Saturday, May 04, 2013

Do You Want to Made Whole?

John 5:1-9
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.    One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 
"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

          George Wallace was a bitter man.  He was lonely.  He was angry.  He was filled with hate.
          He became governor of Alabama in November, 1962, at a time when Blacks and Whites were forced to go to separate and segregated schools.  Restaurants were segregated.  Even water fountains and restrooms were segregated for Blacks and Whites.
At his inauguration, he proclaimed, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” 
          As governor, he pardoned Klansmen who had been arrested, tried and convicted of torturing Black men.[1]
          Hatred.  Bitterness.  Anger.
          Wallace stood in the doorway of the school of the University of Alabama in an attempt to prevent African American students from enrolling in the school.
          Wallace was filled with hatred.  Bitterness.  Anger.
          On May 15, 1972, while running for President as an independent candidate, he held a rally at a shopping center in Maryland.  While shaking hands with the people, Arthur Bremer walked up and pressed a handgun into the stomach of Wallace and fired every bullet.  Four of the bullets entered the chest and abdomen of Wallace, and one of them lodged in his spinal column.  He was never able to walk again.  He was in constant pain.  Hatred and anger seemed to swell within him.
          How does a person find healing for such brokenness in life?

          We each have our struggles in our humanity.
          For some, it is as it was with Wallace.    Racism.
          For others, it is not racism, but hatred.  Someone hurt me.  I have a right to be angry.  More than angry.  I have a right to hate.  And so I hate.  Hate.  Hate.
          How does a person filled with hate find healing for the brokenness of life?
          Another person goes home every night to a quiet home.  Photographs adorn the wall.  In each photo is his wife who died years ago.  Maybe it was cancer.  Maybe it was suicide.  Maybe she was in a tragic automobile accident.  But she is dead and this husband, this widower is hurting.  It’s loneliness.  It’s grief and despair. 
          How does a person so empty of love and joy find healing for the brokenness of life?

          A young man whose future is already destroyed because of drug addiction.
          A wife in a marriage that has been destroyed by adultery.
          An elderly couple filled with fear for a future in an economic uncertainty.
          How do you overcome the brokenness of life to be made whole once again?

          In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters someone who has been sick for a long, long time.
          Jesus goes up to him and asks, “Do you want to be made well?”
          In the King James translation, that question is written this way, “Do you want to be made whole?”
          “Wholeness” in the New Testament conveyed more than just a physical healing, but a complete healing of mind, body and spirit.
          So Jesus goes up to this man and asks him a question that may seem insensitive:  “Do you want to be made whole?”
          Well, gee – for 38 years this man has been seeking to be made well.  He is a complete invalid, and he is where he is for the simple reason that YES, he wants healing.
          This sick man goes everyday to a pool that is commonly known as a place of physical healing.
          It is such a common belief, that John does not need to explain in his Gospel what is so special about this place – but maybe we do need to have it explained to us.  This pool was fed by an underground spring, and occasionally that caused the waters to be disturbed. 
          An urban myth had developed that suggested that the disturbance in the water was caused by angels touching the water.  When that happened, the first one in would be healed.
          It was just that, just a myth.
          But here is this man.  He has no hope left.
          He has nothing to cling to.
          He has been sick for 38 years, and he thinks that if he can get into the water first, he will be healed.
          Well, of course, he can’t get into the water.  He’s completely disabled.  No one is there to help him in.
          So he just sits there.
          For 38 years.
          That’s 13,832 days!
          That’s like sitting hopelessly on the beach since 1975. 
          Where were you in 1975?
          Ginny and I got married in 1975.  I was working at a small, intimate Italian Restaurant – you may have heard of it.  Pizza Hut. I was taking my last two college classes getting ready to graduate.
          Some of you were not even living in 1975.
          Imagine!  Imagine just sitting there for 38 years without hope.  You are sick.  Sick yesterday.  Sick tomorrow.  Sick forever.
          And here comes this man whom you have never met.  You do not know this man.
          And he asks, “Do you want to be well?  Do you want to be healed?  Do you want to be made whole?”
          The truth is, sometimes we don’t want to be made whole.  Sometimes we grow to like our brokenness.  It is who we are.  It is what we are familiar with. 
We embrace our racism with joy.
We find wonderful delight in hating someone who mistreated us years ago. 
We savor our loneliness. 
We wrap ourselves in the warmth of grief and sorrow because it has become so familiar to us, we don’t know how to laugh and be joyful anymore – so we cling to grief.
          Being made whole is not an easy journey.

          Sometimes it is easier to say “no.”
          Sometimes it is easier to be disabled and not to learn to become able to do things.
          Sometimes it is easier to stay a racist.
          Sometimes it is too hard to stop grieving.
          Sometimes wholeness is just too much to ask.

          But sometimes, hope breaks through.

          In the Gospel story, this man who has been completely disabled for 38 years is healed.  It is without question, a miracle. 
          Jesus tells him, “Get up.  Pick up your mat.  And walk.”
          And he does.
          It is an amazing thing.  He encounters Jesus.  AND he listens and obeys Jesus.  And everything changes.

          What would happen if you encountered Jesus, listened to him, and obeyed him?

          What miracle might happen in your life.
          Could you become whole again?

          Michael was a man of hate.  He hated adults, he hated children, and most of all, he hated God.  Michael had been sexually abused by his minister.  The abuse had started when Michael was 9 years old, and continued for 5 years.  He vowed he would never trust anyone again, never love anyone, and never go into another church ever again.
One day, Michael went to a church.  He wasn’t sure why.  That had been the last place he had ever wanted to go.  But he went.  And next week, he went again.  Then again. 
He confronted his abuser.  The abuser was tried and convicted.  Michael sought justice, but he did not seek bitter revenge. 
Michael was awarded a large cash settlement in a civil suit against the church, and he used part of that to pay for his counseling and mental health care so he could find healing from his wounds.  But he also gives part of that money to his abuser – specifically to be used to fund his abuser’s mental health care in the hopes that both victim and abuser might find health.  It has been a long road, but Michael has found justice and has been able to forgive his abuser. 

          What would happen if you encountered Jesus, listened to him, and obeyed him?

          What miracle might happen in your life.
          Could you become whole again?

          George Wallace was a man of hate, beyond redemption.  Then something unexpected happened to him.  He became a Christian in the late 1970’s. 
          Hatred, bitterness, anger – all seemed to fade away.
          Twenty three years after being shot, Wallace wrote a letter to his would-be assassin.  In the letter, he expressed love and forgiveness.[2]
You are in pain every day because of one man.
You cannot walk because of that one man.
And one day, you forgive.
It sometimes takes a long time for bitterness to heal so that a person can be made whole.
          In 1996, Wallace met personally with Vivian Malone. Thirty-three years earlier, Wallace had tried to stand in the way of Vivian’s desire to go to college because she was a Black, and Wallace had vowed, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”  But on that meeting in 1996, the arrogance of Wallace was gone.  The anger and hatred were disappearing.  He asked this woman for forgiveness.
          Imagine – you devote your entire life to something evil.  You live a life of hate.  Then one day, you ask for forgiveness.
          The road to spiritual health and wholeness can be a long one sometimes.
          What would it take to make you whole?
          What would free you from your racism?
          Your anger?
          Your despair?
          Your fears?
          Your …

          Perhaps the first thing to do is to answer the question.  “Do you want to be made whole?

Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh