The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 1, 2019
Where is God?
Sometimes, nowhere to be seen!
Yet, even then God is in fact there!
The truth is that, more often than we might think, the Lord is standing right in front of us, and we are just blind to His being there. We sometimes look right past Him because we are all eyes for what we have set our sights on. We are so focused upon what we’ve envisioned that we miss taking in His presence and His readiness to surprise us with astounding extravagance!
That’s how it was for a lame man who had been unable to walk for 38 years. He frequented a pool called Beth-zatha whose waters were, as legend had it, sometimes stirred up by an angel of the Lord who gave them momentary medicinal powers to heal the first person to jump into them. Because he himself couldn’t run over to the pool and had no one to carry him there in time, the disabled man had for decades remained disappointed and frustrated.
Jesus took note of him and initiated a conversation. Jesus struck up that conversation by asking him what might seem, at first glance, to be a stupid question: “Do you want to be made well?”
Jesus, not being stupid, may have suspected that the man was one of those who actually enjoy a weakness. After all, a disabling weakness might excuse them from the burden of many responsibilities, elicit the sympathy and service of “bleeding hearts” on their behalf, and give them special privileges in some circles.
Jesus may have wondered whether the man really wanted to be healed. Jesus may have further wondered whether he wanted what God had in mind as much as he wanted what he had in mind. Would he really want to be healed if it happened in an unexpected and disconcerting way that disturbed his status quo?
The man certainly resisted thinking outside the box. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he did not answer the question but defaulted to the lament he’d been making for decades: He had no one to get him into the water in time – as if that were the only possibility for his healing!
Worse still, the man apparently believed heaven’s grace was limited. Though he believed a miracle could occur, he believed there was only enough grace to heal one person every once in a great while.
Thus, there the lame man was – with the Great Physician standing in front of him, with the Healer of the nations reaching out to him – and all he could see was the impossibility of his situation and all he could hear was another echo of his complaining heart! He was looking right past the One for whom nothing is impossible, the One whose presence evaporates every reason for complaining, the One whose love and strength encourage wild and big hopes.
Like that lame man, we may look right past Jesus and grow blind to our imminent chance of a miracle!
Now, none of us can see before us the living Jesus; but we can see around us Jesus’ living body: the church, His community, the people with us here and now. We may be imperfect people who are sometimes blind or lame in our faith; but we are still His people among whom, if only two or three are gathered in His name, He is present in all His healing and uplifting power.
And maybe this imperfect community is, in all its imperfection, just perfect for imperfect people like us!
Of course, we wish that all our dreams for the church would be fulfilled and that it would completely embody the Christian ideals of purity of heart, generosity in action, fidelity about keeping promises, and receptivity to the Spirit’s influence. But, if we are to show the world God’s grace, we have to wait on the fulfillment of our highest hopes and believe we are still the true church if only we are patient with each other as people still in process, if only we continue to hold together in love even when we fail to behave the best, if only we are kind and forgiving even when we let each other down.
We, Christ’s church, always fall short of the ideal. We are, however, the true church when we acknowledge that reality and also never rest content with however far we have progressed already. We are the true church when we stay aware that we are to pursue perfection and hence persevere in the business, ever unfinished this side of heaven, of growing in Christlikeness. We are the true church when we repudiate self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, and nevertheless believe that, for the sake of that growth, we are just right as we now are. For the very imperfection of all of us enables all of us to show and experience grace.
If we accept each other as those who don’t have to improve, even while we encourage each other as those who get to improve, we manifest God’s grace and we walk in the way of Christ. We move forward – not with judgmental-ness, not with nagging or scolding or verbal bullying of any sort, not with indulging a prideful delusion of becoming holier than anybody else – but by being charitable and forbearing, by cutting each other some slack and by being good to each other way out of proportion to anything any of us deserves. In the context of such grace, we keep striving for improvement, not on the basis of our potential, but in reliance on the miracle-working action of an almighty God who changes water into wine and us into new, ever-growing people.
Here we are with Jesus standing right in front of us. Will we dare to believe in His power and unlimited goodness? And will we let go of what we have in mind and allow Him to do whatever He wants however He wants whenever He wants?
That lame man also had Jesus right in front of him. Would he hope in Him enough to think the unthinkable could happen? And would he permit Jesus to make it happen by a means he didn’t see coming?
In response to the man’s saying he couldn’t get healed, Jesus told him to do something himself to enable his getting healed. Jesus didn’t say, “Stand back and watch me do everything to give you your legs back.” No, Jesus told the man who could hardly remember how to use his legs, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
Jesus asked him to do what he “knew” he couldn’t. Jesus assigned him a task that looked like just another frustrating, fruitless attempt. Jesus dared him to aim for the impossible, except that it would become possible if the man trusted and obeyed Jesus’ word!
The man had to decide whether he would act on the basis of a wild and risky hope. He had to decide to quit blaming everyone else for his predicament, and take the responsibility no one else could take for him: put Jesus and His word to the test and see what happens.
The man chose the impossible and immediately he was impossibly healed. “At once,” the Bible says, “the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
Let us put Jesus and His word to the test and see what happens. Let us embrace this, His half-lame body of imperfect people, as the means by which all of us grow into His likeness. Let us build each other up, cheer each other on, love and support each other no matter what – and by such daring faith receive new legs and new ability to walk forward in life and witness!