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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

2007-04-15 Jn 05 01-09 Getting to Know - You

2007-04-15 John 5:1-9

"Getting to Know: You"

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA

Sunday, April 13, 2007 (Mother's Day)

The sermons for the month of April are themed around "Getting to Know." What do you know? How did you learn what you know? And when it comes to faith, when it comes to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, do you ever really know that you know that you know? Last Sunday we looked at scripture about how to know the church, where Jesus tells us that "they'll know we are Christians by our love." This Sunday, the scripture takes a turn away from the beliefs and actions of a group, and turns to the faith of the individual - one individual in particular, a man who had been waiting to be healed for thirty-eight years. Verse 5 says Jesus, "saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time." Jesus sees the man; Jesus knows the man. And Jesus, knows the man better than the man knows himself.


The Bible says, "he 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?'" Well, duh. If you just pick up reading right there, it sounds as though Jesus doesn't have a real keen sense of the obvious. But look how the man responds to this pretty straightforward yes-or-no question. He doesn't say, "Uh... yes?" -- simple question, simple answer. Instead he launches into some biblical TMI (Too Much Information). "Sir," he says. "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." If you read too fast, you miss that this is not an answer to Jesus' question.


It's time to play Jeopardy. "I'll take Miracles for 200, Alex. The answer is, 'Sir, I have no one...'" And the question would be, what? "Why haven't you been made well?" or maybe, "Why have you been sitting here for thirty-eight years?" or, maybe, "How can I help you?" The man's answer goes with these questions, not the one Jesus asked.


But before we go further, let's set the scene, because this will be important later. They're at the magic pool of Bethsaida. Here's how the magic waters worked. In Jerusalem - over by the "Sheep Gate" - now there's a great address for you - not the "human" gate, but over by the "Sheep" Gate outside the walls of the holy city -- are five covered porticoes where street people can live. And down the hill from the Sheep Gate is the sheep pool. It was called the Pool of Bethsaida or Bethesda or Bethzatha. Different Bibles render it differently, but the purpose is the same. The pool was dug in the 3rd Century BC by Simon the High Priest so people bringing sacrifices to the temple could wash their dirty sheep before entering the city. So here are these poor, sick people, who believe the way to be healed is by washing in the dirty sheep water. But it still wasn't that simple. The legend of the pool was this: If you watch the still waters very carefully, and if you see a ripple on the surface, this means God has sent an angel to stir the waters, and whoever steps into the pool first wins, and is healed of their disease. Everybody else hobbles back to their portico and sits - and stares - until the next stirring of the water. It sounds pretty pathetic, but if you're chronically ill and you don't have health coverage, what else can you do?


This man's entire life was focused - literally - on one thing. He has to sit, and stare at the surface, and be ready to jump. He has to get from Point A to Point B, and beat everyone else in the process. A-B-win. A-B-win. Next day. A-B-win. Next day. A-B-win. This is this guy's life. A-B-win. So into his life walks Jesus who asks him a question that has nothing to do with A-B-win, nothing to do with his life. Jesus asks, "Do you want to be made well?" Jesus might as well have been asking him if he wanted to fly to the moon. "Made well" isn't even on this guy's radar. Jesus asks if he wants to be well, and the guy goes, A-B-win. A-B-win. He complains to Jesus, he sort of politely asks Jesus to help him do the A-B-win thing, because after thirty-eight years, that's all he's programmed to know. A-B-win.


Look, I know you folks. I know a lot of you hear this A-B-win thing and think it doesn't sound so bad. A lot of you would kill to have one, central focus to your living. For you, it's not just getting from Point A to Point B faster than anyone else. It's also getting from Point B to Points C, D, E, and F by way of Points H, L, P and Z, before somebody adds something else to the list. You get somewhere and you think, "Is this Point Q? And if so, why did I come here?" We kid ourselves into believing that if we just make it to that next Point, that next income bracket, that next grad school, that next retirement village -- before somebody else takes our spot -- then we'll win. We'll be healed. We'll win the race to the savior, because, well, if we're at Point A and the savior isn't here, we've got to move on to Point B. And if our savior, if our peace and happiness isn't at Point B, then it's got to show up at the next Point, and so on, and so on. It's just A-B-win, upgraded to Version 2007.


Jesus sees the man. Jesus knows the man. Jesus tells the man something that makes no sense to the man. It's as if Jesus totally ignores the man's response about how he can't get to Point B, and all that. "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once, the Bible says, the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.


OK, so what happened? Some people want to argue the miraculous physical healing of the man's legs. Jesus commanded, the legs were healed, and the man could walk. Some people want to argue this was a mental healing, sort of first-century Cognitive Therapy, healing the man by giving him a different way to think. "You mean there's something other than A-B-win?" It's like the old joke, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Well, don't do that." Some would say it's both, that you have to be mentally well to enjoy your physical health. Others would argue that it was spiritual healing. The man came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and therefore he was healed. But if you're going to argue that, you also have to read down a little more to verse 13, which says, "Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd..." This healing really isn't that spiritual. So, if we're talking about "Getting to Know," as a theme for this scripture, it can't be about getting to know Jesus, because the man didn't. A stranger told him to walk and he walked. Why didn't somebody tell him to do that thirty-eight years ago? Maybe because everybody else in the world thought like A-B-win, too. Maybe because everybody else in the world accepted the reality of the Sheep Gate and the magic pool.


Out of all the people who had walked past the man on his mat... out of all the worshipers who had washed their sheep in the pool, and then gone on in the gate... who had looked away from the sick people... out of all those people, maybe Jesus was the only one who stopped to even say, "Boo," to the man, much less to ask him if he wanted to be healed. Jesus Christ - God incarnate - takes a minute to get to know one human being, and that human being's health is restored and his life is changed. No, this passage isn't about us getting to know Jesus; it's about Jesus getting to know us. It's about God getting to know you. It's about stepping out of our A-B-win world for just a minute, for just long enough to believe that God does know - God does know you - Jesus does know you. Jesus does know what makes you tick -- and tock -- and race the other people to the pool. He may not agree with you. But he knows. I think the key to understanding this scripture may be as simple as believing that God knows you. God knows you. Creator of all there is, seen and unseen, knows you. You. Little old crippled sinner, you.


So what do we do with this knowledge that God knows us? Scripture says in Verse 9 that the man, "took up his mat and began to walk." I'll bet. He may have even skipped a little. Cha-cha boogied a bit. The Bible says he walked. Walked where? We know from later verses that he walked into Jerusalem, walked right through that old Sheep Gate into the holy city. What's significant about that? The Gospel According to John is kind of tricky. John makes you work to find all his hidden meanings. And if you're going to find the real meaning of walking through the Sheep Gate, you have to turn ahead to Chapter 10, verse 7, where Jesus himself gives us a clue. In Chapter 10, verse 7, Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep." He says, "I am the [sheep] gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture."


This is big. This is Jesus saying, "You know that yukky old Sheep Gate with the smelly animals and broken people? That's me. I'm the Sheep Gate." This is Jesus saying that once we realize he knows us - as we are, in the places we are - once we realize Jesus knows us, we're free. Free to take our first steps toward wholeness. Free to walk toward salvation. Free to find our way, to come in and go out and find pasture. Once we "get it" that Jesus knows us, we're set free to see with eternally peripheral vision, to pull off the blinders of A-B-win, to take up our mats and be healed. Jesus knows us; and we're free.


Imagine you're sitting, staring, waiting for an angel to stir the surface of your magic pool. Imagine you're hoping for a miracle for your life, to make you complete, well, changed and whole. Maybe you don't have to imagine very hard. Imagine Jesus comes to you, and tells you he's been watching you. He knows what you want. And he wants to let you know there's another way, a way you haven't even begun to think of. In and of itself, that would be kind of like a miracle, wouldn't it? At some point, everybody gets stuck. Jesus knows that. He knows the mat you're stuck on. And he knows the way to freedom.