Reflection prepared for 2016 Annual General Meeting–the theme of which is Allons-y!/Let’s Go!–of the Montréal & Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada. Originally presented in both French and English.
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— 11 ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go…’ 12 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!’
(Mark 2:9-12 NRSVA)
Nous n’avons jamais rien vu de pareil! dit la foule autour de Jésus.
We have never seen anything like this.
In the Gospels and in the person of Jesus Christ, our God is a God of miracles, of things that are too difficult for humans to understand. Starting with the earthly ministry of Jesus, the history of our faith, of the church, is a story of a God who loves, and who surprises, God’s people.
But where do we find the church in this little story? Is the church the curious crowd searching for Jesus as a prophet, or perhaps as a showman? I don’t think so. I find the church in the four friends who carry the bed of their paralysed friend. There is a little, but strong, community of faithfulness, who believe together, who act together, who would see the power of God, together.
And miracles continue. It is a blessing and honour to me that what I get to see what a conference youth and young adult minister gets to see. I hope you saw some of it, in the wonderful youth, who chose, on a beautiful summer Saturday, to spend all day today with us, leading in worship, and shaping the church they love for their peers and the future.
As far as the miracle we read about today: I was struck by one particular detail in this story. I wonder what the man, paralysed for so long, thought about his mat? On one hand, it was a sign of his condition, a necessary but confining reminder of what he could not do. But Jesus doesn’t say forget your mat. Leave your mat. Rejoicingly burn your mat. He says pick it up, take it with you. Because on the other hand, it was familiar. It was a constant. Whether this man kept it for life as reminder of how far he came or if threw it out at home, we don’t know. But Jesus seems to have recognised the season of transition. Both/and. Take your mat with you, but walk away on your feet.
I think our traditions can be mats. Our faith traditions, our policy traditions, our procedure traditions. They can be familiar, they can be comforting, they can support us during very particular seasons of particular need. They are good when they are needed. But what if Jesus calls us to fold them all up, and walk somewhere else? Are all our traditions, the way we are used to things being done, a foundation of comfort and strength for us, or a relic of our past from which we are now called to get up and walk away? Yes. But even as we walk somewhere new, we take our mat with us. It is tempting to either avoid transitions by clinging to our mats and refusing to get up; or by setting them on fire and running away from it all. Jesus says keep the mat, get up, and walk.
We are called to be the church. To love and serve God and one another and our communities here in the Montréal-Ottawa Conference and beyond. As we do this holy business, remember: we are not the Unanimous Church of Canada. We are not the Unchallenged or unchallenging Church of Canada. We are the United Church of Canada. Whether or not we even know what we are doing, we trust in a God whose knowledge surpasses all our understanding and we are United in walking together.
Let’s pick up our mats, not forgetting our past, but not living in it either. Allons-y. Let’s Go. Amen.