Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Surprising Generosity

                                              Reflections on Mark 2:12; Luke 5:26

And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
                                                                                                Luke 5:26 (ESV)

It’s what happened at the beginning of time. All God did was speak.

Now, in a house in Capernaum, Jesus -- the “Word made flesh”, “through whom all things were made” 1 – spoke twice to the paralytic. First, to heal his heart. Second, to heal his body. What did that feel like?

To feel forgiveness enter his paralyzed heart and soul?

To feel the power of God rush into his legs? Was it visible to his sight? Did he see muscle suddenly appear, his legs swell with strength? Or was there no change at all? It’s just, now, he could feel them. He could move them. Maybe for the first time ever? And with it, this impulse to get up on his feet and stand. Did he even know how to do it – on his own, with no one helping him?

And there he is – standing!

Were there gasps? Is that what “amazement” and “awe” sound like at first? Did everyone in the house get up on their feet too? Did they burst into applause? Were there shrieks of joy and shouts of praise? Was their singing, spontaneous and loud, as they began “glorifying God” with all their heart and might?

Did the same thing happen on the roof?

Did his friends shout for joy as they saw him healed? Could they even contain themselves? Did they dance? Did they lift their voice and announce the news to everybody outside watching? What did they say? How did they say it?

Did the crowd gasp in “amazement” and “awe” too?

Did the song of praise inside the house become the song of praise outside? It must have been infectious for it is said that everyone began “glorifying God.”

Everyone – it “seized them all.”

Which means the scribes and Pharisees too. Whether they wanted to or not, they’d seen the “extraordinary.” They’d witnessed the kindness and generosity of Almighty God to the paralyzed man. They were there, in the house, maybe sitting front row? There can be no question whatsoever: The Lord had “given such authority to men.” 2 And in particular, this man Jesus of Nazareth.

And more, they could feel it. This joy, this “everlasting joy” that would come, the prophets said, when the lame shall “leap like a deer.”  3

But would that joy change their hearts?

In the gospel record, these men – Pharisees and scribes – would continue to oppose Jesus to the end. But does that mean all of them? Is it possible that sitting in the house that day were men like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus – men who belonged to them but were different than them? Men who heard the word of Jesus and, at the same time, felt exactly what the paralyzed man felt?

That maybe, in the surprising generosity of God, as they sat in the house that day, when they least expected it, they were healed too.

*       *       *

The funeral mass for Edmund Walter Pittman was held at St. Catherine of Sienna. The church was nearly full on a Thursday morning in late August.

Father Carey presided.

The service began quietly as the casket was carried by his oldest friends to the front of the church. The priest walked behind, reading passages of hope and comfort from the Bible. After that, the music started. The sound of singing was robust and loud, feeling more like an Easter service than a mass for the dead.

More Scripture was read, this time by Ellie and Tom.

Father Carey then went to the pulpit. I did my best to record his words. After praying and welcoming family and friends, he started right in.

Well, look at this, will you? Ed Pittman finally came to church!

‘Course, some of you may be saying, “Bout the only way you’d get him here.”

I couldn’t agree more. After fifty plus years as a member of this church, he said he could count the number of times he’d been here on two hands.

So I didn’t expect much when Ellie called last week and said she wanted me to visit her father in the hospital. Generally, in my experience, in situations like this, the priest is there to comfort the family more than the dying. So, I went fully expecting the family wanted me there to administer Last Rites.

But I never did.

It wasn’t Ellie who wanted me there. It was Ed. Now some of you are going to have a hard time believing that. You know Ed. Some of you have known him since he married and started a shop here in town fifty–six years ago. You know he wanted nothing to do with God. He spent his Sundays on the golf course or in card games. He made fun of those who needed to lean on the crutch of religion.

Those are his words, not mine.

Now listen carefully. Ed Pittman wanted to ask me if it was possible to give his life to Jesus Christ on his death bed. Did you hear that? That was his question to me. He said he’d already prayed with his son, Walt, to become a Christian and, after that prayer, something happened that surprised him. It may surprise you.

Ed Pittman told me he believed in God.

At once, I assured him that God “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…” 4 So, yes, I said. If the Lord extends mercy at our last hour, then the answer is yes.

“But this late in life?” he asked. “Is it really possible?”

My friends, it is possible. I rarely see it. Not like this. I stand here this morning to tell you that Ed Pittman was a changed man. God had mercy on him. Christ came into that crusty old heart of his and made him a new man. I saw it with my own eyes. I don’t have any other words for it – it was miraculous.

And Ed knew it.

I want you to know it

Father Carey then pointed to Walt and asked him to join him at the pulpit. Walt came up, nervously cleared his throat, and started.

I came to faith in Jesus Christ in my early twenties. Soon after, my wife, Carol, taught me to love my father as Christ loved me. She said if Jesus could do that for me, I could do that for my dad.

I didn’t want to.

Dad wanted nothing to do with me growing up. So I decided, after high school, I wanted nothing to do with him either.

But Christ made a difference in my life. He wanted me to choose a different path. And so, I’ve spent a lifetime loving my dad by doing simple things. Like helping him around the house, or taking care of Mom, or doing whatever he needed.

But deep down, I wanted to do more for Dad.

I tried telling him about Christ when our son Zane was sick in the hospital. But he wanted nothing to do with it. He said, and I’ll never forget it, “That’s not for me, son.” It broke my heart. I know God’s mercy is more than taking care of our earthly needs. It’s meant to bring us to God and open a door to heaven.

And I wanted Dad in heaven.

So this past week in the hospital, I tried to tell him about Jesus again. And I don’t know why it was different this time, but it was and I knew it. He knew it.

All I can tell you is that mercy came.

Walt’s voice broke. He tried to gather himself but couldn’t. Surprisingly, one of Ed’s old friends stood up in the front row and went to Walt. He put his arm around him and turned to speak to the congregation.

A week ago, I’d have told you what we’re hearing this morning is complete rubbish. It’s not Ed. It’s not the man we’ve known all these years. But last Friday, I got to see him in the hospital. And what these two men are saying – I got to see it for myself. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what to make of it. And I’ve never said this in my entire life. But, praise the Lord, everybody. Praise the Lord!

And suddenly, we were all on our feet. All of us. Father Carey moved toward the casket and, with a beautiful baritone voice, began singing John Newton’s old hymn, Amazing Grace. We all did. People sang. People cried. And for a brief moment – whether it changed anybody or not – “everlasting joy” came.

Filling the church. Filling us all.

1 John 1:14, 3
2 Matthew 9:8
3 Isaiah 35:6, 10
4 Ephesians 2:4-5

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?