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Sermon - 6 Easter

In the Name...

A doctor told a patient that he needed to exercise. The patient said he did and listed his routine: Jump to conclusions, climb the walls, drag his heels, push his luck, bend over backward, run around in circles, put his foot in his mouth, and beat around the bush.

In the 1970’s, the country of Cambodia was ruled by a dictatorship which killed millions of people – a humanitarian tragedy on a massive scale. Well, after the regime’s overthrow, doctors from all over the world flooded that country in an effort to help heal the survivors. And there, the doctors discovered a number of blind women. Yet, when they examined these women, it turned out that their retinas were fine, their optic nerves were healthy. But, the images coming into the eyes were not being transmitted or processed by the brain.

What finally dawned on these doctors was that these women had simply chosen not to see anymore. They had already seen too much - - their husbands and children slaughtered, their villages burned, their whole lives gutted and destroyed. For these survivors, blindness became a mental condition instead of a physical condition. In order to cope, they literally shut out the world around them. Their minds were so traumatized that the normal processes of the brain stopped. And their eyes became paralyzed.

Today, we heard of an encounter at the Pool of Bethesda between Jesus and a man who had been ill for 38 years. This pool is located to the north of the Temple Mount. It was the habit of many to gather there during feast days hoping for a healing miracle. They believed that from time to time when the water was "troubled" - when it would rise rapidly and then sink again - that this was caused by an angel, and the first person who got into it then would be healed. Undoubtedly, healings did occur there or nobody would have gone.

So, here we have a great crowd of people - blind, lame, sick - all waiting for the water to be troubled. And out of that crowd Jesus picked out one lone man. He did not empty the porticoes, healing everybody. He did not invite them all to come down so that he might lay hands on them; nothing of that sort. He went to only one man. And Jesus did this to show us an example of how God deals with human helplessness. In fact, it was probably the total helplessness of this man that drew Jesus to him.

Over the years, several people have said to me that they have felt strangely helpless because of some trauma or tragedy in their lives. They feel weak, paralyzed. They go through the motions and routines, but, feel a lingering emptiness. They want to move on, but, don't know how.

Now, when Jesus saw the man by the pool he asked, "Do you want to be healed?" It's not such a bizarre question. I’m sure we all know people who do not want to be healed of their sicknesses or receive help with their problems. They enjoy their ill health or life crises. They use their situation to get the attention of others. They sometimes flee assuming responsibility for their own lives. I have even seen people turn their backs on help they knew would work because deep down they did not want to be healed or helped.

But, this man wants to be healed. Notice his answer: "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me." In other words, "Yes, I want to, but, I can't do it myself. I really want to get into that water."

That brings us to the critical moment of this story. What did Jesus say to a man who had lost all hope? Did he say, "Don't worry, I'll help you get into the pool"? No, he didn't say that. He could have, but, he didn't. Did he say, "Well, keep trying. Perhaps someday you'll make it."? No, he did not say that either. Did he say, "Bad luck. Let me get you a new mat to lie on and bring you some food."? No, not that either. Those are the kinds of things we say. But, not Jesus.

What does Jesus say, then? Notice carefully. First, he asks an impossible thing; secondly, he removes the possibility of a relapse; and thirdly, he expects continued success. "Rise, take up your mat, and walk."

The first thing Jesus says to do is what the man obviously could not do. So, on what basis does Jesus say this to him? It is important to see that. Somehow this man senses what that basis was. Thus his faith is transferred from himself, from his own efforts, to Jesus: "He has to do it. I can't."

That is a critical clue many miss when they are looking for help from God and that is doing what God tells them to do. Jesus does not say to us, "Try to build up strength in your mind. Focus on yourself." No, he wants us to focus on him and, when we do, he often tells us to do things we’re pretty sure we can’t. In this case, "Stand up!" That was Jesus’ will and the moment the man's will agreed with Jesus' will, the power was there. Jesus wanted the man to stand and he did.

Then what? Jesus did not merely say, "Rise," he said, "take up your mat." I've often wondered why he said that and I think it's to make a break with the past. In those words, he is saying something very important to people who need to be healed: Move on in life. This fellow had been a beggar. He lived that lifestyle. It's a seductive one. Free from responsibilities. He may have been physically healed, but, he may have continued to live as a beggar. And many people fail right here. They don't break with the lifestyle.

The pop singer Amy Winehouse gained some notoriety for her drug-use and frequent trips to rehab. After she was treated for emphysema, the result of her addictions and smoking, at the press conference after her release from hospital, there she was, on camera, puffing away on a cigarette. She died within a couple of months of that interview. "Change your lifestyle" is what Jesus is saying when he says, "take up your mat."

And finally: "walk." Do not expect to be carried - walk. Many people want to be carried after they are healed. They expect everybody to gather around them and keep them going. But, if Jesus gives you the power to rise, Jesus is the One who also gives you the power to walk every day, to keep going. Living, as St. Paul puts it, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith."

God is working healings today. What you need to find out is, what needs healing in your life, and then listen to what he has to say and do what he tells you to do. Put your faith in him, break with the bad habits and move on with him. Jesus asks each one of us: "Do you want to be healed?" If you answer, "Yes," you know what he will say and expect.

In the Name…

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