Rev. George Miller
Aug 6, 2017
Last week I came across a fortune cookie that said “It’s too late to start digging a well when you feel thirsty.”
From a worldly point of view, it sounds like wise advice, but from a Christological viewpoint, I’m not sure if this fortune is true.
In Christ, is it ever too late? Could it be that when we are the thirstiest is when the Living Waters make a way?
Let us pray…
…For our astute observers, you’ll notice that our sanctuary looks a little different. Gone are the red paraments and wall hangings we’ve had up to represent Pentecost, and in their place are green paraments and wall hangings.
We are in the liturgical season which the church calls Ordinary Time. The color for Ordinary Time is green.
Now- two things.
First, I so dislike the term Ordinary Time. It’s a phrase meant to express that there are no major religious holidays coming up. But when it comes to the wonder of God, the miracles of Jesus, and the surprising nature of the Holy Spirit is anytime truly just ordinary?
Second- green is a difficult color to pull off. Green is the color of life, representing the renewal of the earth.
But the wrong shade of green creates the wrong mood. Avocado green puts us back into the 1970’s. Neon green is too MTV. Dark green looks sickly.
But the right shade of green? The right hue with the perfect balance of pop and power and positivity- that’s, that’s life.
That’s abundant. That’s garden-good and lawn-luxurious.
You want a green that makes you so glad to be alive, because simply living is not being alive. Simply breathing is not life. Simply being here is not what the good, great Lord intended.
God wants us to have every good thing; God wants us to be alive.
Today’s reading helps to teach this principle.
Here we are, at the waters of Bethzatha. By these pools there are people who are struggling with issues of sight, issues of strength, and issues of mobility.
The NRSV calls them invalids, but another translation uses the word impotent; or powerless.
During an era in which the average life expectancy was between 45-60, we meet a man who’s been there for 38 years.
Jesus sees him lying there. Instead of saying “It is too late for you to start digging a well,” he says to the man “Do you want to be made well?”
Now, notice a few things. We’re never told what the man’s ailment was. We have no idea what he suffered from.
We’re not given a case study on the man; not told about his history. Nor is there any sense of judgment from the author.
It is simply told- Jesus sees him, Jesus knew he had been there a long time, and Jesus asks the important question- “Do you want to be made well?”
Note the careful word usage here.
Jesus does not ask him “Do you want to be cured?”
Nor does he ask “Do you want me to solve your problem for you?”
He asks “Do you want to be made well?”
This is vital to the story.
Many Christians believe that God cures people. We hold onto this notion with our power of prayer, with our calling upon Christ, with the seeking of the Spirit; this need to be made well, the desire for divine intervention, the pleading for positive outcomes.
And certainly the Bible has stories that testify to this, and each of us can testify to times in which we believe that God has affected our ability to live.
But then there are so many questions-
What does it mean to be made well?
Is healing the same as being cured?
Can one be whole even if they are still sick, or infirm, or impotent?
What does being well, being whole, and being cured have to do with anything?
What exactly is going on here?
During Tuesday’s Lectionary Bible Study we read this scripture and one of the students had an important insight-
“Why did Jesus even have to ask this question? Why would anyone need to be asked if they want to be made well?”
I don’t know about ya’ll, but I felt like I could answer that.
It seems like there are a lot of unwell people out there who seem quite content in their unwellness; and there seem to be a lot of people who keep doing things that are the very opposite of wellness.
And no matter how metaphorically thirsty they get, there is nothing nobody can say, do, or suggest that will make them dig that well for themselves, until they are ready.
I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a former smoker, and as any smoker can tell you- it is the hardest thing in the world to quit.
It doesn’t matter if smoking is expensive, makes you stink, and causes you to cough, no smoker has ever stopped because someone said “Yon know that’s bad for you, right?”
You have to want to stop.
I learned that back in 1999. I was 29, back to living with my Momma on Long Island, facing a cross roads of uncertainty. Smoking was an escape and a time killer.
There was a holistic school nearby that gave free acupuncture treatments so I went there to stop smoking, but nothing seemed to work.
They put needles in my ear, my chest, my feet, and after a treatment I’d stop at the gas station to get another pack.
The student who was working on me couldn’t figure out what to do so she went to her advisor who said “Ask him if he actually wants to quit.”
So, she came to me and said “Do you really want to quit smoking?” Or, in today’s scripture, “Do you want to be made well?”
I told her the honest truth “No.” It felt so good to admit that I wasn’t ready to quit.
So they stopped the smoking treatments and focused on other areas, until that time did come, and I was ready…
…Look how Jesus is portrayed in today’s story. How he goes about offering wellness to this man. So different from how most people do things.
How many here have ever been told by someone what to do, as if you had never had the same thought yourself?
The doctor who says “You need to lose weight.” Then says all you have to do is eat less sugar and include more leafy greens and yogurt, and you’re like “Yeah, well if I liked leafy greens and yogurt I’d already be doing that!”
That’s not how Jesus rolls in this story. He’s like “Do you want to be made well?”
Such a simple question, but one that has far reaching implications.
Do you want to be made well or do you want to continue as is?
Jesus is not saying that it is too late for something life-affirming. He’s not blaming the man for his situation. He is not offering to do the work for him, nor is Jesus making excuses for why the man can’t achieve wellness.
He simply asks “Do you want to be made well?”
What we have here is a story about one of the greatest gifts God has given us- freedom.
Just as God is free, so are we.
God did not create us to be helpless. God did not create us to be puppets. God did not create us to be passive.
God loves us so much that we are given freedom, even if that freedom means we can turn away from God and deny God’s help.
Naaman could receive healing from his leprosy, but first he had to make the choice if he was to go down to the river and dunk himself 7 times.
The starving widow was promised that she’d not go hungry if she first made the prophet Elijah something to eat.
At the wedding in Cana, the servants had to be willing to pour 180 gallons of water into 6 stone jars if Jesus was going to turn water into wine.
None of these things happened without the people’s willing participation.
Jesus’ love for this man does not take away the man’s right to choose.
Nor does Jesus do a simple “Hocus pocus- you are made all better.”
Jesus gives him 3 direct directions: stand up, take your mat, and walk.
If the man truly wants to experience wellness, he has to do his own part.
In other words Jesus is saying “You are not as paralyzed and stuck in place as you think you are.”
Take your mat.
This is Jesus saying “You are not has helpless as you think or as helpless as people say you are.”
This is Jesus saying “You may have been here 38 years, but the past is the past. You can leave it behind.”
Jesus gives the man 3 direct directions which allows the man the freedom to choose to experience wellness.
Stand up- rise above your current situation.
Take your mat- do something for YOU.
And walk- step into your future, because it is never too late.
And the man is made well.
Note- there is no indication that the man’s life became dramatically easy and rosy, nor do we ever know if he has set backs or hits new kind of obstacles.
But we know for that moment, for that day, he was given a choice, and he made the choice to be well.
In conclusion, today’s story reminds us how our Heavenly Parent is still working, moving, and affecting lives.
It is a story which states that in Christ it is never too late, and one is never too powerless to experience the Living Waters and a restorative life in Christ.
Is there a difference between simply living and being alive? And if so, what does being alive look like?
And what does it mean to be made whole, to be cured, to be healed, to be made well in Jesus Christ?
Only you can decide that for yourself.
Only you are able to stand up, take your mat, and to move into your future.
Amen and amen.