Sunday, August 23, 2009
Carrying Each Other
I don’t know that I have that kind of strength. Just yesterday our family went on walk in Willow River State Park. I had enough trouble carrying a 30 pound 2 year old up the stairs to the north look-out. I can’t imagine carrying a full grown man on a mat anywhere. That must have taken some kind of strength.
He hadn’t moved on his own in we don’t know how long. Maybe it was a lifetime, maybe it just seemed like one, but he hadn’t been able to move himself off that mat in way – too – long. I’m sure his friends and his family thought they had exhausted all possible options. The priests couldn’t do anything. Sacrifices at the temple hadn’t changed his legs. Their prayers offered daily, twice a day, every time they saw him and wondered would this ever change, never seemed to make any difference at all.
His life had to have been unimaginably difficult. There weren’t wheelchairs to assist him. There wasn’t a desk job for him to turn to for work and pay. In fact, there was hardly a livelihood or a lifestyle in his rural experience of the ancient world that would accommodate his physical limitations. He couldn’t farm crops in the field. He couldn’t harvest olives from the trees. He couldn’t herd sheep in the pastures. Labor in a village or city was out of the question because he couldn’t move himself from jobsite to jobsite or even around a workshop. Other New Testament stories about men who were paralyzed shows them sitting at the gates of cities, waiting for handouts from anyone who might pass by on their way somewhere else.
The man’s need was obvious, but the solution was harder to realize. Really, he needed a miracle. He needed to walk, but even getting to the one who might provide that kind of healing seemed impossible. Although it was very early in Jesus’ ministry, word had already spread about the miracles he worked and the things he said. The friends of the paralyzed men knew that if he were to have ANY chance at all, he would have a chance with this Jesus. So they carried him. They carried him on his mat, out of his home, on the road, and right to the very house where Jesus was staying.
Only there was one problem when they got there, and a large problem at that. They could barely even get THERE, because of the countless others who got there first. The friends were not discouraged, or if they were, they rose above it. Literally. Seeing no other way to get their friend to the one thing he needed, they climbed up on the roof of the house and carried their friend up there with them.
A few years ago I first heard the story of Team Hoyt – a father and son, Dick and Rick Hoyt, who recently completed their 1,000th race together when they competed in the Boston Marathon this spring. I’m sure there are other father-son pairs who have raced together, maybe over 1,000 times, but there are very few who have done it the way Dick and Rick have done it more than 1,000 times since 1979.
Rick was born in 1962 and complications during his birth left him, according to his own description, a “spastic quadriplegic, cerebral palsy, non-speaking person.” Experts and specialists told his parents that he would never live a normal life, never be able to communicate with them, never understand what was going on around him. They advised the Hoyts to institutionalize their son for life.
To make a long yet inspirational story short, the Hoyts refused to take the doctors’ advice. They raised their son in their own home, and with persistence and the help of dedicated men and women along the way, they worked to develop computerized ways to communicate with their son. When the lines of communication were finally opened for him at age 10, instead of greeting his parents or brothers with his first words, out flowed evidence of Rick’s love for sports.
As a teenager Rick convinced his father to enter them both in a charity running race to benefit a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. As their website says, “Dick, far from being a long-distance runner, agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair. They finished next to last, but they felt they had achieved a triumph. That night, Dick remembers, ‘Rick told us he just didn’t feel handicapped when we were competing.’”
That first race met a need in Rick, the need to feel not handicapped, and it awoke a desire in him to experience that feeling as often as possible. Dick and Rick are sort of a modern day version of Mark’s story about the man on the mat. The need was obvious – Rick needed to feel included in the world that until then had been one experience of exclusion after another. And also like Mark’s story, the solution was much harder to realize, but not impossible. In fact, Dick, like the man’s friends in the gospel, very literally carried his son where he needed to go.
There are needs in the people, in the society, all around us. There are needs that hold each of us. Some of them are obvious. I would venture to guess that just about every one of us in this sanctuary knows someone who is struggling to find work or keep I, or we are those people ourselves. We know of people who wonder how they will pay for their next prescription, the doctor’s appointment they haven’t yet made, the bill for the hospitalization last month, or these worries keep us up at night, too. But we also know there are people who are gripped by needs that are less obvious – those who wrestle with depression or divorce, grief or addiction. We know people who need more education to reach their full potential, people who crave just a moment of rest and relaxation to save their sanity and their spirit.
We also know about the needs of the world beyond those we see on a regular basis. We know about the need for safe and fair elections around the world. We know about the need for equal opportunities for girls and boys, women and men, in education, employment, and status before the law. We know about the need for medical care in both rich and poor countries. We know about the need for peace in areas ravaged by war and terror.
We know there are needs in this world, but the solutions seem far beyond what we can imagine. That is unless we remember what we have read this day in the gospel according to Mark. That is unless we find in this account, the key to sustainable life in our local and global society.
The friends of the paralyzed man knew his need, and they carried him to the one who could meet it. They did EVERYTHING in their power, they worked to overcome every obstacle the faced, to meet the needs of the one whom they carried, to reach the source of the healing they sought.
The mark of the society that is sustainable, the mark of the society that will live on in a way that is beneficial both now and in the future, is a society which carries those in need to the places where they will find healing and wholeness. The sustainable society, the society that is affirmed and blessed and DESIRED by God, is the society where those who are sick are carried to places of healing, those who mourn are carried to comfort, those who are hungry are carried to food, those who live in fear are carried to peace, those who are oppressed are carried to freedom.
Since their first race in 1979, Dick and Rick Hoyt have competed together in 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons. They have competed in 6 Ironman distance triathlons – that 2.5 miles of open water swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles running – ALL IN ONE DAY. In 1992 they biked and ran across the entire Unites States, 3,735 miles in 45 consecutive days. In each of these races Dick pushed his son’s wheelchair, pedaled his bike while Rick sat in a seat pod on the front, or swam while towing his son in a raft attached to a headband.
It has never been easy. It has never been a walk in the park. But Dick carries his son where he needs to go. Dick carries his son to a place of wholeness, as 4 men carried their friend along the road, up to the roof top, and lowered him into the presence of Jesus, as we are called to carry those in need around us.
As people who proclaim faith in God whose creation is good, Jesus Christ who heals the sick, and the Holy Spirit who renews the world, how can we do any less? How can we do any less than see the need in the world around us, in the people sitting in the pews next to us, and in those we hear about in lands far away? How can we do any less than see their need, our need, and carry one another to sources of healing, restoration, and wholeness? The society that does this will be sustained for generations. The society that does this will be blessed.