Today we conclude our sermon series titled “Enough” based on the book by Adam Hamilton. The goal of this series has been to help us learn to be faithful recipients of what we have received from God. We’ve wanted to provide practical advice and also biblical and spiritual wisdom and we hope you’ve found that to be the case. If we remember some basic things like saving what we can and living more simply, we can begin to cultivate hearts that are grateful and content, which ultimately allows us to give and be generous. That is our theme today: Living generously. And we see a tremendous example, in our scripture today, of four people, working together, in generosity and the amazing outcome it has.
It’s early in Jesus’ ministry. He’s been wildly popular with his preaching and healing. So many have been following him that when he comes home, there’s no room anywhere. Jesus is inside a house that is built on a hillside. One side faces outward, away from the hill and while he’s teaching inside, thousands gather outside, pressing in to hear him through an open window. And there’s no room for anything, not even to open the door. Four people approach. They’re carrying a mat – a stretcher of sorts. On it lies a man who can’t move his legs. The four of them have heard about Jesus’ power and they want this paralyzed man to be healed.
As they near the house they realize there’s no way they’ll be able to squeeze through the mass of humanity blocking them. So they climb the hill, going around the side of the house. Then, careful not to let the man fall, they slowly step back down the hill until they’re standing on the roof. There, they begin digging into the clay roof, essentially with their bare hands, until they have a hole big enough to lower the man – still on his mat – down to the floor in front of Jesus. He had long since stopped preaching to watch this and when he saw all that those four had done, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and walk!” And he did, for he was healed.
We don’t know much about those four. How old they were; where they were from; whether they were the paralyzed man’s friends or peers or classmates; or whether they were older; his dad and uncles; or dad’s friends? We don’t know much about the paralyzed man either. How old he was; how long he’d been paralyzed; was it since birth or was it due to an injury or illness? Jesus does call him “son,” which implies he was younger, but that’s about all we know.
What we do know is that these four men who carried the mat loved the man on the mat. They believed he was worth their effort; that he deserved a chance at healing. They sacrificed everything else they could have done that day to bring him Jesus. They were willing to give up some of their free time in the short run for his long-term health. Because they also believed in Jesus. They believed that he had the power to heal. They spent hours carrying that mat, persevering again and again, because of that belief. When they encountered an obstacle, they didn’t give up. Nothing could prevent them from their goal of getting their man to Jesus. Were it not for them – their sacrifice; their commitment; their generosity; their faith, there never would have been a miracle, or healing, that day.
Today is a day we call “Consecration Day” at Central – when we dedicate the estimates of what we think we can commit to the church financially in the coming year – 2018 – to support our ministries. But Consecration Day is really a Celebration Day. We celebrate that we are who we are, as a church, because of you, who carry the ministries of the church forward. Your gifts and offerings to the church, which you generously share with us, are the hands on the mat that the ministries of this church rest on. And as this story from the Gospel of Mark shows us, it takes all of us – and all of our gifts – to carry the church forward. Your gifts to the church are signs that you believe the church is worth our sacrifice – and the people we serve are worth it. You give believing that lives might just be changed for the better. And I believe you’re right.
Because in the last year, your gifts to church helped us do things like purchase billboard space in town advertising our worship times. Seeing that billboard led a family to come to Central once in October, and after discovering that what they found here spoke to them, they came back week after week; which led to their children coming to youth group every week… and bringing their friends with them; which led to their son being baptized; and to their joining a small group. Your gifts didn’t just bring them to church, it helped connect them to Christ and to you more strongly.
Because of your gifts, 16 of our youth and adults were able to go on a mission trip last summer to North Carolina. At the end of that trip, every one of them said the best part of the trip was interacting with the youth they met in the group home we visited, and that they wanted to go on a similar trip in the future. Your gifts help connect our youth with their neighbors in the wider world around them.
Your gifts have helped us start at new worship service in the past year, and half of the regular attenders of that service – a full 25 people – were not attending Central before that service started. Which means we are connecting with new people in new ways. Because of your gifts in the past year, we started a weekly men’s bible study. After it had been meeting for several months two women in the church came to me, separately and on separate occasions, and said “My husband has never gone to a group like this before. Now he never misses.” To which I say “Thank you” to you! Because you are helping them make stronger connections to Christ. Because of your gifts in 2017 we were, again, able to lead an amazing multi-church VBS with nearly 100 children and over 50 volunteers, as we continue to seek to connect with the next generation.
And because of your gifts we are able to have transcendent worshipful moments, like in December when the MDSO comes to play with our church choir! Last year, as the choir and orchestra closed worship with a stirring rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, I recorded it on my phone. But when I tried to post it to facebook later that day, I was refused. Instead facebook sent me a message that said, “This sounds too much like the London Christmas Orchestra and you don’t have their permission to use it.” How cool is that??? To be mistaken for that kind of orchestra and choir??? But because of your gifts we are able to have moments that lift the soul and spirit like that.
I could go on and on. But in big and small ways, your gifts to the operating fund each week and each year help us live out our core values of connecting with Christ; with each other; with our neighborhood; and with the next generation. It’s sometimes hard to the see the value – or the effect – of something done in the present. Because what we do in the church is invest in people – like the 4 people carrying the mat invested of themselves in the paralyzed man on the mat. And when it comes to investing in people, often we don’t see the impact until much later. But we believe, as Paul says in I Corinthians, that as we invest in things like planting seed of faith and watering seeds of faith now, God will bring a harvest of growth in the future. That’s why we take days like this to celebrate what the church is doing – and to make commitments to support its work in the future.