An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

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Monday, June 06, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Widow of Nain

10 ORDINARY C  Luke 7:11-17  David Eck
7/05/16


     As we hear the words of our gospel lesson it is a miraculous, unbelievable story. After all, in our day and age, people don't usually rise from the dead unless it involves CPR or a defibrillator! In Luke's telling of the tale, all it took to bring the young man back to life was a heart full of compassion, a hand on a coffin, and a command "Young man, I say to you rise."
     Wouldn't it be great if life were that easy? Wouldn't it be great if all we had to do was speak those words and deceased loved ones would come back to life, health would be restored, and dead ends would become new pathways? This is the hope of our gospel lesson. But it is a hope that is hard to claim as our own because the gospel story is so foreign to our experience. People simply do not rise from the dead in 2016.  We place them in their coffins And they stay there. End of story. The hope we have as followers of Christ is that those who believe in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life. But that's a completely different way
 of looking at resurrection than someone physically rising from the dead. The resurrection we believe in is a spiritual one that does not involve the bodies we inhabit during our earthly lives. They are simply a shell, our "mortal coils" as William Blake once described them. When we're through with them we certainly don't want them back with all their faulty parts and failing organs. We want to trade them in for new models that are built to last for eternity.
     Therefore, the hope our gospel lesson proclaims is not one we can't easily embrace. It is completely foreign to our experience. However, there is always good news to be found in every gospel story because Jesus is there. And so I invite you to walk with me through the streets of Nain. Let's draw closer to the funeral procession and feel the grief of the widow. Let's experience the compassion of Jesus and hear his invitation to "rise." Perhaps we will discover we have more in common with this story than we realize.
     Our story begins in a town called Nain. For those who are curious, Nain is a city that is only mentioned in our gospel lesson. In Arabic it means "charming." It's located on the Northwestern slope of Mount Moriah. Nain is just your average, ordinary town. Like Asheville, it's situated at the foot of the mountains and is a charming and beautiful place to live. This detail of the story reminds us that Jesus often picks ordinary places to perform extraordinary events. He did his best work in remote country villages  and tiny towns on the shores of Galilee. So, the streets of Nain are familiar to us. It's our kind of town. It's the kind of place we would choose to live.
     But like all small towns, there are good days, and there are bad days. Today is a bad day. It is a day of death and mourning. Luke says, "Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town."
     The first thing we should notice about this story is that the widow has experienced not one death but many deaths. First, there was the death of her husband. Then, there was the death of her only son. Without any male heir by her side this would have placed her in a vulnerable position, without any rights of inheritance. Many references in the Scriptures pertaining to widows indicate that their lives were difficult at best. They would be frequently subjected yo harsh and unjust treatment. Therefore, this woman not only lost her husband and son, she also lost her voice in society, as well as the ability to support herself. Hers was a desperate situation, indeed.
     And so, as we hear the opening verses of our gospel lesson, we are reminded that this story is not about one death but about many deaths. It is a story we can relate to because we, too, have experienced many deaths in our lives. We have lost loved ones. We have faced the termination of a job of the end of a career path. We have watched our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families wither and decay. We have wrestled with the darkness of depression or watched our aging bodies wear out. We have seen our ideas and plans bear no fruit and die on the vine. Yes, we are well acquainted with death in its many forms! Therefore, we can enter into the widow's story deeply. Her face is our face. Her pain is our pain. Her loss is our loss.
     But, thankfully, the story does not end there! Luke says, "When Jesus saw the widow, he had compassion for her and said to her, 'Do not weep.'" The second thing we should notice about this text is that compassion is the game changer. It moves the story from death to new life, from sorrow to joy. There are two Greek words in this portion of the story we need to examine. The first is KLAIO which is the word for "weep." KLAIO means "to sob, to wail aloud." It is quite different from another Greek word for "weep," DAKRUO which means "to cry silently" and implies a single tear rolling down the cheek. Therefore we see that this widow's grief is immense. She is inconsolable as she contemplated the many deaths that surround her life. She is without hope, without support, and could not imagine what her life would be like from this moment on.
     Many of us have experienced this kind of grief in our lives. Many of us have wailed and lamented either in public or in private. We know what it is like to be inconsolable, where no sympathetic word or act of kindness is able to soothe the ache we feel in our hearts and spirits. It's the kind of situation where grief piles upon grief, until it is overwhelming. It's the kind of grief that has been in the headlines a lot lately: Thousands of Syrian refugees drowning in the Mediterranean sea. A political system that feels like it's broken beyond repair. Endless victims of gun violence and wars that never end. Potentially catastrophic viruses with names such as Zika fever and super bugs that are resistant to antibiotics. These deaths with many names grab the headline news and leave nations feeling numb because it's just too much for us to bear.
     When we add the sadness of the world to our own sadness, we are virtually inconsolable. Friends try to speak to us words of comfort. They give us hugs and casseroles. But like the widow in our gospel lesson we are surrounded by many deaths and are not easily comforted.
     When we find ourselves in a desperate state such at this the only thing that can move us beyond it is found in another Greek word we need to examine: SPLAGCHNIZOMAI which is translated here as "compassion." Those who have been with me for a while know that this is one of my favorite Greek words. It doesn't mean feeling sorry for someone or having pity on them. It literally means to be moved in our bowels which indicates the depth of feeling  that comes with being a compassionate person. Jesus had compassion for the widow. Her suffering became his suffering. Her grief broke his heart as well. This is good news for those of us who weep and wail, who feel inconsolable in the midst of many deaths. We are not alone! Jesus cares for us deeply and passionately!
     St. Paul stated this so beautifully in Hebrews 4:15-16: "We do not have a high priest [i.e. Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Jesus, our high priest, knows our suffering. He understands our weeping and our despair in the face of death and endings. His compassion for our condition sows the seeds for transformation.
     This brings us to the good part of the story! Luke says "Jesus came forward and touched the bier, [which is a movable frame on which a coffin is placed as it is carried to the grave site] and the bearers stood still. And he said, 'Young man, I say to you, rise!'  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother."
     The words "gave him to his mother" are the identical words used in our first lesson of Elijah's raising of the widow of Zarephath's only son. They are words that indicate a restoration to community, a joy restored, a hope reborn, a journey from death to new life.
     When we combine this phrase with the Greek word for "rise" the meaning of the gospel story becomes clear: EGEIRO means more than rising from physical death. It also means "to collect one's faculties, to awaken from sleep and disease; to rouse from obscurity or inactivity." Those of us who feel like we are surrounded by death on all sides, who weep and wail and lament, are touched by the compassion of our Savior and hear his command to "rise." The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus does not let us wallow in death and despair. He compassionately calls us, again and again, to "rise" from death to life, from sleep to awake, from dead ends to new beginnings, from lost to found, from isolation to community. 
     This is the power of our gospel story. And while the odds of us seeing someone literally rise from the dead are slim to none, all of us have seen and experienced the reality of resurrection time and time again. We have placed our grief in a good place in our hearts so we can move forward with life. We have opened new windows of perspective  and discovered pathways we never saw before. We have experienced the healing of our deepest emotional wounds, and discovered the soothing balm of God's grace and mercy.
     This brings us to the end of our gospel story. Luke says "Fear seized the gathered crowd and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us! God has looked favorably on his people!" In this section of the story Luke uses the same Greek word "rise" as he did in Jesus' command to the widow's son: "Young man, I say to you rise!" "A great prophet has arisen among us." This clever choice of wording reminds us that the young man is not the only one who made the journey from death to life. The people who surrounded him also had their eyes opened. They awoke from their slumber and saw the world in a new and different way because Jesus, the great prophet, was among them.
     Therefore, Luke brings his story to a close with the hope that those who read it will also have their eyes opened. He hopes that those of us  who have experienced deaths of many kinds will encounter the compassion of Jesus who has the power to move us from death to life from dead ends to new beginnings.
     Friends in Christ, there is much we can learn from this story! It is not as strange and foreign as we may have thought when we first head it. In fact, it may be one of the most important and compelling tales that Luke decided to share with us. It's truth moves far beyond the historicity of the tale and points to one of the central doctrines of our faith: in Jesus, we encounter a power that is unlike any other power we have encountered before. Death is not the end of the journey but can be the beginning of a new life lived in the power and promise of Jesus Christ!
     So, Friends in Christ, will we continue to wallow in the shadow of death weeping and wailing, unconsoled in our grief? OR will we accept Jesus' invitation to rise? Will we take his hand and make the journey from death to life, from death ends to new beginnings, from grief to joy? I hope so. I surely hope so. I'd like to bring my thoughts to a close by sharing a poem I wrote on today's gospel lesson. It's simply titled NAIN:

NAIN
by David Eck
Copyright ©2016. Used by permission.

Everyone has lived in a town called Nain
We have walked its streets
And inhabited its houses
It is familiar territory

We all know what it is like to carry death on our shoulders
Weeping and wailing at the top of our lungs
Trying to find a way to say good-bye
To things we once cherished
But are now gone forever:
Loved ones, dreams, career paths,
Health, optimism, peace of mind

A crowd gathers around us
Trying to bring us comfort
Through words and casseroles
But we play the part of the widow
And grieve alone

In times such as these
We feel like we are condemned
To walk the streets of Nain for all eternity
Unable to relocate
Unable to move beyond the stench of death

Then, unexpectedly, a hand is placed gently
 On the coffins we have constructed
A compassionate word is spoken "Do not weep"

The voice is familiar and unmistakable
It is Emmanuel, God with us
And he calls our funeral processions to come to an end

"I say to you, rise!" Jesus cries out
And, lo and behold,
That which was dead comes back to life:
Hearts are slowly mended, new relationships form,
Healing begins, doors of opportunity open

We cast off our grave clothes
And dress ourselves in resurrection
Miracle and new life

"Surely God has walked among us," we exclaim
As we awake from our slumber
And walk into the infinite possibilities
Of a brand new day
AMEN

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunday Sermon: The Centurion's Servant

ORDINARY 9C Luke 7:1-10
5/29/16 David Eck
 


"The Gift That Keeps On Giving"

     I'm sure everyone is familiar with the phrase "the gift that keeps on giving." It's used in both sentimental and snarky ways. This catchphrase was copyrighted by RCA Victrola in the 1920's and was used to sell phonographs. You know, record players. They were things many of us had before the invention of cassettes, CD's and MP3 players!
     The ads for the phonograph featured a nice white suburban family of four with expressions of glee on their faces. They're staring joyfully at a big wooden console that holds a radio, record player, and built in speakers. There is a Christmas tree in the background. The family dog is in the foreground, wagging his tail joyfully.
     The ad reads "Everybody's Happy—With the Gift That Keeps On Giving." The message this ad conveys is "Why give a Christmas present that only lasts for a moment when we can give our loved ones a gift they can use every day of the year?" And who doesn't want that? Who doesn't want to give those closest to us a gift that conveys our love every time they use it?
     I got one of those gifts for my birthday from Gary. It's a fire pit and it's the gift that keeps on giving. Gary could have simply slapped a bow on the box and left it at that. However, while I was working the night shift at Mission, Gary prepared a special area for it in our backyard. He even hauled in extra gravel to complete the project.
     The next morning as I arrived at home and went to bed there was a birthday card on my pillow. When I opened it, the card instructed me to look out the window. And there it was! A complete and total surprise! If that's not love, I don't know what is! My fire pit is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time we use it I think about the love that went into creating this special birthday present.
     You might find it surprising to know that Luke is trying to convey a similar message about Jesus in our gospel lesson. For Luke, Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving. If we miss this message, we're likely to have a distorted understanding of who Jesus is.
     The story is set in Capernaum which is home base for Jesus' ministry. Capernaum is located on the shore of Lake Galilee. Peter's home was there and Jesus stayed with Peter's family so much that the gospel writers sometimes refer to Capernaum as Jesus' "home." [Mt 4:13; Mk 2:1, 9:33] Jesus was the house guest that never left! But as house guests go, I don't think we can do any better than Jesus! So it's safe to say that Jesus knew Capernaum very well, and Capernaum knew Jesus very well.
     The town itself straddles one of the principal trade routes between Damascus and Jerusalem. Therefore, it featured toll booths as well as a modest Roman military garrison.    [Isbouts, In the Footsteps of Jesus] This is where the Centurion in our story comes in. We know almost nothing about him. He was in charge of a hundred soldiers and served under the authority of Rome, the occupying power in Galilee. He was a Gentile, and would have been seen as an outsider by the Jews who lived there.
     However, the Centurion was also credited with helping to build the temple in Capernaum. Because of this, Dr. Monte Luker, who was my tour guide in Israel, believes that the Centurion was probably a "God-fearer." This specific Greek term means a Gentle who went to synagogue and believed in God, but did not actually convert to Judaism. This would have enabled him to hold public office as well as serve in the army. But it also put him in the awkward position of trying to straddle both Jewish and Roman society.
     Luke tells us that the Centurion "had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death." When the Centurion "had heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave." Now the phrase "had heard about Jesus" could simply mean the Centurion knew that Jesus was in town. OR it could mean that he heard about Jesus' reputation as a teacher, healer and exorcist. The story is not really clear here.
     However, my suspicion is that the Centurion heard about Jesus' reputation as a teacher, healer and exorcist. This is why he sent the Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave. The term "Jewish elders" means they were community leaders and magistrates. They were men of extensive influence and were entitled to respect and reverence.
     The interesting thing about these Jewish elders is what they say to Jesus which was probably not the message the Centurion asked them to convey. Luke says, "When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, 'He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.'"
     WOW! That's certainly a mouthful! What I hear these Jewish elders saying is that Jesus owes the Centurion a favor. He has been supportive of the Jewish people, unlike many soldiers in the Roman army. Therefore God owes him a favor and Jesus should heal the Centurion's servant. Bless their hearts! I know they meant well. But if we read their words carefully, we see that they are asking for a reward rather than a blessing. The Centurion is a good man, therefore, he deserves to be blessed.
     This kind of thinking is toxic and leads to all sorts of misunderstandings about who Jesus is and how he works in our world: I've been good, so I deserve to be blessed. I've been good, so God should open the flood doors of blessing for me and my family. I've been good, and I expect my reward. If I don't get it, I might start whining like a spoiled child who has never been told the word "no."
     Do you see the danger in this kind of thinking? It leads to all sorts of horrible theology about Jesus. Jesus becomes the first international bank of blessing. We make deposits in this bank through all the good deeds we do. We expect a return on our investment. We pray for healing and trust that Jesus will heal us because we've been "good, little Christians."
     The problem with this kind of thinking is that when Jesus does not answer our prayers, we come to the conclusion that he is punishing us. If we view Jesus as the reward-giver, he also has to be the punisher. They are two sides of the same coin.
     I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say "Why is God doing this to me." What they mean by this is "Why is God punishing me? I've been a good person and I don't deserve this kind of treatment from God."
     Seeing Jesus as a reward-giver and punisher, leads to even more dangerous theology when it's applied to healing. If we are the ones who are "good," then there has to be someone who is "bad." If we are the ones who deserve to be blessed, then there has to be someone who needs to be punished.
     This kind of thinking has reared its ugly head in spectacularly brazen ways over the past couple of years. Christians of many different denominations, including our own, have been quick to label someone else as the "other," the one who deserves to be punished by God. Consequently, they also deserve to be treated poorly by those who see themselves as the true keepers of the faith.
     This kind of hatred and condemnation has most recently been heaped upon the transgender community. Much of the vitriol I've heard is done in the name of Jesus. Some Christians feel completely justified in acting in ways that are contrary to how Jesus told us to behave. We've also seen this kind of hate speech aimed at lesbians and gays, illegal and legal immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, the homeless, and the hate list goes on and on.
     The reason why I bring this up is that Jesus is the not a reward-giver and punisher. The Jewish elders get this completely wrong. Thankfully, the Centurion himself understands who Jesus is. His words speak volumes as we continue the gospel story.

     For whatever reason, Jesus decides to accompany The Jewish elders and pay a visit to the Centurion. I suspect it's NOT because of what they said. I suspect it's because of who Jesus is! Luke says that when Jesus "was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed."
     What I hear the Centurion saying is "I am no more deserving than anyone else to receive a blessing from you. In fact, I'm considered an outsider by the Jewish elders no matter how generous I am to them. But what I do know about you is this: You have the power and authority to heal. You've healed not only Jews but Gentiles as well. So, I leave my beloved servant in your hands. Only speak the word, and let my servant be healed."
     When Jesus heard what the Centurion said, he told the crowd who was following him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." When the Jewish elders returned to the Centurion's house, they found the slave in good health.      
     The Centurion's attitude, and Jesus response to it, is quite different from the Jewish elders. The Centurion sees Jesus as one who blesses, rather than as a reward-giver and punisher. Jesus' blessing is not limited to those who think of themselves as "righteous" and deserving of a favor from God. Jesus' grace overflows in abundance and is poured out into the whole world, Jews and Gentile alike.
     He is the gift that keeps on giving to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people with no pre-qualifications. He is the one who gave a drink of living water to a Samaritan woman at the well. He is the one who went into the synagogue in his hometown, unrolled the scroll of Isaiah, and said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." [Lk 4:18-19] 
     The Centurion rightly understood that Jesus is one who blesses because his love has no limitations. It's not given out on a merit-based system. The Jewish elders who approached Jesus got this wrong, but this Centurion, a Roman, a Gentile, got this right! This is what prompted Jesus to say "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." It appears those whom society sees as unrighteous, the outsiders, the rejected, have a thing or two to teach us about Jesus.
     The good news of our gospel is that Jesus is NOT a reward-giver and punisher. He is a savior, a rescuer, a liberator, a deliverer, an emancipator. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving whether we deserve it or not. Like the Centurion, we need to open ourselves up to receiving this gift with humility and gratitude. Jesus will bless us in whatever ways Jesus desires to bless us. When illness persists, when tragedies happen, when death knocks on our door, Jesus tells us "Remember I am with you always, to the end of the age." [Mt 28:20] 
     If you remember anything from my words today, I hope it is that Jesus is not a reward-giver and punisher. He is the gift that keeps on giving. He is one who desires to bless us because he loves us, NOT because we are "good." That is a Savior I can follow!  AMEN

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Holy Trinity

HOLY TRINITY  Prov 8:1-4
5/22/16 David Eck

     I have to confess that thinking about the Holy Trinity exhausts me! I mean, seriously, who REALLY wants to talk about the theological significance of God who is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? It sounds like a term paper we did in High School. The teacher told us it had to be five pages long. We fiddled with the font size and margin spacing. We stretched it this way and that, until we had five pages of words that had very little to do with the subject matter at hand! You know what I mean? Surely somebody besides me is guilty of doing this!
     Way back in the day, St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds of Western thought, had the audacity to write a 15 volume essay on the subject. It was entitled "On the Trinity." It took him over a decade to write it. Seriously? Did we really need this? Did anybody actually read it? And if they did read it, did it bring them any closer to God or to a deeper understanding of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together as a whole? I doubt it!
     During the 300's the early church fathers [I say church fathers because they didn't bother to ask any women about the subject. Maybe that was their first mistake!] The early church fathers began shaping creeds about the Trinity that people had to believe or they were considered to be heretics. The most well known of these creeds is the Apostle's Creed which we say every week in worship. It was written as early as 390 to the mid 400s. It's short and to the point! I believe in God the Father, I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, I believe in the Holy Spirit.
     But I must confess there are portions of this Creed I say with my fingers crossed behind my back. I can't say I believe every word of the Apostles' Creed as it's written. Most people are relived when I say this because, secretly, they feel the same way!
     The Nicene Creed was written in 325. It's a little bit longer. It includes strange, mysterious phrases like "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made." What in the world are they trying to tell us? Do all these words make the Trinity any more understandable? I don't think so.
     Finally the Athanasian Creed same along in the 500's and took the Creeds to their logical, or insane conclusion, depending upon how we look at it! Lutherans even stopped printing the Athanasian Creed in their worship books because nobody ever used it.
     Let me give you a sample of what it says: "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that they hold the catholic faith...and the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. for there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit." Trust me, it goes downhill from there! God save us from our need to talk a subject to death!
     The cacophony of words has continued for nearly two thousand years. Yet, we are no closer today to understanding the Trinity than when Jesus told us he was going to send us the Advocate, "the Spirit of truth," who would "guide us into all the truth." [John 16]
     This is why the Holy Trinity is so exhausting to me. Somehow we believe if we just keep talking about it, if we throw enough words at it, we'll finally get it right. We'll grasp the true essence of the Trinity. And so the tsunami of words continued from the early church fathers to this present day.
     Conservative Lutherans believe if we don't begin our worship in the specific name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and make the sign of the cross while doing so, we aren't conducting authentic Lutheran worship. We can feel their stares of disapproval and they try to shine the light on our misguided ways.
     Progressive Lutherans will use just about anything in place of these three words! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Divine Parent, Child of God, Holy Wisdom. The God above us, the God beside us, the God within us. [The last one is mine!] Again, it's just more words on both sides. It's exhausting. It doesn't bring us any closer to God or closer to each other. Do you hear what I'm saying? Somehow I don't think the Holy Trinity is meant to be a battleground of words, theological concepts, and scholarly opinions. It has to mean more than this!
     And so, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, I stand before you like Lady Wisdom, the voice of understanding crying out. I'm taking a stand at the highest place in our sanctuary, [unless I stood on a chair] so that everyone can see me. I'm crying out, "O people! I am calling to you;  I have a message for all humanity." The message is as follows: It's not about theology. It's about relationship. Do you hear me? It's not about theology. It's about relationship.
     The Holy Trinity is NOT something that should be argued about, dissected and debated. The Holy Trinity is something to be experienced, encountered and treasured. It's not a term paper. It's a life-changer! Do you understand what I'm saying? The Holy Trinity is not about theology. It's about relationship. t's the story of God who loves us so passionately and deeply that God arrived on our doorstep in several different forms. The hope is that at least one of these forms will resonate with us and bring us into a deep, transformational relationship with God. It doesn't matter what we call the Trinity. It matters that we experience it.  Amen?
     And so today we celebrate God as FATHER. Eternal Parent, ever watchful over us wayward children. It doesn't matter whether we had a good father or a bad father, an active father or an absent father. It doesn't matter whether we prefer to think of God in masculine pronouns, feminine pronouns, or as beyond all gender constraints. What matters is that we know the One who calls us beloved children.
     If God had a refrigerator, our photos would be on it! God is always bragging about how wonderful we are and how much potential we have as we grow into our spiritual adulthood. This God created and formed us; and gave us life and breath. It's the God whom Psalm 139 says "Knows when we sit down and when we rise; who discerns our thoughts from far away; who knows every word on our tongue before we even say it." That's not theology. That's relationship!
     This same God so carefully and beautifully formed the heavens and the earth, and all the animals on land, in the sky and in the sea. God told us this beautiful planet was our playground. It's the place where we will find life and happiness and joy. God told us to share our toys, play well each other, and take good care of all this gift we've been given. This is not a hateful, vengeful God with lightning bolts in hand, waiting to smite us for the smallest transgression. This is a God whom the writer of Exodus describes as "gracious and merciful slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."
     And so, this morning when we say  "We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth," we are not making a theological statement. We are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God whom formed us and watches over us, who loves and believe in us, even when we can't believe in God ourselves. Friends in Christ. It's not about theology. It's about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Eternal One who offers us Wonder. Mystery. Nurture. Life.
     Today we also celebrate God as SON, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus is God 2.0. The version of God who is the easiest to understand because he is so much like us. His sense of wonder about God's kingdom came through in his marvelous parables. His full range of emotions is evident as we read gospel stories describing Jesus' sadness and peace, pain and joy, love and compassion. This Jesus never met a stranger he didn't like. He always had the ANNOYING habit of leaving people in a better spiritual place than where he found them.
     This Jesus challenges us to be the light of the world and salt for the earth. He told us to be compassionate, as God is compassionate. He laid out for us a three step program for living life in all of its abundance: Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. This version of God loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. He refused to compromise his vision for a world without boundaries; where everyone is welcome at the table; where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given something to drink, the stranger is welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick are taken care of and those in prison are visited.
     Again, this is NOT a theological statement. It's all about relationship. Jesus touched, taught, healed, rebuked, encouraged, transformed, and above all, loved those he encountered. He does the same for us today!
     And so this morning, when we say "We believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord," we are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God who loves us, died for us and rose again so we would know that all bets are off the table. Anything is possible! The worst sinner can be redeemed. New life can grow from the poorest of soils and the tiniest of seeds.
     Friends in Christ. It's not about theology. It's about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Great Shepherd who offers us Grace. Resurrection. Forgiveness. New Life.
     Today we also celebrate God as HOLY SPIRIT. The RUACH whose winds troubled the murky waters of creation, bringing forth Light from Darkness, separating Day from Night. This same Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost with wind and flame, empowering and transforming their lives forever. The Holy Spirit is the Old Testament's Lady Wisdom and the New Testament's Sophia.
     She is simultaneously the still, small voice that whispered in Elijah's ear and the Overwhelming Presence of the Holy that shook the thresholds of Isaiah's Temple and filled it with smoke. The Holy Spirit is the dual pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness. She is the force that transformed Paul from persecutor of Christians to defender of the faith.
     The Holy Spirit shows up at our baptisms and welcomes us into God's family. She guides us in the ways of God's truth and wisdom. She helps us to discern what path we should take when the way ahead is not always clear. The Holy Spirit inspires creativity and visioning. She pushes us out of our comfort zones and calls us to imagine a world where "God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven." The Holy Spirit calls us to be vessels of reconciliation, peacemaking and bridge building. She gives voice to our cries for justice for the poor and oppressed among us. She floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee! She is simultaneously gentle and powerful, graceful yet terrifying.
     And so this morning, when we say "We believe in the Holy Spirit," we are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God who lives in our hearts, educates our minds, and moves our bodies into service. Brothers and sisters in Christ. It's not about theology. It's about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Wind and Flame who offers us Inspiration. Discernment. Empowerment. Transformation.
     As I bring my thoughts on the Trinity to a close. I offer the somewhat unsettling words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth." This is where our United Church in Christ brothers and sisters get it right when they say, "God is still speaking…" I take this to mean the Holy Trinity is not finished with us yet. The God, who comes to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, cannot be contained by creeds or affirmations of faith. God is "un-boxable" and calls us into a living, dynamic and growing relationship with the One who created us, Redeemed us, and sustains us on the journey. Because in the end, say it with me…"It's not about theology. It's about relationship." Amen!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Pentecost Creativity

Pentecost Sunday At Abiding Savior!
PENTECOST SUNDAY   Acts 2:1-21
5/15/05 David Eck


     In the beginning before God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a soup of nothingness a bottomless emptiness. an inky blackness. Then the RUACH of God, the Spirit/wind/breath of God blew across the face of the waters fluttering her wings, creating a disturbance. Then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. [Gen 1:1-4, paraphrased, portions from The Message] 
     Many years later, this same Spirit/wind/breath of God fluttered her wings once again, creating a disturbance. Suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where the disciples were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. [NLT]
     All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their tongues were unloosed, and they began to preach the good news of Jesus in creative and inventive ways, speaking in languages they did not know. The Spirit/wind/breath of God gave them this ability. As the Holy Spirit continued to blow in that place, it moved Peter to exclaim, "In the last days I will pour out the Spirit/wind/breath of God on all people. Your sons and daughters shall catch a glimpse of God’s future plans. Your young men and women shall see visions. Your old men and women shall dream dreams" [Acts 2:2-4,17, paraphrased]
     Today is Pentecost Sunday and, guess what? The RUACH of God that stirred up the waters of Creation, the Spirit/wind/breath that filled those first disciples with visions and dreams and languages,is blowing among us today. Can you see it?  Can you feel it? This Spirit does not always reveal herself to us as the still, small voice of God. Both Genesis 1 and Acts 2 testify that God’s Spirit is a creative spirit who shakes things up a bit, who creates a disturbance every once in a while. She is a Spirit who moves in us and around us in surprising and unpredictable ways.

     She is a Spirit who causes us to sing..."Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me." Does that sound like a still, small voice to you? Hardly! A Spirit that breaks us, melts us, mold us and fills us is a Spirit of great power!
     She is the Spirit who stirred up the waters of creation and stuff started to happen. She is the Spirit who rested on each of the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and stuff started to happen. She is a Spirit of creativity and rebirth who creates a space is us for the dreams and visions of God to move and direct our lives. If we allow this Spirit/wind/breath of God to blow freely in our lives stuff WILL start to happen.
     Lutherans, by and large, are a bit shy when it comes to talking about the way the Holy Spirit moves in our lives. We like the Holy Spirit to be nice and neat; to move within the confines of water and Word, bread and wine, prayer and praise. We expect the Spirit to show herself by means of an officially approved list of activities such as Galatians 5:22-23: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. 
     That’s the Spirit we want in our lives. Save all the wild stuff for the Charismatics and Pentecostals! We want the Holy Spirit to be a gentle breeze who blows safely and securely through our lives, nothing too exciting! After all, we’re Lutherans and we can’t have the Spirit/wind/breath of God moving through this place and stirring things up, don'tcha know! It just wouldn’t be proper!
     A few weeks ago I participated in "Create In Me" which is a faith and arts retreat at Camp Lutheridge. I've been to this retreat for 16 or the 18 years of its existence. Several members of our church have been there multiple times as well. I love this retreat because the people who attend are the kind of people who are not afraid to let the Spirit/wind/breath of God create a disturbance in their lives. It is a place of tremendous encouragement where participants are invited to play, to experiment, to fail, and to try again.
     In fact, Pastor Mary Caniff-Kuhn begins each retreat reminding us that the process is far more important than the product. Being creative trumps what we create. Trust me, I've had a few disasters along the way. But then, every once in a while, you come across an art form that awakens a gift you didn't even know you possessed. For me, that gift was paper collage. We started off with altered playing cards which a number of you learned how to make in a workshop I led this winter. I promise we're going to do it again. I was immediately hooked and stayed at that craft table for the entire weekend. I continued to create cards for a while at home and then, the Spirit of creativity whispered in my ear, and told me, "Let's do something bigger." The result was the icon you saw this Advent of a pregnant Mary that was made from Christmas newspaper ads. I had such a great time creating it that I wanted to do it again. The result is the Pentecost collage that's hanging on the wall in front of you this morning.
     The reason why I share this is that I suspect many of us have talents we do not know we possess. Some of these talents were squashed when we were kids. Others are the kind of talent that blossom with age and experience. Whatever the case may be, it's easy to let the Spirit of creativity be reduced to a smoldering ember in our lives. It's a lot harder to let the Spirit/wind/breath of God blow like a wildfire out of control. It's hard to let our light shine when everyone around us is trying to rain on our parade. You know what I mean?
     So, let’s take a quick “spirit inventory” of our lives and see how we're doing. Are we one of those people of faith who prefers the Spirit to be neat, clean and predictable? Or do we let the Holy Spirit stir up the waters of creation in our lives and give birth to something new? Do we prefer to hear a still, small voice of the Spirit or do we welcome the rush of a violent wind from time to time?
     Friends in Christ, our God is a creative God. God’s Spirit is a creative Spirit. I’m not sure why we always want to box God in and limit the ways in which the Spirit moves in our lives, but we do. The Spirit of creativity that blew so freely though our lives when we were children sometimes gets lost along the way. It loses steam and is reduced to a whisper when we become adults. We think this is progress. It’s a part of what it means to grow up. But I would like to argue this morning that God intends us to be creative people in every season of our lives. The same Spirit that stirred up the waters of creation and set the disciples on fire is available to us now if we will only let that Spirit/wind/breath of God blow freely through our lives.
     Now I’m sure some of you are probably thinking "I’m not a creative person." But I believe that everyone is creative in their own way. It’s just that we’re sometimes afraid to let God’s Spirit of creativity shine through us.
     For example, have you ever had a brilliant idea pop into your head but you didn’t share that idea because you're worried about what other people might think? Have you ever had a secret desire to try something such as write a book or take a pottery class but you’ve never done it because you thought it was too impractical or you rationalize that you didn’t have the time to do it?
     DO NOT listen to the voices who try to squash God’s creativity in you. Let the Spirit/wind/breath of God blow mightily in your life and see what wonderful and imaginative things God’s Spirit can birth to in you. Young men and young women can still see visions. Old men and old women can still dream dreams. Pentecost is not meant to be a one time event. It can occur again and again and again in our lives as the Spirit moves us in unpredictable and unexpected ways.
     Be creative as God is creative. Plant your garden as if it is Eden itself. Serve your family a meal that looks like it came from a restaurant. Get in touch with your artistic side. Try a new craft you’ve never done before. Enjoy the process of creating without becoming too preoccupied with the final product.
     Read an author who tickles your imagination and expands your view of who God is and how God works in our world. Pursue the dream that has been tugging at your heartstrings for years but you’ve never done anything about it. Listen to that still, small voice of the Spirit that has been nudging you to go in a direction you have resisted for far too long.
     Be a Spirit-filled Lutheran! Allow God to break you out of the box and take you on a new and exciting adventure in the Spirit. Don’t put this off until tomorrow. Do it today!!! The Spirit is rising and I hope we can feel it. Let's have the courage to allow the Spirit/wind/breath of God to blow mightily in our lives and ignite a spark of creativity in all of us. I know we can do this! Amen.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Ascension

ASCENSION Luke 24:44-53 David Eck
5/8/16


     Jesus said, "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  [Lk 24:49]
     Each and every one one of us yearns to feel God's power working in and through our lives. Each and every one of us desires to be Spirit led; to have a Holy GPS system that will help us navigate the twists and turns of life. Each and every one of us longs to be "clothed with power from on high," just like those first disciples.
     Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of this wonder-working power: an illness we've been battling is finally healed. A confusion we've had in our minds suddenly becomes crystal clear. A financial crisis we've been facing is lessened because of an unexpected check that comes in the mail. A sign we've been praying for appears in bright neon colors, leaving no doubt what we need to do next. Each and every one of us longs to be "clothed with power from on high," just like those first disciples.
     But before this power can come to us there is always a time of waiting, and we don't like waiting! We don't like the anxious, expectant times between crisis and resolution, between panic and peace, between prayers sent and prayers answered. We want to be "clothed with power from on high" but we want it now, right this instant. No waiting in the check out line. No "please take a number and we'll get to you when it's your turn."
     We all want to be "clothed with power from on high." But until it comes, the waiting can be excruciating. Those of us who have had to endure difficult life circumstances know exactly what I'm talking about! The period of waiting for answers to prayer, for doors to open, and for empowerment to arrive can seem like an eternity.
     This brings us to our gospel lesson where the disciples enter into a time of waiting. It marks the beginning of a time of transition in their lives between having the presence of the resurrected Christ with them and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This story is unique to Luke who tells it twice. The first time is at the end of his gospel. The second time is in the first chapter of Acts where be begins the sequel to his gospel by recapping the ending of the first.
     For modern believers the story of Jesus' Ascension is a strange story indeed. However, I would argue that once we understand what Luke is trying to tell us, the story of Jesus' Ascension speaks powerfully to those of us who find ourselves in times of waiting and transition. So let's explore the story in greater detail and see what wisdom is has to offer us.
     We begin with verse 49 where Jesus says "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." After Jesus says this, he leads the disciples from the house where they were staying in Jerusalem out into the hill country of Bethany. Bethany was a village on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about 2 miles east of Jerusalem. When they reach Bethany, Jesus lifts up his hands and blesses his disciples. Then Luke says that "While he was blessing them, Jesus withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven." [Lk 24:51]
     What this means from a literal perspective, we will never know for sure. We call this the "ascension" but what does that mean? Did Jesus ride a holy elevator or perhaps climbed Jacob's ladder from the flat earth, up though the sky until he reached the top of the dome and made his way into heaven? This is what first century people would have thought had happened since this is the way they viewed the world: a three tiered universe with the waters of the deep or Sheol below us, a flat earth in the middle, and the dome of heaven above.
     But ever since the time of Galileo, we have understood the universe in a very different way. Therefore, this description of Jesus' ascension seems antiquated at best and a flight of fancy at worst. Was Jesus beamed up by God like James Kirk in Star trek? Or did he float out into space past the known universe to some unknown dimension we call "heaven"? What exactly is Luke trying to tell us as he describes the Ascension of Jesus?
     John Shelby Spong thinks that Luke wrapped the story of the prophet Elijah around Jesus in order to say something powerful about what happened to Jesus after his resurrection. The connections between these two tales are rather surprising. It leads me to believe that Bishop Spong is correct. So let me share a portion of Elijah's story with you and see what you think.
     Elijah was the greatest prophet Israel had ever known. 2 Kings 2 tells a story about the prophet that sounds strikingly similar to what is being said about Jesus in our gospel lesson for today. Elijah and his protégé Elisha left the city of Gilgal and went out into the hill country of Bethel. As they journeyed Elijah spoke to Elisha and tried to prepare him for what was about to happen. Two times he said to Elisha "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And Elisha said, "Yes, I know; keep silent." [2 Kings 2:3, 5]
     Elijah and Elisha then arrived at the barrier of the Jordan River. In a scene reminiscent of Moses and the Red Sea, Elijah removed his cloak and struck the water with it.  The waters parted and the two walked through on dry land. When they had crossed the river, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." [2 Kings 2:9] Elijah responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you,
—It will be granted ."  [2 Kings 2:10]

     Then there appeared "a chariot of fire and horses of fire" that separated the two of them. Elijah was then transported up to heaven on a whirlwind, a mighty rushing wind, never to be seen again in the Hebrew Scriptures. After Elijah's ascension, Elisha received a double portion of Elijah's spirit. He returned to the Jordan River and parted the waters just like Elijah did. Elisha then went on to become a mighty prophet to the nation of Israel.
     Sound familiar?  It should. Jesus and his disciples left the city of Jerusalem and went into the hill country of Bethany. Earlier, Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples for what was about to happen to him. We see this in the gospel of John who picked up Luke's narrative and ran with it: "I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come."  [Jn 7:33-34]
     He also told them what to expect after he had departed: "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."   [Lk 24:49] Jesus then ascended into heaven and the chariot of fire and whirlwind from Elijah's story were carried over into the Pentecost story where the disciples received their power with "the rush of a violent wind" and "divided tongues, as of fire." [Acts 2:2-3] Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples went out into the world spreading the good news of Jesus.
     Are these connections a coincidence?  Hardly! I believe Luke wrapped the story of Elijah around Jesus because he was trying to say something powerful about the Jesus that the church experienced after he left his earthly form and ascended into the spiritual realm. Elisha received a double portion of Elijah's spirit after Elijah ascended into heaven. The disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven: A power that is a thousand times greater than that received by Elisha; a power that was poured out on many, not just one; a power that continues to be felt and experienced by followers of Jesus to this very day.
     Friends in Christ, the Ascension of Jesus is an important story in the life of the Church. It is not old and antiquated. It speaks of a Jesus who had to transcend the boundaries of his physical form in order that we would receive "power from on high." The ascension of Jesus is that moment of his entry into a new realm in which he would bring his purpose to a new fulfillment. He ascended beyond the limitations of his physical body, and made his Spirit power available to all who call on his name. This is what Luke was trying to tell us by the way he wrote the ascension story. Those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see recognize that this is good news, indeed!
     So what do we learn from today's gospel lesson? I hope it is the good news that the power of the Holy Spirit is available to all of us to guide, to heal, to encourage, and to strengthen. However, we do not always receive this power instantaneously. Sometimes we have to endure the whirlwinds and fires of life before we receive a double portion of God's Spirit. Sometimes we have to wait until we are "clothed with power from on high" just like those first disciples.
     It's not easy to wait but we are sometimes called to wait nonetheless, knowing that Jesus will help us to rise above all our trials and temptations. So wait patiently, pray expectantly. Trust that the Ascended Christ will fill us richly with the power of the Holy Spirit so we may rise above whatever challenges or roadblocks we are currently facing. AMEN

Monday, May 02, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Pool of Bethesda

6 EASTER C  John 5:1-13  David Eck
5/1/16


Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     The pool of Bethesda was a desperate place. It was located on the northeast corner of Jerusalem near the Temple. Legend has it that a mineral spring existed on this site and fed the waters of the pool. Both Jews, Romans and Greeks came to this place, believing its waters had restorative powers. In it's first incarnation as a holy site, it was most likely a healing temple sacred to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine whose insignia still represents physicians to this very day.
     When the water in this sacred pool as "troubled," when it bubbled and swirled, the hopeful believed an angel or some aspect of the Divine, was stirring it up. It was thought that the first one in the pool after the water stirred would receive a cure for their illness.
     And so, day after day after day, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, the desperate and the diseased, would wait in the shady and smelly porticoes of the pool. They would keep their eyes fixed on the water and when it stirred, a mass of humanity would lunge, hobble and drag themselves into its healing waters. They tried to be the first one in so the holy magic was the strongest. However, most often, nobody received a cure and so they waited and hoped, waited and hoped, that today  would be their lucky day.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     As we hear this ancient story, we're probably thinking to ourselves, what a gullible, superstitious bunch of people. They were being sold ancient snake oil medicine and we are OH SO much smarter than they are. We would NEVER wait around for the water to swirl. We would NEVER keep coming back day after day, hoping for a miracle cure.
     Well, before we got too puffed up, we need to be reminded that we are not that far removed from our brothers and sisters who were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places where we hope the angels will intervene and make our lives better. In fact, I can hear the voices of the desperate and diseased all around us.
     They are saying, "IF ONLY…I could find the perfect church, my spirit would be at peace and I would grow in my relationship with God. IF ONLY I could find the right doctor or the right hospital they would be able to heal me. IF ONLY I could find the perfect spouse, my life would not be such a mess and I wouldn't be so lonely. IF ONLY I could find the right job, I would feel more fulfilled and content with my life.
     IF ONLY...IF ONLY...IF ONLY. We are not that far removed for those gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places, our hopeful places, where we wait for the water to be stirred. We keep searching and searching for these places, determined that this one will be the right one. This one will be the place where angels gather and will give us the healing we seek for our weary bodies, minds and spirits.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     Thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years is a LONG time to be sick, to be in pain, to feel like your body has betrayed you. Thirty-eight years is a long time to search for a cure, to keep coming back to the water again and again and again; hoping the angels will intervene, hoping that God will provide the healing we so desperately desire.
     This is the situation of the person in our gospel lesson. John tells us that Jesus "knew this person had been sick for a long time" Now that's an understatement, if there ever was one! Then Jesus asks this poor soul what seems like a really stupid question: "Do you want to be healed?"
     "No, Jesus," we imagine this person responding, "I don't want to be healed. I've only been coming to this pool for thirty-eight years day after day. I'm just doing it for fun. I love sitting around with all these sick, smelly people moaning and groaning all day long. It's my thing.  It's what I do. Do I want to be healed? What do YOU think? Do you really have to ask that question?"
     John tells us that the sick one answered Jesus' question in a way that is sad and a little pathetic: "Rabbi, I don't have anyone to put me into the pool once the water has been stirred up. By the time I get there, someone else has gone in ahead of me."
     After thirty-eight years you would think that this person would be a little more resourceful. You would think this person would at least sit on the edge of the pool so they could roll themselves into it once the water had been stirred up. Or, perhaps, they would have found a friend, or paid a slave to assist them so they could be first in line to bathe in the healing waters.
     It's easy to judge. But I suspect we sometimes find ourselves doing the same thing when we are sick and in need of healing. We sometimes become helpless. We throw ourselves a pity party. We lay there day after day, waiting for the water to stir, but not much happens. I call this being "stuck" in life. It's an awful place to be. It's a place of depression and hopelessness. It's a place where we feel isolated and alone.
     So, let's be a little sympathetic toward this poor soul. Because if we really think about it, we've probably been in their shoes. We've been in this same place of despair. We've been paralyzed by our fear, our anger, or our fatigue from fighting whatever ails us.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     The most interesting thing in our gospel lesson is what Jesus does next. He doesn't offer pious platitudes or words of comfort. He doesn't offer to wait by the pool and carry this sick one into the water when it stirs. He simply says, "Pick up your mat and walk." The person who had been suffering for thirty-eight years did just that! They picked up their mat and walked away!
     It was a miracle!  And even us skeptical modern believers witness miracles every once in a while! We know a terminally ill person who was cured of their disease. We know someone who was involved in a horrific car crash that walked away from the scene with barely a scratch. We've read stories of people who were financially destitute and became wealthy. Miracles do happen in our world. And they happen to both good and bad people. There seems to be no "scale of worthiness" on miracles. They just happen every once in a while.
     Look at the sick person in the story. They have no idea who Jesus is. In fact, when the Temple authorities question them about what happened, John tells us "the healed person had no idea who it was since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled that place." This story is not about someone who had great faith. It's a story about someone who heard Jesus invite them to "pick up your mat and walk" and they did. It's a random miracle. A moment of grace, given to someone whom we would argue was a worthy recipient. But I am certain there were many worthy recipients who gathered at the Pool of Bethesda that day. Yet only one was healed.
     So, what do we learn from this story? Well, I believe our gospel tell us that the cure for what ails us is not found in a place, it's found in a person. There is no perfect church, perfect, doctor, perfect mate, or perfect job that will give us the feeling of wholeness and peace we desire. The only person who can do that is Jesus! Every once in a while, God does trouble the waters and Jesus offers us the miracle healing we desire.
     But most of the time what Jesus asks us to do is "Pick up our mats and walk. Keep moving forward.  Don't look back.
—Don't throw a pity party or wallow in despair. I'm going to walk with you each and every step of the way. And whether you are healed or not, you will know that I love you."

     St. Paul in a well-known passage from Romans stated it this way: "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble?  Calamity?  Persecution? Hunger?  Nakedness?  Danger? Violence? Yet in all of this we are more than conquerors because of God who had loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior."  [Rom 8:35,37-39, The Inclusive Bible] 
     The cure for what ails us lies not in a place, but in a person. We, who suffer the ills of body, mind and spirit are promised we have a Savior who loves us deeply and passionately. We have a Savior who sometimes brings a miracle into our lives, but always, always, always, loves us no matter how messy or desperate our lives become. We can take up our mats and move forward because Jesus meets us in our suffering. He takes us by the hand and invites us to experience grace, forgiveness, and new life.
     Therefore, children of God, let us wade into the water of Christ's love so we may find the healing we need to move forward in life. Do not underestimate the power of love to transforms us, even in the most hopeless of situations and the most desperate of times. AMEN