Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I’d like to quote a passage about a group of friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus:
Mark 2:5-12 (NIV)
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately 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? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Yesterday, Meg and I went down to Rochester to spend the day at the Mayo Clinic. Once every four weeks, Meg needs to get an infusion to keep her cancer dormant. The day also involves blood draws and office visits with various departments. We leave early in the morning and come back home around dinner time, exhausted.
I have an odd mix of feelings about visiting Mayo. I am very thankful that such a great facility is only a hundred miles away. I am thankful that our insurance covers most of the expenses. I am thankful that Meg is in the third year of a drug study that has been remarkably successful at arresting her cancer. I am even thankful that they have another treatment ready when the study drug eventually loses its efficacy. But it is also a place where Meg experienced huge amounts of pain, brushes with death, and where we have received all kinds of bad news. And during this pandemic, you worry every time you encounter another human being or sit in a chair (where your hands might touch tainted arm rails) or when strangers get on an elevator with you… or when someone decides to take off their mask for a few moments as they pass you in the hall.
I remember once a long time ago when a friend expressed his dislike of hospitals as places that are “full of sick people.” At the moment, I feel a little bit that way about Mayo. You also know that it is a place where many people die. It can be overwhelming. But at other times, you remember the basic truth of hospitals: They are places of healing.
Some people feel the same way about churches: Not that they are full of sick people, but they are full of sinners and hypocrites. To a certain extent that’s true. Like sick people need hospitals, people infected with sin and who have suffered from the sins of others need healing places that we generally call “houses of worship.” As for being hypocrites, everyone is a sincere sinner until we try to conform to some understanding of righteousness: The transition from being a sincere sinner to being a sincere member of a community of faith looks a lot like hypocrisy, but it is the opposite of hypocrisy. Of course there can be true hypocrites wherever you go, but it is not hypocrisy to aspire to be a more loving and spiritual person.
In a church community, all of the worshipers are part of the team to bring healing… Just like those friends that brought a paralytic man on a mat to Jesus. In the best of situations, the pastor and worship leaders are like competent nursing assistants, but the real nurse and doctor of a church is Jesus himself. We come to church to be healed of our spiritual and emotional diseases and injuries. Living whole lifetimes in this wonderful, but messy and dangerous world, we all bear the signs of old injuries and persistent infections.
When we do invite people to visit us for a worship service, we need to remember that some people avoid churches like they avoid doctors, dentists, hospitals, and even cemeteries. Churches seem foreign or even threatening. You can look at sinners dressed up for Sunday morning and see either hypocrites or people who simply want to be better (it depends on how you look at them). Just remember that it takes a while to realize that church is a place to heal from old traumas and bad behavior. And remember that some people associate churches with memories of funerals and memorial services. It takes a while to realize that this place is not about death, but the destruction of death’s power. Our church is a place where you can encounter the true magnificence of eternal love that promises an end to sickness and injury.
So, in my mixed feelings about the Mayo Clinic, I am like all those people with mixed feelings about coming to church. The place where we need to be… is full of other people who need healing, comfort, and blessing. It’s up to you whether you see it as a place of sickness and death… or a place of healing. We are all that paralyzed man on the mat, but we are also the friends who carry him to Jesus.