I love to talk about how Jesus loves us all.
I love to talk about the unfurling of God’s dream for the world.
I love to talk about justice rolling down like a river.
I am comfortable talking about these things because they can be rationally explained and argued.
I like a faith I can explain.
I want a faith that doesn’t embarrass me.
One that doesn’t make me look dumb to my family, friends, and
One that doesn’t put me at odds with those people on TV and the Internet who seem to have airtight arguments to dismiss such things as Jesus healing a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
Can’t I just hide behind the parts of my faith that the world accepts and hide those embarrassing bits?
Perhaps you too have had a moment like me when someone asks you,
“do you really believe all of that stuff?”
“Christianity has good morals but I could never believe that miracle stuff.”
We in the Episcopal Church have long been a place where one need not “check your brain at the door.”
It is for this reason, the church’s willingness to put up with folks who wrestle with these questions, that I stayed here.
And yet sometimes once the pressure to conform is relieved we tend to stop wrestling all together.
We might say, “we’ll take the stuff about blessed are the peacemakers and God is love and let the Baptists keep the miracles.”
But then we confront a story like this.
If we choose not to shrug it off as magic for a more primitive people,
And engage it faithfully.
Will it hold up?
The scene opens by panning over characters and sights familiar to Jerusalem and beyond.
The bad part of town.
This is the 1stCentury of equivalent of shopping carts, blue tarps, and tents. The one where people are out in the sun all day by the interstate exit, trying to get a little money pulled together.
The camera pans over different kinds of folks in the neighborhood.
People who can’t walk,
And the just plain weak.
Eventually we zoom in on one person in particular,
A staple of the neighborhood who has been in this position this for decades.
This man embodies inertia.
He is the way things have always been.
And then here comes Jesus.
Now why God had not healed this man before, I don’t know.
But this day God incarnate came and asked if he would like to live life in a different way.
Jesus asks the man if he would like to be made well,
To be made whole.
Notice the man’s response. He doesn’t say “yes.”
The lame man explains how people keep messing up his plan. He’s upset because quicker folks keep stirring up the water. And when it finally settles down, people get in his way.
Don’t get me wrong, the man’s story is tragic.
And surely Jesus is moved by his circumstances.
But when Jesus offers him wellness, the man would rather complain about the whippersnappers beating him to the pool.
But Jesus is offering more than a listening ear.
He is offering new life.
Jesus doesn’t wait for the man to realize what he is offering or for the man the man to ask him his name. The lame man won’t remember it when confronted by temple authority’s a few days later.
Jesus says, “stand up.” And the man was made well and stood up.
So how did Jesus do it?
I don’t know.
Was he able to emit some sort of gamma radiation that rewired the mitochondria of the lame man’s cells to realign and restore mobility to atrophied joints?
You know, I actually don’t think parsing out how it happened is very important.
That answer might make usfeel better.
It might keep us from being embarrassed.
But Jesus is about as interested in our embarrassment as he is in the man’s plan getting messed up.
It seems as though the how is not the point, for Jesus.
Indeed, we don’t get a howfor many of the miracles.
Well, maybe we do but not howwe will like.
The variations in Jesus’ miracles often depend on the audience.
Sometimes the miracles happen before Jesus even gets there.
Remember the story of the Roman Centurion who had helped build a synagogue for his Jewish neighbors. He sent some of his Jewish friends to find Jesus. Before Jesus gets there the Centurion sends a message, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Then there is the story in Mark when Jesus goes back to his hometown. The people are hardhearted and can’t believe this kid they knew is preaching now. And we are told that Jesus could do no deeds of power there.
Bishop Rowan Williams writes “God has – mysteriously – made a world in which what human beings do can help or hinder what God achieves at any point in the world’s history; when we give him space, through our prayerful consent to and identification with what he wants, things may happen that were otherwise unpredictable. It is a world that may not be secure but is pulsing with something unmanageable, terrible, and wonderful just below the surface.
It seems like the only howthat we can control is us.
We can only control our own openness to God’s work in our presence.
When the Order of Saint Luke does healing prayers, they are not doing miracles, they are helping us take on a posture open to God’s work.
They are helping us be a little more like the Centurion.
They are helping us remember the name of our healer.
Perhaps if we stop worrying about the how, even more of God’s work will happen in our midst.
Work that is beyond our ability to comprehend,
Defend or even appreciate.
And while the while I stayed in this church for its openness to my questions, I dedicated my life to it because God is doing something bigger than my imagination, my understanding, and my plan.
And that is worth standing up for.