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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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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