How good are you at languages that are not English: Today I want to take you to three phrases of our faith – that are in a foreign language.
The First is in Italian.
These words are used by Dante Alighieri in his poem called “Divine Comedy” – which was completed in 1320.
In his poem these were the words written over the gates of hell –
“Abandon hope all you who enter here”.
This poem expresses the ideas of the Medieval Church of the 14 Century: put more simply: if you did not belong to the Christian Church when you died you went to hell – where there would was no more hope for you.
There are still many Christian who cling to this idea 800 years later. That some people have no hope of salvation and they might as well give up now.
My task today is to say to us that this is simply not true: There is never a moment when we abandon all hope: And I know this because Jesus went to the place without hope – and Jesus redeemed it.
And here I take us to the second bit of foreign language:
Here are the words of Jesus on the cross:
eli eli lama sabachthani
We read the translation in Matthew 27:46:
My God, My God – why have you forsaken me?
Here is the place where Jesus abandons all hope:
Here is the moment that the image of Dante becomes real: Jesus has entered that place of no hope – he is using an ancient prayer of desperation – Psalm 22 - and those standing at the cross hear him literally enter the gates of hell.
But here is the good news of our faith: not even the gates of hell could hold him….
Do you remember the Creed we say:
I believe in ….. Jesus Christ…
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven,
This is our faith: that nobody should abandon hope, because on the third day Jesus bursts the gates of hell and offers hope to all who trust in him
Nobody should believe that they are forsaken by God.
Because each person is God’s, and no matter how far you have strayed, God keeps loving you.
It is time to teach the last word:
At the end of 1 Corinthians St Paul Uses a word that is written in Aramaic: “Maranatha”
A statement of faith – and a cry of hope:
Translated as “The Lord has come – and may the Lord come”.
Today I am inviting us to replace our despair with hope – to learn the word “Maranatha”
Invite Jesus into our lives
Choose to live your life in the shadow of the teachings of Jesus
Instead of despair – speak this word each morning: Maranatha.
John 5:1-8: The Healing at the Pool
5 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
There are times when a question is so obvious that it almost should not be asked; this story told in John 5 is one of those times. John tells of a man who has been physically impaired for 38 years and Jesus asks him: “Do you want to be healed?”
Let me give some context to this story: In the time of Jesus this man would have been considered “unclean”: physical impairment suggested that he had been cursed by God: his physical limitation was thought to be a sign of God’s anger.
This had profound implications for him: it meant that he would have to call out to people not to come too close to him in case they too became unclean. Because of this he could not work. Anything he touched would be unclean. It also meant that he could not enter the temple in Jerusalem – or even the local synagogue. Unclean people were not welcomed into the perfect presence of God.
Here is a man on the margins of society. This was a man who depended on family and friends for food, and for assistance in anything he needed.
This man is found by Jesus lying at the pool of Bethesda – which John tells us is near the Sheep Gate in the wall of Jerusalem. The belief of that time was that an angel touched the water, and if you could get yourself into the water in time you would be healed.
Which brings us back to the question asked by Jesus. “Do you want to be healed?” Here is a man at the margins of society – with no work prospects, no social standing, living in a twisted body – and he is asked if he wants to be healed? What a stupid question – of course he wants to be healed – why else was he desperately lying at this pool?
But there is a purpose behind the question. Healing means that your life will be changed. There is no going back – you will have a “before” and an “after” . And this requires thought and decision making. As I read this story it struck me that all of us could find ourselves in such a space as this man:
Let me explain: we all are aware of broken places in our lives
• Sometimes there are broken places in our bodies that we should pay attention to, but we would rather not think about this. Sometimes these are broken emotions inside of us because of things that have happened in our past, and we try to bury our emotions
• Sometimes there are broken relationships with other people. We had a difficult moment, and no longer speak to a family member, or a friend.
• and Sometimes we know of places where we are spiritually broken in our relationship with our Creator. We have given up on praying, or we have stopped meeting for worship.
This is the moment that the question of Jesus can be heard echoing through history: “Do you want to be healed?”
This is a serious question – that asks if we are willing to do what it takes to become whole. And we know that this is not easy to answer: because healing might mean that we must change our lives in order to be healed:
Healing in our bodies might mean changing our diet, or doing some exercise, or going to see a doctor. “Do you want to be healed?”
Healing relationships might mean making the decision to mend the broken relationship : “Do you want to be healed?”
Healing of our Spirits can mean admitting that our emotions are broken, or that our relationship with God needs mending. “Do you want to be healed?”
Today I offer you the opportunity to learn from the man at the Pool of Bethesda: a man who chose to be healed. His answer is interesting – he did not just say “Yes, I want to be healed”.
He said: “I have no one to help me.”
Getting better is not simply deciding to turn over a new leaf. It is not just gritting our teeth and doing better. Most often getting better involves the help of others:
• Our physical well-being can mean visiting a doctor, or asking for the help of a personal trainer.
• Our relational health often means asking for mediation from a third party, or going for counseling to understand how a relationship breaks down
• And our spiritual health is greatly assisted by therapy, or by praying with a pastor or a spiritual companion.
Like the man at the Pool of Bethesda – can you hear Jesus saying to us: “Do you want to be healed?’ I am suggesting this begins with the decision to become better.
Do not become comfortable with your broken-ness. Choose instead to begin the process – why not begin today:
I am going to pray for you: that you might have the courage to find healing. But this is often the beginning point. We might also need to pray that God will send people who can assist us in our healing.
O Lord God, you seek wholeness of every aspect of my life. I come to you with my broken and battered life. I have stumbled many times, and I carry the scars of my mistakes. I surrender to you my past brokenness, my present struggles, and my fears for the future. I ask You to take hold over every aspect of my life. I surrender to You all my hurt, pain, worry, doubt, fear, and anxiety, and I ask You to hold my life in your Grace. I release everything into Your compassionate care.
I surrender to you everything that I am and everything that I'm striving to be. I offer you my life, heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.
Speak to me clearly, O Lord. Open my ears to hear Your voice. Open my heart to the prompting of your Holy Spirit. Allow me to experience Your loving embrace. Open the doors that need to be opened and close the doors that need to be closed. Please send people across my path who can direct me in your ways. And begin the healing of my life today.
These prayers I ask in the name of Jesus – the great healer
Does This Offend You?
Sermon by Pastor Pete 10/2/22
We live in a culture that is easily offended. A prevailing attitude is that anything that I do not agree with gives me the right to shout my objection, or perhaps take a video for social media, or at worst to scream profanities and to throw punches.
For this reason we all have become very cautious about giving offence. We weigh our words before speaking, or we choose to keep silent, or we simply walk away. Today’s scripture reading is about Jesus giving offence – and his followers are offended. John’s Gospel tells of a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus when he confronts his audience with a difficult idea: and they take offence.
59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
61 Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you were to see the Human One[a] going up where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.
67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”
Jesus speaks difficult words – and therefore, we are told, many people stop following him. Then, having stirred up the pot, he turns to his disciples and asks them “Does this offend you?”
I am inviting us to be curious: what is the offence?
Jesus is challenging the way the people of his day understand the meaning of their relationship with God: he has just fed 5000 people, and as a result his popularity has grown. He has given hungry people food, and they flock to hear more from him. This might have been the moment for Jesus to consolidate his support – perhaps to preach some pleasing sermons, and to organize his followers into a network of sustainable support. But he does not do this. Instead he questions the motives of his supporters: he asks them if they are following him because they want more food – or because they are expecting to get other stuff from him. And then he points out that he has not come to bless the children of Israel with material possessions. Instead, says Jesus, he has come to connect them with the Spirit of God – and that his message was intended for anyone else who wanted to be spiritually blessed. Jesus then used an allegory to illustrate this – he said that he is like bread and blood:
And just a bit of cultural explanation:
• In the time of Jesus: Bread was broken together by friends and family: Jesus says he is inviting anyone to be part of such a welcome – friends, family, strangers can share the breaking of bread.
• Blood was thought to be the life force of any living being – drain the blood and there is no life. Jesus says – share my blood – be part of my spiritual life force. And let this invitation be open to all.
But this is offensive to those who hear him:
Those who heard him did not believe in sharing bread with just anyone: Jews only ate with Jews – all others were thought to be unclean, and so it was impossible to speak of opening the table to just anyone..
And just the mention of blood was offensive. Jesus then makes it worse by suggesting an illustration that speaks of the sharing of blood? The mingling of blood was impossible to talk about. Jewish history was about purity of blood – not about allowing others into the family.
And at this point Jesus says - the Kingdom of God is open to all who are willing to join with me. There is no exclusion from breaking bread. There is no superior bloodline. All are welcome into God’s family.
And John Chapter 6 tells us that some of the people listening to him turned around and walked away. This was too hard for them to hear. They had interpreted the belief that they were God’s chosen people to mean that they were better than all others – not that they were chosen to bear witness to the love of God. And it offended them to discover that God loved everyone.
It is at this point that Jesus asks his disciples “Does this offend you?”
Before we look at how the disciples’ answer: I am wondering if the words of Jesus offend us? Are we able to hear Jesus saying that everyone is welcome to break bread with him: can you hear the Good News of welcome – especially when you feel unworthy of the love of God. You are God’s beloved. No matter what you have been told - You can break bread with Jesus.
Of course the same applies to everyone else – there are no unwelcome guests who must sit elsewhere. And there is no superior bloodline that gets to stand in the front of the line. All are welcome.
This is tough – because we all are tempted to see people, or categories of people who we think of as less desirable: I am curious – who are the people you think of an inferior to you? Listen to these words from the disciples of Jesus:
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.
The words of eternal life are words of welcome for everyone. No one is excluded from the family of God. This is the Gospel of Jesus – do not shut people out of breaking bread with you – and with Jesus. Do not shut people out because of their bloodline, or their nationality, or their education, or their gender identity or their sexual orientation or for any other reason.
These are human inventions – they are not the way of God.
Jesus says – “I am the bread of life – come break bread with me”