Isaiah 43: 18-25; Ps. 41; Mark 2: 1-12
******** United Church of Christ
February 19, 2006
We live in a culture of impatience. We want whatever it is that we want, and we want it right now. Having to wait is a waste of time for us. So we invented cell phones, Palm pilots, hand-held video games, DVD players in cars, and any number of items to insure that we are not wasting our time by waiting. In Carrie Fisher’s book Postcards from the Edge, about Hollywood life, the since-famous mother says to her troubled daughter in a drug rehab that she’s too impatient, that her fuse is too short, that’s she’s only interested in instant gratification. The daughter glibly responds, “Instant gratification takes too long.” That’s our culture in a nutshell. Immediately, or even “I want it yesterday”.
Immediately: we think that’s a word that can’t be quantified. “Immediately” means “without interval of time”. That’s a human definition of the word from a dictionary. I think God has a different way of viewing “immediately”.
Take for instance the speed of light. The speed of light is 671 million miles per hour or 300,000 kilometers per second. A light year, the distance light travels in a year, is about 6 trillion miles or 9.5 trillion kilometers. Light, coming from quasars, can travel as far as 12-15 billion light years to reach us here on earth. It takes 12-15 billion years for the light of a quasar to reach Earth. We also have a measurement of interstellar space called a parsec. A parsec is 3.26 light years or 19.2 trillion miles. Then we also have a kiloparsec, which is 1,000 times as far as a parsec. Or a megaparsec, which is a million times as far as a parsec. Whoever said science has nothing to say about God? Even the speed of light, which seems immediate, is not instantaneous. It takes time for light to get from one place to another. Even with God, it takes time to do what God will do.
In Mark’s gospel, the word “immediately” is used more often than in any other gospel or book of the Bible. It shows up 17 times in Mark, with Luke a close second at 13. Let us remember, though: the author of Luke, when writing his gospel, had a copy of Mark in his hand. The use of “immediately” is found in many of the healing stories in Mark. And Mark is also not only the shortest gospel, but also the most expedient in terms of Jesus’ ministry. Mark starts immediately with John’s preaching and Jesus’ baptism and moves on from there. There truly is an immediacy to Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Mark. What can I say—he’s on a mission from God. Other gospels use birth stories, genealogy, and even a theological spin on the creation in the gospel of John to instruct us, the readers, about the authority of Jesus. For Mark, the authority of Jesus rests in his baptism and his ministry—simple as that.
“Immediately” has more to do with Jesus’ authority than it does with our expectations. Don’t we all wish we could find that job immediately, be healed from a chronic illness immediately, get out of debt immediately, immediately find that faith that sustains in bad times as well as good ones, that all this war and violence and terrorism would just resolve itself immediately. But the “immediately” in this story comes about as a result of what Jesus does, not the expectations of the paralyzed man and his friends.
Or does it? Perhaps not their expectations, but certainly their actions have something to do with this healing happening “immediately”. Certainly the man would not have been healed at that moment in time if it had not been for his friends who carried him to Jesus when his own two legs could not. Certainly if it had not been for his fast-thinking friends, the man would not have been lowered down through a hole in the roof by the pressing crowd. Certainly if it had not been for the faith of his friends who believed that if not Jesus could do something for this man but at least in their friendship with the man, we are left wondering what faith would this man have on his own.
God’s “immediately” happens in God’s time, but also in the community of faith, wherever that may be found. The authority of Jesus to do as God wills is to act in the community of faith, to free it from its paralysis and its sin so that it might proclaim the good news to the world, the good news that we are God’s children, that there is no place we can go where God is not. And the community of faith has to be a willing partner in all of this, to carry each other, depend on each other, trust each other, that maybe a hole in the roof isn’t such a bad thing after all! Or a hole in the way we do things. Or a hole in that armor we sometimes wear over our hearts and our faith. It’s through that messy hole that Jesus is found, seemingly waiting for us, ready to act and to show mercy.
Now don’t confuse me with the message I’m giving. I’m as impatient as they come. I tell my girls that waiting and waiting well makes their patience muscles strong. If they’re being impatient, it means those muscles are getting flabby and they need a workout. I say all this stuff because I need to hear it myself. Then one day I came across this prayer in The Christian Century written by Walter Brueggemann, a Hebrew scripture scholar at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. There was one section that stood out and glared at me.
“We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us who are genuinely good people, who meditate on your Torah day and night, who are propelled by and for your best causes, who are on the right side of every issue, who wear ourselves out in obedience to you, and sometimes wear others out with our good intentions. Be among us ultimate enough to make our passions penultimate, valid but less than crucial.”
In the end, we can do all that we can for justice, for peace, for love, for our church, but it is up to God when that will happen. We can’t force God’s hand. And no matter what side of an issue we’re on, we can’t force others to our way of thinking. We must wait and wait patiently with each other. What is ultimately crucial in the community of faith is that we learn to love each other despite our differences and then bring that same accepting love out into the world. If it is one thing that is paralyzed in this world of ours, it is the power of love—to heal, to forgive, to lay down whatever weapons we are carrying and simply open our hands.
We all know from experience that hindsight is 20/20. When we look back, we can see how God was acting in our lives. Yet when we were living through it, it was difficult to perceive it. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Sometimes we can be so mired in our paralysis that we do not see the friends of God who bear us up, or notice even ourselves as the scenery changes from day to day.
Change is the way of God. Perhaps things look like they are staying the same because they’re moving so slowly. God moves in the seasons, in the tides, in the phases of the moon, in the resurrection of Jesus, so we have faith; our lives, our world, our faith, our church will change, too. In the mean time, we are to be friends of Christ, friends of one another, friends of the friendless, friends even with our enemies, that when change happens seemingly in the blink of an eye, the kindness and love we have shared will make that change all the more wonderful and blessed and miraculous. May it be so. Amen.