Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Do you want to be well?”
John 5: 1-9, May 1st
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When I was a kid, me and my brothers and sisters, we often didn’t like the vegetables being served to us. It didn’t matter how my mother and father would try to feed them to us; we still would create ways or find ways to not eat them. As an adult I now realize how difficult this must have been for my parents. I suspect that many of you, at least our gathered mothers and fathers, sitting here today, are shaking your heads right now. Yes, even though there are a lot of good things in life, like vegetables, spinach, fresh peas and carrots, things that we all need, some of us still refuse them. Sadly, there are still good healthy things that we chose not to accept, even when they are offered and made available to us. The point is: we have got to ‘want’ these good things – before we can receive them; no matter how hard our parents, friends and loved ones try to give them to us! You have got to want it to get it.
Many years ago I was asked a question: “Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?” Foolish question, right? If you are sick, of course you want to get well! If you are tired, of course you want to take a break, rest, possibly even lie down and take a nap. The question was meant for those of us who continue on with bad habits, poor choices and have shown a pattern of denial and seeming stubborn refusal to do the simplest of things, like take care of ourselves. Every now and then, we humans need someone to intervene in our lives, and try to shake us out of our foolish ways and set us once again on the pathway to wellness and healing.
Sometimes, it seems obvious that we, you and me, we don’t really want to do what it takes to get well. Take for example debt. We all want to be free of it, yet we keep buying things we really don’t need. That’s right, there is a big difference between, going out and buying the necessary things that we really need, verses going shopping because we are feeling down and spending money, money perhaps that we then need to put on a credit card, buying new things which we don’t really need, simply because it makes us feel good. If Jesus turned to me or to you and said: “do you want to be debt free” would we be willing to say yes, and take responsibility for our outrageous spending habits? Are we sick and tired of being in debt? Perhaps, we say we would accept help from Jesus. But what if Jesus responses to our answer of ‘yes’ to receiving help, by then saying to us: “ok, good, cut up your credit cards and stop going shopping and let’s get started!” If you are a compulsive shopper, you may not be willing to accept the help that is being offered. Do you, do I, do we, always want the help that Jesus’ or anyone else offers?
I read in a commentary last week this simple sentence: “Anyone here tried stopping, seeing, knowing, and speaking with a beggar recently?” /David Ewart/ I don’t know about you, but I have frequently tried to help people that are down and out with their luck. It seems life has dealt them a bad hand. However, in the doing, I have become, at times… somewhat callous, hardened even, simply because it seems that there are folks who are unwilling to accept well intentioned help… and then make the effort to begin the real changes necessary to help themselves. I’m not talking about the individual that falls down, breaks a leg and thus asks for some financial help until they can get back to work; it is these people I truly love to help, with whatever resources are available to me to do so. I am talking about that guy or gal that I have come to be cautious of, because when I have given them money, they have taken it to go buy booze, cigarettes or even drugs. These experiences have altered how I choose to help people. I seldom offer money to such as these any longer. Food, yes; clothing yes; help with a utility bill, yes; money, no.
So how do we know when someone is ready to be really helped? And how do we decide what is the best way to begin a process that will lead to their healing and wellness?
Do you remember Naaman the military commander in the Old Testament? I spoke of him in the very first sermon I preached from this pulpit. I focused on humility in that sermon. Do you remember how Naaman had leprosy? He went to the prophet Elisha to be healed. Elisha told him to go wash himself in the Jordan River seven times to be healed. It was hard for him because he was a proud man. His aids told him that he would be made well if he followed the directions Elisha gave him. Since he really wanted to be made well, he humbled himself and did as he was told. You see, he had come to a point in his life, when he was willing to do what it takes, no matter how humbling it made him feel… to be healed. This mighty leader had a true desire to be well. /2 Kings 5:1, 8-11, 13-14/
Pastor Robert Deffinbaugh, offers up a line of thought for us to consider: “Allow me to raise a question which may be on your mind: “Why doesn’t Jesus heal the others who are ailing at the pool of Bethesda? If Jesus is able (and surely He is), why doesn’t Jesus heal everyone at the pool that day?” We will never know for sure, yet we can speculate a bit on this. Perhaps the others had indeed gotten comfortable with their predicament and no longer had the desire to do what was necessary to change or be made whole again. Possibly, they, like the compulsive shopper or the compulsive gambler, had grown accustomed to their plight. Maybe, they were simply in survival mode. Pastor Dennis R. Atwood suggests to us that “Yes, we humans have an innate ability to adjust to just about any kind of circumstance in order to survive. Sometimes survival is the best we can hope for. Our problem, however, is that we too often settle for surviving rather than authentic living”
A pastor named Kevin Cummins, once said this in a sermon: “Surely a man who had been disabled for that many years would love to be healed. But the truth is, and it’s hard to believe, that there are some people who grow so accustom to being sick and needy and the attention that it brings them that I’m not really sure that they want things to be any different. It’s all about desire.” What a horrendously sad commentary! Yet, unfortunately, it seems to be all too true! Our desire to be well must be greater than our lack of desire to change our lives!
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” /John 5:6/ 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” /John 5:8/ Pastor Kyle Childress wrote in his sermon: “Well, in our story, this man has the guts to be whole.” Yes, there was a moment of hesitation as the man began to respond. 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” / John 5:7/ But, Jesus, in his compassion and love saw into the man’s heart and believed that with the right ‘push and motivation’ this man held a desire, perhaps hidden down deep in his heart, to do more than simply survive; he had a desire to live and to be made well! This beggar wanted to do more than simply exist and continue on the way it was! He just needed that extra push, that welcoming helping hand that Jesus did offer him.
The challenge we all face is how – how we not only offer to help others… thus, how we extend the hand of Christian love; but it is also ‘essential’ that we learn how to accept help ourselves. Once we have learned how to accept help and make changes in our own lives, then we will understand what it takes to recognize and then stimulate the desire in another, to be willing to “get up” and make the effort to affect change in their own life; thereby beginning the process to their own health and well-being.
The American poet, Carl Sandburg, once said: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” If you can relate to this analogy, then you need to keep listening. That feeling of the ‘soaring’ eagle that rises in you is the life force of true desire! Whereas, that weighted feeling of the hippopotamus drags you down into the mud, smothering that life force within you that wants to live! You know ‘all too well’ the challenge that this creates for those trying to help you. Yet, until you are willing to do what it takes to be freed from that which holds you back, nothing or no one can bring you wellness! It is you that must become willing to accept help when it is offered. The life force of the Living Spirit of God is available to you when you become ready! The same is true for those you then try to help. Perhaps, the one beggar at the pool that day, was the only one willing to accept the help that Jesus offered! 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. /John 5:8-9/
Hear now these words from the Gospel According to John, chapter five, verses one through nine.
5 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.
Allow God to open your heart to a deeper understanding of this ancient lesson.