Sunday, April 25, 2010
Take Up Your Mat
Epistle: Acts 9:32-42
Gospel: John 5:1-15
I’ve been in the ministry now for over 30 years, as a volunteer in college, a youth minister, and as a pastor. In college I was a volunteer at Pendleton Prison near Anderson. A group of us went twice a week for three years, once a week for worship and once a week for what we called "Christian Dialogue." We met one-on-one with various prisoners just to talk.
Straight out of college I worked for Campus Life and then Karen and I were houseparents in a boys home. After that I realized that I was too old for youth ministry any more so I went into the pastorate. :-)
In those 30+ years, I couldn't tell you the number of times I’ve prayed for renewal of faith for someone, renewal of faith for myself, healing, wisdom, understanding and guidance.
In that time, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read passages like the Epistle and Gospel for today and I’ve wondered why not today: Where are the miracles? Where are the healings?
I've come to realize that passages like these tell us something pretty straightforward: The Christian Life is a matter of “being” not “doing.”
This simple change of perspective makes all the difference in how you live your Christian life.
Take a look at the peripheral issues presented in the healings in today’s readings:
* Who of us doesn’t have sympathy on the frailest in society? We naturally want to help the handicapped, less fortunate, elderly, etc.
* Who of us can’t relate to the encounters in these Biblical situations? We want to help panhandlers we think are genuinely in need, by giving to Helping Hands, Salvation Army bell ringers, etc.
* Who of us doesn’t do what we are able to do? We'll give a few extra dollars, make a donation of clothes, give a few hours to volunteer for a worthy cause.
These things are all well and good, but they speak to our matter of “doing.” Doing is in the present, a matter of the right now. We can see what we've done and feel good about it. But "doing" clouds our perspective: we want healing now, we want wisdom now, we want renewal now.
A mindset of "doing" shapes our expectations of God. We think, "He’s God, He can-should-will-must-would DO something."
It shapes our expectations of ourselves. We tell ourselves, "We’ve done good so we’re good; we do bad but we’re forgiven, so we’re good." Our logic tells us "We’re forgiven because of what God has “done” so I can do what I want."
Christianity is not a matter of "doing": it’s a matter of "being." You can’t “do” good at Church and then go home and “do” bad things. You are a Christian here and a Christian at home, at work, at play.
This reflects the nature of God. To Moses in Exodus God revealed His Name which is translated to English as "I Am Who I Am.” God's Name is a "being" verb.
As a Christian, "I am who I am" in Christ. I’m not a Christian because of what Christ has “done.” Note that. We are not Christians because a man was nailed to a tree. It is Who that Man is: We are Christians because the Son of God was nailed to a Tree.
We are Christians because of Who Christ is. Christ is the Savior, therefore I am saved. Christ is the Resurrection, therefore I have life in Him. Christ is the Good Shepherd, therefore I am in His care.
The healings at the Bethesda Pool and Lydda demonstrate this. Look at John 5:8. Did Jesus Christ pick the man up and put him in the water at the time of stirring?
No. He simply told him to get up and walk. He said this because of Who He is.
In Acts 9:34, did St. Peter make crutches or bandages and make the man better?
No. St. Peter simply said, “The Lord heals you.” Peter healed the man not because of who he is but because of Who Christ is.
This leads me to four simple observations:
1) God knew that both of these men needed His help before they were healed. The man in Bethesda Pool had been paralyzed since birth, 38 years. The man in Lydda had been paralyzed eight years. Do we really think God didn’t know about them before these encounters in Scripture?
2) In both cases, there were plenty of other people who needed healing and didn’t get it. All around the Bethesda Pool were people needing a miracle. Lydda was a typical small town with people of every condition you might find anywhere. Did God turn a blind eye to these others?
3) Do you think God doesn’t know that you need His help for whatever it is you’re dealing with?
4) Do you think God has turned a blind eye to you while He cares for others?
Being a Christian is a matter of God identifying Himself with you and you identifying yourself with God. It is a matter of Who God is and who you and I are.
How often do we want God to do something for us to prove Who He is? We want Him to give us a new insight into the Bible, so we go and get a Bible with helps, or a Bible with counseling, or a Bible for couples, or a Bible in a language I want to read. There are Bibles for charismatics, Bibles for Catholics, even a Bible for atheists.
We want God to do something for us by giving us a new experience. Since I was in high school I've seen God do supposedly "new things": There were the “Jesus People” (God loves you, dude); the charismatic renewal with Kathryn Kuhlman and Oral Roberts; the televangelist phenomenon with Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, and Oral Roberts; the prosperity Gospel with Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton; the right-wing political Gospel preached by Pat Robertson and James Kennedy; the left wing political Gospel preached by Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis.
God isn’t trendy or faddish or whatever happens to be the latest thing on Christian radio. God is God!
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is God.
The God of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb is God.
The God of Ruth, Naomi, and Esther is God.
The God of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel is God.
The God of Peter, James and John is God.
God is the unchanging One. As we pray in the Communion Liturgy, He is ever-existing and eternally the same. He simply is Who He is. He is Being.
This is your faith and mine. Faith is not a matter of what God does in our lives, it is a matter of Who God is.
Is God any less God because you have or because you haven’t experienced divine healing?
Is God any less God because you have or have not had a miracle?
Is God any less God because you are rich or poor or somewhere in between?
No. God takes us through whatever it is we face in life because of Who He is. Experiencing these things in life makes us who we are in Christ. More importantly, the daily living of Christian life is daily living with God. Faith that experiences God in daily life is faith that experiences God’s Being and experiences all that God is:
- peace that surpasses all understanding
- joy unspeakable and full of glory
- love unbounded
These are the things that matter:
Peace in the tumult of whatever life brings you.
Joy in the face of hardship, adversity, and discouragement.
Love for everyone, the difficult and our friends, our enemies and our neighbors.
And if God throws in a miracle along the way, we’ll be ready to take up our mat and walk.
This is based on the outline for my sermon at Peoria Church, April 25, 2010, the Sunday of the Paralytic.