March 2, 2014

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC


John 5:1-9


The telephone rang.  It was a woman calling a pastor.  It wasn’t her pastor.  She was Baptist, but she was calling a United Methodist pastor.  She was wondering if he might have time to stop by and pray for her sick husband.  He would be happy to.  But on the drive over, it occurred to him that this woman and her husband were well known in the community as Baptists.  So why had she called him and not her own pastor?

He found their house, visited with them for a few minutes, and then offered a prayer.  The couple was most grateful.  He was on his way out the door, but he couldn’t leave without asking.  “Why would good Baptists like you call me?  Why didn’t you call your own pastor?”

“Well, I suppose I should tell you the truth,” the woman began.  “My husband’s sickness is really quite serious.  Often people die of this.  The doctor warned us that it is highly contagious.  And we just love our pastor . . . ”

We’re going to talk today about healing.  Jesus was a healer.  Today’s text is one of dozens we could have used.  But each healing involved a unique person and a unique situation.  In this case we have a man who has been ill for 38 years.  He can’t walk.  He can’t even stand up.  He spends all day, every day, lying on the ground.  For 38 years.

Jesus finds him in a place where the disabled would tend to gather.  It’s a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda.  Those who needed healing would come there because the waters of this pool were thought to have magical healing properties.  Every so often the water would be troubled.  It would go from perfectly still to just ever so slightly agitated.  It was thought maybe an angel was responsible.  And that if you could be the first to get into the water after the angel left, you would be healed.

This man who had spent 38 years of his life lying on the ground believed that.  But he couldn’t get into the water by himself.  There was no one to lift him and carry him into the pool.  He explained his predicament to Jesus.  He probably was hoping Jesus had a strong back.  But Jesus doesn’t have any use for the folklore about magic waters.  Jesus just asks one simple question.  “Do you want to get well?”  He told the man to get up and walk.  And the man, after 38 years of lying on the ground, got up and walked.

Do you want to get well?  How long has it been for you?  Subtract 38 years from your present age and even the oldest people here are suddenly young.  The younger ones get a negative number.  It’s been a long time for this man.  It’s been a long time for many of us.  And Jesus cares when we are living with something we don’t have to live with.  Jesus wants us to get well.  But do we?

Sincere Christians read the same Bible and reach different conclusions about heaven and hell.  We talked about this last week.  And sincere Christians read the same Bible and reach different conclusions about healing.  On the one extreme are those who believe God can and will heal any and every sickness regardless of what medical science might say.  It just takes faith.  On the other extreme are those who aren’t quite sure what to do with the healing miracles of the Bible and are a little embarrassed they are even there.  They regard faith healers as akin to snake handlers.  We know too much today to fall for such quackery.  Medicine should be left to the doctors.

I fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  I believe God can and does heal.   But I also believe that not everyone who seeks God’s healing gets healed.  Obviously, all of us will eventually die from something that doesn’t get healed.  Sometimes God’s way of healing us is to release us from our earthly bodies and give us new bodies that will never get old and die.

And of course all healing is not necessarily physical healing.  Not all sickness is sickness of the body.  We can be physically strong and healthy, but there can be something inside that is broken.  Something inside that won’t show up on an MRI.  I’m certain that every single person here today is in need of healing in one form or another.

Since our physical self and our non-physical self is one self, not two selves, it shouldn’t surprise us that the one has an effect on the other.  Someone has said, “When our sorrow is too deep for tears, other organs weep.”  And not just sorrow.  When we feel deep anger, or despair, or fear, or guilt, it can be the trigger for something physical.  It works the other way, too.  When we feel strong hope, or faith, or courage, or love, or peace, when we give and receive forgiveness, it can lay the groundwork for some very real and very amazing physical healing.

The healing of this man by the Bethesda pool, for example.  Now here’s a question.  We are told there were others lying around the pool.  Others in need of healing.  Why did Jesus go to this one and not to the others?   It’s clear in scripture that Jesus was a healer.  But it’s also clear that he didn’t heal everyone who needed healing.  He chose to heal some.  Which means he chose not to heal others.  How did he decide?

If we read between the lines, we can reach several conclusions about this man who had been crippled for 38 years.  For one thing, this is a man without friends.  There was no one who would help him into the waters.  A friend would have gladly done that for him.  Even a kind stranger, you would think, would eventually come along and feel sorry for him.  So the second conclusion.  He was not only friendless, there was probably something repulsive about him that drove people away.

And then after he is healed, he doesn’t bother to thank Jesus.  In fact, when he is asked who healed him, he doesn’t know.  He doesn’t remember.  He is carrying his mat.  For once, he isn’t lying on it.  Carrying his mat was work, and you can’t work on the Sabbath.  But when this is pointed out to him, he makes sure Jesus gets blamed.  Eventually he meets Jesus again and this time learns his name, but again, no thank you.  He just hurries to the authorities to make sure they know the name of the one who had violated the Sabbath law by doing the work of healing.

In summary, this man who Jesus chooses to heal does not sound like a very nice man.  He’s not the one you or I would have chosen to heal.   And maybe that’s why Jesus chose him.  Because Jesus isn’t like you or me.  Maybe it was his way of saying that no one is beyond the healing compassion of God, not even this guy.

Jesus heals him.  Healing is not something we can do for ourselves.  We can’t just will ourselves well.  If we could, no one would be sick.  So healing, when it comes, always comes as a gift.  Much as health in the first place is a gift.  We don’t deserve it.  We didn’t create it.  It is given to us.  It is a gift from God.

However, it is a gift that we must receive.  Those who just passively wait for it to happen will wait a long time.  We participate with God in health and healing.  We don’t do it all, but we do something.  We do our part.  And this story of Jesus and crippled man shows us four ways we can do our part.  Four things we can do if we want to get well.

The first of the four is simply that.  We have to want to get well.  That’s the question Jesus asks.  “Do you want to get well?”  Why would he ask that?  Obviously he wants to get well.  How could a person in need of healing not want to be healed?   And yet it happens all the time.  Being sick has its benefits!

I remember staying home from school back in my grade school days.  I remember that being sick was no fun.  But I also remember getting to watch TV all day and my mother fussing over me and giving me all this attention.  Being sick can have its advantages!

I wonder if the man by the pool had some mixed feelings about the healing Jesus was offering.  After 38 years, I imagine he must have gotten used to life as he was living it.  Maybe even comfortable with it. There were some advantages.  He could lie in the cool shade while others were out working in the hot sun.  It wasn’t a great life, but he was making it work.  He couldn’t remember living any other kind of life.  So there may have been a side of him that was terrified of health.  It would be change.  Radical change.  Change can be scary, even change for the better.

A man went to the doctor for a physical.  The doctor ran the standard tests and then gave the patient the bad news.  He said, “You are in terrible shape.  If you don’t make some major changes in your lifestyle, you are going to die.”

The man said, “Well, Doc, what do I need to do?”

The doctor said, “The best thing you can do is to stop drinking, smoking, carousing, and staying out all night.”

The man said, “What’s the next best thing I can do?”

Sometimes we choose sickness over health.  And so the first question always has to be, “Do you want to get well?”

Notice that this question never gets answered by the paralyzed man.  He deflects it.  He answers it by pointing out that it was others, not himself, who were responsible for his condition.  No one would help him.  No one would lift him into the troubled waters.  So he says, “Don’t blame me.”  And Jesus just throws it right back at him.  “Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk.”  It’s your life, it’s your health.  Don’t blame others.  If you want to get well, do something about it.

Lo and behold, the man gets up, picks up his mat, and walks.  We’ll take these one at a time.

Second, he gets up.  He gets on his feet, for the first time in 38 years.  In other words, he makes the effort.

The Alcoholics Anonymous prayer asks for the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.  There is sickness that cannot be changed and simply has to be accepted.  But there is far more sickness that can be changed and will be changed if we have the courage to do something about it.  To make the effort.

Our daughter, Heather, is moving back from Portland to live with us.  So Helen sent her some red slippers.  Why red slippers?  To remind her of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  She had the power to come home all along.  Just click the heels of her red shoes and say, “There’s no place like home!”

We think we have to wait for others to help us, to carry us, to do it for us.  But God has already given us all we need.  We just need to make the effort and use it.

Third, “pick up your mat.”  We need to free ourselves from the past.  For 38 years, that mat had been carrying this man.  Now Jesus is telling him to carry it.  Take up the past, put it under your arm, and take it with you.  It no longer controls you.  You control it.

We can give the past way too much power.  Those scripts we play over and over in our minds.  Those defeats that we’ve never quite gotten over.  Those wounds that we’ve kept picking at so they never could quite heal.  Healing of memories often needs to come before healing of bodies.  We need to let go of those painful episodes that we remember so clearly, hand them over to God, and let the healing come.  It’s not easy to let go of the past and live in the present.  But if you want to get well, it has to happen.  Jesus said to the man by the pool, take up your mat.  Don’t let it carry you.  You carry it.

Finally, Jesus told this man who couldn’t walk to walk.  The fourth step:  we go forth healed.  We move forward.  We get on with life.

The purpose of health is not so we can kick back, take a deep breath, and say, “It’s sure great to be healthy!”  The purpose of health is to use that health in living.  The miracle would not have been complete if this man had stood up, discovered that he had been healed, and then laid back down on his mat.  He would have been healed, but for what?  This healing was complete when he walked, when he went forth healed, when he started to live the life that was now open to him.

I’ve noticed something over the years.  It’s not always true, but it’s true often enough there has to be something to it.  People who are preoccupied with their health, tend to be the ones who are always sick.  And people who are so involved in living that they barely give their own health a thought are the ones who are hardly ever sick.  Health is not an end.  Health is a means to the living of a full life.  And even when we aren’t entirely healthy, going forth to live our lives as fully as we can anyway, is a pretty good prescription for improved health.

I started working on this sermon Monday.  I was into it a ways when I came home Monday night.  Preachers are working on their sermons even when they aren’t working on their sermons.  So I was still pondering this subject of health and sickness and healing.  That’s when I got the news.  A good friend of mine in Portland has pancreatic cancer.

He’s 53.  He and his wife have two children, ages 14 and 19.  Our daughter, Kelsey use to babysit them.  He is probably the most talented man I have ever met.  He is well known in Portland as a stand up comic and as a television and radio personality.  He’s also as good a person as I have ever met.

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.  Or in the nose.  It was the strangest thing.  Moments after I got the news, my nose started bleeding and I had a terrible time getting it to stop.

I’ve been praying a lot.  I invite you to pray with me.  His name is Dave Anderson.  No one deserves to be healed more than he does.  And yet as I said earlier, not everyone gets healed.  It’s not a matter of deserving it more than another person.  I’m not even sure it’s a matter of getting the most prayers, though I know Dave is doing real well in the sheer number of people praying for him.

God is the great healer.  When God came to this earth, Jesus wasted no time in showing us that.  Life is a gift.  Health is a gift. Healing is a gift.  And so is faith.  Faith that God is in control and it’s going to be all right even when it’s something that requires the serenity to accept what cannot be changed.  That is a gift, too.


God, I pray for Dave.  I just pray that he and his family will feel themselves surrounded by your love and that your healing power might touch him and make him well again.  And God, I pray for each person here and also for each person that is almost here because of all the people we are carrying in our hearts.  Each one in need of healing.  Not necessarily physical healing, but healing nonetheless.  May your healing power touch each of us and make us well again.  May we truly want to get well, and then get up, pick up that mat, and walk.  To you be the glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.