That’s What Friends Are For

I’m terrible at artsy-craftsy things. Terrible. But I understand why we do crafts in Sunday School, because making the image of a story has the power to imprint it on us in different ways. There are some stories I remember because of the pictures in a book or a children’s Bible, but there are others that became part of my life through folding paper or coloring or gluing things together or twisting pipe cleaners or some combination of the above plus or minus popsicle sticks and string (although I prefer yarn).

It must have been a group project. I want to think it was, because it’s hard to imagine I constructed the three-dimensional paper house with the removable roof and the man on the stretcher alone. I also hate to think of the poor teachers who might have been supervising a classroom full of kids all working individually, with scissors (I forgot to mention those before) and crayons and string and all that paper.

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-4, NRSV)

I remember the house, and I remember how fragile it seemed, and I can see the flat little man on the paper stretcher. I think the edges of the paper folded around a string on each side, the long ends used by the friends to lower the paper man into the house.

We children, of course, lowered him ourselves.

We were the friends who removed the roof.

Now I tend to identify with the man who was paralyzed. I have lived through times when I was stuck, and unable to help myself, and only a friend’s love and care made a difference. I can feel the story from the perspective of a person lying down, carried through town on a mat, hearing the sounds of other people’s voices on either side and wondering how your friends were going to get you into the place where they expected to find help and healing.

I’ve only been in an ambulance once, but I remember the feeling of helplessness and disorientation. I had an attack of vertigo during a middle school poetry reading – my son Peter was a 7th-grader – and a teacher who was also a friend from church called 911. It was scary to be so dizzy — the room actually appeared to be spinning around me, but the more frightening time began as paramedics loaded me onto a gurney and into the ambulance. The ride was rough. They were taking my vital signs, and on the radio I heard a blood pressure number that sounded high. Was that mine, I asked? I had no idea what was happening, maybe I was having a stroke! No, no, they reassured me. But when they finished taking mine, it was even higher; it was going through the roof!

Even after we got to the hospital, where I knew help would come, it was hard to get my bearings.

Imagine the care with which the four friends carried the paralyzed man up the stairs outside the house. That’s how those houses were built, with a roof you could use as outdoor space, and a staircase along the side of the building. Imagine the confusion of lying there, paralyzed, your safety in the hands of people you trust, but not knowing quite what they will do next.

You may remember the song, “That’s What Friends are For” –

Keep smilin’ keep shinin’
Knowing you can always count on me for sure
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for

It was written for a movie, but it became better-known when Dionne Warwick recorded a cover with her friends Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. The record was a fundraiser for AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. It was the mid-1980s. Awareness of AIDS and HiV began to spread, but before many people understood how the *disease* was spread, there was an enormous amount of fear and misinformation in the world. It may be hard to remember that now, thirty years later, but it’s the truth.

Warwick told the Washington Post, “You have to be granite not to want to help people with AIDS, because the devastation that it causes is so painful to see. I was so hurt to see my friend die with such agony. I am tired of hurting and it does hurt.”

Those four friends raised over $3 million for AMFAR, but they did more; they helped remove the roof of closed minds, digging through misconceptions to bring about healing.

That’s what friends are for.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  

I don’t remember that part from when I was a little girl. I only remember it was his friends who made sure he got to see Jesus.

They removed the roof of a house. Listen to that! Don’t just pass it by. Read it out loud.

They removed the roof!!!

“And after having dug through it”…dig that!

I have an unsurprising tendency, as a liberal Christian who also majored in English, to suck the reality out of Bible stories and teach them as metaphor. And there are surely many metaphors to be explored. But we need to hear this story literally.

(Make a note of the date. I asked you to read something from the Bible literally. This won’t happen often.)

We need to hear this story literally.

They carried their friend on a stretcher, their paralyzed friend, and because the crowds were so enormous, they took him to the roof of the house and REMOVED THE ROOF and DUG THROUGH IT and lowered him into the middle of the room where Jesus was.

A group of friends helped me through another time of difficulty, of emotional paralysis. I had a postpartum depression so severe that I spent almost a week in the hospital. When I got home, I was flat and sad, and not sure how I would manage to take care of my three little children. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to figure out what exactly. Then the women in my Bible study group decided that in addition to bringing my family dinner for several weeks, they would pay for someone I knew to come and clean my house.

When one of them called to tell me, I cried. This was such a kind gesture, but the house was a wreck. And I am well-trained. You pick up the house before you let someone else clean it! I didn’t see how I could do that myself. The task was beyond me.

My friend on the phone said, “Don’t worry. I’ll come pick up the house with you.”

With each toy we put away, each stray sock we placed in a hamper, each piece of clean laundry folded and placed in a dresser drawer, I felt a little better; I moved a little more easily.

We have the power to do this for each other,

to do this for our friends,

to do this by being friends to one another.

That’s what friends are for.

They carried their friend on a stretcher, their paralyzed friend, and because the crowds were so enormous, they took him to the roof of the house and REMOVED THE ROOF and DUG THROUGH IT and lowered him into the middle of the room where Jesus was.

Remember what the scripture said:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

This is when Jesus forgave the man.

Jesus Mafa - the friends who removed the roof
Jesus Mafa – the friends who removed the roof

This is when Jesus healed him:

when Jesus saw the faith of his friends,

a faith that gave them courage to take the roof off a neighbor’s house,

a faith that gave them courage to put him down right in front of God.

We have the power to do this for our friends. Maybe someone has done it for you.

That’s what friends are for.

In the name of the One who heals and forgives, Jesus Christ. Amen.

(This is week #2 in a series on Favorite Bible Stories; the story is one of my particular favorites. This sermon is drawn in part from a blog post I wrote in 2012, when this text was not in the lectionary. It only appears in years when Easter is late.)

I would love to know your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s