Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The symbolism of Water and the Spirit is paramount in John. In the first chapter Jesus is baptized and we learn that Jesus baptizes uniquely with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He offers living water; Springs that lead to everlasting life; and we will never be thirsty again.
Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus will say,
“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The Gospel of John is a bit different than the others, we name the “Synoptic Gospels.” From Syn Optic: seeing all together; Matthew Mark and Luke are in synch. They share the same lens and share many of the same passages and teachings through Jesus’ parables.
The Gospel of John is set apart. The Gospel is thought to have been written considerably later, around the turn of the 1st to 2nd Century). And it is full of stories that don’t exist in the other gospels, but are often very intimate and detailed interactions with particular individuals.
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus meets the woman at the well. She is a Samaritan drawing water from the well of Jacob. Samaritans worshipped a variety of Gods including Yahweh, but not solely. And there is a lot of enmity between Jews and Samaritans. So Jesus startles her by asking for a drink. In this discourse (which is one of the longest conversations he has in the Bible) he tells her
“if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…
Everyone who drinks of this water [the well water] will be thirsty again…the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
The end of this story has her entire town converted - and the message they receive is that the true worship of God from now on will be through the Spirit and in truth.
So today we find ourselves in this short Gospel passage with a man who has been languishing by a healing pool of water. From our previous story with the Samaritan Woman we may already be wondering about this pool of water and its symbolism.
He has been there for thirty-eight years along with a multitude of other ill and paralyzed individuals. Our reading says many, but the word in Greek is actually a very great number. And I believe this is important because Jesus sees him in this great crowd. Not only does he see him, but he knows him. He knows he’s been there a long time. Jesus knows him, yet the man does not know Jesus.
He has waited so very close to what he believes would be a source of healing, yet with no ability nor assistance over all of these years to reach what it is he seeks. Jesus suddenly speaks to him and heals him.
Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” He answers him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made well?”… could just as easily be: What are you seeking here? “What are you seeking in this pool of water?”
This healing pool could be a metaphor for so many ideas and obstacles to our journey with God. This man is stuck. The World tells us that competition is the only way to move ahead. He has been looking for the balm of life in the wrong place.
What obstacles hinder us from seeking the The Spirit of Truth? Many of us here spent time away from Christian community. Once we become re-immersed in we can look back and more easily see what those great distractions were.
And sometimes the distractions from God are illness, real and debilitating and not simply a metaphor. “Bad things happen to good people” - and in our distress we can turn to other comforts, even delusions, for many years before we are able to begin walking a path toward physical, emotional and spiritual healing. That is real.
In our story, Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk. This is a healing that is infused with the metaphor for walking one’s path toward God. I do not see this man’s answer as simply an ungrateful complaint, rather: the reality of what we come up against in life: real illness, real desperation and real yearning.
Jesus’ question can be taken at face value: not as a challenge, but rather a compassionate and loving response to someone he sees sitting in front of him suffering. Someone who is stuck.
Sometimes it takes another to see us for who we are: to ask us directly what it is that we really want and need. When someone meets us in this way, it moves us to look inside: to probe our very own depths. That is the beginning of spiritual awakening. It is what Jesus offers to this man, to the Samaritan Woman, and to so many others.
“Spiritual awakening is not about knowing more, but about knowing more deeply” …Episcopal Priest and author Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “as we enter the path of [spiritual] transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning.”
Our yearning helps open the door to wonder. And our prayer life becomes our teacher and comforter. As Jesus said, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."
This man did not know God, yet he responds, he moves. He has been seen and he begins to walk… in a new way.To be made well is to be made whole, to uncover our authentic selves, where life springs like a font.
The Question Jesus asks,
“Do you want to be made well?”
inspires us to ask ourselves:
Who am I? …
What are you seeking?
What are you yearning for?
And Where are you looking?
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations. (Psalm 67)
Jesus, say “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Today our Gospel is from the same reading we had on Maundy Thursday. It is Jesus’ last teaching after he washes the feet of his disciples, just before he is arrested. He commands them to “love one another as I have loved you.”
In the Bible there are four different forms of “love” used. We have philia: the love of equals. (A love we choose: our companions.) There is passionate love: eros. There is storge, the love between parents and children - for our relatives. A love that we are born into.
And we have agape: love of humankind (so to speak): a spiritual love. A love that goes beyond the self to the benefit of others. It is the selflessness that Jesus models for us that offers us a vision of forgiveness and mercy for every living thing. And in that: healing. Jesus doesn’t ask us to love one another as equals. He asks us to love as he loves us: selflessly. Agape love.
It is a tall order when we first start to wrap ourselves around this concept… we don’t even love ourselves selflessly…
I am reminded of St. Benedict’s encouragement: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”
As the apostles spread out to follow Jesus in his commission to spread that love of God, they are of course faced with those who are different from themselves.
Peter has an amazing vision: He is confronted with new people, new customs and new food. He doesn’t think he should eat of the food because it is not clean according to his custom. In our reading, a “voice from heaven” tells Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” It is the reminder: Everything God makes is sacred. It is not ours to judge.
Several of the early community seem concerned that Peter is eating and bringing the good news to the Gentiles, to those who are different. He tells them, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
And the rest of the community then praised God, saying,
"Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
They recognize that God also calls them (these outsiders) to relationship. This spiritual relationship, this sacredness is extended far beyond our imaginings to those things, places and people that we don’t understand or can’t yet comprehend. As a species…We are naturally judgmental. It’s part of what sets us apart from other species. It is to our benefit to be judgmental. It helps us make decisions, to weigh the benefits or risks, to develop guidelines and distinguish safety. But our judgment over time can become calcified as a self-centered righteousness rather than growing into the wisdom that recognizes (like Peter did) that it is not ours to be judge. As Christians it is ours to be loving.
There is a mystery and a sacredness to the created world that we can never fully understand. That is why we come together to praise God in awe and wonder, and to glean how we may participate in the redeeming relationship that gives us true life: a flourishing life for all.
The psalm today praises God through every expression. God present with the mountains and hills, and snow and fog, and stars and sun, and all creatures of the land and sea. The great creation that we sing about is beyond anything we can truly comprehend…while at the same time the reading from Revelation reminds us that God is in this creation with us. God is not far off but part of the very mix: the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end- all; From dust to stardust - …and beyond our wildest imaginings.
When we praise God we are praising the majesty and miracle of our very selves enlivened by something very Good. We are enlivened by the Spirit - and as humans we have the free will to live and move in the world; in nature, culture and society. These aspects of the environment are all interwoven. There is a delicate natural balance in all that we do and in all that we are.
The weave is dependent on myriad strands that are not always obvious to us. This is so true in the natural world, where scientists have proven that altering one aspect of an ecosystem can have huge impacts (unbeknownst to us) on other species, and land, and water.
We are learning this about our bodies too: now understanding the gut itself is being studied as an ecosystem, with a tender balance that has ramifications on our brains and our hearts, among other things… We are made of intricate systems.
And as humans, our cultures continue to have systems at play that create imbalances in financial equity, health and achievement, gender equality. Imbalances that are difficult to discern, remedies that make matters worse because they are based on our limited human understandings.
Our societies are wrought with the struggle of implicit bias - when it comes …to one another.
We are still struggling to love as Jesus asks us to love.
We still have a lot to learn from this passage from Acts, but also from the hope unveiled in revelation that The home of God is among mortals. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. God is drawing us all into renewed relationship. God says, “See, I am making all things new.”
We can’t always know why things are the way that they are. Jesus asks us to live into this mystery by loving selflessly. We do not know what grief someone else is carrying, what one kindness can do to assuage the suffering. It is not ours to judge, but rather ours to nurture, tend and to love.
We don’t know the gentle balance really, we can only praise God by participating in agape, that great love that surpasses our understanding.
When we talk about surrendering to God. This is what we mean. It doesn’t mean that we give over our minds to blindly follow. It means we give over our hearts to assuredly follow in a path of righteousness that is not our own, but belongs to and benefits all of creation:
fruit trees and all cedars;
Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;
Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.
If we “listen with our hearts” we may find that
God has a way of saying to us:
"See, I am making all things new."
Today is a day of healing and inclusion.
What a perfect connection to “Mothering.”
Let’s start with the Gospel.
When Jesus is walking in the portico he is addressed by those who want him to verify once and for all if he is the Messiah they have been waiting for? Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me.”
What you don’t know from this brief Gospel, is that in the previous story, Jesus has been healing on the Sabbath. And those who are strict in their observance of the law are frustrated by this behavior. It is the story of the blind man. He regains both physical and spiritual sight. Jesus assures the crowd he is not blind because of some sin of his or his parents. Jesus gives everyone spiritual insight that day, at least those who believed.
Jesus is walking at the Festival of the Dedication. They are referring to the dedication of the second temple which celebrates the successful victory of the Jewish people over the Syrian Greek invaders who had taken over Jerusalem. It was about two hundred years before Jesus’ time. You may have heard of it as the Macabbean Wars. It was a three year battle - and they were fighting for their religious beliefs. Today we know the celebration as Hanukkah.
Back to the story…
Jesus is walking in the portico of Solomon. Porticos are like a covered walkway with columns. You’ve probably seen them in pictures. The Temple is a big space with several courtyards. The portico that separates the gentiles from the other courts in the temple apparently had warning signs. Archeologists have discovered one that read:
IS TO GO BEYOND THE BALUSTRADE
AND THE PLAZA OF THE TEMPLE ZONE
WHOEVER IS CAUGHT DOING SO
WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME
FOR HIS DEATH
WHICH WILL FOLLOW
Pretty serious segregation.
This is the spot where Jesus walked - where he walked and where he healed and where the disciples later also healed those we did not consider worth healing. Those who were foreign or those the community did not include.
Although our readings may seem wildly different this morning they do have a thread I’d like to explore: Healing. We have several images which include sheep, and consolation and care from the Shepherd. But we also have images of inclusion.
The psalm is not just about safety, but about hospitality. This God is inviting the psalmist to the table.
“You spread a table for me in the presence of those that trouble me.”
What an inviting description of “acceptance.” To have someone, let alone God, set a table for you in the very midst of anxiety and stress: Nourishment! You are welcome. You are affirmed, recognized and honored by a seat at the table. Oh, how we are healed by inclusion.
And rather than an old testament lesson, we have a lesson from the Early Christian Church from the book of Acts that follows Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Peter has reached the Gentiles with his commission from Jesus. Not only this, but he has been given the power to heal people through the Holy Spirit gifted to him by Jesus. Disciples call on Peter when Dorcus falls ill. He kneels down and invokes the Spirit.
Beyond being one of the early community, she is Greek: a Gentile woman, someone who previously would have been segregated from the community. The book of Acts is illustrative of the Christian mission and struggle to move out into the world to all nations.
Finally, we come to the book of Revelation which means unveiling. Revelation offers us intense imagery with details that sound otherworldly. It is symbolic and apocalyptic in nature. Apocalyptic in describing the end of the world as we know it, and unveiling a God centered reality.…Although Revelation is cosmic in its descriptions, it also deals with very vulnerable human yearnings and need for protection.
“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
God is described here so like a tender mother.
While the vision may seem scary at first because the symbols are foreign to us, it is a healing vision. And it is also inclusive.
In the vision there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice. They cried out in ONE voice. Because we are all children of God.
We don’t all have to be literal mothers to feel this stirring. We know this in our guts.
Today is Mother’s Day. In the United States, early on it had also became an anti war response. During the Civil War the day sought the movement of reconciliation between Union and Confederate soldiers, where mother’s came together for this healing work.
In 1870 a Mother’s Day Proclamation sought to bring mother’s together united to promote World Peace. Our Official Mother’s Day arose later in the early 1900s.
Mother’s Day throughout the years has been a day used by abolitionists, feminists, and peacemakers to promote social justice, peace, inclusivity and equality.
Mother’s Day is a healing day. For some of us it can be a very difficult day sometimes a sad day, for a myriad of personal reasons. But today is a healing day. There is a quote attributed to 13th century theologian Meister Eckhart:
"We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
There are many “mothers" in this parish who did not literally give birth to a child. St. Paul’s is full of nurturing individuals. Taking the lead from Jesus, you shepherd: comfort, console, raise families, sacrifice your time, and pour out your love. Just as Jesus said, “my works testify to me,” …I believe these actions are a testimony to God being born in the world.
So on this Mother’s Day let us pray…
Pray for Peace in the name of Jesus our Prince of Peace
Pray for Healing by the Power of the Holy Spirit
And Pray for unity through a God who wipes away all of our tears with those almighty hands of love.
It is Easter. But the big service and celebration happened a couple of Sundays ago. We may find that we are back to living life as before, with the same routines, and the feeling of holiday joy slipping away. The reality of war, the news feeds, and the uncertainty come clamoring in to dull our spirits.
But the promise of Easter is not just for one day or for a season. It is something for us to build on as a “way of life.” Life is made new. As the trees and flowers begin to bloom we are already unconsciously aware that “life is made new” after a winter of dormancy.
As our collect says, “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold God in all his redeeming work”
In our story this week, Peter and some of the disciples have gathered in Galilee and are back to their work of fishing. After the crucifixion and even after two encounters with the risen Jesus they have returned to “business as usual.” However, even while casting a net in familiar waters, they don’t seem to be catching anything. Their work has become unproductive. Jesus suddenly appears for the third time, fills their net and feeds them breakfast.
I love the image of breakfast on the beach around a fire. We can imagine the smell of the fish cooking in the open air: The feeling of warmth. The sounds of crackling wood, and water washing the shore, the dawn light, and wet sand. But the passage doesn’t provide these details for us, nor does it describe the taste of the fish; How they feel to eat after a long night. This is what we think of. Instead, Deep conversation ensues. They are eating communally - and the focus is on their shared conversation.
Jesus primarily engages Peter. He asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter says, “You know I do.” And each time Jesus responds with an answer that represents what loving God means: Feed, Tend, Feed. More than anything Love means tending for others, and feeding one another. Jesus repeats himself.
For some it is literally food. But for any of us, we know that eating with families or friends is so much more than just food at dinner time. Our family also requires our attention, our connection as nourishment.
For any of us who have worked in feeding ministry we know it is more than meals. A feeding ministry provides connection not just food. It represents tenderness and care. The greatest gift: our humanity. The care that involves using our hands, and our hearts and the sacrifice of time. Precious time. Feeding and tending prioritizes connection.
Meals are a time for shared conversation.
Jesus comes to tell the disciples it’s time to break the fast from life. Follow me: Live now. Live now for what you believe in most: Love, Tend, Feed others. Follow me. Now is the time to live.
Open the eyes of our faith God, that we may behold you in all of your redeeming work
Life is not one even-keeled sail. Dramatic things happen. Things change and require us to change too, or we lapse into stale versions of ourselves. Covid happened. It had dramatic impacts on all of us. We are trying to return to “normal," but we also recognize that things have shifted. We have learned to do things in new ways and we are discerning which ways do we want to keep - and what old ways are we ready to let go of.
The death of George Floyd happened during Covid. It sparked a response to the way people of color have been - and continue to be targeted. Beyond marches and protests, many of us began to search for answers to the inequities in our country. We began to realize that recognition and repair are necessary for healing to begin: for redemption. The Episcopal Church who has included antiracism in our mission for many years, finally seemed to really focus our attentions.
Something shifted. Something dramatic happened, and it is time to change.
But now that the emotional flare of that period is waning, are we simply returning to our old ways? Or are we continuing to educate ourselves? Look deeply at the history of our country, trying to understand the terrible dynamics that persist? Martin Luther King Jr said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” To put it into even more context, MLK was harkening back to the phrase from a famous abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Parker studied at Harvard Divinity School and eventually became an influential minister in the Unitarian church. In 1853 Parker preached (100 years before MLK)
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
In other words: It is with conscious vision that it bends toward justice.
We cannot go back to “business as usual” now that we have seen the light (like our brother Paul) the light that sheds truth on suffering: a nation awakened by tragedy… to our own reality. In 2020 we returned to the table of antiracism for conversation. This table provides sustenance for our future and for our community and country.
Like Peter and the disciples we are being asked,
“Do you love me?”
Jesus makes it pretty clear: Loving God means to feed and tend.
How do we feed and tend one another? We must continue the conversation: talking and moving toward that arc of justice, lest we find like the disciples that our life work has become unproductive.
Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold you God in all your redeeming work.
Once we’ve tasted the “new” way, our old ways will no longer suffice.
Break your fast from True life…with hope and courage to live into your beliefs this Easter!