So, once more, here is a draft of tomorrow’s sermon for Yuba City:

Easter 6 C

I’m going to throw you a curve this morning, and use the alternate gospel reading for this Sunday.  Not only that, as allowed by canon, I’m going to preach on a slightly longer text than is specified.  We are always allowed to expand the reading, and I’m doing it so that you hear the whole story.  Don’t worry, it’s not that long!

When the story starts, Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem, to attend a religious festival.  When he arrives, near the Sheep Gate, which may have been how he entered the city, he passes a pool of water, around which are gathered all kinds of invalids.

Why are they gathered there?  If you look at the copy of the gospel I passed out at the beginning of the service, you will see a bold footnote, number 1, just before verse 5.  — Did you notice that our reading had no verse 4?  What the footnote tells us is that the best and earliest sources did not have a verse 4.  But other sources had, wholly or in part, an explanation:  they were waiting for the stirring of the water, because when an angel stirred the water, the first one in would be healed.

One man had been waiting by the side of the pool, receiving charity from the faithful for his livelihood, for thirty-eight years.  I’m thinking he had become comfortable and complacent in his disability.  And I’m thinking Jesus thought so too.

Recognizing that the sick man had been there a long time, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

You would think the obvious answer to this question is, “Yes!  Yes!  Please God heal me.”

But instead, the sick man gives him a litany of excuses – a justification, if you will, for remaining sick and living off the charity of others.  Probably not, mind you, living well.  But adjusted and comfortable in his circumstances.  He was feeling no need to change his life.  He was comfortable with the pattern and shape of his life.  There is in fact no sign of faith or of a desire for anything that will change the direction of his life given.

Jesus chooses to change his life anyway.

Without so much as a by your leave, he tells him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

He was immediately healed of his illness.  He did as he was commanded.  But he doesn’t seem to have been happy about it.  And he will be able to get back at Jesus for what he’s done to him.

The authorities question him about the healing, because it was done on a sabbath.  But at first the man who was healed couldn’t tell them anything useful.  All he knew was that some man he’d never seen before messed up his life by healing him.  It wasn’t his fault.  It wasn’t something he’d asked for.  He was a victim.  A stranger had done this to him.

Later, Jesus tracks him down.  He tells him, “See, you have been made well!  Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

And this is puzzling.  Because Jesus regularly rejects any connection between illness and sin.  And there is nothing said in the story, aside from this, to suggest such a connection.  So I find myself wondering if it is the man’s willingness to live off the charity of others, to waste his life lying in the sun beside a pool of water and not even try to contribute, which is what Jesus is referring to.  Did Jesus heal him because he was exasperated with the wasting of his life?  Was Jesus expressing a hope that he would get on with living and do something with his life?

If so, his hope went unfulfilled – at least for the short term.

Because what is the first thing the man does when he learns Jesus name?  Does he say thank you?  Does he talk to Jesus about how he might continue the healing begun in his life?  No!

No!  The very first thing he does when he discovers Jesus identity is to turn him in to the authorities for punishment!

Our story goes on to talk about Jesus troubles with the authorities because he was healing on the sabbath and made himself equal to God by calling God his own Father.  But I want to focus back on the man who was healed.  Because I think we may all be just a little bit like him.

We all get into patterns of living.

We may even hope to get into comfortable patterns of living, that satisfy us, and that we have no wish to change.

Most of us like to see progress.

But we don’t much like change.

And our God, as I noted in last week’s sermon, is a God of change, a God who makes all things new.

That may be a real message of hope when the world around you seems to be a hopeless horror.

But that may seem unsettling when the world around you is, generally speaking, a comfortable place.  God may have to hit us on the side of the head to get us to break out of old patterns of ministry and try something new, like Total Ministry – to use one example you should all be familiar with.  God may have to hit us – figuratively of course – on the side of the head to get us to change jobs, or leave hurtful relationships behind, or do the real work required in therapy to help us move our lives forward to a more healthy place.

I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.

We get comfortable.  And we don’t want to move out of our comfort zone because it’s … well … frankly … uncomfortable.  It’s easier to stay where we are.  It’s easier to strike out at whatever it is that seems to be forcing us into change.

Which is what the man who was healed in today’s gospel reading did, isn’t it?

Mind you, not all change comes from God.

But God is an instrument of change and a force of new life in our lives.  We are, I believe, in process in this life.  We are called to growth and deepening in our ability to love and care for each other, for creation, and for our God.  We may need places for rest and renewal along the way.  But we are called to move forward and continue our journey.  We are pilgrims.  And we can never truly rest until we arrive at our true home.

When we rest too long, one way or another, God is the one who calls us to continue our journey.


I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.