[image: St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 2009, JA Van Devender]
Location: Baden, MD.
Matthew 9:6 (NKJV)
6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”
For some reason the image shows up darker here on the blog than it was on my computer. Oh well..
This is the "new" building housing the historic congregation. This one was built in 1733 to replace the first one built sometime around 1692. If you stand close to it and gaze up at the sun-dial that extends from the wall above the door, it is almost as if you can feel the history... the doors opened, the rustic colonials stamping the mud from their feet as they walk up the brick walkway, the parish priest or perhaps even the bishop (the very first one consecrated in America served this congregation as rector) standing at the door saluting each man, woman or child by name as they slipped into the cool darkness of the sanctuary.
They lived with the very real presence of Native Americans though the tribes were fast being pushed out of the area by the robust colonial expansion. This area was farming land but was proximate to the Chesapeake Bay and a day's trip away from Annapolis so they were not entirely out in the sticks... but it is easy to image how distant their lives would have seemed from our own.
One thing remains constant - they, like we, saw that the abiding truth of Jesus Christ was vitally important to their continued labor, hope and joy.
The paralytic that Jesus addressed in the passage above probably had not awakened that morning with any expectation of how his day would end. To call his life miserable, by our standards, would be such an understatement as to be ludicrous. There were few safety nets... alms for the poor and perhaps some help from family or friends might be about it. But day in and day out assistance to a man who had to have help with his bodily functions, his cleansing, his food, his transportation, etc. was more than just an inconvenience... it took the helper away from those activities necessary for survival. This was a "hand to mouth" culture... there was little if any excess time or resources for helpers to draw from. This paralytic must have been deadened in his soul from the depressing effects of being a burden to others and useless in his own sight.
When his friends brought him to Jesus there must have been a trace of "I'm afraid to hope too much" in his thoughts. He had lived with disappointment for so long... but why not give it a shot. Faith takes on a "hard-edge" when people live difficult lives and there is no great expectation of it changing. There was probably some common ground between this paralytic and those colonial worshipers in this regard. But still they came to Jesus even as did he. They walked where he was carried, but they got there.
And the message they heard was the same... "Child, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you." The paralytic did not first hear that his physical condition was healed. He had to hear that the deeper need, the soul-paralysis that binds us to death, was first in priority. Had he been carried away from Jesus with his paralysis still in place, that ancient Jew would still have been blessed beyond measure. To know that our sins are forgiven is the ground of all hope, the foundation of all joy, the only basis for meaning and purpose in our lives. God in His providence heals and doesn't heal our infirmities, depending on His purposes in our lives and in the world about us. But God in His grace forgives our sins ... whenever we are brought to HIm for that purpose.
It is the Holy Spirit that moves us... carries us... motivates us... drags us... to Him. But we get there and when we do the blessed voice speaks to our soul and the comforting tones transform our lives... "Your sins are forgiven you! I have authority on earth to forgive... and I forgive you. No one can condemn you for your sins... ever. No one can take My pardon from you. Heaven and earth may pass away but my word shall stand... and you, my child, are forgiven."
That brother who heard those words that day must have danced until mid-night or until exhaustion crumpled him to the ground. Not every soul that passed through those church doors were relieved of their pain... or had their loved ones returned to them... or were guaranteed a sufficient crop for harvest... but they heard the words of life... they knew their place in God's Kingdom... and they knew from whence they had been saved and to what destination they were traveling.
The message has not changed... the need for the message is unaltered... trivial circumstances are different but that is all. Knowing our sins are forgiven remains the deepest need and the greatest joy that any mortal soul can possess.