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Sunday, May 25, 2014

But I've Got a Plan (John 5.1-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - May 25, 2014
Text: John 5:1-17

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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "The Journey/He Leadeth Me" (Heather Sorenson)
Song of Praise: "O for a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love" (David Crowder Band)
The Word in Music: "Beautiful Savior" (Tom Fettke)
Hymn of Response: "Lord, Your Church on Earth is Seeking" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Offering of Music: "How He Loves" (David Crowder Band; McMillan)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "Go Forth for God (v. 2)" (GENEVA12)
Postlude: "Hymn to Joy" (Albert L. Travis)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
     1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] 5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
     Now it was the Sabbath on that day. 10 So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” 11 But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (Acts 1:1-8)

Last week I shared about visiting The Grove (church) and the clear demonstration of the power of God in bringing that church from near-death to life. I had also listened to the Hinton’s sermon from the previous week and been so encouraged by their testimony to the power of God to do what they could not do. So we looked last week at the mission Jesus gave to his followers after his Easter Resurrection. It amounts to this: God is doing some amazing things in the world and you are to be witnesses to that work. Sometimes you will even get to share in that work, but never forget that the power to witness and to work comes from God.

I confessed my own slowness to rely on God’s power, being quick instead to come up with my own ideas and plans. We talked about what it would mean as a church and as individuals to look first to God’s power and work so as not to run ahead or lag behind what God is doing. I framed a key question like this: Lord, what are you doing in and around us; how can we be a part; and will you help us?

While that question and those verses do have a personal application, the focus leaned towards us as a church community; how we trust and follow God together. Today’s text very much picks up the same themes, and has application for us all together; but it is much more focused on an individual story and I think will offer a good follow-up to last week’s message. Let’s turn then to John 5.

A Multitude… a Man (vv. 3,5)

The story opens up with a movie-like wide shot of Jerusalem at feast-time. Zooming in, we find ourselves focused on one of the gates in Jerusalem and the large pool complex near that gate. Don’t think “swimming pool” though; scholars believe these pools were for ceremonial washing and near to the Temple area. As we zoom in further reading John’s description, we see “a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered.” (v. 3)

There are a number of reasons this multitude could have been there. Many sicknesses were considered ceremonially unclean, so the ritual washing may have been part of religious requirement. It may have also been a convenient place to beg and receive food and support, with many travelers stopping by the pools on the way to the Temple or coming from the sheep market. And apparently there was also a belief that one could experience healing by entering the water at the right time when it was “stirred up.” (vv. 4,7)

But John’s purpose here is not to describe or critique the dynamic between the Temple worship, the animal sacrifice and market system, or the socio-economic plight of the multitudes of sick and disabled in Jerusalem. There are other places in the Gospel of John all those things are addressed more directly. Today, John is zeroing in on one of the multitude – one man’s story and his encounter with Jesus the Son of God.

“A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” (v. 5) The person in focus has been “in his sickness” (it’s not specified what that is) for most or all of his life. His sickness, whatever it was, kept him down on a pallet; he could not move himself to the water without help. He likely lived off the assistance and mercy of others, perhaps asking for food and basic necessities from family or from strangers. This was more than “a man was beset by robbers” like in the Good Samaritan story; this was his life. It was all he knew.

Suddenly the story becomes personal. It could be about me or about you. I wonder what comes to mind. Is there anything you’ve struggled with for a lifetime? I’ve had incredibly poor vision since I was a child. That’s about thirty-eight years. In an ancient society that would have crippled me and left me with very few options. And that’s just for starters. What about you?

What is holding you down? What is keeping you from moving forward? What can you not see around or get around?

Maybe it has to do with money: not enough to pay the bills or debt you can’t pay off or habits you can’t break.

Maybe it has to do with family and relationships: kids out of control, parents you don’t respect, marriage that is more difficult and lonely than anything else, or singleness with a relentless restlessness.

Maybe it has to do with health: a chronic illness or a terminal diagnosis or being overweight or the darkness of depression.

Maybe it has to do with an addition: any number of behaviors, habits, or strategies that have become as tangible and unbreakable as real chains.

Or you fill in the blank. If John’s movie camera were to pan down to South Charlotte and pass over the multitudes of sick, blind, lame, withered, discouraged, indebted, lonely, addicted, stuck, lost, bound up people and zoom in on your life, what would he see? I’m not going to ask you to say it out loud or write it down or share; but I would ask you to look deep, because Jesus has a question to ask you.

Jesus’ Question; Our Answers (vv. 6-7)

“Do you want to get well?”

That’s the question Jesus asks: “Do you want to get well?”

You’d think it’s a no-brainer, right? But there’s a dark side to those real life-binding, stuck places; we seem to not just get stuck there, but they become our life. That’s how we come to understand life and ourselves and our place in this world. And while we might spend a lot of time wishing things were different and better and ideal, it’s a very different thing for Jesus to show up with the power of God and ask the question: “Do you want to get well?”

For one thing, we aren’t quite ready to answer THAT question – not if it involves the power of God showing up in our life. So, with the man by the pool, we answer a little off-target for what Jesus actually asked. “Lord, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; others get there first.” (v. 7) Do you see what he did there? As if he already knows how Jesus would answer the question… he’s got the answer figured out, he just doesn’t know how to make it happen.

Jesus asks if you want to get well – in your situation – and where do our minds go? Sure, all I need is a higher-paying job. Sure, all I need is for my spouse to get their life together. Sure, all I need is to have a better life, like that person over there. Sure, but I don’t really have a problem. I distinctly remember having those kinds of thoughts related to my weight and health. I sure am trying to get from here to there; maybe this is as good as it gets and I just need to find contentment here in this place.

I have no reason to think that the man by the pool was being anything other than sincere; he just couldn’t think beyond the solutions and hopes and dreams he had already tried for years and years. Maybe he even thought Jesus might stick around and help try to get him to the pool the next time it got stirred up. Now there is a case of asking God to bless our limited strategies!

But what happened next is not something he had imagined.

Jesus’ Answer: God’s Power (v. 8)

Jesus said to him, “Get up; pick up your pallet and walk” (v. 8) and IMMEDIATELY the man became well. (v. 9) No strategies, no ritual or superstition; it was the power of God. And here’s the second part, the participating in what God is doing part: the man “picked up his pallet and began to walk.” (v. 9) Jesus healed him through the power of God and the man chose to get up and participate in what God was doing.

After all, he could have stayed there, healed in body but stuck in place, not knowing how else to live life. After all, this was his home, his livelihood, his community, and his dream – probably for years and years and years. Leaving that behind would be hard. In fact, maybe he could just come hang out there anyway; being healed didn’t keep him from coming there. But Jesus told him not just to get up, but to take his bedroll with him, not to come back and try to claim that space any more. In fact, Jesus runs into him later in the Temple and says, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (v. 14) Jesus recognized that one option would be to go back to the pool, to begging, and to a life of stuckness, even if his body had been healed. And Jesus warns against that.

And here’s one place I want to be careful… so hear me well. I am NOT saying that we should do nothing but wait on God’s power and healing. Well, in a sense I am saying that; but God’s power and healing sometimes looks like crawling to the pool. Sometimes the help and healing does come through the help of others or financial counseling or opening up to a friend about struggles in marriage or following your doctor’s medical treatment plan or admitting you have an addiction. We recognized that distinction last week in talking about God’s power and our church plans. It’s not wrong to have a church vision or renovate the worship space or figure out how to be better neighbors in our neighborhood. We just dare not leave God out of those plans! Our strategy can’t be “here’s what I’m going to do and, by the way, God will you sprinkle some of you blessing on it?” Rather, we need to look and wait and pray and do our best to figure out what God is doing and join up in that!

Last week I tried to boil that down to a simple prayer: Lord, what are you doing in and around us; how can we be a part; and will you help us?

I’d do the same this week, for our personal struggles and obstacles and chains:

Lord, how would you make known your healing and helping power in my life; what do I need to take up or leave behind; and how can I say ‘yes’ to you?

Witnesses (vv. 11ff)

As a short epilogue, the man had the opportunity to give witness to what had happened. In this case, the religious leaders were trying to catch Jesus breaking the Law by healing on the Sabbath. Talk about missing the power of God for repeating old strategies! But don’t miss that though that was going on, the man was willing and able to say, “This is what God has done and what God is doing even now.” That is our mission in all this – to point others to what God is doing in our own life and in the world around us.

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