Sermon Trinity Sunday Yr C

The Holy Trinity Sunday Yr C, 30/05/2010

Ps 8 & Jn 16:12-15

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity”

After a major downpour filled all the potholes in the streets and alleys, a young mother watched her two little boys playing in a puddle through her kitchen window. The older of the two, a five-year old, grabbed his younger brother by the back of his head and shoved his face into the water hole. As the boy recovered and stood laughing and dripping, the mother runs to the yard in a panic.

‘Why on earth did you do that to your little brother?!’ she asks as she shook the older boy in anger.

‘We were just playing ‘church’ mommy,’ he said. ‘And I was baptizing him in the name of the Father, the Son, and in the hole he goes.’

Speaking of holes, and water in them, there is a story about one of Christianity’s most famous theologians and bishops, Augustine, who lived in North Africa in the fourth and fifth century. As the story has it, one day Augustine was walking along the beach by the ocean and pondering the deep mystery of God the Holy Trinity. He met a boy there on the beach who had dug a hole in the sand and kept busy running back and forth from the hole to the ocean; collecting water and pouring it into the hole. Augustine was curious about this, so he asked the boy: “What are you doing?” The boy replied: “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” Augustine then said: “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit into your hole.” And the boy answered Augustine: “Neither can the infinite God the Holy Trinity fit into your finite mind.”

How true that is! Our minds are limited and finite; they cannot possibly know all there is to know about the infinite and unlimited “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Over the centuries much ink has been spilled out and many books have been written on the deepest mystery of the Christian faith—God the Holy Trinity. Yet, when all is said and done, God the Holy Trinity remains our deepest mystery.

Who is this God that we worship? Well, one way we speak of God is as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; or Father (and in recent times also Mother), Son and Holy Spirit. In today’s Psalm, we have a picture of God the Creator, who is “our Sovereign,” our King and Ruler. He is not the same as creation—rather, he is set above the heavens and rules the whole universe, which he created by speaking it into existence through his word. The Creator God we say is all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (omnipotent), and all-present (omnipresent).

Before this God the Creator of a vast universe, the psalmist is aware that we human beings are small and finite creatures. I think that we too can identify with the psalmist’s feeling of finitude and smallness in comparison with the vastness of the universe. We too feel small beside an ocean; or on a mountain-top; or on the flat prairie looking to the far horizon; or when we are lost inside a forest, standing beside the tall, stately Douglas fir trees in places like Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island; or on a hot summer night when the sky is clear and we stretch out on the grass and gaze up at the stars. All of these experiences of God’s creation give us a sense of smallness and finitude.

Yet, the psalmist doesn’t end there. Rather, the Psalm goes into a hymn of praise to God the Creator for creating human beings as “a little lower than God.” As beings created “a little lower than God,” in God’s image, we are given the privileged and very responsible role as stewards of God’s creation. The psalmist, speaking of our role, states that God has “given them—i.e. human beings—dominion over the works of your—i.e. God’s—hands.” Our connection with God the Creator then is in caring for his creation and all of the various life-forms within the creation. Sad to say, we have, in our sinfulness, interpreted the words “dominion over” as permission to exploit and even abuse God’s creation to such an extent that many species have either become extinct or are in danger of extinction. In short, we have not always been responsible, caring stewards of God’s creation. Our highly technological and urbanized world doesn’t help us in this respect either—since the more urban and technological our lifestyle becomes; the more we seem to lose our connection with God’s creation. That is why some folks today are endeavouring to try to “live more simply that others may simply live.” So there are folks who grow organic foods and try to limit their diet to food products that are native to their geographical region—rather then import mass produced foods from all over the world, which contain harmful additives and preservatives and are produced by workers who are paid very poorly. As responsible stewards of God’s creation, many folks are also trying to rely more on alternative, environmentally-friendly energy sources such as wind and solar. These and other environmentally conscious options seem more in harmony with God’s creation and our role as responsible, caring stewards of creation.

Looking at today’s gospel now, Jesus speaks of God the Holy Trinity in a rather interesting way. Jesus speaks of the unity, the oneness of God in three persons when he says: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he—i.e. the Holy Spirit—will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Over the centuries there have been different ways of explaining the unity, the oneness of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. However, the more I think about it, the more I think of a marriage relationship. A loving, healthy marriage relationship is a fulfillment of the promise in the book of Genesis that “the two shall become one flesh.” Yes, they are two separate, unique human beings. Yet, when they become husband and wife, they are one flesh. I know from my experiences over the years that to be true. The longer my wife and I live together as husband and wife; the more it seems that we think like each other. I’m amazed sometimes when we witness some sort of event and both of us think the same thing and make some comment about it that the other one agrees with one-hundred percent. In many things, we both think alike and behave in the same way—so yes, the two do become one flesh. So too with God the Holy Trinity—each person is unique, yet they are one God—sharing the same thoughts and qualities.

One of the interesting aspects of Jesus’ words concerning the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. In this role, the Holy Spirit functions as God’s accurate communications expert.

Many of you may have been involved in a popular communications exercise at some time. The exercise is as follows. There are several persons sitting in a room. One person whispers a specific message in the person’s ear sitting next to them. That person then whispers the message to the person next to them, and so on, until the last person receives the message. Do you know what happens? Is the message that the first person gave the same message that the last person receives? I have been amazed to learn how the message gets distorted, changed, and sometimes to such an extent that the final receiver has the exact opposite message of the original one.

In our gospel, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is an accurate communications expert. The message the Holy Spirit receives from God the Father and Son is communicated accurately, exactly as the same message as the other two persons of the Trinity. So we can trust the reliability and accuracy of God the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth concerning God the Holy Trinity. In a world full of sin and sinners, the truth often gets distorted beyond recognition. We can trust in our Triune God who, thanks to the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us through God’s word.

The central truth about “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” is that the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to believe the words of Jesus who says that he is God come down from heaven to be a human being—that is our clearest picture of God. In human communication, we are most likely to trust and believe someone who is like us and can understand and accept us; someone with whom we have a lot in common; speaks our language and shares in our experiences. God loved you and me and the human race so much that God became like one of us in the human flesh and blood person whom we call Jesus of Nazareth. All that we need to know and believe about God the Holy Trinity has been revealed to us through Jesus who shared in our humanness in every way, except that he was without sin. For that, thanks be to God!



Sermon 7 Easter Yr C

7 Easter Yr C, 16/05/2010

Jn 17:20-26

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Praying for Christian unity”

Once a man had a dream in which his hands and feet and mouth and brain all began to rebel against his stomach. “You good-for-nothing sluggard!” the hands said. “We work all day long, sawing and hammering and lifting and carrying. By evening we’re covered with blisters and scratches, and our joints ache, and we’re covered with dirt. And meanwhile you just sit there, hogging all the food.”

“We agree!” cried the feet. “Think how sore we get, walking back and forth all day long. And you just stuff yourself full, you greedy pig, so that you’re that much heavier to carry about.”

“That’s right!” whined the mouth. “Where do you think all the food you love comes from? I’m the one who has to chew it all up, and as soon as I’m finished you suck it all down for yourself. Do you call that fair?”

“And what about me?” called the brain. “Do you think it’s easy being up here, having to think about where your next meal is going to come from? And yet I get nothing at all for my pains.”

And one by one the parts of the body joined the complaint against the stomach, which didn’t say anything at all.

“I have an idea,” the brain finally announced. “Let’s all rebel against the lazy belly, and stop working for it.”

“Superb idea!” all the other members and organs agreed. “We’ll teach you how important we are, you pig. Then maybe you’ll do a little work of your own.”

So they all stopped working. The hands refused to do lifting and carrying. The feet refused to walk. The mouth promised not to chew or swallow a single bite. And the brain swore it wouldn’t come up with any more bright ideas. At first the stomach growled a bit, as it always did when it was hungry. But after a while it was quiet. Then, to the dreaming man’s surprise, he found he could not walk. He could not grasp anything in his hand. He could not even open his mouth. And he suddenly began to feel rather ill.

The dream seemed to go on for several days. As each day passed, the man felt worse and worse. “This rebellion had better not last much longer,” he thought to himself, “or I’ll starve.”

Meanwhile, the hands and feet and mouth and brain just lay there, getting weaker and weaker. At first they roused themselves just enough to taunt the stomach every once in a while, but before long they didn’t even have the energy for that.

Finally the man heard a faint voice coming from the direction of his feet.

“It could be that we were wrong,” they were saying. “We suppose the stomach might have been working in his own way all along.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” murmured the brain. “It’s true that he’s been getting all the food. But it seems he’s been sending most of it right back to us.”

“We might as well admit our error,” the mouth said. “The stomach has just as much work to do as the hands and feet and brain and teeth.”

“Then let’s get back to work,” they cried together. And at that the man woke up.

To his relief, he discovered his feet could walk again. His hands could grasp, his mouth could chew, and his brain could now think clearly. He began to feel much better. “Well, there’s a lesson for me,” he thought as he filled his stomach at breakfast. “Either we all work together, or nothing works at all.”1

This moral tale also rings true for us Christians. Today, in our gospel, which is the closing portion of Jesus’ high priestly prayer; Jesus prays for his disciples and all future followers of Jesus—including you and I. In this prayer, Jesus prays for Christian unity. He asks “that they may all be one.” The unity of Christians, Jesus asks for is a oneness of Christians that reflects the unity, the oneness of God the Father and Jesus himself. Jesus prays that just as the Father is in him, so he is in his followers, and his followers reflect that unity and oneness to the world. So urgent is Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity that he prays: “that they may become completely one.” Yet, tragically, our Lord’s high priestly prayer has not become a reality—at least not in a complete way. Sad to say, there are still plenty of divisions within Christendom—not only are Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Churches divided from one another; each denomination is often deeply divided from within. Even on a local, congregational level, there can be some very serious divisions and conflicts.

Adding to the scandal of divisions among Christians are at least two factors occurring right now. The televangelists continue to misrepresent genuine Christianity with their distorted preaching of a selfish, prosperity gospel. Several of these televangelists manipulate their supporters—constantly asking for money and then, once they receive the money, it is not spent to help the needy, but to purchase mansions, private planes, and other expensive items for the televangelists. This unethical and unchristian behaviour is not only a scandal and stumbling block for many Christians, but also for the world. People outside the Christian faith say, “If that’s what Christianity is about, then I want nothing to do with it.”

Moreover, the recent stories about the cover-up of child abuse by the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, with the Vatican’s protection of abusive clergy and failure to report abuses to the civil authorities; certainly is a scandal and stumbling block to the whole of Christendom as well as the world. Such factors do not fit into the holy purposes of Christ’s prayer for Christian unity! In fact, they further divide Christians and turn those outside the Christian faith even further away from Christianity.

So what is the meaning of Christ’s high priestly prayer? In what way do Christians fulfill Christ’s prayer for the unity of Christians? I think that when Jesus speaks of a unity between himself and the Father; when he says that the Father is in him and he is in the Father and we are in him; that he is employing relational language. The unity and oneness is an intimate relationship of love. Taking a practical example, in real life, we often notice similarities between parents and their children. We hear comments like: “He is his father’s son,” or “she is her mother’s daughter.” Of course the relationship between parents and their children is, ideally, one of love, as well as one of genetics and biology. In terms of Christian faith; we become like God our Father and Jesus our Brother who created us in his image and made us members of his family through the sacrament of Baptism. Furthermore, we also become like those who we look to as mentors, models of faith. Of course our Perfect Exemplar is Jesus. So it is Christ and his Spirit working within us that unites us with him and makes us one in him and with one another as we think his thoughts, speak his words, and do his deeds in loving service and obedience to his will.

Some Christians would say that what Christ referred to in this prayer for Christian unity was an ecclesiastical structural unity—that we merge into one denomination. Other Christians are sceptical about that. Some Christians would say that our quest for unity involves everyone believing the same doctrines in exactly the same way. Again other Christians are sceptical about that. Some Christians would say that unity is in worship. However that too causes some degree of scepticism as some Christians prefer the formality of ancient liturgies and traditional hymnody, while others prefer more informal worship with contemporary rock-and-roll and jazzed-up or bleus songs and choruses. Yet other Christians say that the best opportunity for unity is in the service of humankind through social justice and peace projects. Again other Christians are sceptical about that because of the variety of political ideologies and the desired goals and means to reach them.

Historically, during the last century and now into the twenty-first century; two of the signs of Christian unity are through the reading, study and preaching of the Word and in prayer. Members from a variety of denominations meet together more frequently today for the reading and study of the Bible. Ordained clergy from many different denominations also meet to read and study the Bible to prepare for preaching the Word on Sundays. In many denominations around the globe, Christians now follow a Revised Common Lectionary so that the biblical readings each Sunday are the same in all of the churches. Christians from a wide variety of denominations also meet together for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and World Day of Prayer Worship Services.

I think that many Christians are beginning to realise—some have realised it long ago—that if we are going to reflect the oneness and unity that Christ prayed for; then we too are called into deep prayer for and with one another. We too are called to pray Christ’s high priestly prayer that it may become more of a reality for us today. That reminds me of the following inspirational story on the power of prayer to unite brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe.

After World War II, Martin Niemöller once spoke of how, when he was finally arrested by the Gestapo and taken to prison, his old father had said to him: “Be of good cheer, my son. Remember that there will be Christians praying for you from Greenland to the Pacific Islands,” and of how that knowledge, in the next eight years, many of them in solitary confinement, had kept him not only sane but even joyful. Bishop Eivind Berggrav, the splendid Primate of Norway, who for his part in leading the church resistance had been kept under house-arrest in the forest. He told of how the man who brought the rations to the cottage whispered through the window: “My old woman and I were listening to the BBC last night and we heard the Archbishop of Canterbury pray for you by name.” And Berggrav concluded: “God has been saying to us, during these war years, ‘My Christians, you are one. Now behave as if that were true.’”2

Never underestimate the power of prayer and the power of God’s Word—they can both work wonders beyond our wildest imaginings. So with that in mind, we pray: “that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” In Jesus’ name. Amen!

1 Cited from: William J. Bennett, Editor, The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (New York, Toronto, London, et. al.: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1993), pp. 386-387.

2 Cited from: Oliver Tompkins, “A Personal Retrospect and Assessment” in: The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 40, No. 3-4, July-October 1988 (Geneva: World Council of Churches), p. 319.

Funeral Sermon for Bertha Gurke

Funeral Sermon for Bertha Gurke, based on Ps 23, Heb 10:19-25 & Jn 14:1-6 by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

A mother, grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of South Ridge Village, and sister in Christ, Bertha Gurke, has left this life for her eternal home in heaven. Today we remember Bertha, give thanks to God for her life, and commend her into the LORD’s loving hands.

The last few years have not always been easy for Bertha—having to live and cope with all of her health problems. Nor has it been easy for you, the family members either; with most of you living out of province. Yet, the LORD was there for Bertha during these past few years, just as he was throughout her lifetime. You see, Bertha was a woman with a strong faith in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Bertha knew and trusted that because the LORD was her Shepherd she had everything she needed.

Bertha’s strong faith in the LORD her Shepherd certainly inspired me as her pastor and, I’m sure many others too. Her close relationship with the LORD her Shepherd reminds me of this beautiful story. The Lord is my shepherd…” A famous actor was once the guest of honor at a social gathering where he received many requests to recite favorite excerpts from various literary works. An old preacher who happened to be there asked the actor to recite the twenty-third Psalm. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher would also recite it. The actor’s recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause. The preacher’s voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching, and his diction was anything but polished. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied, “I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”1 Bertha knew the Shepherd; I am certain of that—and what a precious gift that is! Bertha knew the LORD was her Shepherd and now she knows the reality of our Psalm’s last verse: “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

For Bertha, her home was important. On occasion, when I called on her, she would point to the picture of her home where she lived in Maple Creek. I think she was proud of that home, and enjoyed it very much. Looking at the picture, her home certainly had some unique qualities and character. In that home, Bertha raised you her children, and she also welcomed others, so they could feel at home there.

Bertha knew the LORD her Shepherd and she wanted you, her loved ones to know him too. She wanted to dwell in the LORD’s house forever. So Bertha was faithful. During her seven years with us at South Ridge Village, she faithfully attended the Sunday afternoon Worship Services and Wednesday morning Bible Studies. In fact, oftentimes she was the first resident to show up at the Worship Services and Bible Studies. She wanted to be there and she committed herself to be there to worship the LORD her Shepherd and study his Word. Bertha told me that she so looked forward to them, and they were a highlight of her week. Bertha was also a friendly neighbour to Irene—bringing Irene along with her.

Yes, Bertha was a faithful follower of Jesus; and I am sure that her hope and prayer was that you, her loved ones, also be faithful followers of Jesus; that you too attend Worship Services on a regular basis to grow closer to Christ and be at home with him. As I think of Bertha and her faithfulness I’m reminded of these words from Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” For Bertha, a home was important; therefore she attended Worship and Bible Studies to help her be close to Jesus and at home with him. She was a faithful role model for you and others—encouraging them to worship the LORD on a regular basis so that you too can be close to Jesus and at home with him. By faithfully attending Worship and Bible Studies, Bertha grew in her faith in the LORD her Shepherd and received the encouragement of other faithful Christians. Yes, for Bertha a home was important and she wanted, more than anything else, to be at home with her LORD the Good Shepherd.

In our Gospel, Jesus speaks words of encouragement and promise regarding an eternal home, saying: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” And he goes on to say that there is nothing more that he wants for us than we be at home there with him; he wants nothing more for us than to fulfill this promise: “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

You see, as comfortable and friendly and loving as any home can be in this world—nothing, not even the best home on earth can compare with what we have to look forward to in heaven, our eternal home. On earth there are no perfect homes. We gather our loved ones around us and think we can be permanently happy. However, death comes to rob us of our loved ones. Or one of those near and dear to us decides to move far away from us. Our earthly homes are in a state of flux and being broken up. Not so with God’s heavenly home. Our eternal home in heaven is permanent and there death shall no longer rob us of loved ones—nor shall loved ones move far away from us. In heaven there are no broken homes. We shall all be celebrating a wonderful family reunion. The greatest celebration shall be to have the holy privilege of living forever in the presence of God our heavenly Father and Jesus our Good Shepherd who is also known as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Yes, one day you and I shall be in that eternal home; the place of joy and love unending. On that day we shall meet up with Bertha and all of our loved ones again; we shall be with the LORD every day. Jesus promises this to you, me, and everyone who believes that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” My hope and prayer, and I’m sure Bertha’s hope and prayer was and is that you do believe Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life. Amen.

1 Bible Illustrator for Windows, diskette, (Hiawatha, IO: Parsons Technologies, 1994).

Sermon 6 Easter Yr C

6 Easter Yr C, 9/05/2010

Jn 5:1-9

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Jesus visits Bethesda Pool”

Billie Burke found herself seated on a plane with a man who was struggling with a head cold. She proceeded to advise him about taking care of it. “Drink lots of water, go to bed, do this, do that,” she went on, and then added: “Now do what I said; I know what I’m talking about—I’m Billie Burke of Hollywood.”

The man thanked her and then introduced himself: “And I’m Dr. Mayo of the Mayo Clinic.”1

We may laugh at such a joke; however, there is a serious side to it that I believe has some relevance to our gospel story today. Just as Billie Burke thought she was an authority on head colds, when, in fact, Dr. Mayo would most likely know a lot more; so too, in our gospel story, the man who was ill for thirty-eight years and lying beside the Bethesda Pool thought he could be healed if he was the first into the water after the angel had stirred it up. However, to his great surprise, he is healed by this stranger, Jesus, whom he didn’t know and hadn’t met before.

The story of the ill man of thirty-eight years beside Bethesda Pool is a most interesting one. What would life have been like for this man who was ill for that long? In Jewish society at that time, he would have been an outcast, because many believed that to be sick meant you had sinned in some way, and your illness was a punishment for your sin. Only if you repented of your sin could you be healed of your illness. If you repented and were not healed, then that meant you were still guilty of some sin and hadn’t properly repented of it. Does that sound familiar? Many televangelists and so-called “faith healers” would have you believe the same thing. Jesus did not believe this approach to illness; nor did he avoid the outcasts. In fact, oftentimes he actively made the effort to associate with sinners and outcasts—going to forbidden places where they hung out.

So in today’s story, Jesus pays a visit to Bethesda Pool, the meeting place of those who were ill, because such people, being unclean, were not allowed to go and worship at the temple. The religious leaders and people in the temple were too good for such unclean people. Besides, to associate with outcasts who were ill might mean that they could get ill too by falling into the same sins as these outcasts. So whatever you do, avoid the outcasts at all costs—especially if you were a religious leader in the temple. If you were a religious leader in the temple and you associated with such outcasts, you ran the risk of being banned from your work and publicly scorned by your colleagues. The temple, a holy place, was “off limits” for society’s unclean outcasts.

So the ill gathered at a safe place; a place which gave them a seed of hope and the promise of healing. A place where, as outcasts and folks suffering from various illnesses, they were among equals and could, ideally, support and encourage one another. According to tradition, the place was named Bethesda, meaning House of Mercy or Bethzatha, meaning House of the Olive. So here was this safe place for outcasts; a place of mercy where Jesus who epitomises mercy comes to visit. A place of the olive; olive oil, of course was used to anoint kings and the Messiah himself is the anointed one. In the history of the Church, olive oil has also been used for healing. So here is the place of mercy; the place of the olive; visited by Jesus the Messiah of Mercy; Jesus the Healer; the Great Physician.

The sick and the outcast need a place of mercy; a place of healing. When the Rev. Dr. Wm Willimon asked a woman, “Why haven’t I seen you at church in the past few months?” she responded. “Well, it’s been tough. I’m working two jobs to try to keep the family together. After ten hours on my feet on Saturday, my feet are so swollen that I can’t get my Sunday shoes on. And I know how people would look at me if I showed up at church, dressed in my old work shoes.2 How sad, that this woman would feel so unacceptable among other members of her church because she might happen to wear what they regarded as the “wrong” shoes! For this woman, the church, rather than being a place of mercy and healing was perceived as an unsafe place, a place of judgement.

How many other folks in our communities today perceive the church as an unsafe place, a place of judgement? Too many, I think. In a recent Reader’s Digest article, Canadians were surveyed as to which of forty-one different professions they trusted the most. Guess where clergy came in on the list. They came in twenty-third. Obviously this is not good news for us “men and women of the cloth.” We have a serious credibility problem. Tragically, the news these days has not raised the trust-level and credibility of clergy either. The sex scandals, secrecy, and cover-ups within the Roman Catholic Church have succeeded in violating the trust between clergy and laity even further. For too many, the church is not a safe place; not a place of healing. Rather, the church has been a place of abuse and oppression—making people ill instead of promoting their health and well-being. You, I, every human being needs a safe place; a place of acceptance and healing. So for us leaders in the churches today and our faithful, active members; we have, with Christ’s help of course, some very serious work to do to ensure that our congregations are safe places and healing—especially for the most vulnerable in our society.

Coming back to our text, we learn quite a lot I think from Jesus’ question addressed to this ill man of so many years: “Do you want to be made well?” At first, we might take Jesus’ question in an offensive way, and answer in a defensive way and say: “What do you mean do I want to be made well?! I haven’t hung around this pool for all these years for nothing! Of course I want to be made well!”

Now take a look again at the wording of Jesus’ question. Notice that the word “want” is used to hint at perhaps the man’s will or motivation—does he have the will power to become well? I don’t know about you, but some folks do seem to choose illness over wellness because there is something in the illness that satisfies them or they benefit from.

For example, many a marriage counsellor will tell you that he or she cannot help a couple unless both partners want their marriage to work and be a healthy one. Or ask an addictions counsellor about folks that come to him or her with addictions problems. The counsellor will tell you that the addicts have to want to recover before they can be helped by someone. I’ve known some people who grieve the death of a loved one for years because they do not want to recover from their grief. If you speak with them and listen carefully, often they are stuck in their grief because they feel guilty about the death and somehow responsible for it and because of that they do not believe they are worthy of being forgiven.

So, Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” The man’s answer is, interestingly enough, neither a clear “yes” nor “no.” Rather, the man gives Jesus an explanation about how he might be healed if he could be the first one into the pool after the angel stirs it up. He does not realise Jesus can heal him. He’s thinking about getting into the healing water of the pool. Perhaps in a round-about way, the man is asking Jesus to help him into the pool first so he can be healed.

Look at the last three words of Jesus’ question, here is another telling key unlocking the story. Jesus asks: “Do you want to be made well?” Notice here we have more of a passive sense of the man; of someone doing the action other than the ill man. Is this not hinting at the grace of God through Christ? The man does not seem to have faith—at least we’re not told that he does. Nor does the man repent of any sins. In fact, his answer to Jesus’ question could almost be taken as a complaint, perhaps even self-pity, with the sense of: “See how hard done by I am; won’t you feel sorry for me because I’ve nobody to help me? How much longer do I have to put up with this wretched illness?” So the last three words “be made well,” could suggest God’s grace towards this ill man. Nothing that he has done deserves God’s grace. Yet, it is God through Christ who has chosen this man to receive God’s favour and be healed.

Now comes the “punch line,” the surprise of the story. Jesus basically responds to the man’s answer by telling him he is looking in the wrong place for his healing. The waters in the Bethesda Pool are not going to heal him. No. Rather, Jesus shocks him into reality by a firm and confident command: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” In other words, because Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, he has the power to heal by speaking the words which make it a reality. The story is actually reminiscent of God creating the heavens and the earth in Genesis. God speaks creation into being. God’s word has the power to create life. So it is here too. God through Jesus speaks new life into this ill man by healing him immediately. The man does exactly as Jesus commands him, and is healed, given a new life.

Where is the grace of God through Christ working to give you healing and new life right now? Do you see it and celebrate it? Do you, like that ill man long ago want to be made well? If so, then the one who can make you well is Jesus. He may not always heal you the way you think he has to; the way you expect him to; he may not always heal you physically. Jesus heals in many and various way; in his own time; on his own terms. His healing may come immediately or only after many years of waiting and seeking it. The healing may be physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual—or all of these combined, or any combination of them. So a question I leave with today is: How is Jesus working in your life right now to give you healing?

1 Cited from: Bernard Brunsting, The Ultimate Guide To Good Clean Humor (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2000), p. 198.

2 Cited from: Wm. Willimon, “The Undeserving Poor,” in: Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26, No. 2, Year C, April, May, June 1998 (Inver Grove Heights, MN: Logos Productions Inc.), p. 32.