Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bill, Ben and their goat called raisins: Mark 2:1-12 storytelling sermon

Here is a storytelling in relation to Mark 2:1-12. (And in relation to the question I asked on Friday, about what is sin to a nine year old). The service today included a focus on a ministry reaching boys in the community. Which got me thinking about what it means for men to be followers of Jesus and how friendship and innovation (what we Kiwis call no.8 wire) might be important to how men express their faith.

Then reading Mark 2:1-12, verse 5 stood out: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” It got me thinking about being a “boy” in this story and having faith honoured by God. I’d also been reminded during the week of the Message translation of Romans 8:15-16: Christian life as adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”. Add to that a pastoral conversation with a new community mum, so scared that church folk might glare at her baby when it makes a noise. Other background resources included this description of Capernaum, typical first century housing and what boys in Jesus day might play.

From that emerged Bill and Ben and their goat called raisins, who get to see God, with straw in his hair, mud in eye, grin on face, talking, back and forth as best mates! I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together – it was quite some fun. Big hat tip to my blogging commenters, and my two Aussie storytelling friends, who offered critical comment as the thing took shape over the last few days.

Bill and Ben were probably too similar in name. And being in a sermon slot, I might have got a bit preachy at the end explaining a few textual issues. But success was the 10 year old community kid in the front row who kept getting drawn back in, the young dad who went home wanting to have his own crack at writing a Bible story and the number of men who gathered around to reflect, in essence, on being male and being Christian.

Today’s story is from the Bible. It’s from a part called Mark, and it’s chapter 2. And I’m going to tell it from the point of view of Bill. And Ben. Who were 10 years old. And best mates. Full of rough and tumble. Love play lunch and catching frogs.

And their pet. A goat. Black. Small. With hefty big horns.

Who’s name was …. raisins.

Why? …. Why would Bill and Ben name their goat raisins …. because ….. you get the picture!

Bill and Ben had a favourite spot. A hiding place where they could get away from all the big people. Where they could hide the frogs they caught and stash the marbles stolen from the pesky girls. And enjoy their midnight feasts.

The spot was up some stairs. Then onto a balcony. That overlooked a whole lot of seats. It was called “the synagogue.” The walls were made of white stones. The front pointed toward the big city of Jerusalem. Men sat on the bottom. Women sat at the top.

When it was all empty, it was their spot. They used to sneak in. Quietly go up the stairs.
Not easy with a pet goat. But if they were real quiet. Opened the door really softly. And cleaned up all the … (you get the picture) …. raisins.

And in their favourite spot, up the back of church, they’d talk. About the best way to win at pigrush, best tree to spy on the Romans.

One day, Ben and Bill began to argue: About God. About what God looked like. And how you’d know if you ever saw God?

Ben reckoned that God was tall. Like a big person. And boring. Because God lived here. In the building. God made you sit still. God talked on and on for ever. God would stare at you if you made any noise or wiggled in your seat.

Which got Bill scared. If that God was God, then there was no way he’d ever wanted to met God. No way he wanted to sit still, get bored and look wriggly like the old people who went to church.

One day, Ben got sick. Too sick to come over and play with Bill. To sick to talk in their favourite spot.

Bill watched Ben’s mum try everything. Try the horrible stinky tea. Try the leeches, with long blood sucking legs. Tried the medicine made out of fried snakes tails mixed with powdered bulls horn.

Ben just got sicker.

That was hard. It’s hard watching your mate get sick. And boring. There’s not much to do while your mate just sleeps. As he sat, Ben could hear all the kids outside. Playing. He wished he could join them. Wish he could play Spy on the Romans from his best hiding place. And pig rush.

But Bill stayed. Because He was a good mate. And that’s what good mates do. They hang around. Through sickness and in health. No matter boring.

One day, sitting by Ben’s bed, Bill heard some noise. People talking. People shouting. Ben woke up and Bill poked his head out the window. Saw a crowd walking by. Yelling. About a leper, with really sick skin, which all got better. And a sick woman, burning up with fever. Who got out of bed. All because of a man, a healer, called Jesus. Who was making sick people better.

Bill looked down at Ben. They were a poor family, so Ben slept on a rug on the floor. Suddenly, Bill grabbed the rug. Wrapped it tight around Ben. Yelled for Ben’s dad, uncle and big brother.

Together, they gently lifted Ben. Unhitched Raisins. And went looking for Jesus.

Which was easier said than done. There were people everywhere. Lots of people, just like Bill, who’d brought their sick friends. People crying with pain. There was a bit of shoving. Bit of pushing. Just like when you line up at school. I got here first. He’s sicker. I’m older. My dad’s bigger.

They stopped. No way to get to Jesus.

Ben’s dad had an idea. As you do. Round the back he yelled. Houses have stairs. So they ducked into a back street. Around the back. Found the stairs. And dragged Ben, with Raisins, onto the roof.

Not a steep roof like here in New Zealand. But a flat roof. Like all the houses had at that time.

Which still left Bill scratching his head. Sure there were less people. But they still can’t get to this healer. There’s still the roof. Laid with beams and packed together with mud and straw.

But Ben’s dad hadn’t finished. He was not just a good mate. He was also a clever dad. A no 8 wire, can-do-anything-with-a-bit-of-a-think-and-a-pipe-of-cleaner sort of dad.

“Dig” he yelled, pointing to the roof. “Dig.”

Ben couldn’t believe it. There was Ben’s dad and uncle, down on their knees. Sort of like praying, Ben thought later. But real practical praying. Digging at the roof. Tugging at great big junks of straw. Stomping at the hole.

Ben couldn’t believe it. Nor could the house owner. “Get off my roof” he yelled. “Stop that,” or I’m calling the Pharisees.

Ben’s dad and uncle just dug harder. Quicker. Hauling out more straw, making an even bigger hole in the roof.

And that’s when Ben saw God. Not the grumpy old God he and Bill had talked about in the synagogue. But a living, breathing God. A God picking straw out of his hair. A God spitting mud out from his mouth. A God sneezing with the dust.

God who was looking at them. Not with a frown. Not with a “shhh” be quiet and stop wriggling and leave the house alone. But with a smile. A smile that was glad of their no 8, can do anything with a pipe cleaner, give it a crack, attitude.

And the God spoke. It was a mix of love and authority. Son, your sins are forgiven.

And Bill heard Ben laugh. Forgiven. And Ben thought of all the bad stuff the two of them had done together: pretending they didn’t hear when their mother asked them to do the dishes, stealing the money from the beggars bowl to pay for their midnight feast, teasing their little sister, damaging their neighbours fence playing pigrush, and saying it wasn’t them

“Your sins are forgiven.” All that bad stuff they were too scared to tell their parents, let alone whisper it to each other. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Bill started laughing just like Ben.

And then Ben was talking. Back to God. Pointing. “Forgiven, sure. But what about my legs,” says Ben.

It almost sounded cheeky. Which was scarey. Shocking. Being checky to God. But when you think about, way cool. I mean, a God who listens. A God who wants a conversation.

“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And Ben did. My sick mate. Was standing. Was doing a Jewish jig on the roof.

I know. You probably don’t believe it. You think medicine is about pills and injections. You find it hard to believe in healing. But you need a bigger view of healing. You need to realise that holding onto a grudge can damage your heart and your health. That Ben’s heart needed forgiveness as much as his legs needed some good mates.

As so we left. Ben grabbed Raisins. Headed home to show his mum.

As we left, I could could hear the big people starting to argue. As they do. “What about the roof?” Someone cried. “The great big hole left in my roof.” Silly really. “If God can mend hearts, how easy is a roof.” I yelled back.

Which made some other big people even angrier. “That’s using God’s name in vain.”

Which is nonsense when you think about it. I mean, there was Ben. Walking. Jigging. Laughing for the first time in months.

Putting his arm around me. “Thanks for being a good mate. For sticking with me when I got sick.” Putting his arm around his Dad. “Thanks for your no 8 wire, pipe cleaner faith. For giving anything a go.” And together we all had a fist pump and a high five: And a head butt with Raisins! For a real live, walking, talking, living God. Who mended Ben’s heart.

Even when Bill and I grew up, we still talked about that day. About what it means to be a good mate. Not just in the good times. But in the sick times too. And what it means to have a practical on your knees faith that has a go and don’t take no for an answer. And about God. Never again could we think of God as a grumpy old man. Stuck in church. Telling kids off.

Because we’d seen God. With straw in his hair. And a grin on his face. And a twinkle in his eye. Who’d talked. Back and forth. Best mates.

Posted by steve at 05:00 PM


  1. A great story Steve, thanks for sharing it. What is “no.8 wire”? That’s a term that’s lost on this brit.

    Grace and peace

    Comment by Jonathan — June 14, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

  2. Great stroy Steve. You hve inspired me to give one of these a go.



    Comment by Ozy Mandias — June 14, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  3. Jonathan, re no. 8 wire — “Kiwi ingenuity: This is the idea that New Zealanders display a MacGyver-like ability to solve any problem, often using unconventional means or whatever happens to be lying around. This is also described as the Number 8 wire mentality, which holds that anything can be made or fixed with basic or everyday materials, such as number 8 fencing wire.” according to that font of all knowledge – wikipedia!


    Comment by steve — June 14, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  4. i guess that’s kind of like duct tape for canadians eh ?!

    Comment by julie — June 14, 2009 @ 11:45 pm

  5. Sorry for going really off topic here but I just noticed something that I always meant to ask you about Steve. I note that you often quote the message as a “translation”,my understanding is that it actually a paraphrase. I have several questions about this and seeing as you used the term I will throw them your way (its not like your aren’t busy enough!!!!) Seriously if you don’t have time that is fine it is just my pondering.

    1) Is their any difference between someone saying I am translating the bible and someone saying I am paraphrasing? Obviously both are going to have author bias, would it be assumed a paraphrase to have more so?

    2) Is a paraphrase actually more useful when it comes to scripture due to the desire of the author to make it easier to understand?

    3) Is their any danger in using paraphrases the same as translations?

    I am not suggesting that we don’t use the Message and have found it useful on many occassions. Just not smart enough to work through these questions on my own 🙂

    *End of off topic pondering*

    Nice story BTW

    Comment by Aaron — June 15, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  6. hey Steve, it turned out great! well done!

    Comment by Sarah Agnew — June 15, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  7. Aaron, you should get a refund from your bible college you went to 🙂

    1) Is their any difference between someone saying I am translating the bible and someone saying I am paraphrasing? Obviously both are going to have author bias, would it be assumed a paraphrase to have more so?

    Yes there is a difference. While all have author bias, Bibles can be placed on a continuum from “preserve original intent” (eg NRSV) through to “contemporarise” (eg Message) through to “paraphase” (Philips). Whether the message is a translation or a paraphrase is debated (|14764|65298).

    2) Is a paraphrase actually more useful when it comes to scripture due to the desire of the author to make it easier to understand?

    Depends on what you are trying to do. I tend in my prep, to juggle a range of Bibles, both NRSV to NIV, to Contemporary English Version (which i find most readable actually), to Message. I’m wanting to be accurate + understandable and that’s a balance

    3) Is their any danger in using paraphrases the same as translations?

    Yes. I always start my prep with a literal translation ie NIV/NRSV. I’d only use a paraphrase in delivery if it linked with the literal and I would always check my great preaching idea that I got from a paraphrase with a a literal translation ie NIV/NRSV before I went public.


    Comment by steve — June 17, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

  8. Actually we did cover some of this in our hermeneutics course at Faith. I have been seeing more and more use of The Message as a translation rather then a paraphrase and it something I have been slightly concerned about.

    In looking over my post again I think I could have been more honest about my reasons for asking the questions. I wasn’t so much wanting the hard answers to these questions as much as to find out your POV (as someone who seemed to call and use The Message as a translation).

    Although this has now proved an interesting exercise for me as I stop and think about why wasn’t I more up front. Not sure if you are even interested but I figure the following reasons maybe

    (1) I wasn’t wanting to seem like I was personally attacking your use of The Message as much as trying to hear what your thoughts on the matter
    (2) I can find it intimidating asking a bible college lecturer a question and maybe found it easier to feign a greater ignorance then I actually had. (this doesn’t mean I am not ignorant!! Just maybe not as ignorant as I played)

    Anyway seeing how I have been using a lot of numbering in these posts I will conclude by saying my two great learnings from this is

    1)We probabaly view and use The Message fairly similar.
    2)I need to be careful how easy it can be for me to be dishonest even if the motives aren’t bad. Sorry about that. While it may not be a big issue it has caused me to look at the way I communicate with people and scarily I have actually found at least one other recent instance of similar communication.

    Thanks Steve

    Comment by Aaron — June 17, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

  9. appreciate the honesty. i had a hunch there was more going in, which was sort of why i made the joke 🙂

    i’m sorry i seem intimidating. it’s actually one of my bug bears – i think quickly + get fairly passionate + have gained a few qualifications. put those 3 together and some people find me intimidating. at times i’ve actually begun to wish i could change who I am. which is silly isn’t!


    Comment by steve — June 17, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

  10. Think in this case any feeling of intimidation would speak far more of my insecurity then of you!

    Comment by Aaron — June 18, 2009 @ 11:39 am

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