The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Uh oh!  How many times have you said that? That "oops" moment when you stop and figure out something has gone wrong.  Maybe it's just something minor like putting up dishes in the wrong cabinet or maybe a major, life-changing revelation that things are going down hill fast: with your life, your marriage, your child, your job, bad news from your doctor.  We either fix it fast or worst of all find the downhill slide irreversible, and "Uh, oh" becomes "O God, please help me."  The "oops" moments are rarely positive ones for us on any level.

Now we just read an "oops" moment in the life of everybody around Jesus when he miraculously healed the paralyzed man who had no one to help him into the healing waters of Bethesda outside Jerusalem's Sheep Gate, but we probably passed right by what caused the "oops" and didn't notice. The "oops" moment wasn't the miracle.  It was when the miracle happened.

Now no doubt by this very active time in his earthly ministry, Jesus had gained notoriety and, most likely, tremendous popularity.  He was an articulate and charismatic teacher for sure.  He was rumored possibly to be the political messiah the people of Israel had dreamed of for the entire time they had shifted from a grand monarchial people to an oppressed minority in and out of exile.

With building momentum, Jesus was teaching all over Palestine, working miracles, magnificent healing miracles that were thrilling and made for terrific gossip and had not upset anyone...yet.

But then, "Oops!"  John's Gospel off-handedly mentions at the end of this healing story that Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath.  It's easy to miss it.  It's what a comedian might call a throwaway line.

This story is book-ended with Jesus coming to Jerusalem for a festival--we're not sure which Jewish festival--and ends when he heals on the Sabbath.  If this text were read out loud by anybody who knew what just happened, this line would be shouted out.  And he did this on the Sabbath.  No.  Wrong.  It's not done.  It's against the law. The law of Moses and the prophets, the Scribes and the Pharisees.  And we almost missed it.

Here we have the beginning of our Lord's persistent message that he has come to fulfill the law of his ancestors, not simply to add one more grand legal code that would top all the others; it was a new law, a totally transforming new direction that we now understand is the gospel in all its fullness.  What people, steeped in a fifteen-century tradition, would just roll over and say, "Ok, sounds good to me"?

It didn't look good for Jesus from them on; and we know where it got him nailed to the cross.  He was headed straight for Calvary because the cross is the ultimate expression of this new law, a law of unconditional love and sacrifice that Jesus was telling everyone who had ears to hear and eyes to see that was a law greater than any human made legal system.  God had intervened through Jesus to redeem the world with a vision of his kingdom based on compassion, justice, and wholeness for one and all that is greater than whether or not he worked a miracle on the Sabbath.  

So here we are, lo, these many years later, and we find ourselves as Christians in a tricky position.  Yes, life needs to be orderly. We are people who live by the rule of law.  But our savior embodied a radical kingdom where God is always calling us to a higher place.

Frankly, it makes being a Christian an enormously risky way of life.  If we look at the power in the resurrected life we celebrate this Easter season, we should step trepidaciously every time we go to church or have the audacity to admit we are Christians and dare to act like it.  When we do, we confess we have come to worship a God who takes us into a life that is one of challenge and an invitation to make God's kingdom our only true home and law and to bring it to earth right here, right now.

Isn't it ironic then that the church and the Christian faith are seen as stodgy by so many people?  Or if not stodgy, as an institution existing only to make sure the Golden Rule is enforced and enforced with a lot of pomp and circumstance that is off-putting to those who don't see the breathtaking truth of the gospel that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, that we are all one in Christ Jesus."

I invite you today to accept God's invitation to this audacious pilgrimage.  I invite you to a life lived for others, to help the lame find their water of healing.  It's an invitation to take up your cross and follow the Risen One who just might put us in cross hairs with the ways of this world.  It is so much more than a faith that buys us an eternal insurance policy.  It is a faith of good news in this very moment, this second in your life, when we live fully with Christ now to fulfill HIS law, to rise up to the standards of the kingdom and to proclaim this good news to all nations.

Let's end at the very beginning, with this story of the healing.  John's Gospel says there was a crowd of people with withered limbs, blind eyes, sores of all sorts waiting to get into the pool.  The King James Version calls the crowd "a great multitude."  Are we not all in some way waiting to be healed by the stirring waters?  Are we not all part of a great multitude of humans who can't quite get there on our own, who need help getting into that water?

Well, the wrong doing of Jesus that day in man's eyes makes us right in God's.  We are all at the pool in need of the one who can take us to that holy and healing place.  We all will find we can in His name pick up our mat, walk and serve sacrificially and shout to others, "He who suffered for what he did for me" is now the one we I follow.

Thirty-two years ago on this program which then was called the Protestant Hour, one of our Lutheran preachers ended his sermon with these words, which I am pleased to quote, "The Sunday issue for Christians is not that of blue laws but of golden opportunity!  Its concern is not on what you do not do: it is on what you are privileged to do.  It is a time to realign our lives to the plumb line of His truth."  So may it be for us all.

Let us pray.  God of all power and all healing grace, deliver us from the bondages of our human conditions and slavery to this world, that we may now and forever accept the law of Christ's grace and mercy, and may God give us the power to stand up and walk in His ways to the honor and glory of His holy name.  Amen.