Text: John 5:1-9
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
You all know that I have an infant son named Elijah, right? It might have come up before now.
Until two months ago, I did not know the term “tummy time.” How many of you know what tummy time is? Doctors advise that infants have tummy time two or three times a day, which basically means putting them down on the floor on a blanket, on their tummies. They’ll automatically start wiggling and try to raise their heads which strengthens their little shoulder and neck muscles.
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but Elijah is a very strong baby. When he was only a couple of weeks old he was able to lift his head on his own during tummy time, and when he was one month old he rolled over from his tummy to his back. That’s pretty unusual.
How did he do it? He would push off the ground with his arms, and lift his head as high up as he could. Then he would let his head fall to the side, and the weight and momentum of his huge, heavy baby head would flip his whole little body over!
Sometimes I do tummy time with Elijah on top of me. I lie back and put him on my stomach with his little arms here on my chest so he’s about six inches from my face, and he props himself up and looks at me and I look at him.
And what I notice is that after a bit, he starts leaning. At first it you might think it’s just because he’s still wobbly and he’s just listing to the right, like a boat. But then it becomes clear that he’s trying to roll over. And if he did, he would roll off of me!
I say to him, “Baby, what do you think is going to happen if you roll off of me? It’s a long way down.” And he doesn’t understand me, and he keeps trying, and I don’t let him do it, and that’s kind of the point. He has no anticipation of being hurt in any way, no anticipation of landings being anything but soft, and that is how I want it.
I will protect him from pain, sadness, and fear, and fill his life with love, safety, and predictability, for as long as I can.
At first you might not take much notice of this morning’s gospel reading. Jesus healed so many people that this could seem like just one more. But when we look more closely, it’s not.
Jesus was in Jerusalem and he went to a pool known as Bethzatha, near the Sheep Gate. In the porticos around the pool were many invalids, including one who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
Jesus walked up to that particular man and said, “Do you want to be made well?” The invalid 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.”
The reason he said that is that the people believed that an angel of the Lord would come and stir the waters in this pool, and that whoever was the first to enter the pool after the waters were stirred would be healed. That’s why this man and all the other invalids were hanging out by pool, trying to be the first one in.
And now I want you to notice something. Jesus said, “Do you want to be healed?” The only answer to that question is “Yes!” But that’s not what the man said. Instead of “Yes,” or “Yes, please!” he gave an explanation, or possibly an excuse, for his situation. “I can’t help it. There’s no one to help me. It’s not my fault.”
And what did Jesus do next? The reader might assume that Jesus would then help the man into the pool. This man had spent thirty-eight years of his life waiting for that to happen.
But instead Jesus said, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” No pool. No angels. No stirring water. No magic. No competition. Instead, the power of the living God, manifest in Jesus, was given directly to a man in need, without strings attached, without even being requested.
This is not the usual healing story. Usually people in need cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Son of David.” “Heal my daughter.” “Heal my servant.” “I believe you can do it.” And after Jesus healed them he would often say, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.” But there was no faith in this story at all. Just grace.
Well, there was faith, but it was Jesus’s faith in his mission. It was Jesus’s faith in the mercy of God. It was Jesus’s faith in God’s grace for all who receive it. It was Jesus’s faith in the power of God’s redemption to do God’s work in a person’s life even when they don’t even ask for it or know that it’s happening.
Jesus might ask us, “Knox Presbyterian Church/Thanksgiving Lutheran, do you want to be well?” And what would we say? “Oh, Jesus, we’re so small, we really can’t do much. Oh, Jesus, we don’t take in enough money and we can’t afford a full-time pastor. Oh, Jesus, we’re all getting older. We’re don’t have the energy we used to have. That’s why we can’t get to the pool first when the waters are stirred. The others get there first. That’s why we’re not well.”
And Jesus says, “That wasn’t my question. My question is, ‘do you want to be made well?” What is the answer to this question? “Yes.” “Yes” is the only appropriate answer.
Now I want you to listen to me very carefully here. I’m going to explain something. In the gospel of John, everything comes down to faith, and specifically, faith in Jesus. What does it mean to be redeemed? What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to be healed or to be well? In the gospel of John it means to have faith, which means to be in a living, trusting relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Okay, keep listening to me now. In the gospel of John, faith is not the equivalent of belief. It does not mean believing the right or correct things.
For example, Lutherans have bishops of synods, and Presbyterians have a moderator and a stated clerk of Presbyteries. Lutherans place value on the historic position of bishop, which the church has had since the first century, and Presbyterians place value on equality and majority rule. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
But the point is, when Jesus says, “Do you want to be made well,” the answer is not, “Let me first receive the bishop’s permission,” or “I’m going to ask the session to vote on it,” the answer is “yes.” The point is, are you open to and ready to receive and live in a trusting relationship with Jesus?
This little church might grow or it might not. That is not ultimately the point. The point is to be made well and to live in faith.
It turns out that being made well is not a competition. You and I don’t have to get to the pool first. We do not need to compare ourselves to other churches in terms of size or ministry or prominence or wealth. The only question is whether we’re being faithful.
It turns out that we don’t have to get to the pool first. We don’t have to compete with other churches for new members. First of all, there are over 175,000 people in Santa Rosa. I mean, if they all showed up here, where would they sit?
No, there’s more than enough empty-nesters and people with children who are thinking maybe it’s time to go back to church or try church, for all the churches in Santa Rosa.
Furthermore, competition is not how it works anyway. Holy Spirit leads people to the place that’s right for them. That’s who we want. That’s what we pray for. That the people who need to be here, at Knox/Thanksgiving, find their way here. What we and they need, what we and they pray for, is that here, together, we grow in in a living, trusting, relationship with the living God.
My commitment to my baby son Elijah is that for as long as I can make it happen, pain and sadness in his little life will be minimal. The greatest tragedy he’ll experience is momma or poppa taking a minute too long to bring him a bottle.
In a way I’m saying that I want him to live in faith, which is a trusting relationship. My commitment is that while he is so small, he’ll have no reason to not trust the world. What he needs to happen, will happen. When he cries, someone will come. He’ll be held and soothed and loved.
Soon enough he’ll learn, and I will teach him, that the world can hurt him, but I’ll protect him as long as I can, starting with not letting him roll off of me, head first, during tummy time. For as long as possible I want his world to be “yes.”
Jesus asks us, “Do you want to be made well” and the answer is yes. The answer is to trust in God’s infinite care and concern for you, and to live in that faith. Abide in that faith.
Know that when we get ourselves worked up and want to roll over, off the safe place, and onto the floor, when we feel the competitive spirit rise and think we have to get to the pool first, Jesus just holds us gently and says, “Honey, it’s a long way down but I won’t let you fall.” Jesus says, “Friend, forget about the pool. Just pick up your mat and walk.” Amen.