Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


When I was a young preacher, in my 2nd year in a full-time church, taking in 103 new members in my first year there, which I assumed was normal, but which I matched only one more time in 40 years of fulltime ministry, while I was also going to seminary full-time, commuting daily between Cedar Lake, IN and Evanston, IL, 2 hours or more each way, which was when I learned to prepare sermons by simply reading the Scripture for the coming Sunday, since I had no other time to prepare, and then thinking about it all week as I commuted, and working into my mental outline all the things I saw and heard and read that week, unless I picked up Ed Tucker and/or Paul Blankenship in south Chicago to go on up to Garrett Theological Seminary, where we were all students, and then we had a little preaching seminar as we drove, which was much better than preparing on my own, I preached on the story of the men who heard that Jesus was in town, and so picked up their lame friend on his pallet and took him to the house where Jesus was, with the hope that Jesus could cure him, but could not get their lame friend into the house, because there were so many people there, so they took their friend up on the roof, made a hole in the roof, and lowered their lame friend down to Jesus. [I’m practicing to fulfill my one true goal of writing an entire book, 106 thousand words, that is only one sentence. But not today…]

As I preached, I asked what I thought was a rhetorical question: “What would we do if people were so anxious to hear about Jesus that they made a hole in the roof to get into church?” Lilly Foster, in the 2nd row, old then, but younger than I am now, yelled, “We’d arrest ‘em!” She was probably right.

I worry some about the preachers at our church, Jimmy and Mary Beth. They ask a lot of questions as they preach [“How many of you think Docetism is a greater heresy than Arianism?], usually requesting a show of hands, which is fairly safe, since they don’t pay much attention to them, anyway, but if you’re not careful, somebody will answer out loud, which is okay during the children’s time, usually, but is much more precarious if someone like Lilly, or real estate mogul Vic Stenger, the time I was reciting all the ills of the world in a sermon, yelled out “Don’t forget the Federal Reserve Board,” decides to answer.

I don’t worry about our preachers too much, though, because they preach so well in general, as they did a couple of Sundays ago, in a dialogue sermon, on that same story, the hole in the roof for the sake of the friend.

Those men did not know if Jesus could heal their friend, but they wanted that opportunity for him, so much so that they were willing to get him up onto the roof, not an easy task, and make a hole, again, not an easy task, even if it were, as some scholars believe, a hot weather roof that was mostly a lattice of tree limbs and fronds and so did not require a lot of sawing and prying to make a hole, and risk the anger of the house owner and the law, and lower him down, another not easy task…

After Now That I Have Cancer I Am Whole: Reflections on Faith and Life for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, was published, I received a lot of invitations to speak to conferences of cancer patients.

When it was a fund raiser, as it often was, to be able to provide free mammograms or other treatments, I said, “By being here today, by paying your way in here, it’s possible that someone who would not otherwise get an early diagnosis will get it and have the opportunity to be cured. You didn’t know that when you paid your way, but you were willing to take that chance, because you wanted to take your stance on the side of healing. So on behalf of someone you don’t even know, someone who hasn’t even received treatment yet, I say to you, ‘Thank you, for taking your stance on the side of healing.’”

That’s what those men did for their friend. They took their chance and their stance on the side of healing. That’s always the side where followers of Jesus take their stance.

John Robert McFarland

There are many paths to illness, and many ways of healing. The slowest way to healing, but the best, is up the greenest hill, for it is from beyond the hills that help comes, and you can’t see it except from the crest, but when you have climbed the steepest hill, you may find that in the climbing you were healed.

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