Given by Rev Janet Bromley, Sunday 26th May 2019 St Thomas
The pool at Bethesda – not a particularly attractive place when I saw it in Jerusalem – attracted multitudes in Jesus’ day because the waters were famous for their curative powers. The site that I visited was discovered in the 20thcentury and excavated – it may or may not be the actual pool mentioned in today’s gospel. It is about 200feet wide and 315 feet long and consists of a twin basin (one side for men and one for women) Herod had added five elaborate porticos surrounding its four sides and dividing the two basins. There were stairways in the corners, which allowed descent into the pool.
There the pilgrims and sick waited for the moment when an angel descended to disturb the waters – when that happened the first to enter the pool came to a new state of health – restored from whatever disease had stricken them. This was what brought the crowds – waiting for what was presumably an intermittent spring, which caused the periodic bubbling of the water – or maybe it was Herod who had designed the first jacousi!
This is what the paralysed man was hoping for – a chance to be first in the pool – but someone else always beat him to it – and this had been going on for 38 years ….. not much hope then that he could ever be cured – made new……..
But is this telling us the truth about God’s healing power – is it intermittent – only there for those who can beat the queue? That is not the truth about the God that I have grown to love ………. for I believe in the constant presence of our powerful, loving and healing God – so what is really going on when Jesus comes to this man at the pool?
This pool where hundreds of men and women – sick in mind and body came to seek healing presents us with a pictorial image of our own lives and experience: what happens is that the water not only cleanses those who come – leading them to a new healing and wholeness – but first of all it reveals to them truths about themselves which sometimes they find difficult to acknowledge – sometimes we find things that we don’t particularly like: ugliness, violence – deep seated anger – things in our past and our present which we have hidden deep down in our sub consciousness – and coming to the pool may reveal those things which we have suppressed so that we can harness them and integrate them into our new life ………. the man who came to the pool was not only afflicted by paralysis but also by self pity – I can’t help the way I am – I can’t jump in by myself – I need someone to help – the others are to blame that I have been here so long – they always push ahead of me …………..
Jesus helps the man to realise that the answer to his problem lay within himself – and Jesus is the constant presence and power of God in this healing – he was more powerful than the waters of the Bethesda pool.
Jesus asks the man: DO YOU WANT TO BE WHOLE? – he awakens in the man the desire and will to be alive – before the man had been seemingly impotent – unable to make a free decision – now he was empowered and strengthened so when Jesus commands the impossible
STAND UP TAKE UP YOUR BED AND WALK – the man does just that.
Jesus potent words have given new life to the man who had been spiritually and physically dead – he had been restored to new life and wholeness.
So what are the things which afflict our lives the deep down hidden thoughts – feelings – think for a moment of an adult disclosing child abuse and the anger – hurt – guilt and shame that they need to discover and deal with …. our need for wholeness may not be so dramatic – it could arise from broken relationships – past failures – even a feeling that God is no longer present in our lives…
The good news from this story today is that we don’t have to wait our turn – wait on the moment when God is present in the angel – in the troubled waters – because we can practise the presence of God each and every day of our lives – we can listen for Jesus asking us:
Do you want to be whole? Do you want to trust me? Do you want to receive my Spirit?
We can ask for a vision of his constant presence in our lives and in the world – this is what Paul did when he went to find a place of prayer, outside the city gate – he was seeking somewhere to practise the presence of God – so that he could reveal that presence to those who came to listen – and when they came God’s power released in them the freedom to choose – to choose to follow and to become part of the story of salvation — and that is what happened for Lydia – from that day she was included in the story and changed totally because of God’s power working through Paul.
A vision had led Paul to Macedonia and it was the vision of a man named John that we read about from the Book of Revelation:
A vision of the new Jerusalem – a place of encounter with God – a place where in worship and prayer we can consciously meet with God and sometimes catch a glimpse of his reality. Practising the presence of God here in our worship – in our private bible reading and prayer – and day by day in the people we meet and speak and work and play with and in the glory of his creation …God is constantly here with us – we just need to open our eyes and hearts and minds and surrender all those barriers which we sub consciously build up to hide away from him …
God wants us to want to be healed … and isn’t that the very first part of the healing process: to want to forgive someone …to want to deal with our resentments, anger and shame…
The new Jerusalem restores the glory that was lost in the Garden of Eden and rebuilds a community centred on the presence of God; and God transforms our pain into joy and the world’s pain into the world’s joy just as he brought the man out of paralysis into new life.
John’s revelation is about the whole story of salvation from creation to eternity: the story of the people of God – and we are as much a part of that story as the paralysed man or any other character in the scriptures – and we are being called to take our place in that story…..
There is a choice – not everybody includes themselves – it took the paralysed man 38 years – for Lydia it happened on that day when Paul spoke to the people in a place of prayer outside the city gate….
It happens for us every time we are invited to receive the bread and wine – for as we come – we are saying yes Lord Jesus, I want to be a part of this story – I want to be healed and made whole again by your power………
So as you come this morning for communion – know this – that the bread in your hand and the wine that you sip is bringing you close to the healing power of God: so now is the time to ask God to release you from all that separates you from his creation – from the love of neighbour and from his love………….
Now is the time to say: Yes Lord I want to be healed
And then in the bread and the wine KNOW the presence of God and know that it will never leave you at this moment and every day of your life until you stand before him face to face – lost in wonder – love and praise for all eternity.