Lord teach us the silence of humility
The silence of wisdom
The silence of love
The ability to hear the words
But to detect in the spaces between them
The Holy Spirit of God moving among us
That we might feel your presence
In the depths of our being
Bless now our meditations on your word
And bring it alive in all our hearts this day
During the last couple of weeks we have been looking at one of the miracle stories about Jesus. Specifically, the feeding of the 5,000. The first week our picnic basket was empty. The second week when we considered Jesus as the ‘Bread of Life’ we had everything but the bread. A sandwich with no bread, not much of a sandwich! I told you all to tune in this week for the next instalment. What would the picnic basket hold today? Well this week our picnic basket has filled up. We’ve got something to eat, something to drink, and something to help in case we have an accident! We started two weeks ago with the concrete, the actual feeding of more than 5,000 hungry people on a hillside and spoke about how Jesus cares for us in our human needs.
- Are we hungry? He wants us to be fed?
- Are we afraid? He wants us to be safe and feel secure.
- Are we hurting and in pain? He wants us to be well.
- Are we worried? He wants us to be at peace.
But Christianity is a relational religion! What do I mean by that? Well, basically we have a choice: we are invited to work with Jesus not against him, to allow him to help us.
And so with that in mind last week we moved on to the spiritual needs that we all have. We heard about Jesus’ using the story of how he fed the 5,000 people to point to something less obvious. He explained to the crowd that had followed him that all of these bodily needs and wants and desires are transitory. If you are hurting, afraid, worried, hungry even, all of these things will come to an end. Riches, fame, status, learning, possessions, all of these things will come to nothing eventually, no matter who we are or how important we think we are in this life. We glibly say to people from time to time: “You can’t take it with you,” and we laugh, but that is just exactly what Jesus was saying to the crowd that followed him: Work with every fibre of your being for the things that last forever because everything else will disappear in time.
Today we considered another kind of miracle, but the same thing happening really: Jesus’ encountering a need and in compassion doing something about it. The lame man was sitting by a pool. The word for pool in the original Greek suggests a deep pool, one that you could dive into if you chose. The location of the pool is clear and so scholars were able to identify it and to find out that in fact there was a subterranean stream which bubbled up from time to time and disturbed the waters. And we also know that the people of that time were superstitious. They didn’t understand the movement of the water and so they believed there was some kind of spiritual power there, a power that could be harnessed for the purposes of healing. They believed that the first person to get into the pool when the waters started to bubble would be cured. The man was lame and friendless and so had no chance of getting to the pool in time to be first. And so Jesus asks him a question. The most important question in fact that anyone in any kind of trouble can be asked, and the first question that they should be asked:
‘Do you want to get better? Do you really want to be changed?’
Modern treatments for addictions of any sort ask that question of all those who present for treatment. Do you REALLY want to get better, because if you can’t answer YES to that question immediately, no amount of counselling or treatment will work.
Some years ago at a Church conference on dealing with change, something that none of us can avoid, the facilitator asked these three questions of the group of people that were attending. She asked them to imagine that Jesus was standing in front of them and that it was he who was asking the questions. Jesus asks them what they want him to do for their community, for their church and for themselves as individuals. They looked puzzled and there was a silence. And then they got going. It was easy to think of things they wanted as individuals and in their community. It was like a wee shopping list:
- better health
- better housing
- less crime
- more money even
- better neighbours
- better weather!
But when it came to what Jesus could do for their Church they were stumped. Then one group was brave enough to answer:
‘We’re really lucky I know but we’re all agreed that we’re quite happy as we are.’
What a disaster! A church that didn’t need anything at all from Jesus Christ. So, not a church at all then! A church that didn’t see the need for any change. Everything was fine as it was. It should never be fine. There should always be something to do, something to work towards, something to pray about, some changes being made. And just in case you’re thinking I’m talking purely about buildings here, I’m not!
There is a great deal of talk nowadays in the world of employment about continuing education. We have it in the ministry, too. Our divinity degree and our vocational training is just the beginning. We are learning how to learn and we should never be finished with that. And if academic knowledge and learning is important, spiritual growth is even more important. When we welcome a child or a newly baptised adult into our midst, we don’t have in front of us the finished product. It’s just the beginning! The beginning of a lifetime of searching for truth and for spiritual fulfilment. The beginning of a journey. Each day Jesus asks us, “Do you want to get better?” The answer should always be the same. Yes! Remember the Bank that liked to say ‘Yes’? (I don’t think there are many of them left!) Well, we should be the church that likes to say ‘YES. If you think you’re the finished article then you don’t need us and we don’t need you except maybe as a bad example!
So how are we getting on with our healing miracle? We’ve only got as far as the beginning, but the beginning is a very exciting place to be. The potential is huge, there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by going onwards. Do you want to get better? Do you want to know more? Do you want to live more fully? Do you want to care more? Do you want to love more? The miracle begins with a question. It can go no further unless we answer ‘Yes’.