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I’ve read or heard this story at least a hundred times before I saw what I’m about to share with you this morning. So get ready for a sermon that your not likely to hear at your corner church.
John 5 tells of a mystical pool of water in Jerusalem called Bethesda. It was believed that if the still waters become “stirred” that the spirit of God was moving and the first person in the pool would receive healing.
Healing is synonymous with liberation.
An invalid had been sitting by this pool for 38 years when Jesus comes over to him. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked.
The invalid tells Jesus that no one will help him into the water and that others get in first. Some say these are excuses. Perhaps, but they are his imprisoned reality nonetheless.
I think religion has created a reality like that of the invalid. It sits by the pool where magical stuff is supposed to happen, but for many it never delivers. It doles out hope via its programs and just repeats the process.
Jesus drops a nuclear bomb in order to alter the invalid’s reality. He tells the man; “Get up, pick up your matt, and walk.”
Most sermons stop here and celebrate that Jesus healed the man. Instead, let’s consider what Jesus just said.
It was the Jewish Sabbath. Keeping the religious day holy meant not working. Carrying a bed matt around was work. So was walking around. Jesus was saying; “Your liberation comes by breaking the Ten Commandments”
In fact the bible tells us that Jesus message and subsequent liberation was constantly tied to breaking the sabbath. That’s really important. This is because he claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). In other words, Jesus is that which is beyond all the ritual, dogma and religious practice. He is the actual liberty that all religion is supposed to provide but never does. He is liberation from religion by relating to ultimate reality via faith, not rules. He is The Thing beyond the things.
Sadly, our world is caught up in the things. Religious leaders are caught up in their things, their buildings, their staff, their budgets, their plans and programs, and their doctrine. Most are struggling to get by and Jesus is asking, “Do you want to be healed?” Lawbreakers experience a liberty that abiders can’t possess (more on this in a second).
The invalid in this story parades around on the Sabbath with his bed and is the talk of the town. Open violations of law are not good for a system that uses fear for behavior modification. The loss of fear of the individual equates to the loss of the system’s power. Jesus knows this.
What is a system to do? They diminish the invalid. They cast doubt on the liberty and ultimately squash anyone who subscribes to a reality beyond their own. Those in power like to define reality for others.
Later, Jesus catches up to the man and says: “I see you are well, sin no more so that nothing worse will happen to you.” This doesn’t mean that his sin caused him to become an invalid, and that future sin will bring something worse. No, it means his freedom, expressed by his present sin of violating the sabbath, would get him killed by the religious elite. Even the lawbreaker has to abide by at least one law.
Healing and/or liberation is the heart of the gospel (Isa 61:1 Luke 4:18), which tell us that the “good news” is the liberation of the captive. Our world is full of systems (religious and otherwise) that imprison us by pitting us against outsiders. This empowers the system and erodes our humanity. Jesus undermined all of this.
The gospel of liberation is not a world with no rules, but a world governed by one rule: LOVE. If we think we have God within our highly structured, organized, an dogmatic containment system, then we have a religion and not God. If we are afraid to leave that system (that keeps us in by the use of fear) in our search for God/liberty, we have become the invalid. Yes, I read all your emails, I know for a fact that our yearning for God often leads us out of our small religious communities and organizational structures.
Liberty is the ability to see on an entirely different level. It’s called awareness or higher consciousness. Having the eyes to see and the ears to hear means we can perceive the difference between the essence and its container. This is true of all religions, academics, the arts, sports, businesses, and kingdoms.
This story shows how liberation is being in or from but not of such containers. Will we trust God is calling us if it is “sin”(carrying our matt) that puts us out of the container?