Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sermon for Year C Easter 6

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.
--John 5:1-9

Do you want to be healed?

The year is 1955.
A man named Jake Worm is walking along the beach in California.
Jake is depressed.
His life is in ruins.
He has lost his job, destroyed most of his close relationships
and recently had to declare bankruptcy.
As Jake walks along the beach he wonders,
“What do I have to live for?”

He is 55 years old and nothing has gone right.
“Life is so unfair, so lousy,” thinks Jake.

Suddenly he looks down and sees a bottle in the sand.
He picks it up and sees that it is tightly closed by a cork stopper--
and yes, he sees there is a note in the bottle.

“Oh, this is ridiculous! This is like a grade B movie,” gripes Jake.
But he manages to uncork the bottle
and to remove the note.
He unfolds the note and reads:

To whomever finds this note I will give one half of my estate.
The other half will go to my attorney.
Signed, Daisy Alexander, June 20, 1937.

Jake scoffs.
“Right! This is some kind of joke!
1937—that was 18 years ago.”

He almost tosses the bottle into the ocean,
but decides to take it home.
He puts the note back in the bottle and puts it on the top shelf of his closet.
He leaves it there, in the dark.
He forgets about it.

One day, looking for something else, he comes across the bottle,
and remembers the strange note inside.
That day he meets a friend for coffee and happens to tell him
the story about finding the bottle and the note.

“Jake!” his friend says,
Daisy Alexander is a real person. Don’t you know who she is?”

“No,” says Jake, shaking his head.
“Never heard of her.”

His friend tells Jake
that Daisy Singer Alexander was the daughter and heiress
of the Singer Sewing Machine fortune.
Now Jake, eternal pessimist that he is,
still can’t believe this.

He does some research about Daisy Alexander and discovers
that she died in 1939 when she was 81 years old.
He discovers that she did indeed put a holographic will
(that means a handwritten and signed will)
into a bottle and that her estate was to be divided
according to that holographic will—
which had never been found.
Or so it was thought.

Jake Worm went to court to claim half of Daisy Alexander’s estate.
He had to hire an ocean expert to prove his case.
The expert confirmed that a bottle dropped in the Thames River
could indeed make its way through the English Channel
to the North Sea, through the Bering Strait,
into the North Pacific,
and on to the beach near San Francisco.

The ocean expert estimated that such a journey would take a bottle
fifteen to twenty years.

The judge awarded Jake Worm six million dollars.
Plus he collected about $ 80,000 dollars a year
in Singer Sewing Machine stock dividends for a number of years.

The hardest thing for Jake was believing
that something like this,
something this good,
could happen to someone like him.

The hardest thing for Jake was to take the bottle with the note
off the closet shelf,
to remove the cork
and to claim the gift that was already his.

Jake’s story is not so different than the man beside the pool in Beth-zatha. The pool at Beth-zatha was not a little kiddie-size pool.
Archeologists tell us this pool was about 100 yards long and 25 yards wide.
It was over 6 feet deep.
Originally built as a reservoir,
the water was believed to have amazing healing qualities.
Legends say that people believed
that occasionally an angel would stir the waters in the pool,
making the waters bubble and ripple.
When that happened,
the first person to enter the pool
would be completely healed, cured, made well.

Of course there was that one catch:
You had to be the first one to enter the pool to be healed.

Now this man that Jesus encounters by the side of the pool
has been sick for 38 years.
And he still hasn’t made it into the pool first.

Now he, like most of us, has his excuses—
there’s no one to help me get into the pool..
somebody always pushes ahead of me…
it’s not MY fault…

Jesus sees the man and asks him,
Do you want to be made well?

Now we might think that someone who has been sick for 38 years--
Well, duh, Jesus! Of course he wants to be made well!

But it is a very good question that Jesus asks—
a question that goes right to the heart:
Do you WANT to be made well?

Jesus knows that sometimes we hold on to our illnesses
and our addictions and our bad habits, to our inertia,
and even to the injustices done against us—
because we are afraid of what the unknown will bring
and what others might expect of us.
Being sick may be miserable, being oppressed may be hurtful,
Being addicted may be killing us,
but being well and healthy,
the removal of all our excuses—
that can be terrifying!

C.S.Lewis wrote:
“A familiar captivity is frequently more desirable
than an unfamiliar freedom.”

Becoming whole, being healed,
means we are going to have to do just what the man
at the pool of Beth-zatha had to do:
Stand up, take your mat, and walk.
Being healed means no more lying beside the pool.
Being healed means no more complaining or blaming.
Being healed means letting go of our old rationalizations,
our old habits, our old inertia,
our old flying by the seat of our pants way of doing things.
Being healed means accepting the gift
that has been ours to claim all along.

What we don’t hear in this gospel is the rest of the story.
We don’t know what happens to the man.
We don’t know about all the hard work he has ahead of him—
finding a job, a place to live,
rebuilding relationships with people,
learning to relate to his physical body in a different way,
letting go of being the victim,
reflecting on this encounter he had with Jesus.

But what we do know is that he listened and he heard
He heard what Jesus said:
Stand up, take your mat,and walk.

And he did just that.

Sometimes when we cling to our old destructive
or unproductive ways,
we need to stop and listen.
We need to listen for how we are being called into action.
Stand up. Take your mat. Walk.
All action verbs. All imperatives.

In today’s language it might sound more like,
“Buck up! Take an aspirin! Get on with your life!”
or maybe in even simpler form,
“Just do it. No fear.”

What’s at stake here really is a fortune.
Because it is our very life. The only one we have.

Our life as a child of God.
Our life as a church of God.
Our life as the world of God.

We cripple ourselves with our fear of change.

We need to take the gifts we have received from God,
uncork the bottle,
and drink a toast.
Drink a toast
to all we have been given,
the big things and the little things.
A toast to our life
and a toast to our lives together.

At the communion rail today,
You will find a basket of corks.
I invite you to take one.
Take one as a reminder to let your gifts out of the bottle,
to let your light shine,
to replace fear with love,
to live your life fully uncorked.

If we can do that,
individually and together,
we will all be rich
beyond our wildest dreams.

+ ++ +

The story about Jake Worm (and I have found his name spelled Worm, Wurm and Wrom) can be found in many places and on many websites. I checked and confirmed the story as true on ).

Missing posts

Some of you may wonder why there are no sermons posted for certain Sundays. That's because there are Sundays when our wonderful deacon, the Rev. Tim Jones, preaches. He posts his sermons on his own blog. If you want to read Tim's blog (and I highly recommend you do) you can link to it from our website:

Sermon for Year C Easter 5

Who was I that I could hinder God?

I want you to sing something with me.
It’s not hard.
And it’s also not a hymn.
But I imagine that many of you know it.
It’s actually a Beatles song.

And it goes like this:

All you need is love
(and then the choir will sing: Doot de doot de doo…)
All you need is love (Doot de doot de doo)
All you need is love, love,
love is all you need.

Let’s try it together now…

All you need is love
(and then the choir will sing: Doot de doot de doo…)
All you need is love (Doot de doot de doo)
All you need is love, love,
love is all you need.

Okay, now if you need to doze off during the rest of my sermon,
what we just sang is the Cliff notes
for what I am preaching today!

Because what we hear today in the scripture readings is this:
God’s love is BIG!
God’s love is for everyone.
Our scripture seems quite clear and direct:
God has enough love to go around—
and around and around and around!

Enough love for both the Jews and the Gentiles.
Today we can expand and say
God’s love is big enough for
the Jews, the Gentiles, the Muslims, the Christians, the Hindus,
the Wiccans, the Buddhists,
The believers, the doubters and the non-believers.

God’s love is BIG and inclusive.
God’s love includes you and me—
As the old song goes,
“He’s got the whole world in his hands!”

None of US get to pick and choose
Who receives God’s love and who doesn’t.
God doesn’t need human beings to pick and choose.
There is no evidence that God works like that.

Peter comes to understand this through a dream.
Peter thinks he has all his religious rules down pat.
Then he has a dream.
Down comes this giant picnic cloth from heaven,
and when Peter refuses to eat,
because he is worried that some of what is there
might be unclean, unholy--
God says, “Give me a break, Peter.”

God says my feast is enormous,
abundant, generous.
Who are you to judge what is clean or unclean,
what is holy or unholy?

There is plenty for everyone.
and everyone has a place at the table.
God’s love is BIG.

And Peter gets it.
Peter understands that God is telling him
there is no “them” and “us.”
Peter hears and understands
…What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

Peter understands
that he is not God.
Peter understands
that he is not the One who makes all things new.

Peter says to those who are criticizing him,
criticizing him for being inclusive and welcoming,
Peter says, Who was I
that I could hinder God?

Who are any of us
that we can try to limit the love of God?

That has never been part of the gospel.

In John’s gospel today we hear the new commandment—
directly from Jesus.
Jesus says “love one another”.

Jesus does not say
love people that are just like you.
Jesus does not say
love the people that are easy to get along with.
Jesus does not say
love the people that will love you back.

Jesus says love EVERYBODY.

Jesus says this is how people will know
that you are my disciples--
by the love you show to one another.
Not the love you feel, but the love you SHOW.

This love is not a theory.
This love is how we treat one another.
Yes, we feel love in our hearts
but love can truly be seen.
Love is incarnate.

Love is how we speak to one another.
Love is our actions and our tone of voice.

Love is standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Love is being infinitely patient with the people who drive us crazy.

Love is speaking up
when someone talks about someone behind their backs
or tells a joke that diminishes a person because of their race or
religion, their gender or sexuality.

Love is wiping tears from the eyes of those who are suffering
and feeding those who are hungry.
Love is about being kind and gentle
in our own households,
behind closed doors,
when no one is around to see or hear or be impressed.
Love is seeing the whole world
as our household.

There is a story, a midrash, that many of you may have heard.
You are about to hear it once more.

Many centuries ago,
the Pope decreed that all the Jews
had to convert to Christianity or leave Italy.

There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community,
so the Pope offered a deal.
He would have a religious debate
with the leader of the Jewish community.
If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy and did not have to convert.
If the Pope won, they would have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met
and selected an old but wise Rabbi
to represent them in the debate.

However, the Rabbi spoke no Latin
and the Pope spoke no Yiddish,
so they all agreed that it would be a silent debate.

They would need to communicate with sign language.
On the chosen day, the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.
They stared into each other’s eyes
for a full minute before they began.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.
The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his hand above and around his head.
The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope then brought over
a loaf of communion bread and a chalice of wine.
The Rabbi reached into his pocket and pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up
and declared that he was beaten,
that the Rabbi had won the debate,
and that the Jews could stay and not convert.

Later, the Cardinals met with the Pope,
asking what had happened.
The Pope said,
First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity.
The Rabbi responded by holding up one finger
to remind me that there is still only one God
common to both our beliefs.
Then, I waved my hand in the air
to show him that God was transcendent,
all around us.
The Rabbi responded by pointing to the ground
to show that God was also right here with us.

I brought over the wine & bread of communion
to show that God is generous and forgives all our sins.
The Rabbi pulled out an apple from his coat pocket
to remind me of Adam and Eve in the garden and original sin.

The Rabbi had me beaten & I couldn’t continue.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered around the Rabbi.
“How did you win the debate?” they asked.
“I haven’t a clue,” said the old Rabbi.
“First he said to me that we had three days
to convert or get out of Italy,
so I raised my finger to say, “Don’t’ even think about it!”
Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews
and I said to him, we’re staying right here.”
“And then what?” asked a woman.

“Who knows?” said the Rabbi,
“He brought over his lunch, so I took out mine.”

Every day we debate similar—often silent --battles with one another.
We think we are speaking the same language.
But what I say and what you hear
and what you say and what I hear,
may be worlds apart.

Sometimes we think we hear God saying one thing
but who knows?
Maybe God is saying something completely different!

God tells Peter through a dream
that God’s world is not about the human norms
of insiders and outsiders,
of rules and regulations,
of winners and losers.

God’s world is about abundance and plenty.
God’s world is about everyone
being welcome to come to the feast.

God’s love is so enormous
we can’t even imagine it,
not even in our wildest dreams.

We worry and fret and criticize and judge.
We misinterpret one another’s words and actions.

We clutter our minds and our hearts
with so many things
that are really no concern of ours.

The gospel message to love one another is difficult to live.
Extremely difficult.

But fortunately Jesus was a man of few but profound words.
He gives us a mandate short enough to easily remember:
Love one another.
Even those of us with the worst memories can probably manage 3 words:
Love one another.

Or maybe if we can just keep on singing that Beatles’ song
to help us remember.
Maybe we will start to remember a little more often,
a little better,
each and every day.

Let’s try it one more time…

All you need is love (all together now)
All you need is love (everybody)
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love is all you need.
Love is all you need.

Love is all we need.