Ultimate Connect Group
Luke 5: 17-26
How important are relationships?
This theme is vital to both our individual and church health – from the time of Adam and Eve, life is meant to be lived in community with others.
Yogi Berra – “its important to go to somebody’s funeral because if you don’t go to theirs, they won’t go to yours.”
In our day of skepticism of any authority and with the ramping up of consumerism and individualism, I am often asked: why go to church? There are many reasons for that answer but one that I want to talk about today is that church is the ultimate connect group. One of the greatest task of the church is to help you connect with God and connect with others to carry out the mission of Jesus in the world. Church is not something you attend; it is a community you become a part of.
Share a story – 1st century connect group. What would it mean to be paralyzed in the first century? Certainly it is very difficult in today’s society with all of our medical advancements but in the first century, it was even worse.
The Greeks regularly disposed of handicapped children and in Rome there was a law on the books until the 5th century that stated: it is ok to quickly kill a deformed child. The Jews were much more compassionate but there was a stigma attached to physical and mental handicaps. It was the erroneous thinking that you or your parents must have sinned terribly. Recall the story of the disciples asking Jesus about a blind man – who sinned?
To be a paralytic means that someone would have to feed you, clothe you, and move you from place to place. In fact you would be totally dependent on other people. That’s a humbling experience – most of us want to believe we can fend for ourselves.
What does he have going for him? No job, no money, No social welfare, no rehabilitation programs, no way to earn a living other than begging. Not much of a future except for one thing: he had friends. As long as you have friends, you have hope.
Jesus comes to town and his friends say: lets go see this remarkable rabbi – wait – what about Joe (name isn’t Joe but rather than continue to call him a paralytic, I am going to call him Joe).
I am using the word ‘community” to mean a cluster of friends in relationship with one another. In this context, it could mean community of the church, in the community of your family, in the community of your small connect group. This story illustrates for us the value of being in community.
Real community values people over things
Illustration from City Slickers and Billy Crystal.
3 guys who are trying to figure out what life is all about.
I don’t care how many things you have unless you are living in community with significant other people, your life will be lacking. Relationships give meaning and significance to life. Contentment is not found in things but in relationships. It includes a relationship with God through Jesus and relationships with others in a community.
In Real Community individuals believe in each other
Since Joe couldn’t walk there, he needed his friends to provide him with help. The mat on which he lay instead of being an albatross became an opportunity for servanthood. They tell Joe they’ll pick him up at 9: and when you are paralyzed they really mean they will pick you up.
Friends encourage, support and elevate one another to a higher level of living.
Story of Orel Hersheiser – VB strong Christian his community was a baseball team – Tommy LaSorda – Orel was tall, skinny, meek kind of guy who was very mild mannered. Rough outing – Lasorda goes to the mound. Don’t see a skinny scared kid; I see a fighter, man with guts and determination, I see a bulldog – from now on I’m not calling you Orel, I’m calling you bulldog. Orel said he referred to as the meeting on the mound. Went on to be the ace of the world champions – set a record of 59 scoreless innings. Won Cy Young award, led the Dodgers to the 1988 world series champions.
Orel needed someone to challenge him to reach his potential. So do we.
Real community requires trust.
Take him to the house but it is jam packed. SRO only with no place to stand. Jesus is close but they can’t get to him. What should we do? The Presbyterian in the group says lets have a meeting; the CHOG guy says lets pray about it; the Baptist says lets share the gospel with the people outside; but the practical guy says lets knock a hole in the roof. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. Joe says lets just do it.
Climb on the roof: thatched straw, reeds, and branches over wooden beams and dried mud. Straight out of a Mission Impossible episode, they come down through the roof. The guests gawk, Jesus stops his talk and the owner of the house says: hey what are you guys doing? I don’t need a skylight installed – get off the roof.
This is a story about trust. What is Joe thinking?
Joe had to trust his friends? Think about how you would feel if you are on the roof – don’t drop me guys – are these ropes secure?
Joe had to trust the crowd?– they may see me as butting ahead in line as everyone wants to see Jesus but not many make such a dramatic entrance.
Joe had to trust Jesus? He may in the middle of an important point and not want to be interrupted – no cell phones but sometimes people get a little touchy when interrupted. what if he scolds me or ignores me or vaporizes me?
Healthy Community cannot exist without trust –family – church – nation. When we can’t trust someone, things fall apart.
Real community involves vulnerability
Imagine the shame of being let down through a roof lying on a mat in front on hundreds of people. In real community friends see our deformities, our weaknesses, our failures and yet still choose to love us.
Psychologist and author Henry Cloud story: Henry was leading a group of patients at a addiction clinic. Man in the group with a sexual addiction – despite praying over it – unable to break the habit – one morning he didn’t show up – turns out he had relapsed. Henry went to see him and convinced him to come back to the meetings. Head down – shoulders slouching – wouldn’t look up at his friends. Finally his story came out – years of misconduct – shame – guilt – embarrassment. Henry said look at your friends – can’t – too ashamed – but when he looked up – every eye in the room was moistened with tears – one by one they came by and hugged him – entered into his pain. For the first time in his life – he had shared his story with people who knew his sin yet loved him anyway. It was the breaking point for the healing to begin. Henry said it still took a long time – lot of work but the healing began that day and now he is free. He still needs accountability and people to tell him the truth but he is free.
When I was learning how to do small groups, I was instructed that at the end of the year, you needed to divide the group and start two groups. That will produce growth but it won’t produce depth and significant change. That’s the way I did it for years. I was wrong. Until you have been with a connect group long enough to trust them, you won’t open up. You may make superficial attempts at your problems but the deep ones, the ones that no one knows, the ones that haunt you in your sleep; those will remain hidden until you know it is safe to share with friends who will accept you and love you no matter what. That’s the ultimate connect group.
real community involves spiritual growth
The friends have nothing to ask for themselves. Their concern is for Joe. Then there is an amazing scripture – when he saw their faith. Usually it is the faith of the person who wants to be healed – we aren’t told about his faith only his friends. I know that in most cases faith is personal – we must each decide if we believe the story – if we have faith in Jesus as our Savior but the faith of the community has great power.
When we moved into this facility in 1998, there were about 300 of us – we took on $2.7 MM in debt – increased our operating expenses. We could not have done that without the faith of the community group. Not just the pastor and elders but a congregation that had faith that God had some wonderful plans for us. Because of that group faith, we have seen some remarkable things over the past 14 years.
Jesus looks down at Joe surrounded by four sweaty anxious friends and he says: your sins are forgiven.
I wonder what Joe is thinking – he wanted to be healed and Jesus went a step further – healed his body and soul. Isn’t that just like God – to go beyond our dreams and expectations and surprise us with his grace and mercy.
Being in a safe and trusting community has a way of surfacing the sin issue.
What sins can a paralytic commit anyway? Not going to rob anyone, kill somebody or commit adultery. There is a deepness to this story beyond the surface. While we focus on the outward sins, the visible ones, God often hones in on the inward sins. Things like resentment, arrogance, pride, jealousy, prejudice and the greatest sin: lack of love. Those are easily hidden.
Your best friends are those that are willing to challenge you and hold you spiritually accountable. They help you walk the journey of faith. They lift you up when you fall; they rejoice with you when you succeed but ultimately they tell you the truth even when it hurts. That’s real community.
Are there any words more meaningful, significant, soothing, more welcomed than these words from Jesus: your sins are forgiven.
Conclusion: what does God think about all day?
Trick question because he can is omniscient and so he can think about multiple things at once. What preoccupies his thinking? We can answer that by looking at Jesus
Do you know what occupies Jesus thinking? You do. He is constantly thinking about the people he loves. He gives us parables about finding lost coins, sheep, and lost people. He is searching for community with you. He looks at people, sees their needs and decides how can I help them? The God who is revealed in Jesus is a God who is preoccupied with finding, redeeming, and loving people in the great community of faith.
Ending: vs. 25-26 man stands to his feet and walks – muscles would have atrophied so this is a miracle of total rehabilitation. Joe is healed spiritual and physically and can celebrate with his community of friends the goodness of God.
The rest of the community – filled with awe – we have seen remarkable things. All because a group of friends who cared about one of their members.
Where is your spiritual community? Where do you find comforters in time of loss; laughter in time of joy and encouragement in times of distress. Where ever you find it, that is your community.