Scripture, John 5: 1-9; Rogation Nigel Bunce
Complaining is a feature of today’s Gospel. A man wanted to take advantage of the healing properties of a pool. But he was never quick enough. Jesus asked if he wanted healing. But he just complained. It wasn’t his fault. Right now, our parish is looking to the future. It’s no use complaining about outside factors that we can’t control. We must take the future into our own hands. We plant the seeds of new ideas. Maybe some of them will grow.
Complaining in the Gospel story
I see a theme of hope in today’s Gospel story. It describes a pool whose waters had healing properties. One man had been wanting to bathe in its waters for a very long time. The account says 38 years. But every time he tried to get into the pool, other people shoved in front of him.
Then Jesus came along. He asked the man a simple question. “Do you want to be made well?” The man appears to have been a defeatist, and a complainer. He didn’t say something like, “Yes, that would be my greatest dream.”
Instead, he said this. “No-one will help me get into the pool. They just shove me out of the way.” In other words, the sick man played the victim card. Complaining that life is unfair. It’s other peoples’ fault that I can’t get a cure.
However, Jesus didn’t argue with the man. About the rights and wrongs of being shoved around. Or whether it was unfair. Jesus just told the man to get up and do something! Take up your mat and walk.”
Let’s translate the story into church terms
The news media have unending stories about church decline. It’s inevitable. Irreversible. Will the last Anglican please turn out the lights?
We can imitate the sick man in our response. Complaining that it’s not our fault. There are so many other attractions on Sundays. They didn’t exist years ago. Besides, the pandemic got people out of the habit of church. So, what might Jesus say to us?
I doubt that it would be, “Oh, that’s too bad. I really sympathize.” Instead, he’d say the equivalent of, “Take up your mat and walk.” Just as in our Gospel reading, Jesus wouldn’t debate the issue. He’d say, “Stop complaining. Do something.”
Imagining the future of our parish
Trying to draw a new map for where our community is heading. There’s good news. There’s been no negativity. No sick man at the pool. Saying there’s nothing we can do. Because it’s all because of outside factors.
The positive spirit at our meetings is Jesus saying, “Take up your mat and walk.” What might that mean? It means showing people the face of Christ in the world. That’s rewarding and satisfying in its own right. Because people still need spiritual meaning in their lives.
A Gospel of love — or not?
Just last week, Jan said precisely that. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment. That you love one another.” All too often, Christianity has turned that message upside down.
That’s the common emphasis on sin and unworthiness. Or, excluding people who don’t have the “right thoughts” about ethics, morals, or Biblical interpretation. The ironical thing is that Jesus himself tended, to put it politely, to stir up the manure. Not just accept the status quo.
As disciples, we want to be the face of Christ to other people in the world. Whether or not, they come through the doors of our building. So, it’s not a bad idea to ask, “What would Jesus do?” We don’t have to wear the bracelets. But we do have to ask the question.
Jesus asked the sick man, “Do you want to be made well?” At first, the sick man said, “It’s no good; people keep pushing me out of the way.” So Jesus replied, “Take up your mat and walk.” The sick man could have said, “That won’t work; I’ve been lying here sick for years.”
That attitude would have guaranteed that he wouldn’t have been disappointed. However, the man must have said this to himself. “I’ve got nothing to lose. I might as well try what this faith healer guy says. Maybe it really will work.” So he did. And it did.
We are in the same position. Just like the sick man. We’ve got nothing to lose. We could just give up. Which means that, sooner or later, St. George’s will fold. Or, we look for a future that can’t be an exact replica of the past.
Relating the Gospel story to Rogation
We heard that last week at the visioning session. We restore the best of pre-pandemic St. George’s. And we adapt to new realities. Let’s give new ideas a try. Who knows? They might just work. In last week’s prayers, I quoted Seraphim of Sarov.
‘Sow everywhere the good seed given to you. Sow in good ground, sow in sand, sow among the stones, sow on the road, sow among the weeds. Perhaps some of these seeds will open up and grow and bring forth fruit, even if not at once’.
That’s excellent advice for Rogation Sunday. When we ask (rogare) God to bless the crops this growing season. Seraphim turns Jesus’ Parable of the Sower on its head. The traditional approach emphasizes the need to sow in good soil. That way, you get the best crop.
Should we always plant in what seems to be the best soil?
So, let’s look around the neighbourhood. Where might be the best place to sow? Maybe St. Christopher’s. It’s big. Has plenty of parishioners. Plenty of resources. But remember another of Jesus’ comments. “Much will be required of those to whom much is given” [Luke 12: 48].
So, why bother with St. George’s? I answer this way. Seraphim said to sow seeds even in unlikely places. ‘Sow everywhere the good seed given to you. Perhaps some of these seeds will open up and grow and bring forth fruit. Even if not all at once.’
Maybe we’d get a surprise. Like the old adage, “Nothing venture, nothing gain.” If we won’t try anything new, we guarantee that nothing will change. It’s exactly the point of today’s Gospel. “Take up your bed and walk.” And that’s why I see a theme of hope in today’s Gospel. Amen.