About Me

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

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Don't Wade in THAT Water

2016-05-01 John 5:1-9 Don't Wade in THAT Water


Wade in the water,

wade in the water, children

Wade in the water,

God's gonna trouble the water.


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 paralyzed.

This is the story of one man, how he got there, and how he left. He'll tell you about it himself.

Year One: Grand Opening

I'm heading to the pool. And this is why.

There was a man. I don't know his name. But my friends said they know people who are sure they know some folks who know his family. Doesn't matter. What matters is the miracle.

So, this man was at the Pool of Bethesda. Have you been there? It's by the Sheep Gate. Nothing special. But I'll bet you'll remember that name, now. Bethesda. It's gonna be famous. Do you know what it means? Sorry, you just look like foreigners. Bless your hearts. Bethesda means, "House of Mercy." Of course it happened there. Mercy! Only the most merciful act ever!

OK. I'm getting ahead of myself. So, what they're saying is this man was beside the waters of Bethesda. Here's the thing. And I don't mean this in a bad way. He wasn't "normal." He wasn't ordinary. You know. Not a healthy, clean, blessed man. He was unclean. He was sick. Like me.

So, what they say is this man was at the edge of the waters of Bethesda. He looks up, and he sees an angel. No, really. He sees an honest-to-goodness angel. And it flies down from heaven, right before his eyes. The most magnificent, heavenly angel. They say he said it shined like the sun. And as it flew, it dipped its wing in the water.

Well, obviously, it was a sign. The man knew it had to be a sign. He knew that this water was now anointed by the Lord. So he went to the water. He waded in. And as soon as he did, he could feel the change. He was healed! Just like that! It was a miracle!

Do you have any idea what this means? Probably not, because you all look nice and normal. Well, most of you. There's one section kept separated by a railing. Won't they let you people go? But do you know what the angel means? These waters, this pool? This is now the house – the home of mercy. These waters are hope. These waters are a sign for all of us, all of us who aren't normal like you. There's hope for people like me.

So, I'm going. I hear some generous people of means have already built five shelters around the pool. Porticoes. So not only is there plenty of room, there's also shade in the day and warmth at night. It'll be pure luxury compared to these sidewalks.

The "House of Mercy." The pool of mercy. Bethesda. Bethesda. Here I come.


And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;…. Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the Lord do sanctify them. And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.

-       Leviticus 21:16-24

Year Five: Community Organizer



Wade in the water,

wade in the water, children… Oh, I'm sorry. Hang on just a minute.

[To off-screen] OK. He's new. Let's put him over there in Portico Number Three. Don't look at me like that. There's plenty of room. Sheesh.

I don't mean to toot my own horn, but honest to Pete, these people couldn't lift a finger without my help. I'm not judging. I mean, everybody's got their problems. But you can't let your limitations define you.

We've been here five years, now. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise: That angel IS coming back. Bethesda is the House of Mercy. I will not let it become the House of Whining, or the House of Misery, or the House of Chaos. You've gotta focus on the positive. You've gotta have a plan. Otherwise, it's just mayhem every time some lunatic shouts, "Angel!" People come here for healing. They come here for hope. It's hard enough already; let's not make it any worse.

So, I've worked out a system. We put the worst cases who've been here longest closer to the water. Then, you've got your non-life-threatening cases. Then, simple afflictions. And so on, back to the tents. We take turns on Angel Watch. If you hear anyone other than the official watcher, you know it's probably just somebody hallucinating. Or teenage pranksters from town. Yes, we get that, too. Nothing like being sick AND being made fun of.

But we also get very kind people. The first Monday of every month, a group from the temple comes by and brings us food. They keep a safe distance, of course. That's just for their own health. Plus, it's the law. They can't touch us and then re-enter the temple without a lot of ritual bathing. There's also the worry they'll catch our affliction. Look, we get it. It's not personal. We're thankful for the meals. Also, they pray for us. Again, from a safe distance. That's nice. They mean well.

Someday that angel's going to come back and dip its wing in the water. I might not be the first in the water, but I swear I'm wading in. And on that day, I'll sing. I'll sing like an angel. I'll be free.


The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

-       Numbers 14:18

Year Fifteen: Washed Up


If you get there before I do

(God's gonna trouble the waters)

Tell all my friends I'm comin' too.


Yeah. Sure. Right.

I have been here at the Pool of "Mercy" for a long time. I've lost track of the years. Lord, HAVE mercy. I've seen so many people come and go. A lot leave in the night. You just wake up and they're gone. Sometimes you wake up and there's a new one down by the water.

My "grand" organizational system went by the wayside a long time ago. Doesn't matter. The new people watch for angels. Us old-timers? Well. Maybe the angel will tap us on the shoulder before it sweeps the water.

The feeling here now is that the first person who gets to the pool after the angel dips its wing will be the one and only who gets healing. I don't know if that's tragedy or comedy. A herd of the disabled and unclean racing over top of each other to the water.

If you get there before I do… which you probably will. But if you DO get there before I do, be warned. I will visit my wrath upon your soul to the third and fourth generation. The Lord's got nothing on my justice. I meditate on it day and night.

They say, "The Lord is longsuffering." Well, there's one thing we've got in common: suffering long. They say, "The Lord is of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression." I wish they'd tell me what my iniquity was. I wish they'd let me know why God made me this way, and put me at this pool of "mercy" when all the mercy I've ever known has dried up.

They say, the Lord visits "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." Maybe that's it. Maybe this is my parents' fault. Maybe THEY did something horrible, something worse than kicking their sick child out of the house. Or, maybe it was THEIR parents, or their PARENTS' parents whose iniquity is shoveled on my head. Must have been something pretty awful. But we'll never know.

Somebody came to the edge of the camp last week. It was just about nightfall. They sang a song. Psalm 13. My new favorite. I don't know all the words, but it starts out:

"How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

"How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?"

I look at the people around me. I see enemies. I see people who haven't done a thing, who just showed up expecting a miracle for nothing.

Who's been here since the beginning? Me, that's who. Who's organized watches and taught everybody to sing that horrible song about wading in the water? Me. That's who. And what do I have to show for it? Healing? Ha. I have nothing, except my resentment. I have my resentment for people and, I'll say it, I have resentment for God. What more can He do to me? What more can he take from me? How long, O Lord, how long?" I don't want to know.

If you get there before I do. If you get in those waters before I do… watch your back.


Year Thirty-Eight: Now, That Day Was a Sabbath

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?"

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.


Hello, again. Yes, it's me. Still here. I would sing that song for you again, but, to be honest, I barely remember the tune. Thirty-eight years. Hope you've all been well. No, seriously. I do. I hope so.

Hope. Interesting word. Hope is such a luxury. Here at the Pool, hope is a toy you hand a child. It's amusing. For a while. But then you put it aside. Because like all toys, hope breaks. To hope you need freedom. Another interesting word. Freedom.

Someday, someone's going to say, "A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings."[1] I trace the strings on this threadbare old mat. Like me, it's falling apart. Not much left of either of us.

I think the secret to a good, long life – that's the part where you laugh, because what could I know about that? – I think the secret of a good, long life is having mercy on yourself. Learning to love your strings and accepting that this is all there is and ever will be. Have mercy on yourself and on whatever cruel god left you here, waiting for angels, chasing the waters. Having hope.


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, "That's not what I asked."

The sick man answered him,

Sir, I don't think you heard me. I told you I have no one to put me into the pool when."

Jesus said to him, "That's not what I asked."

The sick man answered him,

Sir, you're not listening to me. I'm trying to tell you what I do. I'm trying to tell you about myself and my life. Will you please let me finish?

Jesus said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"


At first I didn't know what to say. I've devoted thirty-eight years to wading in this water. I've been here thirty-eight years. Being made well is my LIFE. I wanted to scream at him, "Of COURSE I want to be made well!! Are you blind?"

But I didn't. Because. Because nobody ever asked me that before. And I realized, if I was well, I don't know what I'd do. I've always been the man by the pool. What would I be? WHO would I be?

Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk."

So I did. I did. I just did. I picked up my frayed old mat. And I walked.

And do you know what I did then?

I took the deepest breath of my life. I felt the air, I tasted the life in it, I let it flow into my chest, and I looked up to heaven, and I sang.

I sang from my suffering, I sang from my health, I sang from my soul, because I saw for the first time in thirty-eight years, I HAD BEEN SINGING ABOUT THE WRONG WATER.

Jesus. Jesus was the Water of Life. Jesus was the House of Mercy. Jesus was the baptism of new life.

And so with every breath in my body, I sang.

Wade in the water.

Wade in the water, children!

Wade in the water.

God's gonna trouble the water.

[1] Sam Harris, Free Will.