Sermon 5/9/2010

May 9, 2010
Michael Coffey

Text: John 5:1-9

Do you want to be made well?
Wow. What a question!
Can you imagine if you’re sick in bed in the hospital
and you’ve been suffering for a long, long time.
You’ve been waiting for some relief,
maybe an answer , maybe just a Tylenol,
and your doctor comes in and asks:
So, do you want to be made well?
You might toss your bed pan at his head,
or you might just get snarky and say
“Well, what do you think I’m here for? The food?”

That’s how it goes with the man by the pool called Beth-zatha,
or Bethesda, as some translations use.
It means “house of mercy” or “flowing waters.”
There is this man who has been ill for 38 years.
This isn’t like one of those healing stories
where people come to Jesus and ask to be healed,
and Jesus is amazed at their faith
and they are healed.
This man isn’t asking for anything.
He just sits by this pool of mercy, ironically it seems,
day by day,
and even though he never makes it in and finds healing,
he keeps waiting, and waiting.

There’s an old joke:
A big storm approaches.
The weatherman urges everyone to get out of town.
The priest says, "I won't worry, God will save me".
The storm drains back up and there is an inch of water standing in the street.
A fire truck comes by to pick up the priest.
He tells them "Don't worry, God will save me."
The water rises some more.
The priest is forced up to his roof.
A boat comes by to rescue the priest.
He tells them "Don't worry, God will save me."
The water rises higher.
The priest is forced up to the very top of his roof.
A helicopter comes to rescue the priest.
He shouts up at them "Don't worry, God will save me."
The water rises above his house, and the priest drowns.
When he gets up to heaven he says to God
"I've been your faithful servant ever since I was born!
Why didn't you save me?"
God replies "First I sent you a fire truck, then a boat, and then a helicopter.
What more do you want from me!!??"

Jesus notices the man by the pool.
He is stuck in some pattern.
He keeps waiting for this pool thing to work out
because that’s how the Spirit works.
He keeps assuming that this is the only way to do it,
because it is the only way he knows.
And even though it never seems to work out for him,
he keeps waiting for it.
He has Jesus right in front of him and he doesn’t even ask him for help.
The healing power of God is right in front of him,
and he can’t see it or ask for it or welcome it,
because the pool is the only way he knows to be made well.
When Jesus asks him: Do you want to be made well,
he doesn’t say “yes.”
He gives him all the excuses and reasons
for why he has stayed sick for so long.
and he blames everyone else.
So his answer to Jesus’ question
“do you want to be made well?”
is simply: no.

Do you want to be made well?
It seems like a silly question at first,
but then, think about it:
How often are we stuck where we are,
and don’t’ see another way forward?
How often would we rather stay in our illness and problems
because they are at least familiar and manageable?
How afraid are we of rising up and stepping out
into the healing and wholeness of God,
because it is so unfamiliar and requires endless trust?

Ask anyone who is addicted to something
if they really want to give up their addiction.
Ask anyone who continues to blame others
for their problems and unhappiness
if they would like to find inner healing and let go.
Ask anyone who has grown accustomed to being needy and controlling
if they would rather find independence.
You might get a quick “yes” from them,
but you will then get a “no” in behavior and emotion.

Life of Brian and the Ex-leper
Ex-Leper: Okay, sir, my final offer: half a shekel for an old ex-leper?
Brian: Did you say "ex-leper"?
Ex-Leper: That's right, sir, 16 years behind a veil and proud of it, sir.
Brian: Well, what happened?
Ex-Leper: Oh, cured, sir.
Brian: Cured?
Ex-Leper: Yes sir, bloody miracle, sir.
Brian: Who cured you?
Ex-Leper: Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business,
all of a sudden, up he comes, cures me!
One minute I'm a leper with a trade,
next minute my livelihood's gone.
Bloody do-gooder.

Do you want to be made well?
It seems so simple,
but it becomes so hard to step out into the newness
of healing and transformation.
It is so hard, in fact,
that most of us choose most of the time
to stay stuck,
to stay in our familiar illness or addiction or anger,
to stay blaming others for our unhappiness,
to stay exactly where we are because it is at least familiar
and as bad as it may get
we have somehow learned to live with it
and manage it
and let it become our normal.

And I want to say to that:
That’s OK.
That’s a choice we can make.
We can live in our limited capacity to grow
and let go of the past
and find healing and wholeness.
That’s OK. No one has to be on the journey of wellness,
or go any farther than they are right now.
I believe it is God’s will and hope for us
to have more of life and not less.
But God’s mercy is so great that we can also
be what and where and how we are right now.

Are you ready to be made well?
What if when we faced the painful and difficult parts of our lives
that cry out for healing,
we dared mutter “yes.”!
Yes! Yes I am ready.
I’m not sure what that will mean,
but I know that if I stay where and how I am right now,
I will have less of life, and not more.
Yes, Lord God, I am ready to be made well
and I will have to trust you to tell me what that wellness is.

So what do we do
if God’s healing comes to us
and we aren’t sure if we are ready for it
or we thought it would come in some other way
that fits our expectations and past,
or we trust more our present pain and disease
than the unknown renewal and transformation of God?
I think we just rise up and step out anyway,
like the man at the pool who ended up unable to resist.
People of faith,
this is what faith means:
To rise up and step out into God’s newness and transformation
when we know it is easier
to stay exactly where and how and what we are.
Jesus comes to his church, his people,
when we have grown accustomed to our own unhealthiness
and urges us toward healing
by asking the most profound question of the day:
Do you want to be made well?

In Revelation there is a beautiful and profound vision:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
2through the middle of the street of the city.
On either side of the river is the tree of life
with its twelve kinds of fruit,
producing its fruit each month;
and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Revelation’s author John borrows from Ezekiel with this image,
the great vision of God’s future healing of all creation.
And the surprising imagery says:
Oh, you will be healed people, nations, earth.
But it will be with fruit that comes out of season,
out of the normal.
And it will come even to the nations, the others,
those who have resisted
God’s ways known in Israel and Jesus the crucified one.

The people could say:
A peach in the middle of winter?
I can’t eat that peach, it’s not the right season.
But what is the vision of Revelation:
God’s power to heal and renew and transform
overcomes all our power to resist.
God’s power to open us up to new life
overcomes all our power to stay stuck.
Because once you taste that peach that is new life in God,
that apple that is life transformed by radical grace,
that pear that is the sweet embrace of the divine,
that orange that is healing,
you simply let go and live in the new reality
because it is so much better than you expected it to be,
and not at all to be feared.

Guess what God’s new normal is in Jesus the resurrected one:
life where only death is expected,
healing where only status quo is wanted,
reconciliation where only grudges and anger are trusted,
forgiveness where only narcissistic guilt is practiced.

Do you want to be made well?
Now is the season, now is the time,
now is the bread and wine of new life,
now is the community of humble repentance,
now is the Spirit’s presence,
now is the “yes”:
our yes to God,
and God’s endlessless yes to us
in this house of mercy
and flowing waters of healing.


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