Sunday’s sermon: Wriggling Faith

like a child

Texts used – Isaiah 40:27-31 and Mark 10:13-16

  • Last week, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, an ELCA Lutheran Church up in Apple Valley, posted a photo album on Facebook. This album contained 19 pictures, all celebrating the 1-year anniversary of a new initiative in their congregation: The Pray-Ground.[1]
    • Describe Pray-Ground
      • Roughly size of a large area rug
      • Lots of small tables and chairs and other furniture necessary for tiny tots – Bumbo seats, bouncy chairs, etc.
      • Also lots of toys and art supplies (chalkboard easels, foam blocks, play food made out of felt, infant playmats) for young children
    • Post included a number of pictures of lots of different kids taking full advantage of everything the Pray-Ground has to offer with their parents watching in background
    • Also included in post – pics of laminated cards that introduce first-time visitors to the purpose of the Pray-Ground: “This space in the front of the Sanctuary is intended especially for families with infants and toddlers, recognizing that small kids are often more engaged when they can see what’s going on. Small tables and chairs, baby bouncers and seats, and soft toys help keep our littlest ones occupied.” → Yes … you heard me right. This wonderful play space designed so deliberately and so lovingly is located in the sanctuary. Right up front. Just to the left of the pulpit. Visible from almost every seat in the sanctuary. The children. And not just the perfect, older, well-behaved children. The littlest. The squirrliest. The often-challenging-and-headstrong. Infants. Two year olds. Three year olds. Lord, have mercy!
    • Response to this post = VIRAL!! → In the short amount of time since this album was posted, it’s garnered more than 600 comments … more than 3600 likes (which, if you aren’t familiar with social media, is A LOT!). Thousands of people around the country have shared these pictures and this idea. It’s garnered so much attention that national ABC News did a story on the church and their Pray-Ground.
    • Why am I bringing this up this week?
      • Has nothing to do with my own children
      • Not a pitch – not me saying “this is what I think we have to do”
      • I’m bringing it up this week because last week was Pentecost – the birthday of the church, the great in-breaking of the Holy Spirit, the scattering of the gospel message to lands and nations and cultures and tongues who may never have heard it if our God was a God who was content to sit still and quiet.
        • Divine Disturber
        • Holy Hellraiser
        • Spirit of Light and Fire
        • Spirit of Rushing Wind and Sacred Water
        • Spirit of Lifting Up and Sending Out
    • In the creation of this Pray-Ground, Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley not only recognized the reality of the wiggle and the squirminess of children but validated that as something that can be worshipful, something that can be sacred, something that can offer us a glimpse of God that we may have forgotten how to look for in the hustle and bustle and seriousness of our day-to-day lives. Friends, our faith was never meant to be a faith that was seen and not heard, that sat still and pretty and prim and proper. Our faith was never meant to be a faith that doesn’t make waves, doesn’t rock the boat, doesn’t challenge or disturb or upset the balance. We are only a week removed from Pentecost – the day in which God came down in tongues of fire and the rush of holy wind and settled on the people and loosed their tongues and SENT. THEM. OUT. !!! Our faith is meant to look a lot less like the perfectly quiet child sitting in the pews and a lot more like the child who is bouncing and wriggling, eager and impatient to get out into the world and explore … experience … do … and be!
  • That’s why I love this story out of gospel of Mark
    • Passage: People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.[2] → I love to picture this scene in my head. Maybe I’m just projecting here, but something tells me it looked a lot less like a picturesque scene out of a Normal Rockwell painting and a lot more like the chaotic exuberance you find in the “pictures with Santa” line at the mall at Christmas time.
      • Parents holding children ⟷ children not wanting to be held
        • Lots of movement
        • Lots of noise
        • Lots of laughter and tears
        • Lots of stressed out parents just trying to get their kids to sit still for 30 seconds so they could get their blessing from this Jesus guy that everyone kept talking about
          • (As a mom with two 3-yr-olds at home, this sounds like any given moment in our lives. Like I said … maybe I’m projecting here … I don’t know!)
      • FLIP SIDE: not hard to imagine the disciples’ response either: People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them.[3]
        • Contextual background: role of disciples in Mark’s gospel = a little bit stooge-like → completely oblivious
          • Always giving the answer wrong
          • Always missing the point
          • Always misunderstanding what Jesus was trying to tell them
          • Today’s story = no different
        • Disciples scolded these parents seeking blessings
          • “The Teacher is too busy.”
          • “The Teacher is too important.”
          • “The Teacher is too tired.”
          • “The Teacher doesn’t have time for the likes of you.”
            • A little more contextual background: role of children in society = non-existent → Today, we recognize and value the importance of childhood experiences. We understand how our childhood shapes who we are and who we become, and we place great value on nurturing things like individuality, creativity, self-worth, and so on. But this was not the case in any society during Jesus’ time. Children were non-entities. They held zero importance. None whatsoever. They weren’t despised or intentionally neglected (not on the whole, anyway). They simply weren’t considered … at all. So for people to be bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing was, in the eyes of the disciples, a ludicrous waste of Jesus’ precious time and energy.
    • AND YET!! What does Jesus tell the disciples?: “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” … Then he hugged the children and blessed them.[4] → “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” People like these children … people who love with the unabashed and uninhibited love of a child … people who seek out the wonder and the beauty and the joy in the world just like a child … people who are open and willing to learn and grow and change and transform just like a child … people who aren’t afraid to trust and hope and dream and believe … people who find movement – running and wriggling and dancing and skipping – an essential way of being in this world. “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.”
  • “But,” you may say to me, “we are tired. We are older and grayer and slower than we used to be. We have done this and tried that. We cannot see that future. We cannot hold that dream in our hands. We can’t … we can’t … we can’t.”
    • Words from Is again: The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. [God] doesn’t grow tired or weary. [God’s] understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted. Youths will become tired and weary, young men will certainly stumble; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will rise up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.[5] → I want to share another part of the Pray-Ground story with you. There were a lot of positive responses to this idea – hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of people applauding this church and expressing excitement about doing something similar in their own worship settings. But … there were plenty of negative comments, too. One person went so far as to declare that having children in church was “the devil’s work” because they provided a distraction from the worship.
      • As adults, we often forget …
        • Forget to look for the sparkle that the world has to offer
        • Forget the true magic of possibilities – endless and unbounded
        • Forget that life is not all about “no”s and “not yet”s and “maybe”s and hedged bets and roadblocks and hurdles and blind corners
        • Part of growing up and becoming an adult is understanding serious things like consequences and risk assessments and data analysis and all those grown up-type things. But too often, in our own lives and especially in the life of the church, we let the weight and gravitas of those parts of life overshadow the wonder, the joy, the possibilities, the spark and the sparkle. We have become so used to being responsible – being in charge – that we forget that ultimately, we are not We are not in charge. → The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. [God] doesn’t grow tired or weary. [God’s] understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted. Youths will become tired and weary, young men will certainly stumble; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will rise up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.[6]
    • Theological and liturgical confession: today is Trinity Sunday = Sunday that is supposed to be devoted to celebrating the doctrine of the Trinity
      • God in three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Mother, Child, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer … whatever language you choose for the three persons of Almighty God
      • Traditionally a Sunday of serious theological pondering and pithy word-smithing (plethora of scholarly work devoted to how to adequately and inclusively name the three persons of the Trinity without diminishing theology) and frankly dizzying doctrinal acrobatics
      • And while the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity certainly has its place within the grand scheme of our faith and the Church universal, Jesus didn’t say, “God’s kingdom belongs to those who can work out this humdinger of a theological puzzle”! Jesus said, “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” Jesus didn’t say, “God’s kingdom belongs to those who can sit perfectly still and silently in church because only the person up front is allowed to make a peep.” Jesus said, “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. With all their messiness; with all their giggles and skinned knees; with all their exuberance and joy; in their grass-stained jeans and baseball hats, in their chalk-smeared leggings and smudged princess dresses; with all their color and brightness and sparkle and confidence. Allow the children – all the children, just as they are – to come to me.” Thank you, Jesus! Amen.


[1] “Grace Lutheran Pray-Ground, year 1” album on Facebook from Grace Lutheran Church of Apple Valley, Last updated May 14, 2016, accessed May 20, 2016.

[2] Mk 10:13-16.

[3] Mk 10:13.

[4] Mk 10:14, 16 (emphasis added).

[5] Is 40:28-31.

[6] Is 40:28-31 (emphasis added).

Another (past) sermon: Keep On Keeping On

I was going through papers in my briefcase (also known as my “traveling office” … yes, that’s how much stuff is in it!), and I found my sermon from a few weeks ago. I realized I hadn’t posted it yet, so here’s my sermon from May 8, 2016.

Side note: I ended up sick as a dog on Pentecost – Sun., May 15 – so there’s no sermon from last Sunday.

keep on keeping on

Texts used – Ephesians 1:15-23 and Acts 1:1-11

  • What a rollercoaster few weeks it’s been for the poor disciples, right?! Just a few short weeks ago, their beloved teacher … mentor … leader … friend … died a shameful, slow, and painful death on a cross. Then, a couple days later … he was back! The tomb was empty! The grave clothes were cast aside! He is risen indeed! And then he appeared to them in all sorts of strange and wonderful ways: hanging out with Mary Magdalene in the garden when he was fresh out of the tomb, popping up in locked rooms to reassure his disciples, displaying his wounds as hard evidence for all to see, walking incognito along the road to Emmaus, and showing up on the worst fishing day ever with the greatest catch of all time and breakfast on the beach. Crazy, right?! And it all culminates in our story from Acts this week.
    • Again, sitting down to a meal together
    • Again, presents disciples with unexplained instructions: While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[1] → Now, frequently throughout the gospels – both before and after his death, Jesus gave the disciples faith-and-life lessons wrapped in bizarre-sounding instructions.
      • E.g. – He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away.[2]
      • E.g. – When they came to Capernaum, the people who collected the half-shekel temple tax came to Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. But when they came into the house, Jesus spoke to Peter first. “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect taxes, from their children or from strangers?” “From strangers,” he said. Jesus said to him, “Then the children don’t have to pay. But just so we don’t offend them, go to the lake, throw out a fishing line and hook, and take the first fish you catch. When you open its mouth, you will find a shekel coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”[3]
      • And today is no different. Jesus inexplicably tells the disciples to stay put – to “wait for what the Father has promised,” to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” → advertisement for next week: Jesus = foreshadowing Pentecost
        • Often think of foreshadowing in terms of its use by the Kings of Suspense – Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King → use it to build up tension and fear to the breaking point for the purpose of telling a great story
        • But there’s another side to foreshadowing: Foreshadowing can make extraordinary and bizarre events appear credible as the events are predicted beforehand, so that [we] are mentally prepared for them.[4] → In this passage, we find Jesus’ attempt to mentally and spiritually prepare the disciples for the truly extraordinary and bizarre event that is Pentecost, to add a measure of credibility to what will be a crazy in-breaking of the Holy Spirit.
  • But I think it’s safe to say that the disciples where wholly unprepared for what happened next! – text: After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.[5] → What?! One minute, they were eating another pleasant meal with Jesus, listening to him and trying to follow whatever it was he was saying about the coming of the Holy Spirit … and the next minute, he’s being lifted up into heaven! Again … what?! As I said, the disciples have quite a rollercoaster ride, don’t they?
    • We can only imagine what this looked like
      • No mention of the chariot and horses of fire that took prophet Elijah up into heaven[6] → Jesus is simply “taken up”
      • Looked up famous artistic depictions of this passage – almost all (no matter time period in which they were created) have Jesus levitating feet above the heads of the disciples with his arms stretched out to the sides à la Charlie after he’s consumed the Fizzy Lifting Drinks in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”[7] → Jesus’ face in these depictions is always composed, serene, beneficent, full of love and reassurance and purpose. But the disciples’ faces tell another story. They are astonished. They are afraid. They are confused. They are pleading. They are distraught. They are all five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – in one fell swoop. Because in their minds, the disciples are losing Jesus all over again.
        • Imagine the confusion of this scene
        • Imagine the anxiety of this scene
        • Imagine the heartbreak of this scene
        • Anytime we have to say goodbye to someone, it’s hard. We spend weeks … months … even years processing that loss. We have conversations with our deceased loved ones. We continue to mark their birthday every year as well as the anniversary of their death. We encounter them in dreams. We imagine what they would say about this new path or that life decision. They remain with us in ways that we can never anticipate in that horrible, shocking moment of loss.
          • Story of losing my cousin Julie at age 22 to double pulmonary embolism – hearing her favorite song “Time to Say Goodbye” during UDTS “Explore Your Call” weekend → I knew. I just knew. Dubuque was where I was supposed to be.
        • We who have the privilege of “reading ahead” – of knowing the full story of Scripture – we know that life and other incredible faith experiences await the disciples just around the corner. But in the moment captured in our Scripture reading this morning, the disciples are caught up in their loss. One minute, they were eating another pleasant meal with Jesus, and the next minute, he’s being lifted up into heaven. He’s gone … again.
  • Enter the angels – text: While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”[8]
    • Probably one of the most important questions in Scripture: “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?”
      • Other translations
        • The Message – “You Galileans! – why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?”
      • This is the crucial question because it reminds the disciples that there is still work to be done. Even in the face of Jesus’ sudden absence, even in the midst of whatever complex emotions and worries and questions and doubts and fears are running through their heads, these “two men in white robes” (as our text called them) remind the disciples that the moment has passed. The sky above them is, in fact, empty. By continuing to stare at that empty space – that space where Jesus used to be – they are allowing themselves to dwell in the past when there is a future of Holy-Spirit-work just ahead of them. They’ve simply got to redirect their gaze.
  • Sometimes, as the church, we can get stuck with a misdirected gaze just like the disciples.
    • Inward focus – too worried about our internal working, our internal politics, our internal day-to-day business → forget to look for the Holy-Spirit-work in the world around us
      • Where are we needed?
      • Where is God calling?
      • How is God still speaking not just to us but through us?
    • Pinhole focus – too focused on serving and drawing in one specific group of people (“young people,” young families) → forget that there are all sorts of people out there in all shapes, sizes, age ranges, and backgrounds who are seeking a way to God
      • g. – so many recent articles/blog posts about “reaching millennials”: how to get them back into the church, how to make church interesting/exciting/relevant/appealing to them
        • First problem with this: most millennials who have actually consulted about this couldn’t care less about all the bells and whistles → searching for authentic community … period
        • Second problem with this: ignores a gigantic portion of the population → There are more than just millennials searching for God.
      • Who can we welcome?
      • Who have we forgotten to welcome?
      • Where in our community is God directing our gaze?
    • Past focus – too caught up in what we used to be: numbers, programming, budgets, activities → forget the faith is an ever-evolving, ever-changing thing and that our job as the church is to continue to evolve and change, too
      • Who we were continues to inform and enrich our life as the church today, but we cannot go back and be the church of the 1950s … the church of the 1990s … the church of whatever “golden era” you choose because that is not the world we live in today.
      • What have we tried that’s new?
      • Where can we go that’s different?
      • Who are we today and who are we becoming (intentionally or unintentionally)?
  • We know that the story wasn’t over for the disciples. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, they didn’t slowly fade back into the lives they had before he showed up – fishing, collecting taxes, being unassuming people with ordinary lives. Pentecost is right around the corner – an event that will shake things up like never before and disperse the Good News about God’s love and grace to the whole world … the same Good News that we believe and carry and proclaim today!
    • Encouragement in the message/the work for the message from Eph passage – Paul: I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. … God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.[9] → “I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call” … God’s call for your life, God’s call for that special work that God has for you to do in this world, and God’s call for this church. Sometimes, in our own lives and in the life of the church, we get caught up in what was. Our eyes get locked on the wrong place – the empty place, the “used to be” place” – and we forget to look forward and outward for God to move in our midst. So let us look not for what was but for what can be. Let us look not for the familiar but the hoped-for. Let us redirect our gaze toward God’s amazing future and whatever part we have to play in it. Amen.


Charge & Benediction
Whatever discouragement you’re feeling – whatever is holding you back or holding you down – in your own life or in the life of this church, along with Paul, I pray that your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call.

* And may that great God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.*

[1] Acts 1:4-8.

[2] Mt 21:2-3.

[3] Mt 17:24-27.

[4] “Foreshadowing” from Literary Devices: Definition and Examples of Literary Devices website, Copyright 2016, accessed May 7, 2016.

[5] Acts 1:9.

[6] 2 Kgs 2:1-12.

[7] Roald Dahl (book and screenplay). Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, released June 30, 1971 by Warner Bros.

[8] Acts 1:10-11.

[9] Eph 1:18-19, 22-23.

May newsletter piece

summer activities

The summer months are here. And despite all the contemporary country songs about relaxin’ in the sun during the summertime, let’s face it:


Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, since we live in such a frigid climate, we become a little outdoor-activity crazed when the temperature finally (and sometimes reluctantly) climbs above 50°F.

Maybe it has something to do with being in desperate need of some serious sunshine and vitamin D to drive away the gloominess and greyness of the winter months.

I’d venture to say it most definitely has something to do with the fact that we feel the need to pack as much as we possibly can into those few months when our kids/grandkids/nieces & nephews/school-employed spouses are out of school.

Maybe it even has something to do with holdover feelings from our own school days. Summer is supposed to be about vacation and fun and freedom and doing, right?


But if we’re not careful, we can let all of those wonderful plans and intentions become such a driving force that before we know it, summer’s gone, and we’re left standing and wondering, “Wait a minute … what happened?”

So this summer, I encourage you to take some time to find your own peace wherever you can.

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul says:

God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval. So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.
~ Romans 14:17-19, Common English Bible

There are all sorts of different ways that we can find our peace. Some people enjoy working outside in their gardens, feeling the dirt in their hands and watching their beautiful plants grow. Some love to curl up under a tree or in a comfortable deck chair with a good book (be you an e-reader devotee or a “real book” holdout). Some have a sport or a hobby that brings them enjoyment and peace: volleyball, golf, photography, geocaching, swimming, etc. Some like to go for a walk, either alone or with a pet or with family and friends. And some people like to just sit in the quiet – inside or outside – and listen and breathe and simply be.

We have a few different ways that we get to do this together as congregations this summer, both in play and in service. We can serve together at the Dorothy Day House, at the new Habitat for Humanity builds in Cannon Falls and Red Wing, and at Feed My Starving Children. And when we feel like we’re in need of connection and fellowship with one another, we can gather for the monthly campfires (2nd Sun. in Zumbrota and 4th Sun. in Oronoco, both from 7:00-8:00 p.m.), Peace Camp, our joint worship service at the Goodhue County Fair in August, and our joint Minnesota Twins outing on Sept. 1.

Whatever plans your summer holds, I share Paul’s hope and prayer for you: Strive for that kingdom of God – that righteousness, that peace, that joy. Strive for what brings peace and builds up. Amen.

Pastor Lisa sign



Sunday’s sermon: Edged Out

do you want to get well

Texts used – Psalm 67 and John 5:1-9 (in sermon text)

  • When I was a kid, there was this recurring segment on Sesame Street. – “One of these things is not like the other”
    • Had a little song that went with it: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which one is not like the other before I finish my song?”
    • Point of the short segment = helping kids with grouping → recognizing things that are similar and things that are dissimilar
      • E.g.s – put up a picture of
        • 3 large circles and 1 small circle
        • A hammer, a saw, a pliers, and a shoe (3 tools, 1 “other”)
      • Certainly made an impact on all of us avid Sesame Street watchers → became a cult classic reference for people of a certain generation J – frequently works its way into conversations
    • This morning, we’re going to engage in our own version of “One of these things is not like the other.” Let’s call it “One of these healings is not like the other.”
  • HEALING #1 – Jairus’ daughter: Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. … [Before they arrived], messengers came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying to Jairus, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the teacher any longer?” … They came to the synagogue leader’s house, and he saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. [Jesus] went in and said to them, “What’s all this commotion and crying about? The child isn’t dead. She’s only sleeping.” They laughed at him, but he threw them all out. Then, taking the child’s parents and his disciples with him, he went to the room where the child was. Taking her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” Suddenly the young woman got up and began to walk around.[1]
  • HEALING #2 – Two blind men at Capernum: As Jesus departed, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Show us mercy, Son of David.” When he came into the house, the blind men approached him. Jesus said to them, “Do you believe I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “It will happen for you just as you have believed.” Their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly warned them, “Make sure nobody knows about this.” But they went out and spread the word about him throughout that whole region.[2]
  • HEALING #3 – Sick man at Bethsaida (today’s Scripture): After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate in the north city wall is a pool with the Aramaic name Bethsaida. It had five covered porches, and a crowd of people who were sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed sat there. A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.[3]
  • “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which one is not like the other before I finish my song?” There are a lot of things about these threehealing stories that are different.
    • Differences
      • All come from different gospels
      • 3 different locations
      • Deal with both men and women, young and old
      • Jesus heals a wide variety of ailments, named and unnamed – even death!
    • But there is something key that is different about one of these healing stories that we just read. Have you figured out which one? Have you figured out what it is? [PAUSE] Let me give you a hint: It’s all about who initiates the healing. The last one – our Gospel reading for this morning, the passage from John about the sick man at the pool at Bethsaida – is the only healing story in which no one first asks Jesus to be healed.
      • 31 total individual healing stories throughout the gospels – all the others involve someone else initiating the healing
        • Some people asking for healing on behalf of someone else
        • Some people approach Jesus themselves
  • But the man in today’s story was just sitting by the side of the healing pool when Jesus strolled right up to him and said, “Do you want to get well?” → a couple of really interesting things about this unique interaction
    • First, man’s reaction is interesting → To us – reading and experiencing this story from the outside – Jesus asked him a simple question: “Do you want to get well?” But his response isn’t the simple “yes” or “no,” nor is it the elated gratitude (“Thank you! Thank you!”) that we expect. His response is a long explanation. It almost seems like he hears Jesus’ question as a bit of a criticism. “Don’t you want to get well? What are you doing sitting here? Why aren’t you getting in the pool? What’s wrong with you?”
      • According to tradition, angels stirred pool at Bethsaida at certain times of the day – getting into the water during those times = healing → In a heavily populated city like Jerusalem, just imagine how busy the pool was during those times of day – everyone struggling and jostling to get into the water.
      • Man’s illness is unnamed, but whatever it was made it impossible for him to get into the water in the midst of all that chaos → been edged out and edged out and edged out so many times, it seems like he’d given up – answer to Jesus’ question (“Do you want to get well?”): “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”[4]
        • Hear defensiveness
        • Hear defeat
        • Hear longing
        • [read expressively]: “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”
    • Interaction is also really interesting because as far as we know, faith has nothing to do with this healing
      • No proof that this man knows anything about who Jesus is
      • No proof of the man’s faith
      • Many of the other healing stories found throughout the gospels include Jesus saying something along the lines of, “Your faith has made you well.” But we find nothing of the sort in this story! In fact, faith isn’t mentioned once. The gospel doesn’t even record anything about the man’s response other than that he picked up his mat and walked away.
        • Did he go on to tell others about his miraculous experience?
        • Did he go on to praise Jesus’ name?
        • Did he even say “thank you”?
        • Or did he simply slip unnoticed into the multitude of people living in Jerusalem at the time?
        • We simply don’t know.
  • And stuck somewhere in between these two observations is where we find the rub – the growing edge – of this little story.
    • We feel for sick man at the side of the pool, don’t we?
      • Feel bad – Why hasn’t anyone helped him into the pool yet? → text tells us he’s been sick for 38 years!
      • Feel a little indignant about all of the other people that have not only passed him by but have edged him out of those healing waters day after day, year after year
        • Sympathize → We’ve all been edged out of something – big or small – that we really wanted.
          • Job/position that you applied for
          • Relationship
          • House that you had your heart set on – outbid
          • Any kind of sport that you played or other kind of competition
            • Story of my senior year in speech: participated in speech all throughout middle/high school → senior year – found the perfect poem: emotional, dramatic, powerful → had it down perfectly by the end of the season (memorized, gestures, etc.) → made it through sub-sections, had great rounds in sections … and didn’t even make it to finals at sections
              • I desperately wanted to go to the state competition. I wanted the excitement. I wanted the validation. I wanted the inclusion because so many of my friends were going. But I was edged out. And being edged out is a bitter and a painful and a lonely experience. We hear all that (and more!) echoed in the man’s response to Jesus’ question, and so our hearts ache for him.
      • At the same time, this story may hold up a bit of an uncomfortable mirror to our lives and our interactions with other people. When have our words or our actions edged someone else out? Out of “the group”? Out of what is supposedly acceptable by society and what is not? We live in a society that values (over-values?) the self-made person – someone who’s worked their way from the bottom up, scraped and saved and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. We say we value equality. It’s even in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And yet we live in a world in which …
        • Actually debating on the floor of various state governments who can use the bathroom and who can’t[5]
        • Women are still paid 70-80% of what men are paid for the exact same job[6]
        • It is a proven fact that if your name sounds like a minority name (be it black, Latino, Arab, or anything more exotic than “John Smith”), your resume is less likely to be accepted, no matter how qualified you are[7]
        • The gap between the minimum wage and a passable living wage continues to grow → Did you know that according to research done by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is not a single state in American in which someone working a minimum wage job can afford a 1-bedroom apartment working 40 hrs. a week and only allotting the recommended 30% of their income to housing?[8] In Minnesota alone, someone working a minimum wage job would have to work 66 hrs. or more a week just to be able to afford housing.
          • Places like California, Washington D.C., and Hawaii, that number is either closer to or even well over 100 hrs. a week → do the math: that’s 14+ hr. days, 7 days a week!!
  • In the face of this gospel story, we have to recognize those ways in which we may be edging other people out as well, be it inadvertently or intentionally.
    • Ps reminds us this morning again and again of the inclusion that we find in God’s love: Let God grant us grace and bless us; let God make his face shine on us, so that your way becomes known on earth, so that your salvation becomes known among all the nations. Let the people thank you, God! Let all the people thank you! Let the people celebrate and shout with joy because you judge the nations fairly and guide all nations on the earth. Let the people thank you, God! Let all the people thank you! The earth has yielded its harvest. God blesses us—our God blesses us! Let God continue to bless us; let the far ends of the earth honor [God].[9] → All the nations. All the peoples. Let the far ends of the earth honor God.
    • Scholar described today’s gospel story this way: This is a healing story, but also it is a story of Jesus’ radical hospitality. Jesus heals a person who does not have faith, who knows deeply suffering and pain. This person has lived in his own world, his own prison that no one can reach into except Jesus. … Unlike other seekers, this man does not seek out Jesus. For thirty-eight years, without any family or friends, he has been alone. His lack of knowledge and his powerlessness prohibit him from looking for Jesus. However, Jesus comes to this man first.[10]
      • Speak to God’s ability to see into the core of our need whether we are able to articulate that need to God or not → man didn’t approach Jesus, Jesus approached him, knowing full well that the man needed to be healed – body and soul
        • This is both the challenge and the comfort that we find in our gospel story this morning. Yes, there are times in our lives when we are desperately in need of that healing – body, mind, or soul – and in the midst of that desperation, Jesus sees us. Jesus recognizes us and knows our need. And Jesus comes to us asking the simple question: Do you want to get well? But there are also times in our lives when we need to stop, to look around, to open our eyes to the people around us who may be even more desperate … even more in need … even more broken down than we feel. And instead of using those moments to our advantage – for our own leg up – we need to follow Jesus’ example of radical hospitality. Make a space at the pool. Make a way. Amen.

[1] Mk 5:22-24a, 35, 38-42a.

[2] Mt 9:27-31.

[3] Jn 5:1-9.

[4] Jn 5:7.

[5] Paul Heroux. “Bathroom Bill Myths and Facts” from The Huffington Post,–fact_b_9814092.html. Posted Apr. 30, 2016, accessed May 1, 2016.

[6] Eileen Patten. “On Equal Pay day, key facts about the gender pay gap” from the Pew Research Center, Posted Apr. 15, 2015, accessed May 1, 2016.

[7] Jacqueline Howard. “New Study Confirms Depressing Truth About Names and Racial Bias” from The Huffington Post, Posted Oct. 8, 2015, accessed May 1, 2016.

[8] “Out of Reach” initiative, from the National Low Income Housing Coalition website:

[9] Ps 67.

[10] Choi Hee An. “Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 5:1-9” in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary – Year C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 229.