Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Waiting for Troubled Water

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Reader alert: This is about twice as long as usual, and more of a sermon than a story, but it ends well.

At the beginning of the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to John, there is a story of Jesus going up to Jerusalem for a festival. It’s a crowded and hectic scene. But he notices a man lying by the roadside. He has been there for 38 years. Jesus asks him a question: Do you want to be made well?

Not, “Do you want to BE well?” but “Do you want to be MADE well?”

The man answers indirectly. There is a pool there that has healing powers, he reminds Jesus. When the water is troubled, that is, stirred up from below, presumably by the spirit of healing, whoever gets into the pool will be healed. The pool spirit is stingy, though, or maybe it just tires easily, for only the first person in gets healed, sort of like being the fourth caller. And the man has no friend or family member who is willing to wait with him, perhaps for days, or 38 years, until the receptionist finally calls his name and the spirit troubles the water, no friend who is then strong and nimble enough to drag him into the water before someone else claims the healing. So, yes, is the implication. I’d like to be made well, but there is no one available to do it.

If I had twenty minutes to preach this, and I thought you could listen that long, I would point three times at this story, from different directions, and add a poem. But this is winter, and the daylight is limited. So…

…many of us would like to be well, but we have limits. We think there are only certain times we can be healed, only certain times that the water is troubled. We think there must be some doctor or nurse or preacher to push us into the water. If we notice the stranger walking by in the crowd, we pay him no mind, just keep sitting there, stuck like always.

Some of us want to be well, but not made well. Mark Twain said that he liked to learn but he hated to be taught. Jesus asked the man if he were willing to admit that he needed help. He claimed he was willing to accept help, but Jesus knew better. He was willing to accept only certain kinds of help. He’d been there 38 years, after all. That’s some kind of lazy stubbornness.   

Jesus does not, however, require the man to be articulate to be healed. He got close enough to saying he wanted to be made well. One of the oldest prayers around, “Help me, Lord Jesus,” is good enough.

And furthermore… we could make much of 38 years, like “never give up.” But I’ve already stretched the story too far. And not every one will be healed every time. We all die. Death is the only final cure. The point really is simple. There may not be cure for every disease in this life, but there is healing for every dis-ease. There is wholeness, even in the midst of brokenness. Right now. No need to wait for 38 years…

Oh, good grief, I did three points. Might as well add a poem.

Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while, to auction off the old violin, but he held it up with a smile. “What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me?” “A dollar. A dollar? Then two? Only two. Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars once, three dollars twice, and going for three,” but no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow. Then wiping the dust from the old violin and tightening up the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as a caroling angel sings. The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said “Now what am I bid for the old violin?” and he held it up with the bow. “A thousand dollars! And who’ll make it two? Two thousand, and who’ll make it three? Three thousand once, three thousand twice, and going for three,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them said, “We do not quite understand. What changed its worth?” Quick came the reply, “The touch of a master’s hand.” And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred by sin, is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine, a game, and he travels on. He’s going once, he’s going twice, he’s going and almost gone. But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd, never can quite understand, the worth of the soul, or the change that’s wrought, by the touch of the Master’s hand. [Myra Brooks Welch]

John Robert McFarland

1] Okay, the Greek word here doesn’t have to be translated as “made well.” Some translations have Jesus saying, “Do you want to get well?” Same thing. Or at least close enough for a preacher.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in 2015.

I tweet as yooper1721.

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