https://www.toledoeastminster.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Title3-05.png 0 0 Tom James https://www.toledoeastminster.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Title3-05.png Tom James2019-05-30 10:24:002019-10-30 08:25:07The gospel railroad (John 5.1-9)
One of our favorite Christmas movies is The Polar Express. It is the story of a group of kids of very diverse backgrounds and personalities, each of whom goes to bed one Christmas Eve, only to find that a train has stopped in their front yard, in the middle of the night, and seems to be waiting for them. Of course, this is no ordinary train. This train is headed to the North Pole, picking up selected children along the way for an adventure that they will never forget. As the story unfolds, we find out that each of the kids has something that they are supposed to learn from their adventure, and the main character, an unnamed boy, is a bit of a skeptic whose task it is to learn how to believe. The movie in many ways is a celebration of belief. “You have everything you need,” sings Josh Groban in one of the songs in the movie’s soundtrack, “if you just believe.”
It is interesting that in the gospel stories Jesus seems to heal and to perform miracles in response to the faith of his hearers. In fact, there are times when Jesus either can’t or won’t perform healings when the people refuse to believe. Without belief, it seems, the Jesus-story falls apart. His power is removed, his story loses interest and fades into the mundane. He becomes, like Superman in the presence of kryptonite, an ordinary mortal. His gospel unravels.
But here, in our text, there is not a single hint that the man beside the pool had even a shred of belief, or at least not in Jesus. He does have some belief, of course, or he wouldn’t be sitting around a pool that people believed had healing properties. He seems at least to believe in that. The legend was that, from time to time, an angel would stir the waters of that pool, and if you could get yourself into the water while it was still agitated, you would receive some blessing, possibly even healing.
But what does this manreally believe? Jesus’ simple question, “do you want to be healed?” brings what he believes to light. Because, in response, he doesn’t say, “yes” or “please,” indicating that he really believes that he can be healed and that Jesus can have something to do with it. Rather, he immediately falls back on his own disability—he says that, because he is unable to move, he is unable to get to the waters that would heal him. The irony of his situation is unmistakable—these faceless, anonymous waters, these magical waters dispensing grace to those who can get themselves in, waters that would heal him, will only be able to work if he can get himself to them—the very thing that, as an invalid who has no social network, no allies, no advocates, he is powerless to make happen. Healing for those who are not too broken. Empowerment for those who are not completely without power.
We have been hearing a lot in recent years about rising inequality in the United States, and we have seen families and neighborhoods and even whole cities slip into poverty over the last few decades. It was French economist Thomas Piketty who called our attention to the fact that the level of wealth inequality now is as high as it has been since the 1920s. And indeed some of the statistics are striking. The top ten percent in accumulated wealth have about nine times as much as the bottom ninety percent combined. The top one percent has more than doubled its share of U.S. income since the mid-twentieth century. Meanwhile, the neighborhood where we sit is among the poorest one percent of neighborhoods in the nation. The violent crime rate on these streets is in the top two percent nationwide. Some forty percent of houses are vacant. There is a drug crisis. Unemployment is high. There are people who are sick who can’t get good care. There are people who are hungry who have to visit soup kitchens and food pantries just to get something to eat. Economic recoveries, such as they are, tend to leave these people and these neighborhoods behind. Rentiers and landlords try to extract every last possible penny of value from these houses, leaving them in poor repair to keep their costs low. Money is being made here, but it is going somewhere else, to benefit others in sometimes distant places.
Most of us here have our magical pools. There are means that our society has set up for us to receive healing grace for our afflictions. There are educational programs that train us, hospitals and clinics that make us well. There is even a safety net, a support network, that can help us if things go wrong. If we can only lift ourselves off our mats, or get someone to take us over to the waters. There are ways that we can be empowered if only we have enough power to get ourselves in position for it.
We believe in these things. We trust them. We take comfort in the fact that they are there, not just for us, but for others who need them.
But for some, as for the disabled man in our text, the pools don’t do any good, do they? The brutal truth is that some simply can’t get there. They can’t put themselves in position. They are too far away, or no one can take them, or the costs are too high. The brutal truth is that, often, there is no empowerment for the utterly powerless. There is no grace for the destitute, the forgotten, the nobodies of the world. Their suffering goes unnoticed and unregistered.
And that is nothing new. In Jesus’ time, as in ours, belief in the systems of support sometimes fails. For many, there is no one to help. There is no magical rescue. The unclean and the infirm in ancient Palestine, the untouchables in Kolkata, the children laborers in Peru, the unhoused and the mentally ill in the streets of U.S. cities. We can devise policies to make things better, but always, it seems, there are those who fall through the cracks. And so this nameless man’s lack of belief, his refusal to believe that anyone will help him, speaks volumes of truth about his world and ours.
But what happens in this gospel story? The message of Jesus throughout the gospels is that the kingdom of God has come to you. It is, you might say, an objective fact. It is not a perspective. It is not an interesting angle or twist or spin. His preaching is not a series of suggestions about how we might look at life a little differently, how we might have a more positive attitude about it, about how we might wring a little more personal meaning out of it. No. Jesus’ preaching announces exactly what his healings enact—the reign of a just and loving God has begun to take root, here and now, and it has material consequences that are utterly surprising. It really doesn’t matter what perspective you take up about it—what personal meaning you find in it, what your attitude toward it is. Jesus creates something new. He makes a new reality in which sinners and scandalous people are welcome to the feast, in which lives and livelihoods are shared, in which nobodies, nameless persons, are featured in miraculous stories of healing. These things are happening, Jesus says. The train is in your front yard, and on its way to the North Pole, whether you believe in it or not.
And, so, this destitute man, this nobody with no allies, with no insurance, with no support, and no belief, is healed. The system of support in Jerusalem, such as it was, was short-circuited. The system of prerequisites and requirements that we put in place in order to be considered members of Jesus’ company, is side-stepped. In the kingdom that Jesus brings, no degree of power is a prerequisite to empowerment. No level of social recognition is necessary in order to be recognized in the kingdom of God. No acceptance of doctrines and no degree of trust is required.
This is the gospel: Jesus announces that the reign of a just and loving God has come. There are no more untouchables or unreachables. There are no longer any prerequisites to Christ’s mercy, Christ’s healing and forgiveness. That’s great news for the most vulnerable in our society, and we have a duty to reach out to them—first to see them, and to hear their voices, but also to stand with them, because we know that Jesus’ kingdom of nobodies encompasses us, too. Many of us are among the relatively comfortable. We are teachers, and executives, homemakers, and professionals of all kinds. We are nobly retired. We have admirably raised successful children. We are members of social groups, have names that are known, voices that are recognized, faces that are familiar. And yet the unnamed man stands in for all of us, because the good news comes to us, too, in the midst of our needy humanity, a humanity that we all share, a humanity that is frequently plagued by weakness and unbelief, a humanity that is broken by greed and war and by sickness and fear, and unable to get itself to the healing pool.
The gospel train comes through our front lawns, and we may never really believe in where it is taking us. We may not see it coming nor even believe our eyes when we see it. We may never have paid the fare or made ourselves worthy of the ride. But, nevertheless, it is here; it has come for us; and it is taking us toward the kingdom. And we are bound for an adventure along the way. In the name of God, our creator and redeemer. Amen.
EASTMINSTER UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
May 26, 2019 – 10:45 A.M.
Reverend Thomas James
6th Sunday of Easter
As we join together today to offer worship to God, we welcome all who share this worship with us. If you are here for the first time we invite you to return again. Please take a moment to fill out a welcome card that may be found in the cardholder at the back of the pew.
CONCERNS OF THE CONGREGATION
If you have concerns, prayer requests, or need to convey information to the Session or Deacons please use welcome card in the pew.
PASSING OF THE PEACE
Now, let us greet each other saying: “The Peace of the Lord be with you” and Response: “And also with you.”
*CALL TO WORSHIP
Leader: Alleluia, Christ is risen.
People: The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.
Leader: Let the peoples praise you, O God.
People: Let all the peoples praise you.
*HYMN…………….”God of the Ages, Whose Almighty hand”………..……331
*PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Loving God, we confess that we are an anxious people who deny your blessing and fail to keep your word. Forgive us, we pray, for these and all our sins, that we might live in peace and reflect you love in the world; through Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.
*ASSURANCE OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS
*GLORIA PATRI (#581)
NEW TESTAMENT (Pg. 1086)…..………….……Revelation 21: 10, 21: 22-22:5 Response: “Thanks be to God”
GOSPEL (Pg. 926)……………………………………………………….………..John 5: 1-9
Response:“Thanks be to God”
SERMON. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “The gospel railroad”
*THE APOSTLES’ CREED (Pg. 35)
*HYMN.………………………..…..…….”Christ Is Alive”………..……..……….……….….246
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*HYMN………………………..….……”For All the Saints”………………………………326
*CONGREGATIONAL BENEDICTION. . . . . . . . “Tune of Edelweiss”
Lord of life, Lord of love walk forever beside us. Day by day, show the way with your vision to guide us.
Striving to follow your will and way nothing can divide us. Lord of life, Lord of love walk forever beside us.
UPCOMING DATES AND INFORMATION:
May 26 – June 2
Counters for May/June
THIS WEEK – May 26
NEXT WEEK – June 2
HEAD GREETER FOR MAY/JUNE
JACKIE HOLZHAUER/CRAIG GALE
CHURCH FAMILY PRAYER CHAIN
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