Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Sermon at First Presbyterian Church of Chittenango, May 29, 2022

Sermon at United Ministry of Aurora, May 22, 2022

These Easter weeks are a good time to reflect on how well we are doing in our lives; our physical lives, our spiritual lives, our mental lives. Our
Being made well means letting go of where you are today. Change. Human nature resists change.

We are tempted by the promise of wellness and well-being, as long as we can put it on like a new t-shirt over our old clothes. Brands from Aetna to Walgreens, Gold’s Gym to Jenny Craig, Calm to Deepak Chopra, they all promise life-changing improvement in our physical, mental or spiritual well-being -- if we only follow their advice. And we do listen to them. But just following their advice doesn’t work. We get a temporary feel-good bump, then soon settle back to whatever had been ailing us. Sometimes we end up worse off than when we started. The human cycle. Just human nature.

I think that's the point of our Bible readings today. We often look for happiness and wholeness in the wrong places. We may be hurting, even suffering, but we have the false comfort of the familiar. It's hard to let go and look forward.

God wants to make us well and Jesus is the divine physician. Jesus came to make us spiritually well, spiritually whole. Along the way, as signs to those alive then and signs for us alive today, Jesus healed some who were physically sick. He gave sight to some who were blind, caused some who were deaf to hear. And raised some who were physically dead to life.

However, Jesus did not heal all who were sick, he did not open the ears of all who were deaf, he did not raise all who were physically dead to life, he did not cause all who were blind to see. In fact, for his own good, Paul was blinded in his first encounter with Jesus. The healings Jesus did were to demonstrate his power, his divinity.

Jesus made it clear he had come for the sick, those in need of a physician. Jesus described sickness as sickness of the soul. Jesus came to offer wellness and well-being to those of us who were missing the mark. The old-fashioned word for this is "sin."

I'm not a professional religious person, just an older Elder speaking from the pews. So my perspective is just as a follower of Jesus, not as a theologian. From this perspective it seems to me that God wants us made whole, without fear, free from all anxiety, and to be at peace whatever the circumstances.

But are we at peace? Our polls, pundits and health care statistics show us our country, like other affluent nations, is a nation of people stressed out, anxious, constantly worried. Rich and poor alike. The Gospel has gone out to the ends of the earth. We believers are “ripe for the harvest.” We should be ready by now, but have we been listening? If we listen, we may hear God asking that question: “Do you want to be made well?” And he tells us where to turn.

Jesus assures us, God's healing is accompanied by God's peace and a freedom from fear. Jesus said, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them ... Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you ... Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

We know that when our hearts are troubled and we are afraid, bad things can get worse. For example, when we're stressed, our immune systems are constantly on the alert, looking endlessly for external threats that usually don't exist. If this constant state of alarm persists we can actually become more susceptible to problems within. The Wellness Jesus brings is spiritual peace, a freedom from fear, stress and anxiety. It's certainly worth a try.

It seems to me that was what Jesus was getting at in today's readings. We see Jesus healing a man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus approached him at the pool of Bethesda where miraculous healings were expected to happen. From the Gospel of John, "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, "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." Does that sound a bit like an excuse? A fearful clinging to "the ways things are?" But Jesus ignored the whine and continued, "Stand up, take up your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. The man's physical affliction was cured. It's important to pay attention to what comes next. "A little later Jesus found the man in the temple and said to him, 'Now that you are well again, leave your sinful ways, or you may suffer something worse.' Jesus doesn't tell us what sin the man was guilty of. Jesus doesn't say sin caused his physical paralysis. He DOES say that man needs to change his life and go in a different direction. Let's be clear. Bad things happen in this world. Illness, financial problems, family troubles, accidents, stress. Because you are ill or in troubled times doesn't mean you are a sinner. But, if we are spiritually at peace, the divine perspective can make our troubles easier to bear.

Through Isaiah God tells us: I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. God also says, I will lead the blind by a way they did not know; I will guide them on unfamiliar paths. I will turn darkness into light before them and rough places into level ground. These things I will do for them, and I will not forsake them.

So why don't we listen up? Why can't we trust God? I think it's because we have an oh-so-human tendency to close our eyes and ears, put our heads down and defiantly continue sitting in our old familiar suffering. Jesus knew the man at the Bethesda pool had been in this terrible condition for a long time. Why did the man sit there all these years expecting something different each day? Jesus asked him, "Do you want to be made well?" Instead of answering, YES, the sick man gave the Lord reasons why he was still sick. "Nobody helps me. When the water is stirred up, others get in ahead of me." Jesus didn't argue, nor did he preach. Jesus simply commanded; STAND UP. PICK UP YOUR MATTRESS. WALK.

We understand "Stand Up." We understand, "Walk" But, "PICK UP YOUR MAT" is less obvious. I think Jesus meant that as a directive to change the circumstances of his life. Whatever you have been doing for years is not working for you. Stop. Stand up. Repent. Face in a new direction. Then, walk. Change the course of your life. Living free of sin, living in wellness gives you a power, a joyful resilience no matter what physical circumstances afflict us. Easter promises a change. A new, miraculous life of joy, peace and wholeness. But, like the man at the Bethesda pool we stay stuck in familiar old ways, ways limited by what the world around us offers. We go for short hits. God offers us more. But, sin is sticky.

Genesis tells us sin came into the world with humans. Other animals are not sinful. Most animals act as their natures lead them to act. Even animals who prey on other animals kill and eat only what they need at the moment. Animals don't attack to extend empire. Some animals are sly as foxes, but none are as intentionally deceitful as humans. Or as acquisitive. Or destructive. Or as anxious and fearful.

Reflecting on "how come", I'd speculate we humans may be the only created animal, vegetable or mineral capable of acting contrary to its nature. My guess is it has to do with our relatively big, more complicated brains. We can imagine things. Our imaginations easily lead us to picture needs or threats that do not exist. This creates desire and fear. Craving and fear can lead us to do very stupid things. To covet. To envy. To be jealous. To hold on to grievances, grudges. To wish ill on our enemies. To take up arms. To steal. To murder. In short, to sin. The inclination and capacity to sin seems to be a unique and inextricable part of human nature.

God forbid anyone, even God, should tell us how to run our life. This may be greatest block to our spiritual wellness. Jesus teaches we are to love our enemy, turn the other cheek, hold the lives of others of greater worth than our own. We are called to suppress and extinguish our acquisitive, fearful, deceptive, controlling natures. In simple words, to live in imitation of Jesus Christ.

But, we'll never completely get there in this life. Paul explained, "That which I do not want to do, I do. That which I want to do, I do not do. Yet it is not I who sin, but sin that lives in me." We as believers accept Jesus' atoning suffering and God's forgiving mercy miraculously and mysteriously wiped away our past and future sins. We live the transformed life of Christ now also living within us.

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he urged Lydia, all the others in the Philippi church, and us today, to the joy in daily living as Christians whatever the circumstances. "Rejoice in all things!," Paul urges. "Rejoice, I say again, rejoice."

Jesus tells us the root cause of spiritual sickness is our sin. When we fail to recognize our sin, regret our sin, and accept the free mercy and forgiveness of God, we and those around us suffer the consequences of sin. Jesus tells us the Father wants us to be spiritually whole, made well. To live and love with joy. God loves us, cares for us, and God is invested in us.

To sum up this reflection, Easter reminds us the Resurrection was a real event. We are predestined for more than this passing life. We're not complete, our journey isn't finished. We are poised like acrobats on the high trapeze ready to swing across.

Like change or not, we are called into motion. The moment is now, today. We have to pick up our mats and say yes to spiritual wellness. Let go of this bar and fly home into the welcoming outstretched arms of God. Our Faith gives us courage.

The joy of living in Christ in this world and the next is right here. But we need to answer YES, to Jesus' question, "Do you want to be made Well?