Being Sustained by a Vision of what Could Be

Posted: June 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

Easter 6C, 2019
John 5:1-3, 5-9

Being Sustained by a Vision of what Could Be

Some years back now in recent history Sally McFague said that none of the world’s major religions has as its maxim: ‘Blessed are the greedy’. And she went on to say that “Given the many differences among religions on doctrines and practice, it is remarkable to find such widespread agreement at the level of economics”. Her comments I thought were an ideal intro into my topic for today which is that having a vision is important but sustaining it is the hard bit and probably the most important bit. It is also an acknowledgement that sustaining it is never easy because it has to battle against the visions that are already sustainable. Look at the slowness of the world to grasp that climate change is a human responsibility. Look at the recent governments attempt to implement a wellbeing culture. Already it is competing with visions of affordable housing, or the dilemma of the construction industry. Blessed are the greedy could be battling with blessed are the incompetent or maybe it’s the system that as fault. These are visions of a better world that seem to rule.

One of the things that has come to mind in the last few years here at St David’s is the need for a sustainable mission vision. Questions such as why does St David’s exist? What is St David’s purpose have been at the forefront or at the base of our thinking about our future but on the tip of our tongue has been the need for a sustainable vision of what we would like to aspire to. So, it seems to me that it is appropriate and timely that our gospel story this morning, is centered on the importance of being sustained
by a vision of what might be. It is appropriate, because as someone once said; “in the absence of a vision there is nightmare; in the absence of compassion there is cancer.

I will not say it but it could be said that we might know this well given our experience.

Our biblical storyteller says Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem, by the pool or mineral spring of Bethesda. Around the pool, in arcades, lay a variety of invalids. Jesus picked out one particular man who’d been siting there for 38 years or so. And the dialogue goes something like this:

What would need to happen for you to proclaim yourself well?

Hang on mate. It’s not my fault.

There’s no one to help me into the water at the right time.

You’re right!

Your sickness is not your fault. Pick up your mat and walk.

That’s our biblical story.

The invitation is to ponder the proposition that this is not a story about a so-called physical miracle, but rather a story about a political-religious situation as well as a vision or world view on life. What part does religion play in politics, economics etc. might be questions being faced here? Being content with, or trapped on, one’s ‘mat’ may seem, after 38 years or so, fairly fixed. fairly secure, authentic, settled and safe, but it is an extremely limited and limiting world view that one gets from that same mat. The challenge or vision given the man by John’s Jesus was for him to want to move beyond those limits…
To want to re-imagine the world from a different perspective, from a different experience, with a different vision. To become whole. And we all know that that was and is a bit of a challenge! New insight or vision is always at odds with the old way of looking at things.
All the more so when those old ways leave people, physically malnourished or hysterically disabled. It is pretty certain that each of you could name someone else for whom it might be beneficial to either hear this sermon or receive a printed or email copy of it. And, while that all may be very well and good, each of us needs to be encouraged to remember
these stories are also for us – now. The challenge here is to resist projecting away on to others the challenge we find. How do we do this?

Well maybe we could start with Jesus’ words and his interaction with others. We might see that what he says and does bears witness to a re-imagined world.
A new vision. A new consciousness. A new way of being in the world.

We might then see that by connection, we might be being asked to examine when the structures and dominant theology of our wider church helps keep people ‘sick’ or ‘stuck in their condition’ rather than offering new life, a re-imagined world. How might what the church expects of us to be and do removes the risk of re-imagining with Jesus
that his world will work, and be a safe place. Brandon Scott put this as having Faith with Jesus rather than faith in Jesus. A traditional way of saying this might be to be about confessing our own sharing in that sickness at times…

Charles Campbell, in his book, The Word Before the Powers, wonders that if one of the ways the Principalities and Powers, the Systems of Domination, keep us under their thumb is by keeping us busy, tired, and diverted. I might add without a sustainable vision.

We become numbed to the call of Jesus to serve God and serve the hurting because we don’t have time. We come home after work and collapse in front of the TV until it is time to go to bed and repeat the process all over again. Weekends are when we want to get out of town or do something else. So, we live life to the minimum. And we say we want change when we actually want to remain the same – but we want to feel better about it.

We know that to get up and follow Jesus will involve us in people’s lives in ways we’re not sure we want, because to be whole means to be re-membered, re-connected with God and with God’s people and God’s creation. No more isolation. No more living my own private life where no one bothers me. To be whole means to get off of the couch and get involved. It means to work our buts off, often doing behind the scenes work that is tedious and overlooked. We know that to walk out of the door and say, “Here, am I Jesus! Send me!” is an invitation to maybe getting crucified like Jesus.

As Dan Berrigan has said, “If you’re going to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood, because that is where you’ll end up.” We know all of that, so maybe our couches and our pallets don’t look so bad.

It is no wonder then that so many churches are still on the pallet. No wonder so many of us are reticent about being made whole. And no wonder we have neither the courage nor the will nor the energy to say, “No!” to the many ways the systems grind us all down. No wonder we are reluctant to say “Yes!” to Jesus Christ and the embodiment of his Abundant Life.

In our story, this man has the guts to be whole. He takes a deep breath and nods to Jesus, “Yes, I want to be whole, healed and well. I know it will take time Jesus. I know it will take work and lots of unlearning old pain-filled habits accumulated over 38 years, and learning new habits. I know it is not going to be easy, but yes, Jesus, make me a whole person.”

And Jesus does. No questions asked. No stipulations. No checking to see if he is truly deserving or not. Jesus just heals him. Grace. And the man picks up his mat and walks out of the door to new life. To wholeness.

A prayer for today might be let us likewise be empowered and blessed by the grace that we belong to a wider community of faith that is not static but dynamic; that is not set in concrete, but ever-changing. For such a community reflects the creative and ever-evolving nature of God beyond our feeble church structures.

And maybe we could say that such a God is always present in all our faith adventures.

But especially with those who, like the one we call Jesus, can re-imagine the world
in an outward embracing of all beings. Even the 38-year member who can’t see the wood for the trees, who can’t see the possibilities of a reimagined life. A new vision to live by or with.

It is important to be sustained by a vision of what might be. It is also important to check out what shapes that vision. And if what shapes our vision tends to exclude some by benefiting others, or erect walls rather than include all, then maybe that ‘vision’ needs to be questioned. Does our vision for a new St David’s congregation go far enough? Does it in include the poor or just the elite? Is our special character or what we bring actually healing and supporting and changing the world or is it just about us?

It has also been said stories can be ‘dangerous’. Whether this biblical story in our text today is of an actual event or the invention of the storyteller, it is a ‘dangerous’ story, because it challenges us at the chore of our being. Are we doing the right thing here in these buildings on this site as a congregation of the PCANZ and is that right thing about the wellbeing of people or the organisation? Is our mission vision sustainable not just in terms of monetary concern but also in terms of community, wellbeing? Will it change things for the better? And we remember, that that challenge also goes for our country’s budget economics, is our wellbeing budget big enough, sustainable enough, does it include as well the possibility of a just and sustainable planet, which incidentally is being hailed as the great’ work of the 21st century to which all human endeavour is called.

Is our vision sustainable in the face of systems that would have it go away because it is dangerous in its ability to change things? Amen.

Notes:
Scott, B. B. 2001. Re-imagine the World. An introduction to the parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.

Courage to be Whole by Kyle Childress http://www.ekklesiaproject.org

rexae74@gmail.com

 

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