paralysis. And when Jesus forgives and heals him, he’s got a full share again.
Same with Levi. As a tax collector for Rome and Herod, the corrupt king in Israel, he’s considered a traitor to his own people. He’s got no share in their life together. He’s not allowed in the temple or the company of any Israelites in good standing in their community. But when Jesus calls him to be his follower, he’s got a full share in God’s kingdom again.
Why, then, is hamartia translated “sin” in our Bibles? It’s not that the translation is poor; it’s that our understanding of sin is poor. Like with so many things in the old humanity, we look at everything through the lens of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that’s rarely helpful to us.
In the Biblical story, sin is all about losing our share of God’s life, our missing the mark. It starts with a form of distorted seeing that eventually becomes a blindness that enslaves us to darkness. We look at our vulnerability and needs and see them not as blessing that connects us to God, our source of life, but as curse, problems that need a solution. And so we try to become what we imagine gods are – without needs or vulnerability – so that in our strength we can meet our own needs and protect ourselves from all that might harm us. We abandon the tree of life and eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
All sin, in all its various forms, comes down to the same thing. Abandoning child-like faith in God in favor of ______________. Fill in the blank. All of that is sin. We’re bathed in sin. We live in sin. (Whether we’re “shacking up” or not.)
Heck, we might even do “good” things in our sinfulness. “Good” things that aren’t rooted in the peace and humility that comes from having child-like faith in God, “good” things that give us no share in God’s life. And heaven knows, we do more than our fair share of “bad” things, too.
Anything that comes from abandoning child-like faith in God is sin. It separates us from our share in God’s life. That’s all sin is, when you get right down to it. Here’s what I’m providing for you, God tells Adam and Eve. Enjoy! Just don’t go try to provide for yourself instead – that will just lead to death.
(That’s what the prodigal son story is all about, if you’re familiar with that. The son takes his share, leaves his dad, goes off on his own, the inheritance runs out, and he’s got nothing.)
So to be a sinner, in actuality, is to be in the posture of dependence on one’s self (and others who are not God, for that matter). And to be righteous, in all actuality, is just to be in a posture of child-like faith in God.
To be righteous, to be in a posture of child-like faith in God, is to have a share in life. To be a sinner, to be in a posture of dependence on one’s self and others who are not God, is to be without a share. To eat from the tree of life is hit the mark. To eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to miss the mark.
When Jesus says the healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick, he’s saying that the people in desperate need of a doctor are those who are dying because they’ve gotten sick from not having a share in God’s life. When he says he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, he’s saying he didn’t come to call people who already had a full share in God’s life, but rather he came to call those enslaved in the darkness of sin to follow him and learn child-like faith in God again.
Which brings us to the teachers of the Law, the religious leaders in Israel. These teachers of the Law saw themselves as righteous. Not righteous in the sense of having a child-like faith in God. But righteous as they defined it, based on their understanding of good and evil. Which in this darkened world tends to be something you’ve got to be very grown up, indeed, to be. It’s something that takes a lot of work and expertise and effort and strength.
Righteousness, as understood by those who’ve eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, means that one does only good, and doesn’t do what is bad. To be the most righteous, in that system, in fact, is to be the ones who are in charge of determining what qualifies as righteous. The grown-ups, in other words.
The challenge for the teachers of the law, of course, is that they think they have a full share in God’s life. They think because of the “goodness” of their life, they are righteous. Meanwhile, their lives are as empty as any other sinner, maybe even moreso. They are judgmental, bitter, fearful, anxious. And worst of all, they ARE completely unaware that they might be missing out on the real life God has for them, if they’d just bring their needs to Jesus like children.
In contrast, the “sinners” in this story, the paralytic and his friends, Levi the tax collector and his friends, were demonstrating in their response to Jesus a trust in him. Which is of course how child-like faith in God begins. It wasn’t like all of their actions were “good” now, at least not in terms of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But their actions were leading them to bring their needs to Jesus, and that’s faith according to Jesus, and that’s what restores their share in God’s life. That’s where true goodness begins – a righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees.
[you may remember the Bible describing God telling Abram that he was going to have all kinds of descendants, even though he was old, impotent, and childless. And Abram believed him, which, the Bible says, “God credited to him as righteousness.”]
Which helps us begin to understand why the teachers of the law get upset when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man and eats with Levi and his friends. They are just deeply confused. The old humanity doesn’t see issues of sin and righteousness through the same clear eyes that the new humanity does. The old humanity’s eyes are full of cataracts from eating so much fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
There’s more to the blindness of the Teachers of the Law have than that. There’s a reason Jesus is so enthusiastic to forgive sins and hang out with the sinners, and there’s a reason the teachers of the law are so opposed to him doing that. And the reason has to do with the fact that all human moral judgments of others are rooted in fear, and all exercises of exousia are rooted in love (Exousia is the word translated “authority” here, when Jesus says “the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins”). But we’re going to save that part of the story for next week, because it is, to use an old fashioned word, a doozy.
For now, simply consider this. What are the implications of Jesus’ perspective on sin and righteousness for your life?
For example, has the thought of your own mistakes and errors and bad decisions and addictions and hurtful actions towards others and shameful secrets – your sin – kept you from coming to God with help for your life like a beloved child comes to a gracious and generous parent? Does all of that just seem like an insurmountable barrier between you and God? Do you imagine that when God looks at you, all he sees is the garbage that’s accumulated because of that?
What if that’s just all a distorted perspective? What if when God looks at you, what he sees is a child who’s tried to play grown-up for too long, and it’s destroying you and everyone around you, and all he’s longing for is for you to trust him that you can repent – you can stop playing grown-up, see that you are needy and vulnerable like a child. Maybe even moreso now because of all your mistakes. A snotty, puffed-eyed from the tears, dirty-fingered, muddy-booted child. A child whom he loves and will forgive and heal, even if the only way you can get to him is to interrupt him by having your friends dig through his roof.
Jesus is the light of the world. He wants you to see you as you really are. Not as you see yourself through the distorted lenses of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And he wants you to see him – God himself inhabiting needy and vulnerable human flesh – as he is. Ready to welcome you in his home. Ready to forgive you. Heal you. Be your doctor. Eat with you in your home, with your friends. Invite you to join him on his saving the world adventure. Be your rescuer and teacher.
1. Start with Your Sin, Finish with Your Need. Identify a place where you’ve missed the mark most in your life, or a “sin” you struggle with most often. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see in what way you are trying to address a need you have on your own or by winning the favor or fear or respect of others. Take that need to Jesus in prayer every day this week. Very simply, like this: Jesus, I feel the need for ______________. I’m going to keep asking you to address it and waiting for your answer until you do. In the meantime, is there anything you want me to do? Then see what happens.
2. Stop Being Satisfied (with your level of righteousness). Perhaps your faith journey has stagnated because you’ve understood righteousness like the teachers of the law. You’ve gotten decent enough at doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things and most of your faith energy is spent advocating for others to do the right things and avoid the wrong things. That’s what you think about when you think about being a Jesus follower. Forget that! Think about your needs. All of them, practical ones, relational ones, deep ones having to do with significance and purpose and identity. Are you trying to take care of them yourself or by staying in the good graces of others (or even God!), or are you bringing them, day after day, to Jesus for him to address? That’s where true righteousness lies. That’s where the tree of life is!