Easier to Say
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, October 15, 2023
“For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”
THE way people speak to others shows who they are. From our mouth emanates the overflow of our hearts. What we say tells the story of us more than any autobiography we might write. What do our words to others say about us?
Americans are depicted abroad as callous, pushy, foul-mouthed clods who don’t care that they are violating every social code of the host nation we’re in. Now, Americans are not all ugly Americans, but I’ve met some that love going abroad to lord it over the natives, and they embarrass me. We are known by our worst ambassadors. But what is easier for you to say: “I’m new here in your country and I’d appreciate some help finding my way,” or “Where the heck is a bank that deals in real money? I can’t believe you people don’t speak English!”
Civility and courtesy are ancient values. Old World cultures instill polite words and ways more than the post-modern etiquette, taught by TV. But there has always been anti-social behavior and rudeness.
Jesus was teaching inside a house in Capernaum when the eager friends of an invalid carried his stretcher up on the roof to lower him down to Jesus, because crowds blocked the way. They created a scene with this audacious approach so that the Healer stopped the lesson and turned to the palsy victim with curiosity and compassion. “Cheer up, my friend. All your sins are forgiven!” He said.
Some of us wait for any strange statement like that. I’ve found myself spring loaded to make cutting comments when I fear the power someone has and the spell he exerts over others. He says one thing I doubt or disagree with, and my critique comes in a ready phrase of distain. You may have heard yourself spit out such epithets. So, we understand the kind of comments Jesus’ impromptu amnesty brought out of those who were not really convinced of His power or perfection.
Knowing this, Jesus looked up at them. “Why are you thinking evil thoughts about me in your hearts? Which would be easier to say, ‘All your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise up and walk’?” Jesus knew they expected Him to heal the man, or to try. It was the obvious request of the man’s bold friends watching from the roof. But what is the greater need of a soul in this fallen world? How good would this healing be if the man got well, but went to hell because his soul wasn’t healed along with his body? We all need forgiveness more than we need a cure for cancer or heart disease. To die forgiven is far better than to live a healthy, wicked, sin-saturated life and then perish.
But “you are forgiven” or “rise and walk” were both outside the vocabulary of the scribes who stood in judgment of Jesus’ beneficence. These experts were healing nobody. They were forgiving nobody. They, the gatekeepers of the Law, were simply telling those who fell into trouble, “God hates you because you are a failure, a sinful wretch, and there is no help for you!”
Jesus posed them the question: Which is easier for you to say, “Be healed” or “Be forgiven?” Both were beyond the cold hearts of these intolerant cold men. Their speech told the story of their hearts.
Then Jesus said, as a challenge and a lesson, “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins…” and with a dramatic pause, aimed at those who accused Him under their breath of taking God’s place of forgiveness to Himself, He looked at the man in the bed and spoke, “Rise, pick up your stretcher and carry it home.”
The flesh returned to his arms and legs, strength coursed through his body, and faith to stand and walk entered his mind and heart: so he rolled to his side, took to his feet, unfolded himself upward to his full height with a smile beaming on his face, a flush of healthy color on his cheeks, and with a deep breath, turned to Jesus with all thanks in his eyes, bowed, picked up the stretcher like a toy in his new found strength, turned to the door and began to walk. The crowd murmured in awe and parted to let the man out, while the silenced scribes stood numb at the wonder of such a healing.
When God wants to heal you, He wants to make you whole. “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” Matt 9:21-22 He said to the woman with the issue of blood. To Jairus’ family, He assured them their dead girl would not stay dead, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Luke 8:50 A man lay by a healing pool for over thirty years, unable to move, when Jesus strode over to ask him, “Do you want to be made whole?” John 5:6 God could heal our every disease, but what would that help? Would we cheat death? And if we did, what would life look like? Does a physical healing always result in a spiritual renewal? If it did, God would heal everyone who comes in those doors. The real goal is not that our bodies keep working forever. They won’t. What God most values is that we find His forgiveness, bought at a high price, and receive it by faith. If we are made physically whole at that point is secondary, as it was for the man on the floor.
For a short time, heaven and earth met under a roof in Capernaum. Heaven and earth were met in the Person of Jesus Christ. What people heard from Him was the Kingdom of heaven, in Aramaic and Hebrew, earth’s languages. Who He is came out in His words. He never told a lie. What He said was the best thing to say.
Church is a place where we go to spend some time in heaven on earth. We are truly those amphibious creatures sung about in our hymn that begins: Angels and ministers, spirits of grace… where we sing to the angels,
“You are pure spirit, but we here below, Linked in both orders, are tossed to and fro… We are distraught ‘twixt the right and the wrong; Yet would we soar as the bird from the mesh, Freed from the weakness and wonder of flesh. We too shall join you as comrades in grace, Here but a little below you in place; Then, when we climb from our lowness in worth, We too shall herald good will upon earth.”
We are the meeting place of heaven and earth. What is broken in us will be repaired and we shall stand with the angels as ministers of grace, beauty and truth. Today, our mouths speak out of that state, if we allow it. We praise our God, sing hymns of the ages, and echo an Amen to the prayers of divine worship. Then, going out of those doors, what do others hear from us?
When we encounter the people in this world, what do our mouths say about us? The world and its captives are sin-sick and lost. They may act suave and sophisticated, educated and politically correct. We are afraid to speak of heavenly things to them. But what do our mouths, our faces, our body-language tell them about Jesus Christ? About the meeting place of heaven and earth, which is us? That’s an important question, so listen and understand. You represent God’s Son on earth. His salvation for unbelievers is supposed to come through you. You can say, “How’s your life treating you? I follow Jesus Christ. Is there anything I can pray for you? God hears my prayers and He’s truly a loving God.”
Jesus taught that a shepherd would leave the 99 safely in the pasture and go looking for one lost sheep. He would be overjoyed to find it and march back triumphant with it slung over his shoulder. Is that another person’s job, or is it yours? Who are the lost sheep in your world? Now, which would be easier to say, “Let them go to hell; they deserve it,” or “Cheer up. All your sins are forgiven!”
How can you say that about forgiveness? Is it your right to declare it, or is it relegated to a priest? I’ll let you in on a trade secret. I don’t forgive anybody, or rather, my forgiveness is nice, but the forgiveness of God is always from God, not from me. I only assure people of it and it’s been given to me as a minister of reconciliation. Those crosses I draw over your heads, and words to the effect of absolution or blessing, are signs of what God does. His Son died that the entire world should find forgiveness and it’s the job of the entire Church to makes sure they all know it.
If you say, “your sins are forgiven,” you are not taking the power to yourself, (though you might work a little on forgiving people yourself.) God’s forgiveness was always from Him. He bought this right with His Blood. So, they are forgiven, or at least, God is always ready to heal their souls.
They need to believe. How will they believe if no one lets them in on the secret? Christ’s forgiveness is given to every person who has never yet darkened the doorway to this church. Only they don’t know it. What is your mouth saying to them about you? What is it saying about your heart?
Take another look at the person you fear, fear their judgment or scorn, and see the anguish and hopelessness there. You have the power of life and death. You can just do business and say the common courtesy, which is barely enough. Or you can say, “What’s wrong, my friend? Can I help? Did you know God loves you and forgives you for everything? Rise up and walk with me. Let’s talk about somebody really important: let’s talk about you.”