St. Mary Nanoose Bay
May 26, 2019
Jesus, by your word we live and walk.
And Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk. At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
In this passage from the gospel of John we learn that for 38 years, a man has been ill and unable to reach the healing waters of the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. And on the Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jews, Jesus comes to this place and asks the man if he wants to be healed. Instead of saying “Yes, I do!” the man gives the long answer as to why he hasn’t yet been healed. He’s stuck in his story and is unable to see who is standing before him. Jesus seems to take the man’s response as a “yes” because he heals the man with the words, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” and the man gets up and walks.
I think we can assume the man’s healing is all encompassing. Not only is his illness resolved but he is prepared to embrace a new life – emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. From my own experience I’m led to believe that once we are healed of some ailment or addiction or unhelpful story, our understanding of the divine order of things comes into better focus and we are able function more trustingly in the give and take of God’s abundance.
Sometimes it takes us many years to give up trying to heal ourselves and to ask for God’s help. In finally facing our own weakness we can be humbled enough to ask for help. We’ve been promised that if we knock, the door will be opened. Probably just not in the way we expected. So we might miss the offer! And in the same way it can take many of us a long time to fully embrace our gifts and potential. It takes us a long time to wake up. I like to imagine that for the man in our story today, that for the 38 years he lay there ill, he gained some insight into human nature and the human condition and now healed, he has a LOT to offer the world. We probably all know someone, or even ourselves, who having suffered or struggled for a long time has inadvertently or intentionally honed our compassion for others. Sometimes, in fact, a person’s illness or affliction is never cured but the way they perceive their challenges changes and they are no longer immobilized or imprisoned by their illness.
I recently heard the story of a man who was pretty difficult to live with. He was judgmental and critical of others, sarcastic and self-pitying. He came down with a life threatening illness and as he grew weaker, he couldn’t maintain his abrupt façade and his hard edges fell away. He came to see his life and relationships in a new way. He was grateful for the love shown by the people who were caring for him. He became soft and loving. And miracle of miracles, his health began to improve. His family who had grown close to him in his illness and vulnerability were delighted. Yet when he gained strength, he resumed his former nastiness. So, yes, one the one hand he was healed, but on the other, he did not let himself be changed.
But through the power of God’s healing light, if we keep our eyes and hearts open, our suffering can catapult us into a new reality where if we are willing, we discover that we can use our challenging experiences to serve others.
We never know when this will happen. We never know how our gifts as well as our frailties can be used. We just need to be open and willing.
I’ve told you this story before, I believe. About 7 years ago I signed up for a 2 year program to study with someone known as “The Griefwalker.” There is a NFB film by that name. The film is about Stephen Jenkinson who worked in palliative care for years in Toronto. His experience has given him a unique perspective on life and on our culture.
In the first residential part of the program, Stephen said these words in one of his morning talks. “Proceed as if you are needed.” I didn’t hear the rest of what he said. Those words kept echoing in my head and I heard them as a direct invitation. That afternoon I considered my life with insight I hadn’t had before. I saw myself in perpetual rehearsal, forever preparing myself, relentlessly seeking to improve myself, focused on my weaknesses, hiding behind the difficult experiences of my past. And I saw with sudden clarity how I was a consumer of experiences. I had prided myself in not accumulating stuff, not filling my closets or staying up with the latest fashions but here I was consuming yet one more experience – saying to myself, “Just one more training, and then I’ll be ready to step up and step out.”
Proceed as if you are needed. “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Don’t take anything. No more stuff, no more preparation, no more courses. Just start walking. In trust. Sharing what is yours to share. Your wisdom, your compassion, your time, your presence, your skill.
The world is waiting for what you have to offer. What YOU have to offer. And there is always still time. Until your dying breath, you can offer what you were created to offer.
Jesus comes to set each one of us free to engage fully in the divine exchange where the currency is love - to offer what we have to offer, and to receive all that is offered us; from God and from neighbour.
Proceed as if you are needed. No more false humility, no more excuses, no more holding back. Be open to how healing might arrive in ways you never expected, and claim your place as the beloved of God. And then step out in faith.
If you are ill or housebound, offer up your prayers. God knows, the world needs more prayer and loving attention. And allow others to serve you. At different times of our lives we serve others but we also need to learn how to graciously accept the service of others in our own time of need.
If you are lost and afraid, speak up. Offer your vulnerability to the world so others can come alongside to encourage and support you.
If you are curious and want to learn something new, ask for help so someone can share their knowledge, time and skill with you.
You are needed; not as a perfect person, but as someone who is willing to journey with others.
You are needed so together we can share and grow together, giving and receiving, imperfectly yet wonderfully so we can inspire each other, encourage each other, learn from each other and forgive each other.
Proceed as if you are needed. Take your mat and walk. The word of God spoke you into being. The word of God heals and leads you. That’s all you need.
All you have to do is take the first step. Don’t worry about the final destination. That will be made up of all the single steps you take. That’s how you will arrive somewhere you could never have imagined.
Proceed one step at a time. And remember, you are never alone. The One who created you, the One who offers freedom no matter what your life condition, walks with you. Take up your past and walk and enjoy the giving and receiving that is your birthright - and your promise and your future.
Thanks be to God. Amen.