05.01.16 Sermon (May 1, 2016) “There’s Something Wrong Here”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:33 AM by David Hawkins
The Acts of an Easter People: Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 

When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.

*New Testament Scripture: John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 

The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." 
Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." 
At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. 

Now that day was a sabbath.

Sermon: "There’s Something Wrong Here”  Rev. David Hawkins

For the last few weeks, since Easter Sunday, we’ve been reading and talking about what it means to live and worship as an Easter people. What does it really mean to live in the knowledge that God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, who has taken our sins from our shoulders to the cross and who then has risen again from the grave? What does this new freedom mean for us? What does the reality that God has forgiven and welcomes us mean? How do we live in this new reality?

Last week, I talked about how Peter had to come to terms with this new reality. Peter had the opportunity to talk to a gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius, about the gospel, and despite the fact that Jews were prohibited from eating with gentiles, Peter did so. And when he returned to his church, the church of which he was the pastor, he had to account for his behavior. 

Now, I said last week that what he had done was no minor infraction. The table laws of the Jewish people were not formalities. They were not codes of etiquette or nice manners. The dietary restrictions were one of three defining characteristics of Judaism, the other two being circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath. In a time when Jews were being persecuted from all sides, it was these three religious markers that preserved their sense of who they were. It was these three defining characteristics that held them together as a people. 

And we forget that the earliest church was entirely Jewish. We forget that there was a mighty break in the early church when the decision was made to preach the Gospel to the gentiles, and that there was a vigorous push to make gentile converts become Jewish before they could become Christian. We read in Paul letter’s how some Christian converts were even being required to become circumcised before they could go through the catechism to learn about Jesus Christ. Can you imagine requiring that of our new members’ class? I think that for some folks, that would be a tough sell. 

Anyway, last week, we talked about Peter’s dilemma, and the thought process his congregation had to go through when he told them that he had been told by God that what God had made clean, Peter was not to condemn. In effect, Peter was telling them that one of the three legs of their religious identity was no longer something they could count on. He was taking one of their historic religious markers away from them. You can imagine their confusion and dismay. And, yet, they affirmed his decision. 

They decided that the Gospel is for everyone, whoever they might be, wherever they might live, however they might look or act, or talk, or dress or eat. 

Today, we find ourselves in the middle of another story about how the Gospel of Jesus Christ takes precedence over the law. 

We catch up with Jesus at what is probably a hot springs pool, the sort of thing you might find up in Pagosa Springs, a pool of water occasionally stirred up by geothermic activity, a place where people have always gone to in order to find relief from aching joints, from sore muscles and generally run-down souls. 

He meets a man there who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus asks him if he would like to become well, to become healthy again, and the man misunderstands him. 

“Well, see, the problem is, every time I try to go into the water, someone rushes past me and jumps in before I can get there.”

Man, there is something wrong with that. A guy is laying there on the ground, waiting to go in, and when the time is right, healthier people push him out of the way and take his spot. That’s just not right.

Now, I’m not sure of exactly what Jesus thinks here, but it’s obvious that he’s not happy with this situation. Of all the healings in the gospels, this one might be the most abrupt. There’s no talk about the man’s faith, there’s no talk about the man’s friend’s faith, there’s no talk about faith of any kind, in fact. There’s no mud, no spit, no laying on of hands. The man doesn’t affirm Jesus as Lord, in fact, he doesn’t know who Jesus is at all. Jesus simply tells him to get up, take his mat, and walk away. 

And he does. 

Now, at the end of our scripture reading, almost as a throw-away sentence, we hear that all this happened on the Sabbath. 

And that’s where things really start to go wrong. 

See, just the fact that the man was carrying a mat was a violation of the Sabbath. If we read just little bit further in John, we find the man accosted by religious leaders who question him about this. It turns out that not only is carrying a mat on the Sabbath a violation, curing lame people on the Sabbath is also a violation. 

Everything that Jesus had done was, in the eyes of the religious leaders of the time, a violation. Jesus was hacking away at the root of Jewish religious identity. If you don’t obey the Sabbath, how can you possibly call yourself a Jew? If you don’t observe one of the three concrete markers of what it means to be person of God, how then can you teach about God, how can you possibly call yourselves a son of God? How can you think of yourself of doing God’s work, if you can’t or won’t follow God’s law?

And you know what, the religious people had a point. They had scripture on their side. They could point to chapter and verse how Jesus had violated the law. They could drag up tradition, they could use all kinds of theological reasons why Jesus had broken the covenant. There was no way he could call himself a Rabbi, a teacher, a preacher. He had broken God’s commandment.

And the only thing Jesus could say in return was that for 38 years, the man was sick, and nobody had stopped to help him into the pool, and now he is well. 

And the question is, is that enough?

Was that enough for his accusers? 

Is it enough for us?

Is the gospel message of forgiveness, of wholeness, of welcome and shalom enough for us? Or do we require more than that? 

Do we require litmus tests, and demonstrations of faith, and adherence to this or that code of behavior? Do we require that those who are freed by the Gospel then take up the chains of our own expectations of how Christians are supposed to live? 

As I said, the religious leaders of Jesus’ time had every right to question his behavior. The church in Jerusalem had every right to question Peter. The early church had every right to doubt the ministry of Paul, when he entrusted his ministry in Europe to a woman named Lydia. 

These giants of our faith were doing and saying things that seemed to directly controvert the law of God. They were eating with people they had no business eating with, they were preaching to heathens, they were baptizing those who should not be baptized. They stopped requiring circumcision. The only three things that clearly identified them as children of God, circumcision, the Sabbath, and Kosher laws, were being thrown out the window.

The early church had to come to terms with the fact that the Gospel could not be contained by the law, that the former markers of the identity of who was in and out of God’s covenant of salvation had been changed, forever. 

And that had to be a hard thing to accept. That had to be a hard thing to wrap your head around. 

And it still is. 

We are still quick to claim the law over grace. We are still quick to lift up doctrine over the reality of changed lives. We are still quick to discount the validity of someone’s experience of Jesus Christ because it didn’t happen the way we think it ought to have happened, in the way it happened to us, in the way it it’s supposed to happen. 

But then Jesus reminds us that we didn’t choose the way he comes to us either. We didn’t sit down, and map out our understanding of Jesus. We didn’t predetermine the friends that would influence our lives, the church or the family that we were born into, we didn’t plan the series of events that led us here today. 

Jesus comes to all of us in strange ways, ways that don’t always conform to the established patters of tradition or culture or even religious doctrine. Jesu comes to us where we are, regardless of who we are, and he bids us to get up and walk. 

And as difficult as it may seem, as wrong and strange and counter intuitive as it may feel, that simple commandment is enough. Even when it may not feel like we have enough faith. Even when we don’t have scripture on our side. Even when the religious leaders tell us we are wrong, that we have broken God’s law, Jesus bids us to take up our mat, and go tell those that you meet that you have met Jesus, and he has made you well.

And that, beloved of God, is enough.

Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God
forever and ever. Amen.