Good morning! Thank you for joining us for the third in our series “Home is the Way.” We have been using Menti as an engagement tool for our sermons and I want to invite you to join us at 2589 7830.
Before I begin today, I want to address something I said last week.
I used concentration camps to compare migrant workers’ dorm – while I wanted to convey a point, it is also trivialising the Holocaust.
I really appreciate the feedback that this concentration camp analogy is an insult to those who died in real concentration camps and that inflationary language normalises the evil that happened.
I want to apologise – I need to do better and be more thoughtful – so that while I point out evil that is happening today, I don’t trivialise evil that happened in the past.
Will you join me in prayer – God – may the words from my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you. Continue to guide us – so our minds and our hearts are aligned with you, God of love, compassion & justice.
We continue of the 3rd in our sermon series Home is the way. Welcome Home.
<M> Is there a story in the Bible that comes to mind when you think about “welcome home?”
It is no surprise that the parable of the lost son/ prodigal is one that comes to most of your minds. It is a passage we preached on many times, and it is one that resonates with many of us.
The one that comes to my mind is from very early in Jesus’ ministry – from chapter 2 of the Gospel according Mark.
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.
Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?
But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’
And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’
<M> Who do you identify with in this passage?
Jesus? The paralysed man? The people who brought the paralysed man? The scribes? The rest of those in the house?
I can identify with every group here.
When I first joined Safehaven, (and for those who are new to FCC, Safehaven was the predecessor to FCC – we were a fellowship that met for Bible study every Tuesday) I felt like the paralysed man – I sought healing, acceptance, support. And I found all of that and more. Many of you may have a similar experience. You felt broken, you felt lost, and when you arrived at this community – you experienced radical welcome – You may not fit in in some ways and people tried their very best to dig hole in the ceiling or the roof to help you be part of this community. People really went out of the way to welcome you, to be community for you, to create a space for you, to love you.
Yet, not everyone shares in that experience. Sometimes we are like the rest of the people in the house. Some of us can get through the door, or we are early enough to get a space and get front row seats.
Sometimes, like the rest of the people in the house, we just stand there, oblivious that we are not making space for someone to come in, and sometimes we are even unwilling to make space for someone else to come in – especially when we think we will lose our space in the house.
We are unwilling to change ourselves, so we can be more inclusive. Sometimes just standing there, not doing anything – we can be the obstacle of letting someone in. Are we willing to move out of our comfort zone to draw the circle wider, and include someone else into the circle?
FCC has grown and changed and evolved along the way. We didn’t know how to be inclusive even though we say we’re inclusive. When we first started out, we were dominated by gay men – gay men who were quite self-centered. i will refer to myself here – I was quite oblivious to male privilege that i had and quite oblivious to the challenges and experiences of women. It is only in recent years when I heard of the experiences of women who went to Yangtze where we were then – surrounded by movie theatres that screened adult movies that I learned that women didn’t feel safe in that space. But I was oblivious to all that – and that’s how we are like the crowd in the house.
Let me push this question a little further – it is one thing to move to create space for someone else, but quite another to be the owner of the house and have your roof dismantled to let someone in. At what lengths are we willing to go to welcome someone in? Are we willing to get a hole in the ceiling to let someone into this house? The answer is quite apparent of what we should do – so think about that.
Sometimes, as one of the people just standing there, when someone else is treated with extravagant welcome and people actually go all the way to dig a hole in a roof to let this person in, we feel left out. Why is this person getting special
Treatment? Why is the pastor spending extra time with this person and not me?
We see someone being treated with extravagant welcome, and you perhaps you were ignored, and nobody spoke to you after church, nobody invited you to join them – and you felt left out. And when you compare your experience with the welcome and attention lavished on someone else, you cannot help but feel you are like a second class citizen. I have felt that way before – especially in the past when I wasn’t invited to parties and gatherings – hearing about these occasions only after they happened. How are we to wrestle with experiences like these?
Then, there were times I was like the people who removed the roof so that the paralytic can enter the crowded house. Sometimes this could be physical barriers – like how we are currently examining how to make our space more accessible for a newcomer who is wheelchair bound. Accessible not only in terms of the space here, but accessibility in terms of how this person can come to church in a wheelchair – from their door to the door of FCC.
Accessibility isn’t just about making this space accessible – it is also a justice issue. Can this person get into onto public transport and make their way here? What is that journey like? Is that journey easy? We are very blessed in Singapore because we have invested in infrastructure to help people to be mobile.
There are ramps everywhere though sometimes the ramps are rather challenging if you are one who is navigating in a wheelchair – the corners that you need to turn – sometimes it is an obstacle course!
We want to be a community that does not stop at just creating a space to be welcoming for someone in a wheelchair here, but also beyond that – because it is not just getting through this door – but the lived experience of someone in a wheelchair starts from the very moment the journey out of their home.
There are also non-physical barriers. How do we create space for people who are neurodivergent, people who have mental health issues, people who have been hurt before and struggle to be vulnerable again? How do we create space for people who may not be on the same page as us theologically?
Creating space for people who have different needs is not easy but that is what we endeavour to do. That’s what we are trying to do a church. This is who we are called to be. When we say welcome home, there isn’t a caveat if you are this, this and this and you have to fit into our rigid requirements.
Creating space for people who have different needs means that we have to be a church community that doesn’t just cater to the 99, but we also go out of the way to seek the 1. That’s one part of the trilogy of parables in Luke 15 – the parable of the sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or the parable of the prodigal)
It is not easy because it is human nature to gravitate towards stability. We don’t like change. Once we have established who we are as a community, we resist change. And it is easy for us to become like one of the scribes.
We may think “why do we have to make space for someone like that?” “why do we have to use inclusive language?” “why do we have to ask everyone for their preferred pronouns?” “why can’t everyone just be less sensitive – we weren’t racist when we were imitating their accent – it was just a joke!”
But what kind of community are we called to be? Who are we supposed to model? Not the crowd in the house. Not the scribes. Jesus. Jesus welcomes the paralytic, and even heals the paralytic.
We say we want to follow Jesus – so we need to put it in action.
And I think one thing we need to learn to do – is to stop judging. Being judgemental or judging someone taps into our biases. We tend to project a lot onto the person we are judging – and these projections say a lot more about us than the other person. Instead of being objective, we project our feelings and emotions onto that person, and these feelings and emotions become part of our verdict about this person.
Whether it is about how someone behaves, how someone dressed how someone looks, how someone speaks – all this comes from our bias that’s projected on the person. It’s actually more about us than about them.
Someone’s actions and behaviours may be annoying to us. It may be helpful to ask ourselves – why are we annoyed? What lies at the root of our feelings?
Is it about how we think things should be? You know, many of us dress very casually at FCC. Some of your previous church communities that might be a no-no – you have to come to church dressed in your nines. You shouldn’t be wearing flip-flops. Perhaps you carry some of that those rules here.
But what does that all mean when we welcome someone home here? Are we able to understand that everyone
who comes here is here to worship God?
People don’t just get out of bed early and come to church and just to be here. They are making an effort to be present, to be in community, to worship – however they may present themselves. What they are going through we might not know.
To expect people to behave in a certain way assumes that they are like us. Perhaps this person is struggling – struggling financially or struggling psychologically. Perhaps trying to even step out the house maybe a struggle for them because of their depression, because of what they’re wrestling with. And when you come to a space where someone looked at you in a certain way because you didn’t present yourself properly, you feel like you are being judged. That makes this space feel unwelcoming.
We want to dig a hole in the roof to let everyone in, regardless,
Sometimes we react like the older sibling in parable of the prodigal –
“Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”
Are we angry that someone “less worthy” get more attention and love than us?
But what was the reply from the parent?
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’
Love is not divisible. Just because somebody is loved more, doesn’t mean you are loved any less. God’s love isn’t like a pie that we cut up and distribute. God’s love is infinite. There is more than enough to go around.
So let us examine our resentments – and join in the celebration of the circle being drawn wider as we include more people, and rejoice for those who had been lost and now found.
After we let go of our judgements, we also need to learn to be more empathetic. When I reflected on my choice of analogy last week, I also thought about the language I use. Very often, unconsciously I repeat using language that is ableist – it is not easy to be rid of them because they are very powerful – they express ideas in a way most of us who are able-bodied would understand. Like the word “blind.” We get it immediately when we sing the hymn “I was blind but now I see.” But for someone who is visually impaired, it is not a helpful term.
I know folks who have experienced health issues and are wheelchair bound, or bedridden, and some phrases may not be inclusive.
I want to endeavour to use more inclusive language. I may not succeed all the time, but I want to put in the effort. I want to be able to empathise with people and use language so they can feel included.
While I have been talking about how we are talking about how we are to welcome people home – I also would like to offer something about what happens when we are welcomed home. Because it is not just us who welcome folks to this community – Jesus welcomes all of us here.
I have to mention here that this welcome also includes healthy boundaries so that the community can be healthy – that is what the safety within the community is based on – healthy boundaries. We will explore that in another sermon in this sermon series.
In Mark 2, when the paralytic arrives in the house (through the roof!) Jesus forgives his sins, and Jesus says to him – “Stand up and take your mat and walk.” It is the same words Jesus said in John 5 to the man by the pool at Bethesda who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
Here – I want to replace the ableist language here with
Rise (because we can rise in body or in spirit) – take up your mat – and live.
I hope that this is inclusive enough and if people if folks have ideas of how to make it even more expansive and inclusive let me know, but this is where i arrived at after reflecting and working on this sermon.
Rise, take up your mat and live!
This place – this community is the place for you to find healing. This place is the community where you experience the miracle of rising up, taking up your mat and living.
Jesus asked “Do you want to be made well?” What was the man’s answer?
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus’ question is a simple one. It is a Yes / No question. DO YOU WANT TO BE MADE WELL?
The man’s answer wasn’t yes or no. The answer is one that blames someone else for him not being well. “Nobody puts me into the pool when the water is stirred. Someone else gets there ahead of me.” But that wasn’t what Jesus asked.
Why was Jesus asking him “Do you want to be made well?”
It is a question of faith. It is a question of accountability. It is a question of what’s your heart’s desire.
That is the very first step of healing. If you are unable to answer “Yes! I want to be made well” then you might be stuck on the mat. You may be there unable to move.
What is your mat? What have you been sitting on your whole life, like this man who is sitting on for 38 years? What are the issues that have been you’ve been carrying that’s burdening you?
What are your resentments? Your fears? What are the situations you think you’re stuck in?
Are you so used to this mat that it gives you comfort and security that you’re unable or unwilling to say “Yes! I want to be made well!”
Are you afraid? Are you worried about that uncertainty of what lies ahead after you have been made well? Because everything changes after you have been made well. For 38 years this man knows what’s going to happen the next day. For 38 years no one’s going to help him go into the pool. For 38 years someone steps ahead of him and gets healed.
But what happens when he gets healed? Then everything changes and nothing’s the same and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. That is frightening. That is scary and that may be the reason why he’s afraid to say “Yes I want to be
made well!” Because everything he knows, everything he’s used to, is going to all be the past.
Take up your mat.
What is your mat? What have you been sitting on your whole life, like the mat this man has been sitting on for 38 years?
(mat – vulnerability)
What are the situations you think you are stuck in? Are you so used to this mat that it gives you comfort and security in some way and you are unable or unwilling to say YES I WANT TO BE MADE WELL? Are you afraid of the uncertainty of what lies ahead after you have been made well? Because after you have been made well, there will be much asked of you – you would be the ones who will care for and love the broken and wounded ones who come after you.
Take up your mat,
And live. Live and come alive!
Rise, even if you have been stuck on that mat all your life.
Rise, because that means learning to trust Jesus.
Come alive because you are in a community that’s here for you.
Come alive because you are welcome here.
Come alive and live even if people tell you it is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your mat. Come alive even if people tell you you are not worthy, you are not good enough.
So instead of hurting others in your hurt and pain, instead of wounding others because you are broken, Come alive, and bind the wounds of the wounded, because you are a wounded healer – you know what it is like to be broken. You know what it is like to be wounded. You know what it is like to hurt.
Come alive, because the glory of God is the human being fully alive.
Live because you know God loves you. No ifs, no buts.
Live, celebrate and rejoice, because you were once dead, and have come to life, you were once lost and have been found.