WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Claire Stiles, liturgist
Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.
Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826 Third President of the United States
PRELUDE Bridge Over Troubled Water Simon/Garfunkel
CALL TO WORSHIP
We gather here in the ever-presence of God,
In our need and bringing with us the needs of the world.
We come with our faith and with our doubts;
We come with our hopes and our fears.
We come because we trust the eternal Love
that has come to us in Christ Jesus.
MUSICAL REFLECTION America, the Beautiful Ward
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
CONTEMPORARY READING from Frederick Buechne
MUSIC You’ve Got a Friend King
SERMON Through the Roof Rev. Kim P. Wells
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” So ends the Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities. I read it for the first time as an adult when our kids were reading it for school. As I read those final words, I teared up. What a beautiful ending! What a beautiful testimony to the power of friendship. I am not going to ruin the ending for anyone that has not yet read the book, but there is a yellow post-it note in the back of the book used by our kids. It says: “Everybody is happy now and living good lives because of the courage of Sydney Carton.”
I also remember crying at the end of the book The Cricket in Times Square which I read when I was a child. It was so sad to see the friendships end and the cricket return home to Connecticut, though that was best for the cricket and the friends all helped to make it happen.
But such beautiful friendships are not only the stuff of literature, they are the stuff of life. Friends help us to navigate the path of life. They help to show us the way. They help us to know ourselves better. They add fun to the journey. Friends offer honesty and consolation. Friends help us see what we need to see. They enrich our lives. They cushion the blows of life. They shine light on the path. We are not made to journey through life alone. Yes, family and significant others are important, but we also need friends to help us find healing, wholeness, and joy in life. Many marriages end because the people are looking to have all of their needs met from that one relationship. That is not realistic. And that is not how we are made. We are made to be social. To be part of groups, not just dyads. Jesus calls 12 disciples. A group. Because he knows that they all need each other.
The story we heard today is a beautiful story of friendship. We are told of four people who bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. It’s interesting that this paralyzed person has these four friends. Remember, in those times, when someone had a disability or ailment, it was thought to be a punishment of some kind from God. So someone who was incapacitated must have done something very wrong or bad to end up in that situation. So generally sick people or people with disabilities were shunned as outcasts. They were considered bad people. Remember the story about the man by the pool of Siloam. He wants to take advantage of the healing powers of the waters of the pool, but he can’t get anyone to lower him into the water. No one wants anything to do with someone who is morally bad, a sinner.
But in the story we heard today, the four friends take their invalid companion to Jesus. These friends are remarkable in their compassion for someone who would be considered unclean, bad. They go through the great effort of carrying their friend on a pallet, who knows how far. They have so much love for their friend and trust in the healing power of Jesus that they make this effort.
And when they arrive and can’t get close to Jesus, who is thronged by the crowd, they get themselves and the invalid on to the roof. They dismantle the roof. A big no-no, as any roofer will tell you. Don’t EVER put a hole in the roof! Not for solar. Not for a skylight. Not for a vent. That’s what a roofer will say! But these friends are so concerned for their disabled companion, that they go right through the roof and deliver their friend to Jesus for healing.
Did these friends take the day off from work – forgoing income in a subsistence economy? What was the distance they traveled and the physical exertion that was required not just to get to the house but to get on to the roof? There was the fury of the home owner that would come with the damage to the roof. And there was always the possibility that this would all be for naught.
But none of this deters these friends. They are so devoted to the well-being of their companion. They so want healing for him, they will go to any ends. Try anything. This coupled with their evident confidence in the power of Jesus combine into an unstoppable force that can only result in the restoration of their beloved friend. It is a beautiful manifestation of friendship. Of the compassion and commitment that is part of the responsibility and mutuality of friendship.
Somehow this story of personal compassion and involvement seems to have so much more sincere devotion than, say, setting up a Go Fund Me page for someone to get their medical bills paid, though that can definitely be helpful and do a lot of good.
But friendship involves a bond and a commitment, to honesty, to energy, to attention, to vulnerability, to sacrifice, that is, well, seemingly rare these days.
Are we so preoccupied with staying afloat, getting the latest, working, working, working at our jobs, spoiling our kids, idolizing family, that we don’t feel we have the bandwidth for deep friendship? Is there so much information about the suffering of others that we keep our distance for self protection and self preservation? Does the inundation from social media overload our compassion circuits and shut them down? I don’t know.
But professionals do say that friendship is declining these days in the US and it’s not just about the pandemic. A recent survey shows people have fewer close friends than in previous years. Increased mobility, work demands, and childcare demands are cited as the reasons for fewer friendships. People just feel too busy to have friends. Friends seem like a luxury. [https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health- wellness/2021/06/24/friendships-declining-but- pandemic-isnt-fully-blame/7770454002/ ]
And this is a problem because friends are not an extravagance or an indulgence like getting your nails done. As the story shows us, friends are necessary to our well-being, to our life, to our wholeness, to our abundant joy.
There is a scene in the book The Overstory by Richard Powers that speaks of friendship on several levels. One of the characters, Nicholas, is staying on the down low in a remote cabin in the woods in the mountains of the American west. He goes out for a walk in the aftermath of a rain storm:
There’s a tearing in the air. Nicholas looks up, where the mountainside begins to liquify. Last night’s rains have loosened the earth, and, stripped of the covering that held it in place for a hundred thousand years, the mountain slides down with a roar. Trees taller than lighthouses snap like twigs and plunge into one another, slamming down the slope in a swollen wave. Nick turns to run. Above him, a wall of rock and wood twenty feet high heads home. He scrambles down a footpath, wheeling to look back as a river of trees hits the cabin head-on. His living room fills with stump and rock. The building lifts off its foundation and bobs on the flow.
He runs toward the neighbors, screaming, ‘Get out! Now!’ Then his neighbors are running, too, with their two little boys, down the drive to the family truck. But debris reaches the truck first and blocks it in. Trees wash up against the ranch house, bulging like woody lava.
‘This way,’ Nick shouts, and the neighbors follow. He leads them down another gully along a shallower slope. And there, the tide of landslide comes to rest behind a thin line of redwoods. Mud and rubble ooze against the final barrier, but the trees hold. The mother breaks down. She sobs and grabs her children. The father and Nick stare upward at the denuded mountainside, a ridge, wildly lowered. The man whispers, ‘Jesus.’ Nick jerks at the word. He looks where his neighbor points. On each of the trunks in the standing barricade that just saved their lives is a bright blue painted X. Next week’s harvest. [p. 362]
Yes, there is friendship between earth and humanity in this story, friendship that has been neglected by humans. But there is that image of the thin line of redwoods that saves the lives of the mother, the father, their two little boys, and Nick. Those few trees, marked for demolition, cutting, save their lives. Friends are like that line of trees. They are the bulwark, saving our lives, protecting us, taking care of us, shielding us from danger, making it possible for us to thrive.
And friendship, too, is endangered. Ravaged by the compulsion to work, and consume, and acquire, and isolate to limit our exposure to pain as we are brain washed into thinking a good life is one without cares or troubles. But what has this diminishing of friendship gotten us? Surely it exacerbates the negative effects of bullying. Surely it contributes to increased mental illness and instability. Surely it is part of the culture that creates mass shootings. Surely it is part of the increase in people taking their own lives. Friendship can be that wall of trees, that anchor in a storm, that shelter of protection in times of trouble and stress and cataclysm. Friends are needed to see us through when everything is crashing down around us. Friends are necessary for life. They meet our human needs, not our human wants.
Were friends a luxury for that person on the pallet lowered through the roof? No! Those friends got him back his mobility, his life. They weren’t just entertainment or a hobby. They were his life support and his life line.
Jesus recognized the role played by these friends. The man is not healed because of his faith or his devotion, but because of the faith and devotion of his friends. Jesus was so impressed with the friends that he healed the man.
Jesus knew the importance of friendships. For support and nurture. But also for personal growth, for helping birth our best selves, our truest identity. Jesus knew that we need friends for inspiration and motivation. To set us straight. To let us vent. To offer encouragement. To have fun. To share food and ideas and experiences. To dream with. There is a beautiful passage in the gospel of John where Jesus tells the disciples in his last discourse, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my God.” [John15:12-15]
Friends. People need us, need friends, to help them through the roof. To enrich their lives and help them to find healing and wholeness. And we need friends. To let us down through the roof. So that we do not stay stuck in our paralysis, so that we do not languish in our isolation, so that we have a broader context for recognizing the presence and work of Divine Love in our lives. We need friends to live fully and to know abundant joy. We are needed to be friends to find our highest good and our fullest joy. Where would that paralyzed person be without the friends who put him through the roof? And since this is the fourth of July, I want to extend this concept of friendship to a societal scale. This is a day to celebrate the founding of our country. It is a day to fly a flag and give thanks for the many freedoms we enjoy. It is a time to celebrate the beauty of our country and the abundance that we enjoy.
But while the potential to be robust may be there, our country is deeply divided. Rural and urban. Republican and Democrat. White and people of color. Citizen and alien. Vaccinated and anti vaxxers. There is the mainstream and the down stream, the underclass. Those who are not even factored into the public good. The expendables. There are so many broken threads that used to bind us together that there is not just fraying but a growing tear in the fabric of our country. This was said outwardly by our European allies at the recent G7 meeting. They are worried about the condition of American democracy, about the ability of our society to hold itself together.
Our country is suffering. It is diminished. Maybe debilitated in some ways. Maybe even becoming paralyzed. I heard this week from someone in the congregation who has been trying to contact the Florida unemployment system everyday for over a month. No response. Can’t get through. And I have gotten 4 letters in the past month from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity about my unemployment claim. What unemployment claim? Looks to me like I am working! I got an email from the Republican party dividing the country into two camps: The Americans. And the Democrats. And even after George Floyd, unarmed black people are still being killed by police. So many things in our society are just. So. Screwed. Up. This is extremely sad given the amazing resources and potential that we have. Our country has so much to share, to give, to contribute, so that all residents may experience “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
And since we are talking about a healing story, let’s give a shout out to the health care system. Maybe the most twisted sector of our society. There are so many amazing resources for healing in our country, but we seem completely deficient at universal equitable delivery of those resources. There are so many impediments and restrictions and exorbitant costs. How do we lower our healthcare system through the roof for healing so that all may benefit from its life giving power?
Sometimes it feels like we are all paralyzed and bound to the mat, unable to make a difference.
But this Fourth of July reminds us that we need to befriend our beloved country. We need to be the ones that lower our ailing democracy through the roof, that go to extreme measures, to seek the health and well-being of our political and social systems. Like with any friendship, this involves honesty, truth telling, support, and sacrifice. We need to take care of our country so that our country can take care of us. Friendship is mutual. There are seasons and ebbs and flows, but friendship involves giving receiving on both sides.
And we notice in the story from Mark that the paralyzed person is lowered through the roof and when he arrives in Jesus’ presence, he is forgiven. A conversation ensues about authority and blasphemy but that is a subject for another sermon. First, the man on the mat is forgiven. Subsequently Jesus heals the man and he takes up his mat and walks. Here we think about the need for forgiveness in our country. Forgiveness for the institution of slavery and its aftermath that continues to plaque our society today. We need forgiveness as part of the healing process. Forgiveness on all fronts regarding our national heritage of systemic racism. And for the things we have done to harm and disrupt life for people in this country and in other countries as well. Until we pursue this, we will never be able to get up on our feet and fully function as a nation.
And for all the people in this country who still do go to church, there should be plenty to take up the task of befriending our nation. Of bringing our nation to the way of Jesus for healing and wholeness. And we can do this because of the separation of church and state and our freedom of religion. We who are followers of Jesus can offer his way to our wider society to promote healing. We can foster: generosity, compassion, a second chance, respect and dignity for all, concern for children, justice, forgiveness, equity, love of enemy, including your political enemy. All of this we have to offer without insisting on religious indoctrination or imposing our doctrine on anyone. The way of Jesus can do much toward helping our country to rise up and fully function for everyone.
We need friendship for our healing and well being not just as individuals but as a society. And through our relationships we can learn to bridge the divides, we can learn to span the gulfs between us, with good will. Through friendship we can learn to understand those who are different from us. Through friendship, we can get to know ourselves better. Our horizons expand and our hearts open. We increase our capacity for compassion. So that we can be like those four beautiful friends that lowered their ailing friend through the roof.
We close with words appropriate for the day from the hymn America the Beautiful:
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood [friendship]
From sea to shining sea!
UNISON READING From Avignon, France, adapted
All gifts I might receive from God today
I offer to the heavens
with this prayer:
May my friend from her sickbed see
heartening new horizons roll back
from her suffering
MUSICAL INTERLUDE Lean on Me Withers
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory The More We Get Together German folk
Prayer of Dedication Based on Christina Feldman
“There is not always a solution to suffering but there is always a possible response.” May we seek that response within ourselves and within this faith community. May we offer the healing love of Jesus to one another and to the world. Amen.
PREPARATION FOR COMMUNION
Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life
You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar. Please observe physical distancing.
CELEBRATION OF HOLY COMMUNION
Communion Prayer-Savior’s Prayer
Our Creator, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Blessing the Bread and Cup
Sharing the Meal
*BENEDICTION St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591
I saw the river over which every soul must pass
to reach the kingdom of heaven,
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw the boat which carries souls across that river,
and the name of that boat was love.
*POSTLUDE For the Healing of the Nations Purcell