Sermon Text: Stand Up and Walk!
Happy Easter! (We are still in the Easter Season, we always are, 50 days and 7 Sundays! Today is Sunday 6.) There are many interesting things in what we just heard from John’s Gospel. It is the Sabbath, verse 4 is missing from this reading, also omitted from other Bible translations and versions, the one describing an angel swooping down to stir up the waters of this pool – and we hear Jesus very distinctly saying to the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be healed?” and despite the man’s answer, Jesus somewhat sharply says, “Then stand up and walk!” (Jesus did not say, “Stand up and get into that pool you’ve been waiting to be helped into for 38 years.” Jesus said, “Stand up and walk – and don’t forget to take your mat with you!” Do you wonder why Jesus did not put the man in the water? Another thing to note is that we are in the Easter Season, and this morning we are taken back to an earlier event in Jesus’ ministry, before his death and resurrection. Why am I pointing out these “things” about our Gospel reading for Easter 6? Perhaps the old teacher in me is saying, “Here are some things we could go home to explore and reflect upon later.”
John’s Gospel account reminds me of when my brother Steve was presented a special award at his high school graduation years ago. Steve had achieved perfect attendance from kindergarten all the way through his senior year. What an honor! It is still a mystery to this day how he pulled it off. He had undoubtedly been blessed by God with amazing, tenacious health. And... there may have been the added factor that our mother would come forth with some often very unpleasant homemade remedies (spoken with love, Mom xox) when we announced we were not feeling well. We rarely took her up on any such offer, feeling better just imagining actually taking her concoctions! Her version of “Stand up and walk” was “Get out of bed and get on the bus!” So, maybe Mom helped Steve earn that wonderful certificate.
It would be wonderful if everyone in the world were blessed with that kind of good health and strong encouragement from someone who cares about our well-being. Sadly, many people suffer deeply with chronic illnesses, injuries, broken relationships with friends and family, poverty, undesirable jobs and living conditions, unemployment, violence, oppression, and countless other human injustices and crises. We probably all have times of being like this poor man who sat suffering alone on his mat for 38 long years - waiting, watching, and hoping for life to change for him. His life was immobile and stuck. At that time, many believed that the pool at Beth-zatha in Jerusalem had healing powers, that its water could dramatically/instantly change a person’s life. Many anxious people living then believed that an angel (verse 4) would come and stir up the water in the pool; when it bubbled up, the first person fortunate enough to hop in would be the one to be healed. This man waited 38 years for what he believed to be the “perfect condition”, to have someone help him into the first bubbling, not realizing that this is not how God acts! The man might have waited forever if Jesus had not come along. What a blessing that Jesus came along and removed the illusions and the misguidance of the pool and its bubbles! It is still true, when Jesus comes along, we can say, “Now the real healing begins!” This is not to disparage angels; they are God’s important messengers and helpers for our lives. We just need Jesus to come along; Jesus is our “perfect condition”.
Do we see why Jesus did not help the man into the water? Why instead, he said, “Get up, walk, take your mat, although you won’t need it anymore. Feel the gurgling of new life in you now! This is not about magic!” Perhaps we can also see why this is a great story for Easter. A suffering man being lifted up into a new life, a life that had been stifled and hidden in him for so long is set free; now, he is no longer crippled!
We DO have opportunities, regardless of our situations, to stand up, take our mats, venture into new life. We are Easter, Resurrection, miracle people! We can shed illusions, discard false and outdated hopes, rid ourselves of distorted imaginings of what we are tempted to believe could magically change our lives and correct the serious issues facing our world. Instead of acting as if we were waiting for a magic cure for losing weight, getting a better job, starting a new relationship, we can turn faithfully to God and Christ for the prayerful transformations and actions desperately needed in our world order, assured to be given necessary strength, healing, redemption, salvation, new ways of loving and being, even holy joy from God who loves us, Jesus who comes to us, and the Holy Spirit bestowing just the right time and places for us to arise and be healed. There is always hope, and we are active participants of that hope when we believe that our world, God’s world, is truly hurtling towards eternal health, happiness, and wholeness. May we stand, work hard, persevere, accept our awards for perfect attendance in God’s beautiful vision for what need never be a world stagnant and wounded. Happy Easter! AMEN.