Meditation on John 5:1-9
Graduation Sunday/Memorial Day Weekend
May 26, 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
Here it is, already, Memorial Day Weekend, and it’s been a busy one so far. Yesterday, I presided over my first wedding in Coshocton. Brittany Funk and Zach Barry drove from Cumberland, Ohio, to be married in our sanctuary. We worried about rain and heat. It didn’t rain, but it did get hot! I looked out at the congregation of more than 200 people fanning themselves. Alice Hoover played beautiful organ music for their service. John Addy worked hard Friday and all day Saturday, moving furniture and setting up fans, stairs, candelabras and lanterns on the pews. Afterward, he put everything away and set up for our worship today. Thank you, Alice and John!
Jim and I are leaving for Boston in the morning to visit our children and grandchildren. Ask me if we are packed. Not yet!
But since it’s nearly Memorial Day, you know what that means, ladies? We can wear white shoes! When you heard you were getting a female pastor, you had no idea, did you, that we would be talking about shoes in church?
When I was questioned for ordination 8 years ago this summer, a male pastor asked, “What is your most unorthodox belief?” I couldn’t think of any. And I knew that no matter how I answered, he would try to make things difficult for me. I just had that feeling about him. He wanted to be able to say, “Aha! I knew she would have unorthodox beliefs, because, after all, she is a woman!”
I considered the leap of faith for my family and me to sell our home in York, PA, pack up 2 dogs, 2 college age kids and all our belongings and move to the flat, windy, prairie farm country of Southwest Minnesota, where winters are long and the temperature can fall to 20 below. A better question for my colleague in ministry would have been why I believed God was calling me to serve a church so far out of my comfort zone. I decided to be open and honest. My most unorthodox belief, I said, is that we should be able to wear white before Memorial Day! The room burst into laughter. The interrogation was over. I was accepted, with all my weirdness, and all my shoes for all the seasons.
I am still walking by faith, wearing my white shoes when the Spirit leads me, serving the Lord and Christ’s church in Coshocton, Ohio! We’re in this together. We’re here for one another. If ever you get discouraged, struggle with illness or grief, or stumble and fall on your journey of faith, you can count on us to hold out the healing hand of Christ and help you stand up and walk.
This is what one, unnamed, paralyzed man in the fifth chapter of the gospel of John needed—someone to help him in his illness and weakness. He has been sick for 38 years, and for a long while–we aren’t sure how long–he waits by a pool of water in Jerusalem called Bethzatha, Hebrew for House of Olive or Bethesda, House of Mercy; scholars aren’t sure which is correct. It is next to the Sheep Gate in the city’s northern wall and may have been the main entrance for bringing in sheep to be washed before they are sacrificed in the temple. The healing by the Sheep Gate is symbolic of Christ’s sacrificial work for his flock. Jesus will say in John 10, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”
The man lies by the pool, without the strength to go in, waiting for help. No one notices his suffering, or if they do, they don’t care. Imagine the isolation and helplessness he must feel as time goes by. The average lifespan is only 40 years old. He might be thinking, “I am going to die right here, beside the waters that could have healed me.”
Then a stranger comes along and speaks right to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
Jesus has come to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage festival—Passover, Tabernacles or Dedication. This is not random. This is God’s perfect timing. Jesus’ life and work are deeply embedded in his Jewish faith and practice, including the weekly Sabbath. He will be criticized for healing on the Sabbath, and he will say in v. 17, “My Father is still working and I am also working.” In verse 18, the religious leaders will respond by “seeking all the more to kill him,” for not only breaking the Sabbath, but “calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.”
Notice what doesn’t happen in this healing story. The man doesn’t ask for Jesus to heal or help him into the pool. Jesus doesn’t ask if he wants him to heal him. By the man’s answer, it’s obvious that he doesn’t know who Jesus is and will still not know after he is healed, as we read in verse 13, when Jesus “disappears into the crowd.”
The man doesn’t say, “Yes. Help me!” His response sounds defensive, as if he has been blamed for his illness and helpless situation before. “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Speaking of “stirred up,” check out verse 4, if you have your Bible open. It’s a trick question; there is no verse 4 in the NRSV. It appears only in the King James and is thought to be a later addition, so that’s why it’s left out. Verse 4 in the KJV says, “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
Jesus, our living water, doesn’t need water to heal this man. This reveals the divine initiative—the Lord being present in his time of need and graciously offering healing as a gift of love and mercy, not because of his faith, no strings attached. Not, “Take up your mat and follow me or tell the world about me.” His instruction, “Stand up, take up your mat and walk” is simply proof of the man’s healing and encouragement to live a new life, without obstacles or barriers—either real or perceived.
Do you wonder what this man will do, now that he isn’t sick? We know what he won’t do. He won’t lie beside a pool of water, waiting and longing for someone to put him in. How will he live now that he has met Jesus, and he can stand without help, carry his own mat, and walk on his own two feet? Will he be joyful and want to share his joy? Will he help others who are lame or sick? Or will he be bitter for his 38 years of suffering, with no one to help him?
He has choices to make, but no matter what, he and his life are forever changed.
Some of you will be walking across a stage this afternoon or have already walked or will be walking soon for your graduation. Today, we celebrate you, as you are now, and thank God for you, while we joyfully anticipate who you will become. For we are always becoming something new in Jesus Christ. The steps you take across the graduation stage will mark the end of your long journey to this point and the beginning of a new journey, a path you will discover, step by step, breath by breath, with the Lord and the faithful people God has placed and will continue to place in your life. So, look for them and join them—the faithful ones, seeking to be transformed and change the world with love. But rest in God’s grace, especially when things get hard. If things are hard, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you or doesn’t love you. The Lord will always love you and be with you in your time of need, just as Christ was with the man who was sick for 38 years. Seek the Lord, make your requests known, and remember that we don’t earn God’s grace or favor. Even our faith is a gift from God!
Don’t worry if you don’t know, yet, where you will live and what you will do for work, how much money you will make, and who you will marry; all those questions are important. Especially the choice of a spouse! When Brittany walked down the white runner on the arm of her father yesterday to make her marriage vows with Zach, they were both taking a leap of faith! All of your questions will be answered in God’s perfect time.
Remember the Sabbath, when Christ chose to heal. This is a special day, the Lord’s day.
God made it to be a blessing to all human beings, not an obligation to fulfill for one hour, legalistically, but a time to recharge, renew, and strengthen your relationships with your God who loves you and your brothers and sisters in the faith. Trust, with every step you take, that the Lord has plans for you, for your welfare and not your harm, as God speaks through Jeremiah. You have a future, filled with hope.
Each one of us has been blessed by a gracious Lord who forgives, heals, and makes us whole, reconciling us to God and one another. The Spirit empowers us to live each day as a forgiven people, forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, and letting go of the struggles, sins, and sickness of the past. Every day, we have a choice. Don’t get stuck in anger, bitterness or regret. Don’t let any obstacle—real or perceived—keep you from moving forward and living the gracious life God wants you to enjoy.
Let us give thanks to the one who knows us intimately and will always be with us in our suffering and need. The one who will, through His Body—the Church—reach out a holy hand to help us when we feel too weak to “Stand Up and Walk.”
Let us pray….
Holy One, thank you for your love and mercy for us. We are at different points in our faith journeys. We have come from different places and experiences. You have brought us together in your perfect time so that we can live as your Church, made one in your Body. Bless our new graduates, Father, and their families in their new life. Comfort them if their nests will soon be empty. Reassure us, Lord, that you are with us in our suffering. May we feel your loving presence. Heal what is broken, Lord. Make us whole and reconciled to you and one another. Lead us on, step by step, so that we are taking your righteous paths together as a Church, forgiving others quickly for any hurts, forgiving ourselves. And when we are weak and tired, Lord, strengthen us to help one another to stand and walk in the way you want us to go. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.