Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C.
Gospel Text: John 5:1-9
Jesus said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
May only God’s Word be spoken, and may only God’s Word be heard. Amen!
So, sometimes people catch me off guard with questions. It is a professional hazard for a priest. Usually it regards something minute and/or technical with regard to scripture, the prayer book, church history or polity, or some other equally churchy type thing. But last Sunday morning, I was caught by a question that was not technically religious at all.
About 6:45 a.m. last Sunday morning I pulled into Starbucks at 117th and Blondo to grab a couple of coffees on my way to church. I got the oddest question from the barista. Admittedly, on a day to day bases, I do not always dress the part of a priest. If it looks like I am going to be typing all day, writing sermons, lesson plans, emails, and meeting agendas, I will commonly wear “civilian clothes” to work. Furthermore, when I do wear the collar to work, I do not always wear a black priest shirt with a dark suit. I have priest shirts of a variety of colors, no floral patterns of course, but it is not uncommon to see me in a blue priest shirt with a pair of jeans.
However, this trip to Starbucks was on a Sunday morning, and for some reason not only was I wearing the collar, not only a black priest shirt too, but I had also donned my one and only dark suit. I had even combed my hair and trimmed my mustache. Y’all, I don’t really clean up much more than that. I am not sure if it is even possible for me to look more like a suburban-white-boy-priest than I did last Sunday morning standing before the counter of Starbucks.
Therefore, I was caught completely off guard when after taking my order the barista looked me square in the eye and asked, “So, what you got going on today?” Now, yall should know by now that I have a bit of the rascal in me. So, many a smart-aleck remark came to my mind in that moment. The most creative of which would have been to say, “Awww nothing, I just on my way home from a costume party.” However, I am happy to say that either I have matured enough to keep my mouth shut on occasion or it was too bloody early in the morning and I was way too decaffeinated to retort in a coherent fashion. Either way, I did not smart off to the barista. I mumbled something about heading to church and I am still welcome at my local Starbucks.
As I read our gospel this week of the sick man at the pool of Beth-zatha I wondered if he might have had some similar feelings as I did in Starbucks last week. See, he had been ill for 38 years and had been at the pool for a long time the scriptures say. Now it was believed that whenever the waters of this pool were stirred—how or by whom we don’t know—the first person to enter the pool would be healed. It sounds a bit far-fetched to us with our advances in health care, but then again open heart surgery would sound insane or profane to a first century person; so who are we to judge? The point of the matter is it was obvious that this guy was sick, and had been ever so close to healing for quite a while. His presence at the pool alone would seem to indicate his desire to be well. Therefore when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” could we blame the guy if he was a little put off?
Sitting at that well for a long time was probably like sitting in the doctor’s office for an appointment and having people who showed up after you continually getting their named called before you. This guy had to be frustrated already; so, I am surprised he didn’t look at Jesus and say, “What kind of question is that, ‘do I want to be made well?’ Of course, I want to be well, why do you think I’ve been sitting beside this stinking well all this time.”
At first glance, Jesus’ question seems a bit odd. Furthermore, when we come across things that seem odd to us in scripture those are usually the places we should pay attention to the most. So, following my own advice, I sat with that Jesus’ question this week and began to wonder if just maybe his seeming impertinence was more insightful than I thought. Could it be that our ailing man had been broken for so long, had become so accustomed to blaming others for his inability to get well, that he was indeed addicted to his brokenness? It is indeed possible; for a I believe that we all have times in our lives, aspects of our character, persistent behaviors that impair and impede us. Often we are unconscious of our brokenness, but even more often we unable or unwilling to imagine what it might be like to be whole. Whether on an individual level it is our petty prejudices or imagined slights; whether it is our desire to control or our habit of blaming others for our problems and issues; whether on a congregational level we are willing to admit that despite saying all are welcome here we rarely permit any and all into our midst; whether on a national level it is our addiction to petroleum or our arrogant don’t mess America foreign policy, we refuse to imagine what it might be like to be different, to be whole. We are so use to be broken the possibility of being whole literally scares us. Therefore, Jesus’ question is not impertinent rather perceptive.
There is a concept in the twelve-step community that wanting to be sober is a much different thing then wanting to want to be sober. We see that notion lived out in every level of our lives and in today’s gospel as well. For indeed Jesus has the will and the power--the life giving righteousness--to heal this man, but the man has to be willing, desiring, and want to be made well.
Therefore the barista at Starbucks did not ask a foolish question of me; for indeed I have a lot going on this morning. Indeed, WE have a lot going on in this house, on this morning. My brothers and sisters, Christ’s call to be well is issued to us each and every time we enter this space. When we pass that Font, we are reminded of the stirred waters of baptism and the invitation to be reconciled to God, to be made well, to be whole. We are immersed in the word of God, and we confess both our sins and our desire to be forgiven. In our prayers for the state of Christ’s church and the world, we hope for the wholeness of the world to be returned. In the passing of the peace, we outwardly and visibly symbolize once again our choosing to be a people that together physically embody Christ in the world. And most importantly we come to this altar, to this table of God’s to be fed with the spiritual food of the body and blood of Christ. We come with our brokenness. We come with our pain. We come with all that we are, our joy and our shame. It is here at this table where the feast is prepared that we see what we are, whole if we dare. “Do you want to be made well?” Amen.