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Sermons

Jesus Heals the Paralytic

April 07, 2002

Bible Reading

When Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

At once Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts; and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home." He got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of them all. They were all amazed, and praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:1-12)

Reading from Swedenborg

The Lord alone is active. On our own, we are merely passive. It is through the life flowing in from God that we are also active. Because this inflow from God never ceases, it seems to us as if we were active from ourselves. This appearance allows us to have free will. And this is given to us so that we may prepare ourselves to receive the Lord—which could never happen if the relationship were not mutual. (True Christian Religion #110.6)

Sermon

The story of the paralytic is the story of a personal healing and the story of how friends help one another on their spiritual journey. Jesus saw into the hearts of the friends of the paralytic, and perceived their love for their friend in their assistance, their perseverance, their care, and their motivation to bring their friend for healing. They could move, and their friend could not. Can we be this kind of friend to others? Do we know how much we need spiritual friends for our own faith development?

We are all, in a sense, "paralyzed" when we become stuck on our path of spiritual regeneration. The paralytic corresponds to any of us before we recognize the need for the act of repentance. Repentance is asking God to forgive us. And frequently we need friends around who can "lift us up" to see these things in ourselves, "tear away" the barriers, and then be with us and help us to be "lowered into Jesus' presence" to ask humbly to be released from the power of guilt, regret, and shame, and to become aware of the love and understanding that we feel when we begin to sense the presence of the Lord within us.

We can especially be paralyzed on that first step of repentance. It is very hard to recognize our own faults and shortcomings, to honestly desire to give them up, and then to humbly ask the Lord to forgive us and command us to go forth into life reborn to a new awareness of our relationship to the Divine. This is what the friends of the paralytic help him to do. They carry him up to roof, a higher vantage point, to see himself; they dig a hole in the roof, tearing away the obstacles; and then they help him to ask for help as they lower him down to the feet of Jesus. Jesus fills the paralytic with his love and his light, forgives and accepts him, and commands him to "take up his mat and walk."

It seems especially important to me that Jesus tells the paralytic to take his mat. Although he no longer needs it to be carried upon, it has been a part of him and he must still take it with him to dispose of as he sees fit. When we are changed by the Lord, we are reborn into a new awareness and new behaviors; but this does not mean we immediately forget the way we used to be. There are some ways in which we, too, must "carry away our mat" of old behaviors, old ideas, narrow perspectives, and prejudices, to be faced and disposed of appropriately.

The paralytic, surrounded by the love of friends, was brought into the presence of God, forgiven, healed, and reborn. This is a beautiful scenario for the experience of being born again spiritually. But the spiritual path for many is not a straight road with only one crossroads. Yes, for some, one rebirth experience changes an entire life-direction. For others, there are a number of turning points where spiritual rebirth redirects us to God on deeper and deeper levels. I have experienced three such rebirths in my life. I offer them to you in the hopes that you will find a touch point to your own life in the stages of repentance that they revealed for me. For me, these times were also filled with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ as personal savior. This is the language of my heart and my experience. I invite you to translate it into your own.

When I first became involved in the Swedenborgian church, I was inspired by my love of the church and its theology to become very involved in the stewardship of the church property and programs. I was involved in worship, planning, meetings, suppers, sweeping, painting, child care. . . . You name it, I was there! A self-centered attachment to my importance as a "presence" in the community paralyzed me spiritually, and instead of the joy of service, I experienced the ego-satisfaction of being important. Not until a friend sat me down and pointed out that I was taking up too much "space" in the church community did I realize that my presence was not the most important thing for me spiritually, or for the church community.

What was important was that I was reborn to the realization that all of us are equally important, equally children of God. That self-centered "I am important" was reborn into a true communion with the "we" of all humanity. So through the love and care and insight of a friend, I was lifted up to see myself and my attachment to my importance; my ego was torn up; and then I was lowered down humbly to the feet of Jesus, where I surrendered my ego and was reborn. I was commanded to "pick up my mat" and walk forth aware of the omnipresence of the Lord in my life, and in all of life.

A bit farther along my spiritual path, I became a seminary student, involved with searching out the answers to my spiritual questions. I found much wisdom in the writings of many world religions, and especially in the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. I was always excited to discuss theological topics, and found myself growing quite proud of what I thought of as my new understanding. A self-centered attachment to my newfound "understanding" paralyzed me spiritually; instead of the joy of learning, I experienced the self-righteousness of feeling that I was "right." And yet, during this time of my life, I also found myself quite confused emotionally. This paradox paralyzed me spiritually. How could I understand so many intricately fashioned theological perspectives, but couldn't seem to understand my own feelings? It just didn't make sense.

One Easter morning, during a sunrise meditation guided by a friend, I asked the Lord to make things clear for me. My prayer was to be given a deeper understanding of myself. The prayer was answered in a much different way. What I felt was the embrace of the Lord holding me to himself with all my confusion. I was shown that my sense of "I know" could not understand everything about God, about life, about theology, or about myself--but that the Lord is with me and loves me. Through the care and guidance of a friend I was lifted up to see myself and my attachment to my "understanding," my self-righteousness was torn up, and then I was lowered down humbly to the feet of Jesus where I surrendered it and was reborn. I was commanded to pick up my mat and walk forth aware of the mystery and the omniscience of the Lord in my life, and in all of life.

More recently (and therefore more difficult to recount), as a minister I have been charged with the care of a church community and the stewardship of its outreach retreat ministry. From my years of business experience, I approached these duties with organization, efficiency, and dedication, planning each day to the fullest, and attempting to address each unforeseen event of my days to accomplish desired goals. I found excitement in the growth of those around me, and in the growth of the church and the retreat center. Yet my self-centered attachment to the control I felt in guiding the course of my ministry paralyzed me spiritually, and instead of the joy of group involvement, I experienced a great need to feel "in control" of today and of tomorrow. The weight of holding these responsibilities as mine alone, or even as mine as leader of a community working together, was gradually absorbing me and paralyzing me spiritually.

Again a friend came along who could point out that spiritually, the most important thing for me and for the church community was that I give up that self-centered attachment to control, and allow the Lord to guide me in my work, in my personal life and relationships, and in my deepest self. In that surrender, the self-centered "I can do it all" was reborn into a realization that the Lord truly guides us in all that unfolds, and that to rest in that assurance is a true spiritual rebirth. And so yet again, through the care and patience of a friend I was lifted up to see myself and my attachment to my control, my resistance to being led was torn up, and then I was lowered down humbly to the feet of Jesus, where I surrendered control and was reborn. I was commanded to pick up my mat yet again, and walk forth aware of the omnipotence of the Lord in my life and in all of life.

I thank God for all the friends who have helped me on my spiritual path. They have been guided by the Lord to care, support, motivate, and challenge me to surrender to being lifted up in self-awareness, to allow my resistance to be torn away, and to be lowered down humbly at the Lord's feet to ask again and again to be reborn in spirit.

Ask yourself if you are holding onto a self-centered attachment to your importance, your understanding, or your control. Are you ready to be healed of your paralysis of spirit? Are you yearning to experience a renewed relationship with the Lord that will infuse more goodness and truth into what you think, say, and do? If this is in your heart, watch for the Lord working through those around you to bring about this rebirth. Speak honestly from your heart, and listen to how your heart responds to the answers you receive. You will know when the time is right. And when it is, fearlessly face yourself and reach out to the Lord in that moment.

Who you are, with the Lord fully accepted and loved within you, is a fuller, more creative, more spontaneous, more loving, more compassionate, and more understanding "you" than you could ever intentionally create yourself. The Lord knows your potential and your promise. And his promise is that he will be there with you in each moment to reveal that spiritual self to you. As you look for the Lord's leading, you find more beauty in the world, more kindness in others, and more clear messages of where you are meant to be. It is a miracle and mystery.

Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, send thine angels to lead us, to teach us, to inspire us in what we shall think, what we shall say, and what we shall do. Amen.

(This prayer is traditionally attributed to Emanuel Swedenborg, who signed his works, “a servant of the Lord.”)

Rev. Susannah Currie