The Faith of a Few Friends

We’ve all seen it, and it’s a mighty disgusting sight: A little kid with a runny nose that’s gone amuck.

All the world can see – though no one really wants to see – that this snotty little kid desperately needs a nose wiping. And that nauseating duty always seems to fall upon mom.

But what does every little kid always do whenever an intrepid mom starts to close in with a Kleenex? The kid’s mucus-laden head starts twisting and turning like a whirling dervish to telegraph an unmistakable message in no uncertain terms: Leave, my nose, alone!

Ask most any little kid to list off the qualities of an ideal mom, and what you’ll most likely hear back is “a mom who leaves me alone and lets me do what I want”: A mom who never makes me take a bath. A mom who lets me play outside way past dark until I keel over in dirty, sweaty exhaustion. A mom who feeds me only french fries, candy and Kool-Aid. A mom more like dad who serves chocolate cake for breakfast.

But obviously, the mom that kids want is not the mom that kids need.

They need a mom (and/or a dad) who gives them baths, makes them take naps, and serves up regular helpings of fruits and vegetables. Kids need one or more parents committed to training their children in the healthy habits and nourishing behaviors that build strength of body and shape fitness of mind.

Many of us, I suspect, are oftentimes like little kids when it comes to Jesus. We want a Savior who gives us what we want, when we want it. We want a Savior who’ll leave us alone when we want to be left alone. We want a Savior who never stirs the pot.

Thanks but no thanks, Jesus. I know exactly what I need for a lifetime of pleasure and success, so back off, stay in your corner, and mind your own business. Leave, my life, alone!

But that’s not the Jesus we need, and that’s not the Jesus we see in this morning’s Scripture lesson. In this miraculous, over-the-top, and through-the-roof scene from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus stays totally focused on his vision of eternal happiness for a paralyzed man who’s near-literally dropped in his lap.

Jesus knows precisely what the man really needs. Jesus peers deep down into the depths of this unfortunate man’s soul and immediately spots his deepest longing. Even though Jesus does heal the man’s body, physical ailment is not where Jesus first administers a healing balm. And when he finally does raise up the man to once again stand tall on his own two feet, Jesus does so at just the right time to accomplish all his purposes.

Like all the Gospel writers, Mark takes pen in hand to record and reveal who Jesus really is: The Savior you and I need. The Christ to whom you and I must turn in faith. The Redeemer who challenges and changes each and every part of you and me.

We’re stepping into Mark chapter 2 with the Holy Spirit, whose presence lets us see and hear the Word of the Lord.

The faith of a few good friends. That’s really what gets the ball rolling in this story.

Mark makes absolutely no reference to even a smidgen of faith loitering within the paralyzed man. But when his four friends find the doorway blocked and make the extraordinary effort of cutting through the roof, their faith in Jesus’s ability to heal through the power of God becomes quite obvious.

Is it our faith that somehow allows the Lord to heal us? Or to heal our loved ones? Or to heal our communities? If you pray for someone or something, and healing doesn’t come, or a situation doesn’t change for the better, does that mean you just don’t have “enough faith” or “the right kind of faith?”

No, I don’t think so.

Yet, when you look at this and all of Jesus’s healing miracles, faith does play its part. Faith recognizes God’s ability to bring about healing, and faith opens the door for God’s healing power to step in. Faith is what makes way for healing to flow into the incapacitated body of this paralyzed man. His faith? NO! The faith of his friends!

In the novel and movie “The Green Mile,” Paul Edgecomb is a 44-year-old guard at the Louisiana State Prison.

Actor Tom Hanks plays prison guard Paul Edgecomb in the movie “The Green Mile.”

It’s 1935 – the depths of the Depression, and the solid, level-headed Edgecomb is in charge of death row – the “Green Mile,” as he and his colleagues have nicknamed it.

At the start of the story, the Green Mile’s guards have just taken custody a new prisoner: An enormously tall and muscular man named John Coffey, who’s facing the electric chair after being wrongly convicted of raping and murdering two little girls.

“Simple-minded” is how they labeled John Coffey back in the day. He’s afraid of the dark, and sometimes cries in his bunk. As they come to know John Coffey in the weeks before his execution, the guards find little to fear in this gentle giant.

Also at the story’s start, Paul Edgecomb is feeling the intense pain of a raging bladder infection, but like a lot of guys, he’s too stubborn to go to the doctor.

Then, one day, after a particularly agonizing visit to the Green Mile’s bathroom, Paul is miraculously cured after John Coffey reaches through the bars of his cell to lay hands on Paul and free his body of the infection.

Of his incredible healing Paul tells no one but his wife. But after John Coffey resurrects a dead mouse that was the pet of another inmate, Paul shares details of his healing with his fellow guards.

Prison guards escort John Coffey along The Green Mile.

Meanwhile, an inoperable brain tumor is dragging the lovely and beloved wife of the prison warden through an excruciating death. So, Paul and the other guards make plans to slip John Coffey from death row in the middle of the night and take him to the warden’s home in hopes of John Coffey healing the suffering woman.

They don’t let the warden in on their plans because, as Paul says, the warden “won’t believe in anything,” and he has no faith.

Nevertheless, the guards hoist John Coffey into the bed of a pick-up truck and ferry him to the suffering woman. John Coffey heals her of the tumor, and she returns to the fullness of health – all because four prison guards had so much faith in their recognition of John Coffey as the channel for God’s healing power that they took the great risk of facilitating the opportunity for healing.

That’s all any of us can do, really. We can facilitate opportunities for healing.

When we lift up someone we know and love to the Lord in faith, that doesn’t always mean that God will bring a physical cure. But there nonetheless will be healing – healing of deep inner wounds and healing of long-broken relationships.

And, the healing of sin.

What heartwarming, blessed relief it is to discover that the grace of Jesus Christ has wiped clean your slate of sin – all because someone set the stage for that spiritual healing to happen.

You and I stand on the front lines of salvation history! The Holy Spirit is ever prodding and pushing each of us to become more involved in the work of God’s salvation through Christ. To us are entrusted souls whose lives we bless through prayer, worshipful work, and personal sacrifice.

Our charge is clear: Blessed by Father, Son and Spirit, we go forth from this place and sacrifice for the people most in need of the Lord’s grace.

Lots of folks need plenty of grace these days.

But perhaps none more than our friends, neighbors and strangers dealing with COVID-19: The sick and the dying infected with the virus, the anxious family members watching the virus take its ravaging toll on their loved ones, and the exhausted people working in hospitals, clinics and care facilities who are head-on risking their own health and daily running on fumes to comfort to their patients. 

If we have any hope of taming this rogue virus that’s running roughshod through our communities, we’ll have to work hard without stopping, pray hard without ceasing, and sacrifice hard without condition.

And the unconditional sacrifice we’re being asked to make is to stay home as much as possible – and to wear a mask whenever we have to leave home for essential purposes.

That staying home part is a whopper of a sacrifice, I know.

But it’s the kind of sacrifice we’re going to have to make if we ever expect this damnable pandemic to end sooner rather than later.

Coronavirus hasn’t disappeared right after the election like some predicted it would! Civil leaders at all levels of government – Democrats and Republicans – are pleading with us to stay home whenever possible.

And the kind of faith that facilitates the right conditions for healing demands that we make the sacrifice.

The faith of a few friends – the faith of a few more of us – might just end up being what it takes to rid the menacing scourge of infection from our midst.

Though, unlike that fateful day in Capernaum, there doesn’t seem to be much forgiveness of sin in simply hunkering down at home, think of self-quarantining and social distancing as reflections of repentance of our penchant for putting our own needs ahead of others.

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves,” the apostle Paul writes. “Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

May it be so, for the sake of Christ Jesus, who sacrificed for us and our eternal healing.


Pastor Grant VanderVelden shared this message during worship on Sunday, November 15, 2020. Scholarship, commentary and reflection by Paul Campbell, Katherine Merrell Glenn, and Pheme Perkins inform the message.

Related sermons on faith and doubt:

Fidgety Faith” – No one understands the true nature of faith. That’s because we make the false assumption that having “more” faith means having fewer questions and needing less assurance.

Lies We Love Just have more faith, and your problems will end, and you won’t get sick with COVID, and life will be hunky-dory. We hear that a lot these days. But the Old Testament prophet Job comes to a more profound conclusion.

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