Sunday, May 1, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from May 1, 2016

[Father Riley's Episcopal class continues Mother's Day, May 8th at 9am in the Parish Hall.]

EASTER VI - C - 16                                  JOHN 5. 1-9

 I consider myself fortunate to have been able to travel to the Holy Land on two separate occasions, the most recent being with a group from Grace Church in Monroe some six years ago. My first visit, however, was as a participant in the Gafcon Conference in 2007 with Bishops and Priests from around the Anglican Communion.
One afternoon, we were allowed into a portion of the Temple mount normally closed to the public. We gathered on the steps leading up to the Temple site to pray Evening Prayer. Amazingly the steps are still there on the East side facing the Mount of Olives.
It was both a humbling and emotional experience for me to sit there and contemplate Jesus having walked up those very steps on more than one occasion as he entered the Temple, first at the age of twelve, and then on his last visit to the Holy City when he entered the Temple courtyard  and overturned the tables of the money changers.
The old city is surrounded by gates, some that go back to the time of Jesus and some that were later additions being the result of successive siege and occupation. According to tradition the Sheep Gate was some 100 yards North of the Temple. The pool located there, which modern archeology has discovered, was fed by an under-ground spring. If you go there today you can see it for yourself.
The story goes, that on occasion the waters would bubble up. A disturbance caused by an angel, some believed. When this occurred, the first one to enter the water would be healed. It is worth noting that the waters from this pool were also used to wash the sacrificial lambs before they were led to the Temple courtyard to be slain.
Because of its supposed curative powers many invalids, blind, lame and paralyzed came day in and day out hoping to be healed and believing that they could. According to John, Jesus passed by the pool of Bethesda on his way to the Temple. It was the Sabbath Day. Seeing one who had been there for a long time he asked “do you want to be made well?” Obviously the man in today’s story was unable on his own power to be the first to enter the water at the appropriate time. But he believed that if somehow he could, he would be healed.
Jesus’ question “do you want to be made well?” may seem irrelevant. But is it? The Son of God has insight into the suffering of man and its causes and stands ready to heal all those who obey him. This third “sign” in John’s gospel exemplifies the divine power to restore a person to wholeness.
His question to the paralytic is relevant, then, on more than one account. First it makes public the fact that the sick man kept his faith, even in a situation that was seemingly hopeless; for how could a paralytic ever be the first into the water? Secondly, the Lord draws attention away from the water and toward the need we all have for help from God; a need that is fulfilled in Christ.
Finally, and this is important, not everyone who is ill actually desires to be healed. Sadly, some prefer to remain infirm in order to have license to complain, to avoid responsibility for their lives, or to continue to excite pity from others.
It appears that the man Jesus healed had made a way of life out of his long wait for healing. To put it another way, Jesus’ question to him was perhaps quite pointed “ do you really want to get better, or are you now quite happy to eke out your days lounging around here with the excuse that someone else always gets in first?”
Today’s story is about the healing of a cripple, but it could be about spiritual healing, or getting one up and out of a way of life that in itself has “crippled” the individual. There are those out there who have developed a “crutch,” a reason, why they are the way they are and live the way they do, in essence “crippling” themselves. It is always someone else’s fault.
They are simply products of their environments others like to say. They didn’t do anything and can do nothing to change their fortunes. And sadly, many are quite happy being what they are and being in the state they are in.
However, there is always more than one way out of their present condition be it education, medical care, or God. But they choose not to take advantage of the opportunities that would better their life or renew their faith. Instead they prefer to live on their excuses. Unfortunately we all know or have known people like this.
The difference between people like that and the man in today’s story is faith. He may not have been able to get himself into the water, but he still believed that if he could, he would be made well. Jesus, then, does what the pool stands for. All it takes is a word.
“Stand up, take up your mat and walk,” and the cripple was no more - through faith and obedience he had become a new creation. Now he was launched on a much harder, but more satisfying way of life - in essence, he was “resurrected.”
We are still in the Easter season and are reminded of that fact as we listen to the gospel stories, like the one today. Easter is about resurrection. But we often overlook the daily resurrections that take place in individual’s lives that are not as dramatic as the man in today’s story, or the relative longed prayed for that suddenly one day turns his or her life around and becomes a new creation. It could be a renewal of Faith for one who had turned away from God, or the gift of Hope where despair had heretofore reigned, or an expression of Love from one who had always seemed incapable of the giving of oneself.
Resurrection is God’s Easter gift through the merits and death of His Son, Jesus Christ, to all who are willing to obey Him; a life-changing  gift that launches us on a new way of being and doing based on our knowledge of our need of God, and our seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of that need. God will heal all the broken places in our lives, if we will let Him.
God will take away all of our “crutches,” remove all our excuses, and replace them with His grace and Love. We only have to believe that He can and respond out of obedience to His Love. All it takes is a word: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” AMEN+

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