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.
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.
“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!
“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 SNOPES.com ).