You Are Free

Mark 2:1-22//January 10, 2016

Here is the audio for Sunday’s sermon:


Here is the video of Sunday’s sermon:

Kevin Garvy has been hearing voices and seeing people that aren’t actually there. Actually, he just sees and hears one – the voice and person of Patty Levin who torments him. She is a combative presence in his life, constantly unleashing torrents of expletives, barraging him with insults day in and day out. She pokes holes in whatever he’s doing. She is a burden in his life and he bears it heavily. She spews hatred, instills doubt, stirs up fear.

The show The Leftovers ended its 2nd season late this last fall. The premise of the show is that 14% of the worlds population inexplicably disappears and we get to see the ramifications of life on earth with the unanswered question of where everybody went and why. The way society functions is roughly the same in light of this new reality, but things are a little more wonky, more reckless as the leftovers figure out the meaning of their lives.

Kevin has become used to living his life with Patty by his side, in his ear, in his head, in his heart. He defends and justifies his reckless, self-destructive behavior, spurred on by Patty, as something out of his control, something no one else can see. She is a destructive and evil force in his life. Patty is Kevin’s sin; she is his sin personified. He finally faces her, realizes he wants her gone, that his life depends on her not being in it any more. He has hit rock bottom. He can’t get any lower. It’s the way sin often works in us – living with us as a constant companion we make room for and figure out how to live with and in. Until we are paralyzed by it and just can’t live with it anymore.

In our reading from the 2nd chapter of Mark today, Jesus heals a man who was paralyzed. But Jesus doesn’t lead with the miraculous healing – he says first, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Which, as we heard, got everyone all stirred up about who has the authority to forgive but God. Jesus then asks them an unanswerable question: which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or take up your mat, get up and walk. I don’t think it’s Jesus’ intention to ask a trick question but to simply point out that he does both.

Now, you may haven noticed that this healing story was not the only one in today’s reading. We heard 2 additional stories of Jesus eating with tax collectors and other sinners and then having it pointed out that Jesus and his disciples weren’t fasting like the other faithful Jews were. There is one more story we didn’t read that fits right in as the religious authorities challenge Jesus and his disciples on picking grain on the Sabbath, yet another complaint about their not following the letter of the law. To boil down the argument of the Pharisees, it’s as if they are saying to Jesus, “You’re not doing it right.”

Which is why I think Jesus leads with forgiveness of the man’s sins when, clearly, he’d been brought there for something that seemed so obvious to everyone else. Jesus addresses the thing that is often invisible, unseen to everyone else: sin.

Kevin, the character from The Leftovers, suffers from Patty’s presence in his life that no one else can see. And at the beginning of one of the final episodes of season 2, we first see Kevin Garvy bursting out of bath tub of water, surprised and grateful to be alive.

Then cut to the end of that same episode, we meet Kevin who now with Patty at the bottom of a well. Patty is telling Kevin a story that has them both crying and, astonishingly, you can see and feel Kevin’s heart breaking for her. You can see him mourn her deep wounds, her brokenness. You can see him take it on, finally, as his own. That it’s not Patty but him. They embrace and cry, sitting in the water at the bottom of a well, both bloodied and bruised and broken. It is a breath-taking scene.

It is then, as they are sobbing together and hugging that Kevin holds Patty under the water, Kevin’s sobs echoing off the well walls as Patty’s body finally goes still. Then the earth begins to shake and we see Kevin clawing his way through the earth, emerging first from water and then from the ground, taking in deep and greedy breaths of air, covered in dirt: alive. Newly alive. No Patty. The sin, gone. He gets up and he walks.

Now, it would seem that Kevin Garvy figured out forgiveness all on his own. That he mustered up the strength and the might to work it out himself at the bottom of the well. But that is not true. If forgiveness was dependent upon our own strength and might and wisdom, it would never get done.

And while the writers of this show didn’t send Jesus down into the well like the friends lowered their buddy down through the roof, well, I believe Jesus was there anyway. Just as Jesus is in our lives, working out forgiveness in ways that are not easily or readily seen.

There is a tearing off of the roof of our lives every Sunday when we confess, together, our sin. Things we say aloud, things we confess in our hearts. And, let’s be honest – there is no time allotted that would get us to say it all, to confess it all. We’d never get to all of it in our lives – it’s just not possible. But when Jesus gets involved in the deepest, darkest mess of our lives, then the roof is ripped off, our hearts are broken wide open, and new life is infused into us again. Our frozen limbs can move, we are made whole, we are free. We get up and walk again.

You see, all the people Jesus was hanging out with were the ones who were most deeply oppressed by the systems around worship at the Temple, and quite frankly, life in general. They were the ones deemed “unclean” – too sinful – to ever be in the presence of God, let alone be touched by others or regarded as human beings. You know those people, don’t you? The ones who don’t deserve to be forgiven. The ones who throw their lives away. The ones with bad reputations. The ones who bring it on themselves. The ones you judge either secretly or obviously. But once Jesus shows up, those boundaries are gone. The unclean are made clean. The sinners are forgiven. Wholeness is brought to the broken. The old wine skins are burst and none of it can go back to the way it was. That’s what forgiveness through Christ looks like: freedom.

And when we live into that freedom, well, you can’t go back to the same ol same ol. The radical love Jesus has for us results in radical freedom. And that’s when Jesus talks about life in this new reality – everything changes. Because this new life, this new wine, cannot be lived in the old way of doing things, that old life.

The bar for Christian behavior is set pretty low. We get saddled with all kinds of accusations of being hypocritical, judgmental, and just plain mean. And, of course, it’s all true. Because we are all broken. There is something in each one of our lives that has us paralyzed, limping, bruised and broken. Coming to worship isn’t a parade of perfection or a place where only the healthy and the well and the strong come. If we all had to be at our best in order to come to worship, to be loved by God, well, this room would be empty.

Instead of seeing this as a gathering of the ones who have it all figured out; as the ones who have perfect lives; as the “good Christians,”– instead, see this worship as a gathering together in a field hospital. An outpost to treat the walking wounded, you and me.

Because that’s who we are and that is right where Jesus meets us – right in the midst of our messed up lives here in worship and in our day to day living. You don’t have to figure out how to tear off the roof; you don’t have to figure out how to make new wine. This is the work of God that God made real to us through the presence of Jesus Christ who looked into the eyes of that paralyzed man and said, “Here this is yours. The forgiveness of God. Let me take that burden from you. Get up and walk. Be free.”

So let me say it to you: I don’t know what your burdens are but I do know this: that burden is taken from you – it is no longer yours. The forgiveness of God is yours through Jesus Christ. You are free. And when you become burdened again, when the sin has you paralyzed, I’ll be here again next Sunday, 10:30 to tell you the same thing again. And again. And again. You are forgiven through Christ Jesus who loves you.

It is the gift of freedom. It is the gift of new life. You’ll never be the same.