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Sermon for Easter 6 year C

March 26, 2016

BethesdaI have no one to put me into the pool …..Stand up – words from today’s gospel

 

In the name…..

 

‘But you’re supposed to be a teacher. You’re supposed to help me.’

I am probably not the only one in this church to have heard those words often. There is a type of clingy pupil in most classrooms. They want to be told exactly what to do. I was trained in the 1970s. The emphasis was on enabling independent learners, not spoon-feeding them. If they ask you a question, ask them a question in return. Better still, get them to ask someone else. A poster over my white board read: Ask three before me.

Clinging vines cannot be helped by other people. The more you try to help them, the more you confirm them in their dependent attitudes. They refuse to stand on their own two feet.

Our Gospel story gives is a good example of a Clinging Vine. Jesus was passing by the pool of Bethsaida. The sick and maimed gathered around this pool because periodically an angel troubled the water or so they believed. The first person to reach the pool afterwards would be cured. One man had been by the pool for thirty-eight years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be well again?”

Instead of answering directly the man gave an excuse: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.”

So Jesus says: “Stand up, pick up your sleeping- mat and walk.”

You’d think that this man would be grateful, but he wasn’t. He did everything he could to get Jesus into trouble. The truth is that he resented being cured. He preferred to be a Clinging Vine and spend his life piteously by the side of the pool, and he was angry at Jesus for making that no longer possible.

After 38 years of being ill, this man’s waiting is over. The time of healing is now. There is no waiting for the water to be stirred, for a turn in line, or even for the sun to go down on the sabbath.

The church reads this story on the edge of our celebration of the ascension. Eventually, as time stretched on between the ascension of Christ and his return, the church would develop various ways of accounting for the delay and encouraging the people of God in the midst of it. Here on the cusp of the church’s liturgical re-enactment of watching the risen Jesus go, in the midst of our real waiting for God to bring healing to the world and our lives, we read that Jesus sees a need and acts on it.

People must want to be healed. They must want to relinquish those attachments that skew their true sense of identity. William Young, author of The Shack, suggests, it’s too easy to keep hanging on to unhelpful things, even when we’ve begun to glimpse the possibilities of something better. ‘People are tenacious when it comes to the treasure of their imaginary independence,’ he writes. ‘They hoard and hold their sickness with a firm grip. They find their identity and worth in their brokenness and guard it with every ounce of strength they have. No wonder grace has such little attraction. You have tried to lock the door of your heart from the inside:’ Spiritual Intelligence – B. Draper (Lion 2009) p. 106f
The pool in this story is right in the shadow of the temple. Churches tend to attract clinging vines. We need to think twice before bleeding ourselves to death trying to help such people. The thought of refusing to help someone sits hard with ministering people. It doesn’t seem like a Christian attitude. Churches also attract what the Enneagram calls Type Two personalities. People who need to be needed, who love to help others. But the only way to help a Clinging Vine is to withdraw all help. If we want is to see people get stronger, it is better to help them help themselves. Ministry Burnout – J. Sanford (Arthur James 1982) p.52

 I am not talking about the tough treatment of seriously ill people to get them off incapacity benefit and back into work. I am thinking more of people who can’t wait for a new vicar to tell them what to do instead of all of us pulling together, as we have done remarkably well. Some will be tempted to let the vicar do it all but they won’t want anything changed, preferring what we have done for the last thirty-eight years.

And I am asking you to consider what to expect from these healing eucharists. What do you seek when you go up for the laying on of hands? Are you prepared to be changed?

When do the structures and rules of the Church help to keep people “sick” or “stuck in their condition” rather than offering new life through the power of God?

For too long the Church has spoken of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, little realizing that word comfort as used in the King James Bible and the Prayer Book is a Middle English word and means something very different from comforting and comfortable.

In Middle English, it does not conjure up at all the image of carpet slippers and teddy bears. Look at the Bayeux Tapestry. There you will see King Harold ordering his troops to battle. It is subtitled, King Harold ‘comforting his troops’. Comforting means, goading, exhorting, egging on’. Come Fort – fortitude, strengthen. The work of the Holy Spirit is to exhort us and to challenge us to change, to become different, to break loose from the prison house of habit and of our past. The Gospel Connection – M. Marshall (DLT 191) p.88

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