Do you want God to bring wholeness and health to you and the world? That’s all God in Christ is asking.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year C
Text: John 5:1-9 (including v. 4, omitted in NRSV)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Thirty-eight years he lay by that pool.
Most of this man’s life was spent lying on a mat, surrounded by maybe hundreds of others, day after day, waiting for healing that never came. Four decades.
If he had hope once, it was long gone. So he didn’t answer Jesus’ question. Someone who could give him what he wanted stood before him and asked, “Do you want to be made well?” Literally, “do you want to be made sound, healthy, whole?”
It’s a simple question, one he’d have an answer for. Instead, he just named his problem: I don’t have anyone to help me when the water stirs, and by the time I’ve struggled over to the pool someone always gets in there first.
Jesus must have been tempted to say, “That’s not what I asked you.” But Jesus told him to stand up, pick up his mat, and walk.
When you wait years for something good to happen, hope to arise, restoration to come and it doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine it ever will.
For 530 years, since the arrival of European settlers on this continent, the lives and culture of those who lived here has been systematically destroyed, the consequences still crushing our indigenous siblings. Five centuries! For 400 years, since the beginning of the African slave trade, what we did to the lives and culture of those dragged here, abused, killed, sold against their will, has shaped a racist reality that abides in the core of our nations’ institutions, culture, and society, the consequences still crushing our neighbors. Four centuries!
Our community of faith here is full of people who join many in our country and long for those centuries of oppression and violence to be ended, for justice to come, people who hear the cries of our neighbors, feel deep anger and sadness at yet another killing, deep depression at the rise of totalitarian rule led by a white supremacist minority and fueled by right-wing Christianity.
But if Christ were standing here today saying, “Do you want this city, this nation, to be made sound and whole, to become healthy?” would we answer as this man did? Saying: “It’s so deeply engrained, and every time we see a step forward there are ten backward, and the polarization and rage in this country seem to be increasing and nothing ever gets better.”
But then Christ would say, “That’s not what I asked you.”
Can we answer Christ’s question?
Do we want this culture healed, this city made whole, this nation to become sound, where all live in justice and peace, with mercy for each other and care for this creation? God’s not asking whether we think it could ever happen. God’s asking, do you want it?
Too often people of good will who hear God’s call for justice in Scripture, whose hearts are shaped by Christ’s love, assume fixing the world is all on us. And if for years nothing seems to improve, what’s the point?
But justice and peace and mercy aren’t just God’s words in Scripture, they’re God’s full desire and intent for this creation. God promises to make this world new and whole and sound. It is God’s mission we are asked to join, not our mission to create and do.
And that’s very different. God in Christ is asking us, “do you want all this to be made sound and whole?” Because my hand is working on that.
And God came among us in Christ not just for the big picture, the whole world.
In Jesus, God’s care extended individually to the smallest child, to the most marginalized person, to all who felt lost or abandoned or wounded or oppressed or afraid or anxious. Jesus cared not just about the forest, we might say, but also the individual trees.
Which means God in Christ cares deeply for you, and asks, “Do you want to be made well? Sound, whole, healthy?”
And how many of us would answer like that man? Saying things like: “What I’m dealing with has been so long and it never really gets better and that’s the way it is. Or: My depression is too deep-seated. Or: This relationship is too frayed. Or: Spiritually I feel dry and alone. Or: My mental health always seems fragile.”
But that’s not what Christ asked you. The question is, do you want to be made well, sound, whole?
Can you answer Christ’s question?
It’s not a question of whether you hope that a specific illness or pain or struggle is completely taken away. We know often physical ailments aren’t fully healed, and mental and spiritual illness can last indefinitely. Even the apostle Paul long had a suffering that never was fully removed.
But the question is, do you want God’s hand in your life to bring you wholeness, peace, and soundness? Even if the outer circumstances don’t seem to change, do you want God to calm your heart, bring you hope, help you cope with whatever afflicts you or those you love?
Because so many witnesses of faith can tell you God comes to them in the Spirit and gives them hope and life in whatever situations they find themselves. They find wholeness in the broken pieces of their lives, soundness in the frayed and fragile places, health in the wounded places. God cares even for the smallest sparrow, Jesus, God-with-us, said. Do you want God to care for you like that?
Answering Christ’s question is enough to go on for today.
There’s work for you and me to do. God’s mission to serve, our lives to live. But for today, do you want to be made well? Do you want this city, this nation, this creation, to be made well?
If so, Good News. God is even now working in this world for the wholeness and health of all things, and you’ve even seen in you, in others, in this world, God’s hand bringing life. God is even now working in you for your wholeness and health, calming your heart and spirit with the news that you are beloved and nothing can separate you from God’s love.
The One who makes all things new wants to bring you and the world wholeness. Stand up, pick up your mat, and let’s walk together into that new future.
In the name of Jesus. Amen