Community requires physical exertion. It costs us our sweat.
One of my absolute favorite stories about the sweat of community is found in Mark, chapter 2.
Several days later Jesus returned to Capernaum, and the news of his arrival spread quickly through the town. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there wasn't room for one more person, not even outside the door. And he preached the word to them. Four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn't get to Jesus through the crowd, so they dug through the clay roof above his head. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
Imagine this story with me for just a moment, because I fear we read over this and miss the comedy and the adventure here. These guys are nuts. And tenacious. People are heavy. Who knows how far they had to carry this guy? When they arrived at the house, they couldn’t get in. Now, I would have just said, “well, the guy has got to stop preaching at some point” and just waited with their friend until Jesus came out. That’s what rational people do.
But people who "get" community are not rational. They embrace the crazy idea that when two or more are gathered God is truly there and the supernatural can happen. They dare to believe that a little sweat on their part can make stuff happen in the spiritual realm.
So they took their friend to the roof. And dig through the rooftop until there is a hole big enough to lower him. What in the world? How long did it take them to do that? Where was the owner of the house? Did anyone try to stop them? Did Jesus keep teaching or did he pause until they finished their work?
As they lowered the man on his mat at the feet of Jesus, what was Jesus thinking? Scripture says that “They lowered the sick man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
This guy’s life was transformed because of the faith of his friends.
We keep reading, and there is some discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature of forgiveness, and Jesus says,
“Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, "Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!" The man jumped up, took the mat, and pushed his way through the stunned onlookers. Then they all praised God. "We've never seen anything like this before!" they exclaimed.
This is amazing. This guy walked away with new faith and new legs because of the commitment of 4 friends. Their extreme commitment to bringing their friend into an environment to meet Jesus resulted in extreme healing.
Who is being transformed because of your faith and the faith of your friends?
There is something about community that draws people into a relationship with Jesus. One man on his own could not have brought this man to Jesus. Two men could not have brought this man to Jesus. It took a community, a brotherhood, a small group.
I am so thankful for the people who have carried my mat. I think about people like Alan Alvarez—who literally moved my then-fiance (now husband) and his bed when minor surgery turned out to be major care and required more than I was able to provide.
I think about people like Ruth Sessions who was willing to endure a late night meal at the Waffle House to talk, to remember, to laugh, on the night before Christmas as my Granddaddy lay in hospice care in the last hours of his life.
I think about February of this year, as Ryan and I spent an entire week hopping from city to city trying to dodge and outrun winter storms to get from Oregon back to DC. From Oregon to San Francisco to Denver to Chicago…people opened their homes to us as we lived day by day out of our suitcases.
I am thankful for the people I have met in my small groups. Who have not just become friends. But people who have carried my mat. People who sweated for me when I couldn’t go as far as I needed off the sweat of my own brow.
Whose sweat propels you? Who is carrying your mat? Whose mat are you carrying?