7th Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 43:18-25
Reading 2: 
Psalm 41
Reading 3: 
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Reading 4: 
Mark 2:1-12
By Rick Marshall

Discussion of the Texts:

Personally, I like decisive people. I like to know where I stand with another in openness and honesty. Was there ever a time when a handshake was as good as a person’s word? Was it only a Golden Past dream that a person’s Yes meant Yes and No meant No? It seems people equivocate and hedge and sit on the fence with both Yes and No, trying to please everyone, or trying to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives, or reacting to the world out of fear. "Truthiness" reigns! (Thanks Colbert Report.) We pine for integrity and truth.

How refreshing then to read Paul in the 2 Corinthians text: “Do I make my plans like a worldly person, ready to say Yes and No at once?” The answer to his own question is enlightening and important: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”

That may very well sum up Paul’s theology. His theology is rooted in God’s stance toward creation. Jesus Christ is God’s Yes to us. Yes is not an answer to a question, it is a choice of affirmation of creation, in spite of creation’s short comings, failures and struggles resulting from sin.

Yes, I believe, is meant to be life affirming. God is decisive toward us, desiring well being and blessing. Is there anything clearer, more powerful, than a person’s stance of Yes toward us? It involves a commitment to us, to our well being and life. It requires compassion and forgiveness, respect and love. God’s Yes toward us includes all aspects of God’s involvement in creation. Yes is who God is.

This belief harkens back to the Isaiah text. After reciting Jacob’s and Israel’s failures and sins, God reminds them, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” This is a decisive act on God’s part, choosing how to regard our sins; taking a stand for us in grace and forgiveness.

This is why the religious authorities of his day accused Jesus of blaspheming, because God is the only one who can forgive sins. The text from Mark demonstrates this as Jesus heals a paralytic man, which seems to be okay with the religious authorities. But when Jesus forgives the man his sins, it becomes a theological problem. But which is easier, to heal or to forgive? This becomes a moral problem for the religious authorities, who want to control others in the name of God. For those who want to say No on behalf of God, Jesus negates their use of God and scriptures to control, manipulate and hurt others. Jesus wants to speak on behalf of God by speaking Yes as life affirming. How is Jesus Christ God’s Yes? Look at his teachings about God’s Kingdom, the way he lays out a different value system (esp. the Sermon on the Mount) that affirms life, the way he embodies trust in God’s transforming power in his death and resurrection. God wants to bless creation; God desires well being for all. To know what this means is to simply look at the teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus as God’s anointed one. The world can say No to us, repeatedly. The world will desire control of us, and manipulation and death. But God always says Yes to us, to who we are, to what we can become. Jesus embodied trust in the creative, transforming power of God, which is the primary creaturely response to God’s Yes.

Psalm 41:1-3 offers a vision of what God intends for us. Verses 4-12 describes a broken world, a world made more complicated by us. “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against thee!” Even when we say No to God, God says Yes to us, always.d philosophical question about whether the world is a friendly place or not. Some of the existentialists say the world regards us with benign indifference. Others claim the world is a hostile place. The Christian claim is that the world is a friendly place because its Creator has chosen well being for creation, blessing and life, because of God’s Yes.

Process Theology and the Texts:

There comes a point in each emerging moment of experience when a choice must be made as to how to bring the past into the present with the best possibility given to us by God. Choice is at the very heart of the process world view. Creatures are constantly, moment by moment, making choices as to how to react to their given world, how to respond to God’s lure for them, what to become in the great unfolding of life. Saying No is to narrow the realm of possibilities. Yet, we must say No to much of our world, because if we tried to take in all the world, it would overwhelm us. So our capacity to say Yes is limited because we are limited creatures. But God’s capacity to say Yes is unlimited. God takes the whole world into God’s self and transforms everything in God’s unfolding experience. God says Yes because God transforms everything. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” This statement can be taken in the widest possible sense, defining how God is involved in the unfolding of everything. God’s Yes is also a lure for us, giving us confidence to make choices that affirm life, confident that we are working hand-in-hand with God to promote life.

Preaching the Texts:

The preacher could begin by pining and opining about a sense of lost integrity in relationships, the loss of civility, compassion, solidarity, even if such a world never existed. Lament the negative influence of religious institutions and how they often use their scriptures to control, manipulate and oppress others, saying No to everyone in the most violent and hurtful ways. Most people have a vague sense of what the world should be, what it could be. Talk about the brownness resulting from sin, using Psalm 41:4-9. Talk about how we live in a world that says No to us always, how it wants to control and manipulate us, use us for it’s own agenda. This kind of No leads to death. Wonder what a Yes world would look like. What would be required to encourage us to be our best, to fulfill our Creators blessing for us.

The preacher could speak as a loving parent, who wants the best for their child. Creating a Yes world (not simply permissive) is to affirm the child and to encourage the child to become what the child is meant to become. I think most parents know that creating a No world for their child is to act out of fear and the desire to control. What would a Yes world look like for a child? From what motives does it come?

A sermon could also focus on trust as the primary response of creation to God’s Yes. One could also contrast a church that embodies No with a church that embodies Yes. What would the differences be between them?

Children and the Texts:

Play with the children by asking them to ask you questions, to which you respond No to each one. If they don’t ask questions, then ask questions on their behalf, to which you say No to all of them. Ask the children if they hear that answer very much. Who do they hear it from? When do they hear it? What kinds of questions do they ask that get a No? Ask them what kind of answer they get when they ask something of God. This will probably confuse them, which is okay. Of course God doesn’t give us everything we want or ask for. Not even our parents give us things that are not good for us, like allowing us to eat candy all the time. Quote the 2 Corinthian text about Jesus Christ being God’s Yes to us. Ask them what that might mean to them. Talk about what you think it means that God says Yes to us all the time, Yes being life affirming, loving, blessing. God says Yes to who you are, and what you can become. God is on our side in our struggles.

May the creative, transforming power of God be with you in your preaching and worship.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.