(Video of this sermon is available here.)
The past few weeks, we’ve been exploring some of Jesus’ healing stories and how they may speak to the needs for healing, real soul healing, we may have as individuals and as a society in our times.
For our healing for today I’m going to first invite us to really hear it in a prayerful way, and to even close your eyes and to see the story in your imagination and to even imagine yourselves within it. sit with it in a prayerful way
So what I invite you to do is to read through the story. Or you can listen to Allison Hall’s reading. And, if you like you give yourself time to have a prayer experience with the story on your own terms, between you and God, to join your imagination with the Holy Spirit to conjure up this story.
There was a Judean festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now, in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which means House of Grace, or House of Mercy. This pool has five porticoes – porches with columns.
In these porticoes lay many invalids— folks who were blind, lame, and paralyzed. This was because at a certain time an angel would come to to the pool and stir up the water. And then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease they had.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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?”
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.”
Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Holy Wisdom, Holy Word.
So, how many of you when you hear and sit with this story found yourselves identifying with the person in need of healing that Jesus comes to?
What would that need for healing be for you? In what way do you need to be washed in those healing waters in the House of Grace?
What does that need do in you? How are you seeking it?
And what is it like to then get crowded out from the House of Grace? Do you know what that’s like, to get pushed out from accessing that healing, or that grace that you need?
How have you experienced that?
And how have people who are not you or not like you experienced that? Who would you expect to identify with this man?
Are there people in our world, in our community, in our church, who are trying to say that they have been getting crowded out from the House of Grace? The House of Mercy? Why is that?
How many of you could identify with what it’s like to be one of the people who are seeking and needing healing who then manage to crowd this guy out?
This may take some more honesty: What is it like to be the one who manages to win that struggle or to just be lucky enough to get what it is you need to be well?
And then do we know what it’s like to get what we need and to walk away from it, leaving the whole sordid mess of those other poor souls who are still struggling for their chance?
How are we doing that?
How much are we even aware of the ways we do that?
Are the ways we then feel ourselves to be somehow more deserving to be in the House of Grace?
What is it like to be the person who this man needed or thought he needed – before Jesus came along – the person who could have been the one to help him get to those healing waters?
In what ways do we know what that’s like, to help someone who has been crowded out from the House of Grace, to help them finally get in? Are there ways we’re trying to do that?
And in what ways have we passed someone by and left them to fend for themselves?
Now, we know that Jesus does not pass this guy by.
But notice what also Jesus does not do. Jesus does not come, pick him up, and rush him to the front of the line. Right?
He bypasses the whole set-up altogether, the whole crowded situation around a House of Grace that only some people can get to some of the time.
Jesus just meets this guy where he is and asks, “Do you want to be made well?”
And then Jesus heals him, right then and there.
What does this say about the true nature of Grace?
What does this say about the true nature of the House of Grace and its healing waters?
What does this say about the nature of healing, the restoration we most deeply need?
What is it like to say “Yes” to this kind of Grace?
What is it like to say “Yes” when you are the person always getting crowded out?
What is it like to say “Yes” when you are the person doing the crowding out?
What is like to say “Yes” when you are the person trying to help someone else get their fair chance?
What is it like to say “Yes” to the Grace and Mercy that Jesus has revealed?
Now, there are many avenues of interpretation for this story. And I’d love to hear what all these questions and reflections stir up in you.
But I will mention one
As a local church we are now twenty years into becoming Open & Affirming of the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities our Creator has seen fit to endow creation.
All these questions I have raised with this healing story, are ongoing questions for us and challenges and learnings and un-learnings that we have as we venture further into our Open & Affirming Christian faith.
What is the healing we or others need from the ways they have been excluded from the House of Grace, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
What is the healing we or others need from the ways we have been doing the excluding?
And how to tend to a House of Grace knowing that the Grace we know through Christ is beyond the bounds of any roof or door or window we may want to put over it?
It is for this Grace and for its ongoing challenge, I give thanks to God.