By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 13, 2007
Read: John 5:1-9, Rev. 21:22-22:5, Acts 16:9-16
Water. Life giving water. Today’s first and second lessons (Acts and Revelation) center on imagery of the river and the nations. Water flows through these texts, extending the geography of God’s life-giving river to the world. In Revelation 22 the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God through the center of New Jerusalem, welcoming all nations. In Acts 16 the lift-giving river flows through Philippi, where Lydia and all her household were baptized. These glimpses of the life-giving waters of resurrection connect the rivers of our cities and our very lives to the church’s celebration of the Easter season. And so, today, let’s explore together where God’s river of life is flowing through our lives.
There was a choice in gospels this morning, and I read the story about a spring-fed pool at Jerusalem, surrounded by five porches, that was thought to have healing properties. Here Jesus healed a man who had been sick for 38 years . Interestingly, In 1888, while the church of St. Anne in NE Jerusalem was being repaired, a reservoir was discovered. On the wall is a faded fresco that depicts an angel troubling the water. That’s the reference the man makes to waiting for the water to be stirred up…the belief was that an angel stirred the waters and the first ones to get in were healed.
First one to get in, huh? Sounds very human doesn’t it, to turn healing into a competition. I wonder if that’s just what Jesus was turning upside down. The idea of healing occurring based on our own strength, and not relying on God.
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey speaks of an old professor, a psychiatrist (Conrad Sommers, who spoke about dragons of the mind. Dragons of the mind. He said, “ “There are five drivers that get in the saddle and drive us. They’ve got spurs on their boots and they kick us, and our emotional miseries come from being dominated by one of those drivers.”
Here are the drivers he listed: Be perfect. Please everybody. Try harder. Be strong. Hurry up.
Are any of those driving you? Think about the man at the pool…try harder, be strong, hurry up. Any one or all of those. These dragons of the mind keep us from going and fighting the real ones. They keep us from living in our humanity, they keep us from experiencing God’s grace, and they certainly keep us from the joy of growth.
We can’t take time to grow. We have to do it now. We’re driven by pleasing everybody and doing everything perfect. These are dragons of the mind.
Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, said, “The goal of therapy is to move persons from the nothing buts of life to the more thans of life.”
And Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey, as a counselor, has been dominated by that desire to move persons from the nothing but to the more than. For example, you are nothing but a housewife, a businessman. You’re nothing but a consumer. You’re nothing but this or that.
A label gets attached to us and we become simply a pawn on the chessboard of life, we become dominated by the system. We let other people control who we are and what we think about ourselves, and so to move beyond the nothing but to the more than is a movement of grace. That’s what God is always doing, moving us from what we are to what we can be.
The commitment of Christ is always to see what our possibility is. He never looked at an individual that he didn’t see potential there, because he knew that through God’s grace that person could become less of what they had been and more of what God would have them be.
Think again about the man by the pool. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” And the man responded, not with a yes or a no; he responded with helplessness. “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.”
Notice that Jesus didn’t tell him to get into the pool. Jesus didn’t put him into the pool. Jesus simply told him to “stand up, take your mat and walk”. Immediately he was made well. Jesus is our living water, our pool of life. The initiative was completely Jesus’. The man did not show great faith and in fact, later in the gospel, he says he doesn’t even know who it was who made him well. This is God’s amazing grace. Undeserved, unmerited, and yet, freely given. Jesus turned upside down the idea of a race to be the first to the healing pool. True life is not a competition. Jesus healed this man not because of who the man was, not because of who the person was, but because of who Jesus was.
Harry Emerson Fosdick was the most famous preacher of his day but, as a seminary student, he suffered an emotional breakdown. He tried to commit suicide.
Years later, in his autobiography, he talked about that dark moment of his life. He told how his intelligence and wit had always made life easy. His determination had always carried the day. When the “going” got tough, he had always gotten tougher. But finally, he faced a situation he could not handle. He said of that moment, “Self-confidence became ludicrous.” The techniques that had brought him success now failed. He said:
I who had thought myself strong,
found myself beaten,
unable to cope, not only with outward circumstances,
but even with myself.
In that experience I learned some things…
that theological seminaries do not teach.
I learned to pray.
And so he penned this prayer. Listen carefully. He prayed:
O God in restless living, We lose our spirit’s peace.
Calm our unwise confusion. Bid thou our clamor cease.
Let anxious hearts grow quiet, Like pools at evening, still,
Till Thy reflected heavens, All our spirits fill.
Teach us beyond our striving, The rich rewards of rest.
Who does not live serenely, Is never deeply blest.
O tranquil, radiant Sunlight, Bring Thou our lives to flower,
Less wearied with our own effort, More filled with Thine own power.
Jesus put it this way:
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.
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