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Meeting Our Needs

A Homily from Luke 5:17-28

© The Rev. C. Joshua Villines

Antioch Baptist Church, Godfrey, Georgia

June 8, 1997 (My First Trial Sermon)

We are gathered here today as Christians, our prayers and our hymns have said as much. Our Bible is the Christian Bible. The sign out front says “Baptist,” and Baptist is a Christian denomination. Everything around us, every symbol, every word, is intended to remind us of who we are: Christians.

But what does that mean? Surely it is more than a brand name. Hopefully it says more about us than the other labels that we might have. There are labels that describe our jobs, labels that describe where we live, even labels that describe what we do for fun. Labels are ways of distinguishing ourselves, some people wear shirts and ties, some people wear overalls; some people are football players, others are marathon runners; some people are University of Georgia fans, others have yet to see the light.

Some people are Christians, others are not. We have chosen to say that we are. What makes us different?

Is it the way we worship? Perhaps that is a small part of it; but Christians worship in many different ways: some wear robes, some where suits, some kneel, some simply bow their heads – yet they are all Christians.

Is it that we lead moral lives? Certainly, that is a part of the Christian lifestyle; but there are moral people all around the world who are not Christians. Some of them have even been persecuted at the hands of those who claimed to carry the banner of Christ.

What then does it mean to be a Christian? Well, quite literally it means to be a follower, to be a disciple, of Jesus Christ. The next question, then, is what made Christ different? Why was he special? At this point, some of you should be getting a little nervous. You see, I’m a guest preacher, and no one has taken the time to tell me how long sermons here usually last. If I stand up here and tell you all of the things that make Jesus Christ different, we may well be here until dinner time; and as far as I know, that’s O.K.

But you can relax, because I want to focus our attention on just one aspect of who Jesus is: the way he looks at the world. You see, Jesus sees things in a way that no person, before or since, ever has. Luke reminds us of this with a story.

You see, there was once a man in great need. He lived in a world of unreachable goals. They were simple goals: like walking, like earning a living, like standing; simple goals; but each as impossible as the dream of so much as moving one toe on one of his dead, withered legs. He was a person with no options. There were no jobs for the disabled, no hope of success, no income, not even an identity. There was only waiting, waiting as the sun crawled across the sky as slowly as his body crawled across the floor.

Yet this very troubled man had a very special blessing: he had friends. These were not simply the kind of friends who stick around to laugh and celebrate when things are going well. These were true friends, and we know this because to be this man’s friend meant to work for that friendship. It meant carrying him wherever he needed to go. It meant sore arms and tired legs. It even meant bruised egos, as others stared or even laughed. It meant work to be this man’s friend.

This was a man of tremendous need, and his friends knew it. Even a stranger knew it, if they bothered to stop and look down at him. The need was obvious. He needed to be healed, he needed to walk, he needed control of his own life. Anyone could see that.

And anyone could see that it wasn’t going to happen. Miracles were things that happened to people in ancient times, not the modern era. This man’s friends knew that they were all the hope that he had, and not much hope at that, since they too would eventually grow too old and too weak to help.

Then everything changed. Word arrived from another town that a prophet like the ones in the legends had come, and he was performing miracles. Great miracles, miracles of healing no less. There was no question in the friends’ minds. This was the chance that the man needed, the chance to walk again. If only they knew how to find this healer.

Instead, the healer found them. Jesus had come to their town. When the friends heard, they threw down their tools and rushed to the house of the man’s family. He was lying on his pallet in the corner, as he always was when they were not there. They did not stop to explain, but instead scooped him up, bedding and all, and ran as quickly as they could to the house where the prophet was staying. But they were too late. By the time they got there, the rest of the town had already arrived, and they could not reach the doorway. In fact, they could not even reach the street in front of the door.

But the friends were not dismayed. This Jesus had what their friend needed, and they were going to find a way to get it. With efforts that were nothing short of miraculous themselves, the friends managed to get the paralyzed man, who was still swaddled helplessly in his bedding (and probably more than a little confused) onto the roof of the house. One of the friends had rushed home for some tools, and they used these to rip through the roof of the home – making a hole large enough for the man to pass through.

They were greeted by shouts, and perhaps even curses as men and women who had been wrapped-up in an amazing story suddenly found themselves covered in small pieces of mud and tile. Yet the muttering ceased as they saw the helpless form that was lowered into their midst. Even they could see his need, and they knew that a little re-roofing was a small price to pay for the spectacle that they were about to see.

The man, on the other hand, saw things from a very different perspective. Fear was balanced against joy as, for the first time, he was able to see people from above, instead of from the ground. Then, for one brief moment, he was at eye level; and the eyes that he met were those of the Prophet, eyes that seemed to understand the very pain that was in the man’s heart. Then, all too quickly, he was in his familiar place on the floor; but no one noticed, for all eyes had turned to Jesus.

Stepping forward, Jesus studied the man. Seeing the depth of his need, Jesus spoke, “Stand up, take your bed, and go home.”

… That was a test. You see, Jesus said nothing of the sort.

Yes, he saw the man’s need,

and he said,

“Your sins are forgiven you.”

Not exactly what everyone expected to hear. “Are you more blind than the beggars you heal? Not only is what you say blasphemy, it doesn’t make any sense. Maybe the sunlight has dazzled your eyes, Rabbi. Look closely. This man cannot walk.”

But Jesus had looked closely. He had seen the man’s need, and he had met it. Almost as an afterthought, Jesus heals the man’s legs so that he might walk upon the earth for a few more years. But the truth was, Jesus had already given him the legs that he needed, the ones that would carry him into paradise.

What did Jesus see that those around him did not? Certainly, he saw everything that they saw; but he saw more. He saw the Kingdom of Heaven. He did not see men and women, wealthy and poor, healthy and sick, white and black; he saw souls. Hurting souls, souls whose torment was all the greater because they could not see why they were hurting. But he could. Jesus knew that the needs of the world ended at the entrance of the tomb, but that the needs of the soul were forever.

He shared that vision with his disciples, and they in turn have shared it with us through the words of Scripture. They have taught us as He taught us, That this is what sets us apart as Christians. We do not see only with the eyes of our first birth; we also see with eyes that have been born again.

That is why we sing songs of celebration at funerals; because what looks like an end to the eyes of the world, is only a beginning for us.

That is why James can write that we should by “joyful” when we suffer, because we see what lies beyond.

That is why we can read without confusion the statement, “Blessed are the poor.” When we know that the poor are anything but blessed in this world.

At least, we see these things in our church services and in our Scriptures. The real question, if we want to be Christians, is “Do we see them when we walk out those doors?” That is where this story challenges us. How do we see those around us? How do we see our careers, our finances, our possessions? How de we see ourselves? Do we really see it all as dust and ashes that will scatter before the winds of eternity?

When we say, “Some people can’t be helped.” are we seeing with the eyes of Christ or with the eyes of the world?

When we say, “What has she done to deserve our help?” are we seeing with the eyes of Christ, or with

When we say, “He had it coming to him. He got what he deserved.” are we seeing with the eyes of Christ, eyes that saw the ones who murdered him, and then forgave them; or are we seeing with the eyes of the world.

When we say, “That’s life.” are we speaking about life in Christ, or life in the world?

I assure you, that whenever the way we see things agrees with what we see on T.V., whenever it agrees with what we hear on the radio, even (perhaps especially) whenever it agrees with common sense, then we are not seeing with eternal eyes.

Because the truth that you and I know, the truth that says, “Before in the instant of my body;s last breath, my soul will be in the arms of God,” this truth has nothing to do with common sense. Luke reminds us of this, and reminds us that it is not easy to be a Christian: it means stopping and thinking about the way we see the needs of the world, and our own needs as well. It means ignoring common sense for Scripture sense, and sacrificing sanity for sanctity.

It means meeting the physical needs of our neighbors, and then going beyond, and meeting, the needs that we alone, as Christians, can see.

That is not the only reminder in this story. As much as we like to identify with Jesus, we are not always the ones doing the seeing. More often, we are the ones lying at the feet of our Savior, unable even to speak our needs aloud; perhaps not even knowing what those needs are.

Then again, that might just be what saves us. You see, in the verses that proceed the story of the paralytic, we are told of people who thought they knew what their needs were. They came to Jesus asking to have their bodies healed, and he did as they asked.

This man, however, simply lay at Jesus’ feet and waited. In return, Jesus acted on the needs he saw. He did not neglect the physical, but went beyond that, healing a deeper need that the man did not even know he had.

We all come into this building with needs. We all bow our heads in prayer with needs. Some of us come seeking peace, some seeking companionship, some seeking answers, and still others like the man in this story, come seeking healing. Luke reminds us, that whatever our true needs are, whether we know them, hide them, or have never even realized that they are there; whatever our true needs are, Jesus will meet them; without hesitation and without doubt. That is the truth we know.

There is no book, no sermon, no T.V. program, no job, that can teach you how to see. But if you allow yourself to be carried to the feet of the one whose name is above all names, then you too will walk in the light of the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

And so, may the LORD bless you and keep you,
may the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
may the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
[Numbers 6:24]