Stand Up!

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

John 5.1-9

In the movie, Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Connors is stuck in time – a particular day in time. He’s stuck on Groundhog Day. And he’s stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you know where the groundhog is pulled out his hole and if he sees his shadow it’s six more weeks of winter (in Logan’s case, it’s six more months of winter). Only for Phil Connors in the movie, it is Groundhog Day over and over and over again. He is stuck in that movie, every time he wakes up it is Groundhog Day and he is seemingly cursed to relive what he views as a tedious day in his life that is profoundly unfulfilled.

There is one sequence in the movie where Phil begins to be resigned to his fate of repeating the same pattern day after day, where he notices an old homeless man. At the beginning of the movie Phil passes this man and as the man holds out his hand asking something from him, he kind of sarcastically searches his pockets and just walks passed with a smirk on his face. But a little later in this sequence, Phil walks up to the man as he staggers down an alley and he says, “Let’s get you to someplace warm.” And he takes the old man to a hospital to strengthen, except that the old-timer passes away.

“Sometimes people die,” the nurse says.

“Not today,” says Phil.

And in subsequent repeats of the day, Phil tries everything he can to keep the old-timer alive. If just for Groundhog Day, just the day he is repeating over and over again, if there’s just some why he can keep him from dying for that day. And so he feeds him, and he cares for him, but no matter what he does, the man dies every time. Come on, Pop, breathe! He implores, but to no avail. There are somethings that you just cannot change.

I think that the old-timer in the story from scripture (with a life expectancy in bible times about 40, 38 years – would you say that’s an old-timer?), I think this old-timer in our bible story could have sympathized with both Phil and the old-timer he tries to help. Year after year this old-timer sits by the pool, close to what he believes will bring him healing, but he just can’t seem to make it.
Now in John’s gospel, the miracles that the author gives us are carefully chosen. They’re not just a hodgepodge of stories thrown together to prove Jesus is this great guy. No, they are called “signs”, these miracle stories. And they point to something as signs do. They point to a truth or a discovery that is intended to nurture a faith. Faith in Jesus.

So this morning we ask, what truth, what discovery does this story hold for us?

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Patience–for the Lord is Near

    I don’t often read from the book of James in the New Testament.  It’s a relatively short book, with instructions for Christians ranging from words about poverty and riches to warnings against judgment upon others, and finally to instruction on patience in the midst of suffering.

    Patience in the midst of suffering…  I confess that doesn’t sound very appealing.

    Suffering comes in so many forms, and all of them are significant and legitimate. Suffering varies, of course, and as a person living in the United States of America, I’m often reluctant to claim that I suffer from anything egregious. I have food, shelter, companionship, and various freedoms. But we do suffer. We suffer from lots of things. Isolation, job loss, self-doubt, economic uncertainty, criticisms or judgments from others. Criticisms or judgments from ourselves. There is no doubt that in one way or another we are even suffering from this COVID-19 pandemic. I miss you all. Meg and I are your pastors. We should be seeing you each week and praying with you, rejoicing at the good things in life, and comforting each other amidst the difficult time in life.

    It’s impossible to determine when we might get to the end of this, but I feel like we are about to turn a corner thanks to the hard work and miraculous creativity of scientists who are making COVID-19 vaccinations possible. I was in Colorado for a few days at the end of January to visit my father again, and it was such a blessing to drive him to a hospital where we received his first vaccination shot. The next one will be available in a few more weeks, and only then will I feel more secure about him, and the rest of us, making it through this.

    While reading James recently I came across this passage in the fifth and final chapter.

    Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

    James is writing to a group of people in first century Palestine who are wondering when Christ will return. He suggests they be patient for the coming of the Lord. I hope they were able to be so, because here we are two thousand years later…awaiting that same return. But in the midst of our ‘waiting’ we’ve learned something else about the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t have to wait for the return of Christ for Christ to be present in our lives and across this world. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We help bring it about. We help bring about that kingdom of love and grace and comfort.

    James goes on to suggest that just as a farmer waits for his or her crop to sprout up and grow with the rains and flourish for time of harvest, we too must be patient. He then instructs them to strengthen their hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Patience. It’s been a long time, but I hope and pray we are doing well with patience during this pandemic.

    I am still in shock that around 3-4,000 Americans are dying each day from COVID-19 or related complications. It is staggering. The number is higher around the world. How do we mourn such a time? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps the season of Lent which begins on February 17th will give us some room to do just that.

    This all brings me back to one of the central purposes of us as a congregation—the faithful worship gathering that we hold each week. I thank you for your patience and support while we worship on YouTube and occasionally via Zoom. I’d rather be in person with you, but not at the risk of anyone’s health or life. It’s a bit strange to me, being the church in this ‘digital age’ forced upon us by quarantine and social distancing. We’re doing our best, and I hope we’re doing it well. But I’m having a struggle with patience as I dream about seeing you all again in person. Session continues to discuss future plans; we will continue with our current setup for now and pray for a day when vaccinations are widespread and transmission rates approach zero. Not only for the sake of our worship, but also because of the value we place upon the health and well-being of each person.

    I’d like to also thank you for the love and support you have extended to my family as we’ve grieved my mom’s death on December 28th. My father received many cards from you, and he sends his thanks; they were all very meaningful. As you know my parents regularly visited Logan and enjoyed worshiping the Lord with us. Dad says when we’re back in person for church you can be sure he’ll be around to worship with us again. He, along with all of us, can’t wait to hear the Praise Band, Chancel Choir, and Westminster Bell Choir live and in person. Once again, thank you all.

    As James pleaded to those early Christians living in very uncertain times, may we strengthen our hearts, for indeed the Lord is near.

    Peace be with you all,  

    Derek

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