May 5, 2013 “ 6 Easter C
Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 5:1-9
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years¦. Jesus said to him, ˜Do you want to be made well?’
At a bible study earlier this week someone told a joke. Jesus walks into a bar and starts healing people. About the third or fourth person he comes to says, Hey, stay away from me; I’m on disability.
When I was about Daniel’s age, I was asked to be part of an intervention with a parishioner who was thoroughly addicted to alcohol and had been completely resistant to any suggestion of treatment. Things had reached an impasse and a professional gathered about a half dozen of us together to meet with this man and present him with his last chance for help from us. As the man entered the room with all of us there, the person leading the intervention shut the door and pulled a chair up to the door and indicated for me to sit in that chair which was now blocking the door. The message was clear: if the man was going to get out of that room he was going to have to go through me. That day didn’t work out as well as we hoped it would.
Sometimes we are so sick, so unhealthy, so mired in our current dysfunction, that the question needs to be asked: Do you want to be made well. Because as long as you don’t, it’s not going to happen. Healing and wholeness awaits but you’ve got to want it. And sometimes we’ve been where we are for so long that it’s all we know. In an odd sort of way, even though it’s miserable for us, it’s familiar and, in a confounding way, we’re comfortable with it. Taking that step into the unknown is sometimes so difficult we decide just to stay right where we are even though where we are is killing us. It doesn’t make any sense but sometimes we’d just rather die this way than choose the hope of life in another way.
Not too long ago I was meeting with someone who came to me with some pretty large struggles. Where he was just wasn’t working and he said he wanted some help. After a few meetings I had to say to him, You know, I’m working a whole lot harder on your problems than you are so I’m quitting, okay. When you want to start doing some work, you come back and we’ll talk. As long as we keep choosing death, there is no new life. You’ve got to want to get out of the mess you’re in in order to get to what God has in store for you. You don’t have to make yourself well. You’ve just got to quit clinging to your sickness.
I’ve tried everything, the man in the gospel lesson says. Nobody will help me. When I crawl down to the water it’s so crowded I can’t get through. I don’t know what else to do.
There’s the opening for Jesus. I’ve tried everything. I don’t know what else to do. I’m lost. I need some help. I can’t do it on my own. There’s the opening for Jesus and Jesus knows exactly what to do.
One of the different things about this situation is that the man who has been ill for so long has not sought Jesus. In other stories, people are lining up and waiting for Jesus in order to receive healing. Some exhibit great faith and huge effort. This man is different. He is just lying in a heap by the pool he thinks might heal him but he isn’t really doing anything. There’s nothing particularly admirable about him. Jesus has come to him, not the other way around. Jesus asks the pivotal question and we sure get the message. If the man had said, Hey, stay away from me, the outcome would have been different. Jesus asks and waits for the opening.
The opening is so very small, isn’t it? The man has absolutely no plan whatsoever. He seems kind of lazy and a little whiny. He’s not a very attractive figure lying there in a heap for thirty-eight years. Something about him has repulsed people for a long time. He is repulsive to himself. But the opening is there: I’ve tried everything. I need some help. I can’t do it on my own. That’s all Jesus needs. Do you want something different? Yes, finally I do. I don’t want to be where I am any longer.
Sometimes we think of faith as knowing what lies ahead and stepping bravely into it. Faith is probably the exact opposite of that. Faith is stepping forward while not really knowing what is out there. Faith begins with the acknowledgement that where we are isn’t going to work any longer. We might not know what is over there but we know we can’t stay right here any longer so we take the step into the unknown. That’s faith. Not knowing but stepping out anyway. Do you want to be made well? Yes, I can’t do this anymore. That’s the beginning of faith. The acknowledgement of our current suffering is really all we do. Jesus Christ does everything else.
It’s a wonderful story of physical healing and it translates to so many of our current conditions. I’ll let you apply it to your own life and encourage you to sit with the question, Do you want to be made well? Jesus has come to you, sought you out, and asked you the all- important question.
And it is the story, as well, of the salvation of our very souls. It is the story of sin and redemption. Our souls have been sick for a long time. We’re stuck in a crummy world. Yes, I know it’s a fun world and you know I know it. Nobody’s having more fun in it than me. But we’re all stuck. We’re all limited. We are mired in sin and keep choosing dead ends. Sometimes things are going well enough that we really can’t see that we can’t make it on our own. One of the purposes of pain and suffering just might be that it eventually brings us to the point where we see we’re stuck and we need some help. All we have to do is acknowledge that limitation. That is all the opening our savior requires. The moment we do that, and every moment we do that because you don’t do it just once, the moment we do that Jesus Christ says to us, Stand up and walk. Enter the kingdom of God. Be made well. Live with God forever.
Now that’s not the end of the story for this man. Our passage ends there this morning but the man shows up later on in verse 14 of this same fifth chapter of John. Jesus finds the man in the temple and says to him, See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you. The man goes away and begins to tell everyone about this Jesus who has healed him.
After we give God that opening and God’s healing, saving grace pours forth, then we are put on a path and there is work for us to do. We don’t get healed with the expectation that we’re going to collapse back in a heap by the pool. We are to stand up and walk. We are to seek righteousness rather than sinfulness. And all of that is really the same as what we did to give Jesus the opening in the beginning. All that is ever really required of us is to continue acknowledging our need for his presence, admitting the feebleness of our own efforts, continuing to take further steps in faith. Very rarely in that faith walk will we know exactly what is going to happen. Faith is trusting, not knowing, remember. It is stepping forward not really knowing the outcome but trusting God to be the ground under our feet and the hope in our day. We never really come to eliminate the not-knowing. But we do build an accumulation of trust. We begin by stepping out into the unknown in great fear, fairly well convinced that we are going to sink into the abyss. And then our feet land on something strong. We take another step, again not knowing outcome but a little more trusting that we won’t fall into oblivion. And, over time, our walk is less frightening and more trusting, even hopeful and joyful. A lighter heart results. We come to see that we don’t need to know the outcome. We only need to walk by faith.
Jesus comes to us, sees our great need, and asks if we want to be made well. Give him the slightest opening and his healing, saving grace pours forth. Know your need of a savior. Continue to walk in his grace. That’s when true life begins