A sermon based on Psalm 41 and Luke 5:17-26 preached on February 28th, 2016
Her house landed on top of a witch, and as she made her way out of her house, Dorothy found herself in the spectacular but strange land called Oz. We all know that moment in the movie when the dull sepia tones give way to technicolor. It was the first ever film made in color. Blue sky, yellow brick roads, red ruby slippers.
The movie Wizard of Oz came out in 1939, and to this day it gives all of us a new way of seeing the world. Watching it is an important, if not terrifying, rite of passage for every child. But no matter how much we’re frightened by it, we still fall in love with it. We walk right alongside of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion down the yellow brick road as they make their journey to the Emerald City. Each character in the movie is missing a part of who they are—or so they think. A way home, a brain, a heart, the nerve. We stare at the screen as each of them wind their way closer and closer to the all-powerful and all-knowing Wizard of Oz.
If you’ve read the book by Frank Baum, or if you know what concerned folks back in 1939, it’s easy to see that this children’s tale takes on many layers of meaning. There are way too many of these insights to mention, but there’s one that has something to do with today’s passage from Luke. Dorothy and the Scarecrow come across the Tin Man as they wind their way through the woods. He rusted up in the rain one day while chopping down trees. Stuck in place, an oil can by his side. And once they get him all oiled up—a couple squirts at the jaw, the knees, the elbows—he shares with them that he’s been frozen that way for years. Awake and aware, but unable to move an inch.
Back in 1939, it was something else made of iron that had 1,000’s of people stuck in place in much the same way. Polio, a debilitating disease that mainly affected children who were 5 years or younger. The early stages of polio made it hard for those children to breathe. The answer to that problem was the Iron Lung. Children would spend up to two weeks at a time inside of this iron contraption, stuck in place. Frozen inside a tin body. The Tin Man tells Dorothy and the Scarecrow what he’s missing.
No heart; all hollow,
Maybe we’d all feel that way too if we were stuck for weeks and weeks inside a rusty iron lung. As the movie unfolds, the question for each of them—Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and then the Cowardly Lion, becomes,
How do we gain what we don’t have, how can we get back what’s been taken away from us, and can we help each other find it?
The crowds were swarming around Jesus. They had gathered all around the house where he was staying. Jesus was teaching, and people came from all over to hear from this new Rabbi everyone was talking about. The house was packed with people—peasants, Pharisees—all of them standing shoulder to shoulder. Every one of them stuck in place. The crowd even overflowed out the door and into the street. So, when these men approached the house carrying a cot with their paralyzed friend upon it, there was no easy way to get to Jesus. Imagine them politely asking for the crowd to clear a way, and when that didn’t work, pushing their way into the house—anything it takes to make a way, to get their friend inside. We can imagine them saying to each other:
Let’s just focus on getting him to Jesus. If we can manage to do that, Jesus will do the rest.
This man’s friends are faithful in more than one way. They take their time and their effort to pick their friend up and bring him to Jesus, but just as importantly, they also believed for him. They believed that Jesus might just be able to heal him. And even when the way proved hard—even impossible, they never stopped trying to bring him to Jesus.
We’ll even crack our way through the roof if we have to! If it means bringing this man into the presence of Jesus, then so be it. Roofs can be repaired by anyone. This man’s life can only be repaired by the healing touch of Jesus! So, let’s make a way!
Those are good friends! Good friends lift each up, or in this case, lower each other down, into the presence of Jesus. Friends walk along the road with one another, be it a yellow brick one or dusty country ones. Friends make a way for each other.
As he reaches out to heal this man, Jesus sees faith, not in the paralyzed man, but in his friends—those lowering him down inch by inch into Jesus’ presence.
Is it possible to have faith on behalf of another person? According to this story, the answer’s Yes. When we are strong, we can support the weak until they become strong again. When we are weak, there’s someone close by who can be our strength until we become strong again. That’s the amazing thing about church, we come together carrying each other into the presence of Jesus—lifting each other up and setting each other down in front of Jesus. And there’s no greater vocation for Christians than to place one another into the presence of Jesus! We get to carry each other.
There are some people who think church is for perfect people. There are many out there who don’t go to worship on Sundays because some insensitive pastor once told them that they’re not the right kind of person for their church and it would be best if they didn’t come back. Some folks think that church is only for the beautiful people. But if we have our eyes on the Gospel, we know that church is much more a hospital for sinners than a museum for saints. It’s we, the un-whole, the unfinished, who gather here precisely because we know we’re un-whole, because we know we’re unfinished.
So maybe today, you’ve come to worship because something in you is missing. Maybe your faith has vanished. Something is incomplete, but you’ve come anyway because you hope to be lowered down into the presence of Jesus by a few friends, just on the off chance that Jesus might make a way for you. Some people stop coming to church because their faith has vanished, but that’s actually the greatest reason why we should come to church. Maybe here we can be placed in front of Jesus and have our faith restored, our bodies, minds, and hearts made whole again. That’s why we gather together. To hold each other up to Jesus, to help each other find our way. We’re here to do that over and over again, with and for each other.
One of my favorite parts in the Wizard of Oz is that moment when Dorothy’s gaze makes its way from the yellow brick road and into the grass, and all the sudden, from the top-right side of the screen we see the Tin Man’s foot. And up the camera climbs until we can see all of him—this man stuck in place. His oil can—the very thing that can free him—is right by his side, but he could never reach it. And now, finally, someone has come along, notices him, and with a few squirts from his oil can, he’s now free to move again after years and years of being stuck in place. It’s a lonely experience being stuck in place.
No heart; all hollow,
the Tin Man says. Once his jaw is oiled, the first thing out of his mouth is,
I was standing over there rusting for the longest time!
And, it’s as he’s clanking and singing and whistling his way through his musical number that Dorothy and the Scarecrow get the idea to invite him in their journey to see the Wizard. Maybe there’s something he can do for the Tin Man, too.
The truth is, we all rust up once in a while. Paralysis comes in many forms. Throughout our lives, we get stuck in so many different ways. Sometimes, all it takes is a friend to come along and notice us there, to bring us back to life again—with a few squirts of oil. Sometimes, of course, our problems are much more complicated than that. But as difficult as life can be, a good friend who isn’t afraid to sit beside us and bear the hard road with us, can make all the difference.
The paralyzed man in our story today had friends who believed in him. They made a way when he could not make a way for himself. They spoke up for him when he had no voice. They got creative and tore the roof off just so a way could be made for him.
Just get him in front of Jesus,
Jesus will do the rest.
Church works like that. At least when we’re at our best, church can work like that. We’re here to bring each other into the presence of Jesus. And when one of us is missing the strength to do that, there’s always someone else who can come along to help. The strong support the weak until the weak become strong again. Is it possible to have faith on behalf of another person? You bet there is.
After Jesus told the paralyzed man to get up, to pick up his cot, and go home, he did. And all who saw it were astonished and said
We’ve seen unimaginable things today!
Lent is a journey like that. As we follow Jesus along the road to Jerusalem, toward the cross, our eyes will be open to see things that will astonish us, amaze us, and horrify us, and then amaze us again. So we follow. Because with God, all things are possible, and anything can happen!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!