Do you remember the Magic 8-ball? They probably still sell them down at Spencer’s Gifts in the mall or somewhere. They looked like a pool ball, the 8-ball to be exact, except that it was about three times as big as any 8-ball I’ve ever tried to shoot into a corner pocket. If you have never seen one of these things, it is a large round, plastic, black ball that is flat on the bottom, with a little window so that you can see inside of the toy. And it has some sort of liquid inside of it so that you can shake the multi-sided answer cube inside. The Magic 8-ball is supposed to be able to answer any question that you have . . . well, as long as your question has a yes or no answer to it. You see, when you shake that Magic 8-ball, a little multi-sided cube on the inside of the ball comes floating up through the murky water to the flat-spot window on the bottom. This is how the answer to your question is revealed!
Now, the magic 8-ball isn’t magic. It’s a toy. It is the type of toy that sells well with teenagers who want to know whether so-and-so likes them or not. They’ll sit there and think hard on the question and shake the Magic 8-ball. Here’s come the answer! I can almost see it!
What do you mean Felicia doesn’t like me any more?!? Maybe I should ask one more time . . .
The funny thing is, in the lectionary passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul almost seems to be saying that God has a version of the Magic 8-ball. And God’s Magic 8-ball has only one answer that comes floating to the top. Question after question after question: God answers “yes.”
Now that sounds pretty simple, right? And I guess if you take that at face value then God ends up being a lot like Daddy Warbucks. And for some people, maybe that is the case. It sounds good, but in my experience and maybe in yours too, the situations in our lives are not so simple as asking for something from God and receiving it. Sure, we believe that God says “yes” to us, that God hears our prayers, that God is concerned for us. But our experience in the world is of great sorrow and tragedy, of difficulties in our lives, of times when we are in need of aid and there doesn’t seem to be any help available.
I remember growing up in Dublin when there was a young girl who couldn’t have been much older than 12 who had cancer. She came to our church several times because she was friends with a good friend of mine’s brother.
The family of this young girl must have tried just about everything. I don’t blame them for that. I would have too. It just doesn’t seem right for someone that young to have cancer . . . and for it to be terminal. There are situations that I know you have encountered too that you think, “This just doesn’t seem right. I am not ready for this. Why does it have to be this way?” We don’t understand sometimes. And we wish that things were different.
This family in Dublin wished deeply that their little girl could be cured of her cancer. And even when someone recommended a faith healer to them, they accepted the visit. The faith healer came and did his best. And then at the end of his time with the family, after much praying, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, this faith healer pronounced that apparently this family did not have enough faith. Then he left. Not only was this family feeling persecuted by this cancer, but now they had been told that God was against them too. When we read a scripture like this that says that God’s answer is “yes”, we struggle with what this means for us . . . and for our world. And if God says “yes”, what is our response . . .
We read about another “yes” in Mark 2. This was a “yes” that came from Jesus.
This is a wonderful story about the dedication of friends to someone who had a disability, who was paralyzed. Other people would have given up and gone home when they saw that the front door was clogged with people. But these friends said, “Yes . . . there must be another way.”
So what do they do? They went to the roof, peeled it back and dropped their friend into the home where Jesus was!
Somewhere along the line, these friends had understood that Jesus was revealing God to people. And that this was a God who said “yes” to people that no one else said “yes” to. Understand that it was considered a result of sin in that day for someone to have any sort of disability, any type of infirmity. But Jesus was revealing a God who brings healing, who restores people, who provides the opportunity for everyone to live more fully, richly, and abundantly. And sometimes this means real physical healing. And other times this means that God gives strength and comfort in the midst of the struggle.
Or maybe God sends you some friends to help you find your way in.
Now understanding the “yes” that God gives us, as Paul said, does not mean an easy road. God is continually saying “yes” to us. Maybe the most difficult part for us is not God’s “yes”; it is our own response to that “yes”. The hard part is answering that “yes”, because it may mean a hard road for us. Our answer of “yes” may mean tearing off some roofs around us that prevent people from encountering God through Jesus.
We tend to think of things as either this or that. Either you are sick or well. Either you are right or wrong. It is either my way or the highway, right!?!
God offers us the answer of “yes”. It is a wonderful, rich and complex answer. For God to say “yes” is not a simple matter. And for us to say our “yes”, may upset and change our world too.
Notice how upset these scribes become in our reading today when Jesus said that he forgave this man’s sins. “Only God can forgive sins,” they cried. That’s right. Jesus came to us to forgive us our failings. To say “yes” to us even when everyone else says “no”. Jesus says, “Come. Eat at my table. I don’t care if you are a ‘sinner’. I don’t care if you can’t come to me in the way everyone else did, through the front door.” Jesus says, “I don’t care if you look different from me. I don’t care if you have money or don’t.” Jesus just says “yes”. But maybe the hardest part for us, maybe the part where we struggle the most, is saying “yes” to Jesus.
It may mean taking the roof off.