The Company We Keep

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Mark 2: 1-12…”A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ “

The company we keep matters. It matters a whole, whole, whole lot. From my very first memories, until this moment right now, I can recollect a friend placed in my life that in one way or another, led me in the direction of Christ. The first was a neighbor named, Laurie Newsome. We were 4 years old and best friends. The two of us attended a neighborhood children’s bible study together. Those are my first memories of having a friend in Christ. Moving forward, there is a steady stream of various friends that would come into my life. The bulk of all those relationships having nothing to do on the surface with direct involvement in church, bible study, or anything of that nature. But when reflected back on, it’s easy to trace. The kids above in the picture (myself and 3 best friends) playing large roles in that. We were truly brothers.

The scripture I gave today from Mark’s gospel showcases a band of friends just like mine in childhood. A wily bunch of dudes loyal to each other…and crazy. A few years ago I watched a sermon from Pastor Mike Glenn of Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. I love that guy. He has all the degrees, pedigrees, this and that’s you want from a pastor in authority, but when he’s speaking from the pulpit, he delivers in simple ways that are engaging and fun, while still being highly thought provoking and purposeful. In short, he speaks to me. And a few years ago he did a sermon on this scripture that hit true friendship right on the head – those dudes in this scripture are exactly the type of friends you need to have in your life.

At this point in his ministry, Jesus has the juice. He’s got the buzz. Everyone is talking about him and all are curious and excited to see him. There wasn’t even room outside the door to listen to him speak this day. Meanwhile, somewhere in the vicinity lives a paralyzed man. He surely must have been beloved, because normally that figure in the bible is alone somewhere with nobody to help him. But this guy was, or had been, keeping the right company. Because they heard Jesus was coming, and they knew that this was their friend’s best and probably only shot of healing. What follows is a series of events that sounds exactly like something my friends and I would have done back in the day.

4 of them carry this man to the place. Carry. Him. Do you have friends that would carry you even 5 feet? These fellas carry this man who knows how far to get there. That in itself is a tremendous act of love. Only to find out they can’t get anywhere near Jesus. Like the secret service has the area sealed and there is not a snowball’s chance of getting in. Normal people say, “Oh well, dude, we tried. Maybe he’ll come back another time.” Not these guys. You can just imagine the conversation that took place between them. Pastor Glenn is quite hilarious in his rendition. I won’t attempt it. Suffice it to say, somebody came up with the oh-so-insane idea of somehow getting this paralyzed man on the roof of the building, managing to cut a hole in the ceiling large enough to fit him through, and then lowering him I assume by rope down in front of the Son of Man. Not only did they pull off all the above, but they wound up having the entire whacked out plan being recorded for the remainder of time in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was so impressed by this effort, and I love to imagine him stopping in mid-sentence as he notices that a man is being lowered down from a hole in the ceiling above his head and breaking out in laughter, that he proclaims to the man on the mat, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now this tells us that – 1. Whatever had paralyzed the man was due to sin. 2. Jesus wanted everyone in attendance to know that he had been given authority to forgive sin. 3. That if we come to Christ in sincere faith no matter what the weird circumstances were that got us to him, we can and will be forgiven. This all ends with the massive crowd aghast at what they’d just witnessed, and the once paralyzed man picking up his mat, and walking out the door in full view of all. The keepers of the law appalled at the “blasphemy” of Jesus declaring the authority to forgive sin. I’d love to have seen the reunion with the friends once the healed man got back outside. “Dudeeeeeeeeeee! That was unbelievable!!!” They’re all high-fiving and falling all over each other. “I can’t believe that worked!!!!” Laughing, smiling…and so happy their friend is healed. Those guys? That’s the right company to keep.

The teenagers in the picture above were I think in 9th grade when that picture was taken. It was by the basketball court at my home we were usually found hanging out at. I’m the shaggy-haired skinny guy on top of the pyramid. The guy below me I’d met when I was in 2nd grade. He was my first friend in a brand new neighborhood. We met in school and he invited me to sleepover at his house. I was scared to death. Seriously! I can be a little shy at first, and I didn’t know what I would possibly have to say to him for that long. I was still so innocent that my room was full of stuffed animals. (Note of honesty – I STILL keep stuffed animals around me and I’m 50 years old. They comfort me. Sssshh. Don’t tell anyone else that). I knew just from manly instinct that taking my beloved Pooh Bear with me would have been a death blow to that friendship. He didn’t seem like the stuffed animal type of guy. Super friendly, but that wasn’t his gig. So I decided the cool move that would accomplish me “having a friend” along for the ride, but not look stupid was…and I really did this…taking a stuffed Fred Flintstone doll with me. To this day, and it’s now been over 4 decades since…he STILL gives me heck about that. And I of course don’t blame him…soooooo lame. But if we went right back to that moment right now, I’d do it exactly the same way. That’s who I am. You want to be friends with me…you get the real Gary. To his utmost credit, and despite what I’m sure was against his better judgment after something like that, we wound up being the closest of friends all through high school graduation and beyond. In 8th grade I introduced him to the girl that would go on to be the love of his life and the mother of his 4 children. She’s now a well-known internet bible study leader for women. The first time they kissed was in my backyard. We have a lot of history that guy and me.

The 2 guys on the bottom? Oh, they weren’t that important in my life. I only made music with them in a band for the better part of 3 decades. They were my best friends for most of my life to this point. People came and went in the various forms of that band over the years, all of them special and important, but the core of us 3 never changed. It was our band. Our family. Our friendship. Those 4 guys in that picture? They would have carried each other to see Jesus if it meant healing was possible. We were those guys. Though time, families, life and distance separate us now, I still believe in my heart we still would for each other. I know I would. And I’d bring Fred Flintstone with me.

The company we keep? Matters. Cherish those brothers and sisters in your life that love you the same way Christ loves you – exactly as they find you. And sure as the sun will shine…they will make you a better person.

Gary Abernathy

 

 

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