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12 January 2015

Combating Post-Christmas Grumpiness (Jan 11, 2015)

From my sermon on John 5:1-18.

I want to talk to you about what I call Post-Christmas Grumpiness. When last Sunday I urged you to shine and celebrate God's unending love out there in the world, I saw some skeptical faces among you. You may have quietly wondered what happens when life gets tough. You may have been in a tough spot then, or may be in a tough spot right now. How can we joyously shine our light into the world when we are not joyous at all?

… Jesus heals this man even though we have no indication of his faith. We don't know who he is exactly, but with less benevolent eyes we could say that he is something of a bum! He had no gratitude, no faith, no humility, no guts – at least none of that is reported; this absence of good traits in the man prompted one of my preacher colleagues to conclude that he doesn't deserve to be healed. But be that as it may, this is the one Jesus healed.

This is the one, the one who had been on the welfare rolls for 38 years. Who is he? He's one of those people right here in the United States that have been called "the undeserving poor." We all know his kind. Think of him or her; you know who I mean. They come by the church regularly to get a handout. Every time we see them, they have a different story about why they need a little money. They refuse and waste every opportunity to help themselves. They're no longer welcome in most churches. They're no longer welcome around private and government agencies designed to help poor folks like them. They just won't play by the rules. My friends, we all know his kind.

When he healed that nameless paralytic by the poolside, Jesus healed one of those "undeserving poor" we know so well. Why would he do such a thing?

The answer to that question is the message of this text. Jesus healed this man not because of who the man was, not because of who he was as a person and a human being, but because of who Jesus was. Our story is a story of God's grace, the undeserved, unmerited love of God. That's a radical idea, and it's right at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the reason God became flesh and lived among us in the first place.

Come to think of it, you and I, we are not all that different from that paralytic man Jesus healed at Bethesda. Every one of our life stories has moments when we say with Charlie Brown: Life has knocked me down and walked all over me ... we all carry a bit of that paralytic in us. Moreover, each and everyone of us has things we hide from others and ourselves that are just plain wrong. Not just physical illnesses, but spiritual and emotional ones as well. Some folks stay in a sick marriage because they are afraid; some of us live in families in which some people haven't talked for 20 years because of words they had way back when. Some of us have felt stuck in our lives, unhappy and miserable without ever admitting it, not even to ourselves. We all know what it's like to stay sick even though we know better; there is an odd security to sticking what you know. Creatures of habit, we stay the same even though we know better.

We are so hard on ourselves that we are convinced that we deserve to be called ingrates and bums, and because we are so afraid of judgment, our own and that of others, we stay mum and hide what plagues and pains us every waking minute. You know as I do the thought that if anyone ever saw the real me, they'd run for their lives. You know as I do the thought that if God would see my most inner heart, he'd be shocked because I feel so bad inside; you know as I do the thought that if God really sees everything, he'd be tempted to burn me to a crisp.

Nonetheless, my friends, God is not using our harsh standards. Here comes Jesus, quietly and attentively, and he gazes at you and me, and he asks the simple question: ”Do you want to be made well?" The quiet question Jesus asks of us may startle us and make us feel threatened. Yet he is not accusing. He is the one who can make us well, and he has discovered us by name.

My friends, Jesus is asking you today,”Do you want to be made well?" He has discovered you and calls you by your very name, and like a good doctor he is uncovering the illness you hoped would remain a secret. He has come to your Bethesda to redeem you from your suffering. He doesn't need angels or even water from a pool considered holy. His Word is enough. His Word is life-giving water; his word is the power of life. He wants that power of life to make you flower in those parts of your life where you have shriveled and dried up.

… So, how do we combat Post-Christmas Grumpiness? We have no control over how many times life will indeed "knock us down and walk all over us", but we have control over how we cope. When you are in that place when life knocks you down, get back up by calling on Jesus. Jesus is always there, offering his healing Word, like he did to the paralytic. … You can be free of your secret dis-eases and maladies today! Let God tend to you in his Only Son, Jesus.

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