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Mark 2:1-12, from the Common English Bible
Mark 7:31-37, from the Common English Bible

        How hopeful—or desperate—would someone have to be to follow a man who was so much like them: oppressed, marginalized, middle-class at best? How trusting—or naive—would someone have to be to throw in their lot with someone who proclaimed not political revolution but revolutionary love, not allegiance to the letter of the law but a radical faithfulness to the Spirit of Love and Inclusion?

        How much loyalty—or exhaustion—would friends have to feel to go so far as to pick up and carry their paralyzed and ostracized companion—who knows how far—not to a doctor but to a spiritual healer? How determined—or frantic—must they have been when, finding themselves unable to get in the door of the house where Jesus was, they somehow got themselves (and their companion) up on the roof and then tore through the roof—creating an opening where, somehow, they managed to lower him down to the place where Jesus was? How much strength—or fear—did it take that man, hearing all the scorn heaped upon Jesus by the experts, to do what Jesus said—to stand up, pick up his filthy met, and wind his way through the amazed crowd toward home, walking all the way?

        How much love—or stubbornness—would it take for some people to refuse, like everyone else, to treat their dear one a loser or an outcast just because he could neither hear nor speak? How much compassion—or exasperation—would they have had to have for him to bring the man to Jesus and beg him for healing when they heard he was passing through their town?  And how much confidence—or total lack of self-regard—must that man have had to let Jesus pull him aside, to let this stranger put his fingers in his ears, and to put his ritually unclean saliva on his tongue!

        And were the man’s very ears and tongue somehow responding to the command of their Creator?

        Be opened.

I’ll be honest with you:

        For years and years I heard these stories and thought I had to work on opening. For years and years I marveled at the faith of these men and the faith and dedication of their friends. For years and years I thought there was something—all kinds of things—I had to do to receive healing, to be made whole, to be considered worthy, to be loved.

        But I’ll be honest with you:

        Now I am not so sure.

        Now it occurs to me that the friends who carried their immobile companion to Jesus, tore off part of a roof and lowered him down might have been as much desperate as hopeful. They might have been as least as  exhausted as loyal.

        Who knows? If they hadn’t had to lower their friend through the torn-open roof, if Jesus had never seen through the crowd to their helpless friend lying on a mat, they might have just left him there.

        Now it occurs to me that whatever they were feeling didn’t matter nearly as much as what Jesus did.

        Now it occurs to me that the man who could not hear or speak did not hear Jesus sigh. The man himself did not hear Jesus say, “Be opened!” The man himself was not obeying Jesus so much as being present to Jesus—and letting himself be loved and healed.

        Now it occurs to me that the man began speaking not because of what he did but because of what Jesus did.

        I’ll be honest:

        For years and years—forever, really—I have worked on being open. I have practiced opening up. I have considered what I needed to have and what I needed to do to be—get this—open to opening.

        Thinks like hope. Things like faith. Things like love—both given and received. Things like trust, courage, relationship, support. Things like connection, community, and compassion. Things like transformation and being woke. Things like joy.

        Problem is, if I didn’t have those things, if I didn’t feel those things, it was on me. Problem is, I became the problem. Problem is, I focused more on what I had or didn’t have, what I felt or didn’t feel, what I had achieved or didn’t achieve than on who God is and what God can do.

        And just as I focused on the things I needed to do and the openness I needed to achieve, I considered all the things that can shut me (and all of us) down:

        Things like anger and fear. Things like physical or emotional pain. Things like weakness or illness, depression or anxiety. Things like cynicism and despair. Things like hardness of heart. Things like the lack of love, the absence of relationship. Things like bullying, criticism, judgment, rejection, alienation. Things like injustice, poverty, oppression, and marginalization.

        So many, many things that can shut us down. So many situations that can keep us closed up, distant, set apart. So many reasonable defense mechanisms that keep us from trusting. So many disappointments and failures that dash our hopes or lower our expectations.

        So much work to do, I thought. So much healing to do before I can be whole. So much faith to have. So much seeking. So much changing. So much following. So much opening. So much to strive for. So much to be. So much on me.

        So exhausting. So seemingly impossible.

        Or so I thought.

        And perhaps you think so, too.

        Well, hear this good news:

        Jesus can work with anything and anyone—at any time.

        We don’t have to be in just the right frame of mind. We don’t have to have done all the good things and none of the bad things. We don’t have to believe without a doubt. We don’t have to work ourselves to the bone. We don’t, as Mary Oliver says, have to “walk on [our] knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.” We only have to “let the soft animal of [our bodies] love what [they love.]” 1

        Which is to say: We only have to let our hearts rest in the arms of the Love who made us. We only have to let ourselves become what we were made for. We only have to put ourselves in the path of the Light 2 that shines in us and through us and all around us. We only have to show up. We only have to let ourselves be found by God’s healing mercy. We only have to be willing.

        Because Jesus can work with anything and anyone—at any time.

The stars don’t have to align.Conditions don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be perfect.

        We only have to live with intention. We only have to consider what it is we want to have happen, what it is we hope to receive. We only have to let ourselves be forgiven. We have only to let ourselves be carried by grace—lifted and lowered, raised and held. We only have to let ourselves be healed. We have only to be present to the power of Love. We need only to keep following the Light.

        The warmth of the sun can open even the most tightly closed bud. But the flower knows who it is. The flower knows what it needs. And so it is that that closed buds follow the sun. And so it is that closed buds slowly open. So it is that fruit ripens, giving life and joy.

         And so it is that dear hearts—however frightened, however doubtful, however heavy or hard—need simply show up.

        And so it is that when we follow the Light, whether or not we feel like it, we will find ourselves softening. We will find ourselves lightening. We will find ourselves responding to a command we did not even hear. We will find ourselves opening. We will find ourselves healed. We will find ourselves restored. We will discover ourselves becoming who we are meant to be and doing what we were made for. We will know ourselves beloved.

        What do you want to receive this morning? Put yourself in its path.

        What do you want to have happen? Show up for it.

        Who do you want to become? Let yourself be loved.

        This is the good news. Thanks be to God.

1 From the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver.
2 A play on a line from Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.”