Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ –
May grace and peace be yours in abundance (I Peter 1:2a). – ….. –
In February I began a series of brief articles on the Marks of a Missional Congregation relying heavily on Stephen P. Bouman’s, The Mission Table: Renewing Congregation & Community (© 2013 Augsburg Fortress).
Each article includes Scripture, questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer. Perhaps your church council, adult study, youth group, coffee group will use these monthly writings as a time to engage in learning, discernment and reflection together. Previous month’s articles are available on the synod website: www.albertasynod.ca
A congregation in mission faces paralysis with courage.
John 5:1-9 tells the story of Jesus appearing at the hour of worship in Jerusalem. At that place was a pool called Bethesda, and near it, in the narthex (five of them actually), lay many who were blind, lame, paralyzed on their mats. Those with the means – with the help, with the right connections, resources, or friends – got to the pool. One man had been lying on his mat in sight of the healing pool for thirty-eight years.
“When Jesus say him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (5:6).
At first reading Jesus’ question may appear to be insensitive. The man had been waiting for thirty-eight years to ‘get to the healing pool.’ The question roused the man to spirited response. He spits out his anger: “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” (5:7).
Why, indeed would Jesus ask this man, “Do you want to be made well?” It is the only question that matters. If the man doesn’t want to be made well, he will continue to make a life for himself sitting by the side of the pool.
All of us, sisters and brothers, are on our mats. All of us are at the many tables of the church together. Do we want to be made well?
It is the only question for congregations stalled in their ministry, timid in their stewardship, casual in their discipleship stifled in their imagination about the future, afraid of the changing communities outside their doors.
It is the only question for those who have endured tragedy and resent the whole world moving on while they are stuck. “You, heart closed, turned inward, seething, paralyzed by what happened, do you really want to be made well?”
It is the only question for a world paralyzed by anger, sitting beside the pool on the mat of its many divisions. Individually, in our congregations, in our relationships – do we really want to be made well – or will we clutch our rationalizations, our fears, our additions, and our self-delusions and self-absorption and talk about why we never get to the pool? Will we stop trying to drag ourselves to the pool we know we will never reach long enough to notice the Healer standing in our midst?
The man by the pool was caught in a thirty-eight year cycle of anger. The root meaning for the Old Norse word angr is grief. It is mourning the distance between what was and what has become; it is grief over the distance between what is and what ought to be. He was apathetic (from the Greek a-pathos, “without feeling “). Jesus’ question stirred him to grieving anger.
And then, when he stood, Jesus says: “Take your mat” (5:8). Why?
In the story, the healing by the pool led to testimony. The mat became the man’s history of God’s healing providence. Those who are healed have a story to tell about where and who they have been. The call to healing is a call not to leave our mats behind or to pretend that they are not there.
The call to healing does not make light of the divisions among us, of what our congregations has been through, of what we have lost. It is a call to angr – the grief of the gulf between what was and what has become, between what is and what should be. It is a holy longing to be well. It is a resolve to turn our gaze from the pool that is reflecting back our paralysis and to look into the eyes of Jesus standing with us in our paralysis – Jesus, the one who calls us to the place of grieving anger transformed to healing grace for the life of the world.
Read and Reflect: John 5:1-9
Discuss and Reflect:
- What in this reading leads you to say, “I wonder about…?”, or, “I noticed…?”
- Comment on the statement: Jesus, the one who calls us to the place of grieving anger transformed to healing grace for the life of the world.
- In what ways is your congregation being courageous at this time in its life?
Sing together the prayer, Kyrie Eleison, using one of the following: EvLW 151 or 155; WOV 601 or 602.
The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
In Christ Jesus –
The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada