Tuesday, July 12, 2011 — Week of Proper 10, Year One
Nathan Soderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala and Ecumenist, 1931
To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 974)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning) 36, 39 (evening)
1 Samuel 19:1-18
I don’t know who first coined the term “practical atheist.” I first heard the term as a description of people who express faith in God but who live as though God were absent, as though everything depended upon their own resources. I find it all too easy to slip into practical atheism.
Last night I woke up in the latter part of the evening, long before the alarm clock’s appointment — my mind filled with things I need to do, those “things left undone which we ought to have done.” My mind came awake and wouldn’t quiet. I couldn’t go back to sleep.
I got up and went to another room with something to read, something to take my mind off my mind. As I read, one of the problems that had contributed to my restless worry was solved. The brief reading that I had picked up, almost at random, gave me an insight that put one trouble to rest. I found I was relaxed again. I went back to sleep until the alarm’s call.
I felt a bit like Peter, who in our story in Acts today finds himself bound in chains, guarded in a prison as he sleeps. It felt like a dream to him when there came a tap on the side and a voice saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell; a door opened. When he “came to himself” he was free. It was God’s doing. “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me…”
How often it happens, when I feel anxious or overwhelmed, if I will relax and trust a bit, a chain drops, a door opens. Part of what I know and believe is that it is not all up to me. It is all up to God. But I forget. My prison is my forgetfulness, my own form of faithlessness. Practical atheism.
So often the angels come in the form of friends. Because I live in community, it is not all up to me. In today’s story from Mark, four friends carry their paralyzed companion to Jesus. Their initial approach is blocked, so they get creative and “raise the roof” to get their friend to Jesus. Our friends can carry us when we get stuck. But you’ve got to be willing to lie there and let them.
At least part of what paralyzed this man in Mark’s story was something in the man’s past, something he needed freeing from. Jesus gives him the gift of forgiveness. He is unstuck. He can move; he can walk.
Some of the crowd is stuck theologically. Only God can forgive. Jesus can’t say that; Jesus can’t do that. Jesus gives them a wonderfully ambiguous response: “‘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.'” That phrase “Son of Man” is like aces in some card games. It can go high or low. “Son of Man” can be carry superhuman connotations; it can also simply be another name for mortal. Take your choice.
Sometimes the gift of forgiveness is the gift one friend can give to another to overcome our paralysis.
Always we live in community. I am particularly grateful for all of my friends who can get creative and raise the roof for me when I am stuck and paralyzed.
It is never all up to me. God acts, and chains drop, doors open. Friends carry things for us us when we can’t move ourselves. Forgiveness happens freely. Gifts all. It’s all gift.