A Sermon on John 5:1-9
During the early morning hours of August 29th, Hurricane Katrina was swirling off the coast of Southern Louisiana. The call to evacuate the lower portion, including the City of New Orleans, had gone out hours before and most people heeded the call. Those who could leave the city had left and only those who were unable to leave, like patients in nursing homes, were still in the city. The storm raged closer and eventually made landfall, and the devastation began. The aftermath of the story left 1,400 dead, and 80% of the City of New Orleans flooded due to the storm surge that breached the levy system surrounding the City. Most of the Southern part of the State was just washed out to sea. Houses, cars, memories, all of it gone in an instant.
Shortly after the storm had passed, I was called to deploy to the area to provide was spiritual and emotional help I could. I have become somewhat of an expert in the field of disaster mental health, and so I get to go to places such as New Orleans and Newtown Connecticut after situations like these. There is not much we can offer someone after something like this happens to them, maybe a bottle of water and an energy bar, but sometimes just sitting with someone and holding their hand will help them on the road to recovery.
I will relate one story to you, of the many hundreds that I heard during my two weeks on the ground in New Orleans. Many people had no way to leave the City. They were the poor, the marginalized, the minorities, the forgotten people of the city. They made their way to the Superdome and the Airport. The Government of the United States as well as the Government of the State of Louisiana denied that anyone had taken refuge at the airport. Keep in mind that the Government was under a tremendous amount of pressure from all sides after the storm had passed. I was sent, along with some others, to see what we could find out and if there were people there what aid we could bring to them.
When we arrived, it was a scene of absolute chaos. All social systems had broken down, and it was every man and woman for themselves. A doctor ran up to me when I came in and kept repeating “tell me I did the right thing” You see he was the one who had to decide who lived and who died. He took me to what was called the “black ward.” This was the place where all of those who were not going to make it was now living. They were caring for them as best they could with what limited supplies they had. He asked me to pray for them, and so I did. I knelt down next to each of the 65 people in that room and said a prayer over each of them. Two of them died while I was there. I see their faces each and every day of my life.
Well, time moves on and soon we forget, those of us who can anyway, about what happened and we go on with our lives. But what about those who cannot go on, what about those who struggle each day.
In today’s Scripture lesson we hear the story about a man who has been sick for many years thirty-eight years to be exact. He is laying by the pool that is supposed to heal him but since he is sick, and alone, he has no one to place him in the pool, and someone always gets in there before him. You see he had to step in just at the right time to be healed. So he just laid there, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, just waiting for someone to come along and help him.
Jesus walks up to him and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man does not say yes he says that he has no one to place him in the pool at the right time. Jesus asked him a simple question, “Do you want to be made well?” and he cannot answer yes or no.
We do not know what illness the man had. Some translations lead us to believe he was paralyzed, and therefore he could not move. Whatever it was he has had it for a long time. Perhaps he has gotten used to the idea of being sick; it has become a part of him, and he is not sure what he will do if he does get well. But either way, there is no one to put him in the pool.
Day after day people steps over him to get in the water first. They see him lying there, and they pass right by to get what they want. They see him there, but they do not acknowledge that he is there, right in front of them. They step over him and are made well, and our friend continues to suffer.
Jesus does not wait for the answer he tells him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” and he does just that. Our passage ends there, but if we read on for a few verses, we read that the man goes to the temple, and he encounters Jesus again, and Jesus tells him that he should sin no more.
Again, we are unsure of what his illness is, and we could speculate all day, but there are two things to point out here; one is that it was the faithfulness of the man that healed him, and all of those sitting around ignoring this man were likewise ignored by Jesus. Jesus does not heal anyone else, in fact, there is no record that Jesus even spoke to anyone else.
All of us are in need of some healing. Perhaps it is an illness or perhaps it is despondency or maybe it is a spiritual illness of some kind. Jesus meets us, as he did our friend in the story, where we are as we are. Notice there was no sign posted in this place saying Jesus would be holding a revival tent meeting down the street and if you wanted to be healed you could come, and after a suitable donation, you would be made well. No, Jesus went to where the man was, accepted the man as he was where he was, and healed him.
We do not know what happened to the man in the story just as I do not know whatever became of the doctor I met in New Orleans, in fact, I do not even know his name. I assume that those sixty-five people I prayed over died at some point in time after that, but I have no way of knowing for sure. I don’t think I healed anyone physically, but maybe the words I spoke to them healed them spiritually and prepared them for their death.
Where will Jesus find you? Are you sitting by the pool waiting for someone to carry you in? Are you the one that steps over others to get what you need? Are you one of the many others in that room so blinded by their issues and life’s wows that you cannot see the suffering of others? Whatever it is, wherever you are, Jesus offers us healing.
In a few moments, we will gather around the symbolic table of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for each one of us. We gather together to pray for one another and to support one another; that is the union in communion. Jesus stands ready to help us in the midst of life’s storms let us prepare ourselves and pray for one another.
Rev. Peter-Michael Preble is Associate Pastor at Bethany Congregational Church, UCC in Quincy, Massachusetts and staff Chaplain with Brookhaven Hospice and author of Listening to the Heartbeat of God[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]