Summary: A sermon about bringing the marginalized to Jesus.
“Whatever It Takes”
At the church I served in East Ridge, we had this beautiful member named Tootsie Watson.
She had been a member of the church her entire life.
Now, granted, East Ridge United Methodist Church is this year, only celebrating its 25th anniversary, but the Church is the result of a merger between two congregations—St. James United Methodist Church—the site of the current church—and Ridgedale United Methodist.
Tootsie and her parents had originally been members of Ridgedale Methodist.
Ridgedale was located in East Lake, a deteriorating part of town.
And that is where Tootsie lived for her entire life—all 89 years of her life-- in the same house where she was born, in the same house where her parents died.
At age 4, she was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and the doctor told her parents that Tootsie wouldn't live past the age of 7.
As it turned out; Tootsi outlived everyone--her parents, sister, and 4 brothers--even her father--Joe who lived to be 101.
Tootsie was confined to a wheelchair her entire life.
She could not move her legs.
She could only barely move the wrist of one arm, and that’s it!
She couldn't do life's basic necessities by herself.
A caretaker had to come and put her in bed, in a position that she would have to stay in until someone would come the next morning and get her up and get her dressed and back into her wheelchair.
And, amazingly, Tootsie managed her own affairs--she lived independently, in her own home.
This is remarkable for someone who was basically paralyzed.
Over the 6 years I was her pastor—she passed away while I was still serving East Ridge--I met people who told me that Tootsie was a sort of "counselor" or "mentor" to them.
She would, on occasion, call me up and ask me to pray for someone or speak with someone whom she was helping through a tough time.
A lot of people looked "up" to Tootsie.
She was an inspiration.
She was a mighty witness for God.
She always kept a smile on her face.
She had an almost magical gleam in her eyes.
Everyone loved her.
Her favorite song was “What a Friend We have in Jesus.”
Members of the church used to pick Tootsie up for church in their cars, but they finally bought the wheelchair accessible van that is still used today to bring a good 15-20 people, who otherwise would not be able to attend, to worship and other events every week.
Tootsie loved her church, and her church loved her.
Her church, and those who paid for and drove that wheel-chair accessible van were, in a very real sense, Tootsie’s “4 corner holders” shall we say.
The paralyzed man in our Gospel Lesson for this morning had “4 corner holders”—four people who carried him to Jesus.
And it wasn’t easy for them, nor was it convenient.
Imagine what it would be like, not only to push through that crowd to get to the roof of the house, but then to “dig through it” and “lower the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.”
These four-corner holders were—quite literally—willing to do whatever it takes to get this guy to Jesus!
And not only was this an extremely hard thing to do, physically, it was an extremely risky thing to do socially and religiously.
And that is because people with disabilities, in that day and age, weren’t a whole lot different than lepers, as far as being hustled off to the margins of society and religion.
According to Leviticus Chapter 21, they were people with “defects” and people with “defects” were not allowed to come near the sanctuary of God.
That included the blind, the mutilated, hunchbacks, dwarfs and any number of other persons.
The average person in Jesus’ day would have taken one look at the paralyzed man and said, “That guy is a sinner!”
It was just assumed that physical disabilities and other sicknesses were punishments from God for sinful behavior.
Remember in John’s Gospel when Jesus’ disciples asked Him, point-blank, whether a man born blind had sinned himself or whether his blindness was due to his parents’ sin?
That’s how people thought back then.
It’s just the way it was.
And remember how, in the Gospels, over and over again Jesus is accused by the religious authorities of hanging out with, welcoming and eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners?
Well, who are the sinners?
They include the deformed, the disfigured, the blind, dwarfs, hunchbacks, eunuchs, the paralyzed—you name it!
So, the paralytic guy in our Gospel Lesson for this morning, he is someone whom both the religious authorities and the general public thought of as a “sinner.”
I mean, he must have done something REALLY bad in order for him to end up in the situation he is in.