Saturday, February 22, 2014

Early Adopters--a sermon on John 7

Rev. Teri Peterson
Early Adopters
John 7.37-52
23 February 2014, NL4-25

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’

Whenever something new is happening, there’s always a group of people who get on board right away. Think of the people who camp out for the new iPhone, or who are always first to download new software, or who are at the forefront of a new idea. These people hear about something and want to go for it right away.

Statistically, about 14% of any given group of people will be in this group of early adopters—people who jump right in and try it out.

And then there are the people who wait and wait and wait before trying it out—maybe they’re waiting for all the bugs to be worked out, or to see if it really works, or to see who else is doing it and what they think. If someone popular, or someone close to them, starts talking about how great it is, then a bunch of these people will jump on board.

A good example of this is Facebook. Even when it became available beyond college campuses, it was slow to take off. People trickled on, trying it out, while others mocked it as a waste of time filled with minutia. But once people started to realize it was a way to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren, and once it started to make news, then all those people who’d been insisting it was nothing more than a pointless way to share what you had for breakfast started joining themselves, and now there are over 1 billion users worldwide.

I’m pretty sure this is what we’re seeing in today’s gospel reading: early adopters and skeptics come head to head.

Jesus and the disciples are at the festival of Sukkoth—which involves both the building of temporary tabernacles and a series of offerings of grain and water. It’s a celebration of God’s presence with the people, and a thanksgiving for the harvest. There’s lots of revelry happening, and the city is crowded. When the police go looking to arrest Jesus, they find him in the midst of that crowd, many of whom are wondering about him, and trying to decide just who he is exactly. The prophet returned to prepare the way? The messiah? Someone else?

And then someone says: well, obviously not. No one important comes from Galilee.

But the police, meanwhile, are back with the Pharisees, whose questions begin with “have you also been deceived?” Because no one important comes from Galilee. This guy, and his disciples, and his teaching, and his movement—they are all nonsense, ridiculous, pointless. Don’t fall into the trap of following him, because no one important does. That’s how you know he’s disposable.

And I wonder: how often do we discard people or ideas because they come in the wrong package, or because no one in a position of power is going along?

I mean, we could just as easily say: no one important comes from the projects. no one important comes from Mexico. no one important is poor. no one important has brown skin. and besides, the people with power all agree with me, so I must be right. They don’t matter, so we don’t have to listen to them…and then it’s a short step to “we’d better stop them before they get too big for their britches.” And please let’s not pretend that we would never think that. More often than not, we’re more like the Pharisees in this story, or at least the police who sit on the fence, than we are like Jesus. We regularly value, or de-value, people based on what they look like, where they come from, how educated they are, what kind of job they have, what they have to offer us, what kind of accent they speak with. Jesus comes to wash those boundaries away, but we’re not always sure we want to let them go.

It’s easy to be a skeptic from the position of privilege. After all, we see no need to be first to follow this guy. We can afford to sit back and wait, see if he proves himself, see if they can work the bugs out, see if anyone higher up steps out before we commit. And while we wait, to keep a close eye on whether or not he threatens our position or our security. The slightest wrong move, the slightest glitch in the system, and we’re ready to pounce.

But Jesus calls us to be early adopters—to come and see, not to wait and see. We are called to take him at his word and follow because of who he is, not because of who else does. He offers us more than certainty, he offers us the bread of life and streams of living water.

Opening our hands to hold that bread and feel that cool nourishing water, though, means letting go of some things we hold dear. It involves letting go of our ideas about how things should be. It involves letting go of our past and stepping into God’s new story. It involves setting aside our personal desires in order to seek the Spirit’s desire. It involves relying on God more than on ourselves. It involves trusting that God’s image is just as present in a stranger who comes from the wrong part of town as it is in our own faces. It involves laying down our weapons—whether they are weapons of steel or weapons of words—and also turning the other cheek, highlighting the powerlessness of those weapons.

And you know what? Not many people are doing that stuff. Even 2,000 years after Jesus walked among us, if we do these things, we’ll still be early adopters.

What would the world look like if followers of Jesus stepped out onto his path, regardless of what politicians, celebrities, and CEOs thought, said, and did?
Jesus fed people.
Jesus healed people.
Jesus stood up to the powers that dehumanized and abused.
Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers.”
Jesus said “I came not to be served, but to serve.”
Jesus ate with all the wrong people from the wrong neighborhoods.
Jesus said “sell all you own and give the money to the poor.”
Jesus crossed the tracks on purpose and hung out with outcasts and foreigners.
Jesus said “put down your sword.”
Jesus took what looked like nothing and turned it into abundance.
Jesus said “love your enemies.”

Here’s the thing: almost no one in power is going to applaud followers of Jesus for doing these things, because they are threatening to the system we have set up. They threaten our place of privilege in that system. They make it hard for us to live with some of the reality of our world. And it should be hard to live with the reality of our world—where 20% of the children in this country go to bed hungry, where people are killed for the color of their skin or for who they love, where we have to hold bake sales to pay for cancer treatment, where nearly a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water. What does it mean to let a spring of living water flow from us, from believers, from the body of Christ, in that world?

Because being a follower of Jesus means more than loving him silently in our hearts, and more than coming to worship for an hour a week. What if that peace like a river flowed not just in our souls, but right out into the world? Jesus says that springs of living water flow through us, which means that life literally springs forth wherever there are followers of Jesus. How often are we agents of life? How often are we the light shining in the darkness? Are we offering light and life in our workplaces? In our homes? In our neighborhoods? By being in touch with people in power? In our reading of the news? By recognizing our privilege and doing our best to raise up those our culture deems disposable? By loving our enemies in tangible ways, not just with empty words? By standing up for those whose voices our system has silenced?

If we’re waiting for the early adopters to test this out for us, we’ll be waiting another 2,000 years. If we’re hanging back until someone prominent comes out and urges us all to join in this way of life, we’ll hang back forever. If we’re busy looking at all the things we think we know, we’ll miss what Jesus is doing right in front of us.

As GK Chesterton said: “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Which leaves plenty of room for us to be the early adopters, to walk this path and find that peace, joy, and love spring up in us and through us and wherever we go. Who knows, it might even spread, one person, one action, one word at a time.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Five: Favorites!

It's been a long time since I played the Friday Five. This is a great one to get back in with! Jan asks for our favorite:

1. food: Mashed potatoes, of course! mmmm….potatoes…last week I made mashed potatoes with purply-blue potatoes, which was super cool! I wish I'd taken a picture, but I was busy eating them.

2. drink: since she didn't specify alcoholic or not, I'm taking the opportunity to list one of each--though my favorite alcoholic drink is kind of a toss up between the chocolate martini and the french martini (made correctly, anyway). My favorite non-alcoholic drink is Dr. Pepper, though I hardly ever drink pop anymore. I drink a ton of water, honestly.

3. animal: panda! closely followed by kitties, naturally.

4. color: purple! though my favorite color for clothes is burgundy.

5. time of day: late afternoon, when it's about time to cook dinner, the sun is setting, and the work is "done." (ok, as done as it's going to get…)

 Bonus: Any favorite you haven’t mentioned above that you want to bring up!
My favorite place! ok, who are we kidding, I have lots of favorite places, depending on the category. favorite restaurant, favorite US city, favorite place in my own city, etc. But my favorite place in the whole world is right here:

which is directly across the island from here:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

you are what you eat--a bread sermon

Rev. Teri Peterson
you are what you eat
John 6.35-59
16 February 2014, NL4-24

 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’
 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that as we read through the gospel according to John this season, there are some strange things we’ll notice. One of those things that will become obvious during the season of Lent is that John does not tell a story of the Last Supper with the institution of communion. Instead, at the end of his days with the disciples, Jesus talks and prays. A lot. With just about as many words as possible. Which is not surprising given that he spends almost the whole gospel talking, sometimes repeating himself, and generally confusing everyone around him.

So there’s no Last Supper in John. Instead there is this: using a child’s lunch to feed the 5,000, which makes the crowd want to make Jesus king. Remember that the Roman Empire kept the peace with two things: free or very cheap bread for the masses, and crucifying those who questioned their legitimacy. For Jesus to feed so many people with so little was a challenge to the Empire, and everyone knew it.

The next day, after he’s fed them with more food than they can even eat, the people come back looking for more. And instead of feeding their gluttony, Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” Of course the people don’t understand this at all—how can they eat his flesh? How can he compare himself to manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness? None of this makes any sense, and on the most literal level, the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood is against the law of Moses, not to mention how disgusting it is.

And the people who were looking for even more food find this too hard, and many turn back—it’s both less and more than they were interested in. While they hoped for more sandwiches, he offered them abundant life. But abundant life isn’t fast food, it takes some leaps of faith, some trust in the one who says he’s offering us his own life to take into our bodies.

Jesus knows that this is hard to take in. He says that the only reason we are able to come to him at all is because God is already working, calling and equipping—and no one God calls will be lost. It might take some of us longer than others, it might mean more circuitous routes for some than others, but ultimately, God’s will for relationship will be accomplished. Jesus says he wants to abide in us, and the way he’ll do that is through being the bread of life, feeding us one bite at a time, until we can trust and follow and live.

The life Jesus talks about here is eternal life, but it’s important that we get back to what that means. Eternal life, in the Bible, almost never means only the after life. Jesus talks about eternal life and about raising us on the last day, he talks about being the resurrection and the life—and those are two different things. Eternal life is, in John, sometimes called Abundant Life—it is to live in relationship with the eternal, to live the way we were created to live, here and now. Eternal life is all about how to live at one with Jesus. When we misunderstand “eternal” to mean “later,” we lose all kinds of opportunity to be agents of God’s kingdom coming on earth.

How do we get this eternal life now? By eating flesh and drinking blood. I’ve pointed out before that blood is a symbol of life, not of death—that’s why it was forbidden to eat the blood of any animal, because to take another’s life into your own is not for humans to do. When Jesus tells us to eat and drink, he’s telling us to literally take his life into our own lives. He will abide in us and we will abide in him—the life of God will take up residence right here, in these bodies. Every time we come to the feast of living bread, God lives in and through us again.

In other words: you are what you eat. When we eat the body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. And Jesus says we will never be hungry or thirsty again.

Except we will, of course—just for different things. We’ll be hungry for an ever-closer relationship with God, because once we’ve tasted that, we don’t want to go back. We’ll be hungry for justice, because once we’ve experienced abundant life, we won’t be able to stand by and watch as others’ lives are disregarded, or worse, taken away. We’ll be hungry for community, because once we’ve taken the life of the triune God into our own lives, we can never stand apart. We’ll be hungry for real life, real relationship, real emotion, real truth, real hope—because once we’ve had real bread, we’ll never be satisfied by fake fast food and shallow experience.

Can you imagine God, Creator Christ and Spirit, living and breathing inside your body? What is it like to walk around everyday—in the house, in the office, driving on the expressway, riding the train, sitting in a classroom—with the greatest Love in the universe living in you? How would it change the way you live, if you thought of your life as one of the ways God lives on the earth, in this town, in this church?

The bread of life isn’t only at this table. If there’s one thing John’s gospel tells us about communion by putting it all here rather than at the Last Supper, it’s that it is an ordinary thing for ordinary people, where extraordinary things happen. This table is practice for every table, where we take into ourselves the gifts of God. Just as bread takes many grains of wheat, and a community takes many people, the sacrament takes many tables. Once we see that, then every gathering, every meal, every bite, every word, every action is an opportunity to experience what is holy. Because that is what it means to abide in Christ, and to have Christ abide in us. That is what it means to bring God’s life into your body.

We still mess up, of course. We still make bad choices, we still look on as others have life and dignity stolen from them. We still profit at others’ expense, and pretend as if they do not have God living inside of them the same way we do. We are human beings who see through a glass dimly, who cannot ever understand the fullness of what Jesus does, at the communion table or on a hillside in Galilee. Many of the people on that hillside went away angry that Jesus wouldn’t just give them what they asked for. Many today do the same with the church. But neither Jesus nor the church are in the business of simply filling personal desires—this is about life, eternal life, abundant life, enough. This is about a different kind of hunger that seeks only God’s will, not our own. This is about seeing as God sees, through walls and barriers, past rumor and gossip and fear, and little by little being transformed by that vision. This is about letting God’s life take root and grow and bear fruit, through each of us as individuals and through all of us together as the church. This is about the bread of life, not just manna that melts away at the heat of the day.

You are what you eat. When we eat the body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. We hunger for the things Christ hungers for. And we break ourselves open the way Christ breaks himself open—for the life of the whole world, no exceptions.

May it be so.

Monday, February 17, 2014

ridiculousness--a reflection on the RCL for February 23

(published in the Abingdon 2014 Creative Preaching Annual)

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3; Matthew 5:38-48

It is not uncommon to find ridiculousness in the pages of Scripture. In addition to complex metaphor, vivid imagery, and storytelling that raises even 21st century eyebrows, there’s also stuff that just plain makes no sense. Why on earth would you leave part of your harvest in the field—you need the food and income! And besides, isn’t that just enabling the poor to be lazy? How could you give to everyone who begs from you—isn’t that a recipe for ending up a beggar yourself? Why would you pray for people who want you dead, or invite someone you don’t like to a dinner party—that certainly is not in your own best self-interest.

And there we have it, of course: self-interest. Large swaths of the Bible are nonsensical because we’re supposed to take care of ourselves, reward ourselves, pay ourselves—first. We have been taught to serve our own happiness, which means doing more, getting more, having more, even if we have to close our eyes to the person standing at field’s edge or strike back at someone who tries to take what’s ours.

So of course Scripture makes no sense to those of us who are “wise in this age,” because “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:18-19, NRSV)! In our world’s view, it’s foolishness to sacrifice to provide for others, but in God’s view it’s foolishness not to. In the world’s view, it’s silly to offer active non-violent resistance when it’s easier to hit back, but in God’s view it’s the violent response that’s ridiculous. We insist on independence, but in reality we “belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (v. 23). We strive for our own perfection, but Jesus asks us to strive for God’s perfection—perfection of love, justice, compassion (Mat 5.48, CEB). Perfect holiness is loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, not loving ourselves (or God) to the exclusion of our neighbors…or worse, at their expense.

What about those of us who don’t have fields in which to leave gleanings, or who do not often directly experience oppression or violence, or who can’t name an enemy or persecutor? While we may need a lesson on the cultural issues inherent in turning the other cheek (so we don’t interpret it as “be a doormat”), we rarely have opportunity to practice it literally. Ditto on fields and vineyards. But lying, allowing social status to influence judgment, and justice for laborers? Living in an unjust system? Wondering how to handle people who resist our dreams or our full humanity? Sharing our love and lives only with those who love us in return? Those are everyday matters.

Jesus calls us to a higher way than our natural inclination. He does not do away with the law, nor does he make Scripture easier to swallow. He simply casts off literal-legalistic interpretation—which frees us to read those things that make no sense in a new light, the light of God’s wisdom, however foolish it may appear.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Do We Want to Be Made Well? a sermon for February 9

Rev. Teri Peterson
Do we want to be made well?
John 4.46-5.18
9 February 2014, NL4-23

 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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?’ 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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

simultaneously broken and whole--the frozen chicago river

I think healing stories are so hard. Because sometimes, people get a miraculous healing. And sometimes they don't. Sometimes people ask and receive, sometimes people receive without asking, and sometimes...suffering, and pain, and death come anyway. I have been that person who begs, who bargains, who prays for nothing else. Sometimes the answer has been incredible....and sometimes heartbreaking. So when I read stories like these today, I come with experience of my own, and carrying the stories of dozens of others, friends and church members and colleagues and family.

Sometimes I hear people say that if we just had more faith, or we just prayed harder, or we just asked more specifically, healing would come. And other times I hear people resign themselves, saying all the suffering must be part of God's plan. But here's the thing: our Reformed tradition says neither of those is quite right. There's no magic formula for the amount of faith it takes--because scripture tells us that faith is a gift of the Spirit, not something we manufacture ourselves. And throughout the Bible we see that God's plan is never for suffering, but always for wholeness. Today's two healing stories are perfect examples of both of these realities.

In the first story, we have a royal official--other gospel accounts call him a centurion, a Roman, a gentile. He's as much of an outsider as you can get: he’s a foreigner, he works for the oppressor, and he’s of a different religion. He comes to Jesus with a straightforward request: heal my son. He doesn't make a statement of faith, Jesus doesn't grill him about his sins, just a question: heal my son. Please.

In the second story, we meet a man who has been an invalid for a long time. He is a Jew, like Jesus--an insider in the system, living in the holy city. He doesn't ask, he doesn't even know who Jesus is, he doesn't proclaim his belief...Jesus just walks up and heals him.

Both men go away from their encounter healed. Both go away and talk about Jesus. Both have big obstacles to overcome on their path to healing and wholeness...and they approach those obstacles in very different ways.

The royal official goes away from his conversation not knowing what will happen. Jesus says his son will live, but they're 20 miles away from home. It'll be many hours of walking before he knows what's happened. He turns and walks, trusting even in the midst of the fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness of the situation. Though he cannot know what will happen, he walks.

The second man, the invalid by the pool, is approached by Jesus, who asks him: do you want to be made well?
It seems a silly question--who would say no? Of course we all want to be made well.

But the man's answer is not an answer. Instead he says "well, there's no one to help me...I can't get there by myself...I'm sick, you see, and I have been for a long time, and other people always get there before me." He doesn't exactly say no, but he doesn't say yes either. It's almost as if his illness has so overtaken his identity, he can't answer the question. All he knows how to do is point out the problem and place nebulous blame.

When Jesus heals him anyway, this man too begins to walk. But his walk is very different from the other story. This man walks right back into the old ways, and finds himself rebuked for breaking the Sabbath, then passing the blame to Jesus. Rather than walking into the new life Jesus gave him, he remained trapped in the story he’d been telling about himself.

This is starting to sound a bit like the Body of Christ, not just one man’s body. And so I wonder, what if we read these stories as two options for the Body of Christ, The Church? The question is there: Do you want to be made well?

What if it means breaking the rules of how church is supposed to be?
What if it means walking into the unknown?
What if it means letting go of the story we have always told about ourselves?
What if it means trusting, forgiving, healing, listening, praying, working…with no certainty about what will happen at the end?

Do you want to be made well?

The man by the pool told Jesus "I've been here a long time, and my body doesn’t all work together properly, and there's no one to help me, and other people always get there first."
I’ve heard The Body of Christ say those things too. All over The Church, the same conversation is happening: we look at the neighborhood, at the dwindling resources, at the bigger churches down the road, at the changing demographics, and most of all at the way things used to be. We tell a story where the best days are behind us and the problems should have been solved by someone else. Our disagreements descend into gossip and hurtful words. We have no idea what could be, because our story is all about what was and what isn’t.

Jesus waltzes right into that story and offers another way. God’s vision is always for life—not just for bodies that walk and talk, but people and communities made whole and transformed. Jesus even says so flat out at the end of today’s reading: “Regardless of the rules you’ve set up, regardless of the box you’ve stuffed God into, my Father is still working, and so am I.” In fact, Jesus continues to waltz right into our stories and offer another way. I’ve seen it downstairs on Wednesday night, and upstairs every day the temperature was below zero. I’ve seen it in the library on Sunday morning. I’ve seen it in the Cosby room at 11pm on a Tuesday night. I’ve seen it in this room, and out on the front lawn, and at five sites around the neighborhood one Sunday morning. I’ve even seen it at Presbytery meetings, strange though that may seem. Healing and wholeness are possible. New life is possible. And it’s also possible to live the old story instead, complete with blinders and rose colored glasses and fault always being someone else’s.   

The second man was all excuses, and even after his body was healed, he continued to live the same old story, with no peace or wholeness to be found. But this is not a “God-helps-those-who-help-themselves story. That’s not in the Bible. Instead we see that Jesus heals both of these men, before they have anything to say about him. The question is what they’ll do with that healing. Just like in creation, just like in the Exodus, just like in the call of the disciples, God acts first, before they believe…and then asks them to walk with the Spirit on a rule-breaking journey into the unknown. First their bodies are made whole, and then their spirits too. It’s that last part that has a bit of choice about it—the first man puts one foot in front of the other, every step a choice to trust and hope, rather than despair. The second man isn’t able to imagine those steps into abundant life.
two paths… (Heidelberg)
Do we want to be made well? Will we walk the path even when the future is uncertain? Will we trust Jesus that life is ahead? Will we break the rules of what church is supposed to be in order to risk living the life God has in mind?

Ancient Greek philosophers said, “it is solved by walking.” Or, we might say today, “we’ll figure it out as we go along.” We may not have all the answers, or know the final outcome, but one step at a time we can follow Christ’s way…and on the way, we might just find healing and wholeness.

May it be so. Amen.