In just a minute, I am going to read you the story of Jesus performing a healing at the Bethesda pool. Rather than reading along with me, or just listening, I want you to do something else. As I read, with your eyes closed, I want you to imagine that you yourself are at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem. You are there to be healed by the waters. You’ll want to have a disease or disability of some kind. Let’s say your right side is paralyzed. Let your right arm go limp. Let your right leg go limp. You are not in pain, but you can’t move much. You can’t perform day-to-day chores—like washing clothes or dishes. You drag your leg when you walk. That is why you yourself are at the Bethesda pool. You are lying under a portico. The sun’s rays are blocked, but it’s hot as an oven. You are desperate for healing, though. You watch and wait for the pool’s water to stir. When it does, it means that angels are present and a miracle can happen. Your plan is that when you see the moving water, you will crawl to the water and using your left hand and arm as a lever, you will throw yourself in.
Ok, as you feel moved to do so, close your eyes and listen for the word of God.
Ok. You can open your eyes. I want you to think back on what you felt as I read the scripture passage. What were you feeling when you saw Jesus stride over to the pool? What were you feeling when you saw the one disabled man stand up, joy like electricity moving through his body? Did your eyes grow wide? Maybe you looked to your left and to your right, just to make sure that others saw the same thing. Then you and they whooped and cheered and laughed and cried. Scripture doesn’t say that, but we know it’s true. Everyone celebrated. Everyone rejoiced at the one man’s good fortune.
Ok. Let’s continue with our imaginings. Too soon, the healed man is gone. Jesus is gone. You are still lying there, under the portico. You talk to some of your fellow sufferers lying nearby about what you have seen. “How did Jesus DO that? It was a miracle, alright.” Then quiet returns.
Eventually, your thoughts turn to you and your own misery. And you think, “Oh, if Jesus could have only healed me, too! And that thought morphs into a question. Why NOT me too?”
That’s our stepping off place for today. I wanted us to do this little exercise so that we might consider the others who were NOT healed that day at the Bethesda pool, when our inclination is to focus on the one who WAS healed.
Why didn’t Jesus heal everyone who was at the pool that day? The blind child; the deaf mute; the woman with the disfiguring tumor on her face. And, why didn’t Jesus heal the paralytic--YOU?
First, we will want to disabuse ourselves of the idea that they and you didn’t deserve healing. That doing a quick survey of the pool area, and with x-ray vision of peoples’ hearts and minds, Jesus determined who was most worthy of being healed and left everyone else to stew in their sinfulness. This many years into studying scripture, I can affirm that Jesus had compassion for EVERYONE; Yes, even tax collectors, prostitutes and Roman centurions—maybe even tax collectors, prostitutes and Roman centurions. No one was outside his loving care and concern. It must have pained him mightily to witness so much suffering at that Bethesda pool.
I invite you to share with me your own thoughts on this after the service, but my own conclusion as to why Jesus didn’t heal everyone in one "swell foop" as it were, is two fold.
One, Jesus had great powers, yes, but these were still limited. He could not just wave a wand, say abracadabra and heal everyone the world over. Healing takes focus, and energy, and time—and Jesus’ focus, energy and time on earth was limited. What kind of pressure Jesus must have endured--trying to get everything done he wanted to get done and in short order! In fact, if we jump to John 5:16-18, just a few lines further down from what I read today, we may have an indication of his great impatience. The Pharisees chastise Jesus because he performed a healing on the Sabbath. In other words, healing on the one day of the week set aside by God for rest.
Jesus shoots back at them, “My father is always working and so am I!” Which could be read as, “Sabbath, Sabbath? Hah! I’m on a seven day, 24 hour work week here! Don’t talk to me about the Sabbath! So much to do, so little time!”
Two, Jesus’ ministry was not primarily about healing peoples’ minds and bodies. His primary ministry was to bring good news to the poor, to the outcast, and to everybody actually--- good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the grand scheme of things, that was more important. He took the long view and the broad view of human history. The good news of the Kingdom of God—that extends well beyond one community, and it extends beyond one life time. So, Jesus did the compassionate thing, healing minds and bodies when he could, but always in the context of his greater, more important and more expansive ministry.
This story, then, is a good metaphor, or parable, for churches. Since we are Christ’s followers, OUR primary purpose is to spread the good news, too. To take the long and broad view of human history, too. However, our secondary calling is to do the compassionate thing. We do that here. We work for the food bank; we contribute to the work of Meals on Wheels—just two examples.
That’s my segue into Help for Neighbors, which you may know, is Scottsville Presbyterian’s new mission initiative. It happened like this. Our Session has been watching our finances grow and grow some more. It’s been exhilarating. Many thanks to Tom, who is managing our money for us. Then, at a Session meeting last year, Larry made the suggestion. Why don’t we buy pew cushions?” We looked at each other and we said, “Well, why not? We have the money and those pews are a little on the hard side.” So as you know we bought pew cushions. That was our gift to ourselves.
But then, the Session considered. "Hum,. What would Jesus do with our little cache?” Brian made the suggestion and the Session voted to give the community a gift, too. A gift of healing of sorts.
The way Help for Neighbors works, is this. It’s up to each of us to identify and let the Session know about people who could use a little financial help. That’s the easy part. There’s so much need out there. You remember how cold it was this past winter—burst water pipes, high utility bills? My goodness was there need!
We’ve used the fund twice now to give memorial gifts to the families of friends of the church. And we used the fund to purchase a frame for Jimmy—a frame for the citation from the President, honoring Jimmy’s dad, Austin. Remember that? But along with identifying individuals who may need our financial help, or to whom we just want to give a special gift, the Session decided that it would identify on-going projects and programs that could use our financial help.
Chris Yates and Bruce Lugn were our guests at our June Session meeting. They talked with us about the good work happening at Little Learners. You’ve probably heard of Little Learners already. It’s a day care center. It operates out of Glendower Episcopal Church. I visited Little Learners a couple of weeks ago. Great space. Freshly painted. Clean. Well furnished with cribs, and toys and rocking chairs, and mats for nap time. You get the idea. Chris Yates is here today to tell us more about Little Learners. He’ll do that during our minute for mission. Here, though, I want to address why a day care center is needed in our area at all. And why the Session has singled out Little Learners for the church’s support.
I have already said, and you know, that there are a lot of people in and around Scottsville who are hurting financially. Parents with young children can have it especially tough, though. Infant and child day care is expensive. The low-end rate for child care is $10,000 a year. Now, multiply that by two if a family has two preschool-age children. Little Learners, though? It offers day care that is economically accessible to even extremely financially challenged families. And it’s a good day care center. Children are receiving quality care.
Taryn, the director of Little Learners, gave me one for-instance. There’s a little boy who attends the school. He lives in a single parent household. His mother works but she doesn’t have $10,000 year to spend on childcare. She takes advantage of Little Learners scholarship program. Taryn says that this single mother’s little boy is extremely high energy. Taryn believes that had it not been for Little Learners, though, this little boy, with such an exuberance for life, might have been shuffled off to a grandparent. And he might have spent much of his days watching TV. As it is, he’s out on the playground running trucks through the sandbox, “vroom!”! He’s learning to sit still while his teacher reads Where the Wild Things Are, and he’s making lots and lots of little friends.
But there’s more to be gained at Little Learners than financial stability for individual families; and little children’s development. That’s just a short term healing of sorts.
Good early child care for one child has consequences that extend well beyond one child’s early years. We know that children who receive an early childhood education are more likely to finish high school, less likely to get in trouble with the law, more likely to land good jobs when they enter the workforce. And that can impact the next generation in a family, and the next and the next. Not only that. It’s been proven to be true, a good early childhood education program in a community, impacts the entire community for the good. So, let’s extrapolate that out--a good childcare program in one community, can have a favorable impact on the town, the state, the nation, and on the world even. Kind of like what happens when we share the gospel. Like Jesus, then, we who are investing in decent child care are taking a long view and a broad view of human history. Ok. I realize that investment may not bring in the Kingdom of God, but then again, it can’t hurt, can it?
Finally, like Jesus that day at the Bethesda Pool, WE realize we can’t do it all. We do what we can. We will hope, that when we do what WE can, God will do what we can’t.
Let everyone say, Amen