26 May 1981 – 38 years ago.
I wonder what you were doing way back then.
Think of all the water that has passed under your bridge in those intervening years.
For that is the length of time the poor man in our Gospel reading had been lying beside the pool of Bethsaida – and nothing happening in his life. Not a single thing – even though healing was only just out of reach.
Just hoping there might, in all that time, be one single movement of love towards him. Just one helping hand extended to even just give him the chance to be made well.
Soon after we were married we had cause to spend a night at my parents house in Worthing and after lights out, Alison whispered.
“It’s a strange thing your Father does, rolling his socks up into a ball and then wedging them in their bedroom doorway – I mean why would anyone do that”.
She was only just discovering that she had married into a strange little family.
“Oh that” I said “Well it’s in case I cry out in the night – then he can come running”.
“But, you’re twenty eight years old, your married to me and your going to be a Vicar in the church of England – why on earth would you want to cry out in the night”.
And so it was for many years before and after that – my Dad would roll his socks up into a ball and wedge them in their bedroom doorway – in case I cried out for help. Even though I was many miles away, eventually here in Redhill. And even though he was completely deaf. He’d carry on doing it.
My father was never a man demonstrable about love – never at all – but I look back on that one single movement of his – I know he did feel something. Something deeper than words.
On our pilgrimage to Lindisfarne – we visited the beautiful little Saxon church at Escomb. A place of worship since the seventh century and maybe a religious site for longer than that.
I expected it to be in the middle of nowhere – but there it stood in the middle of a crescent that had now become a housing estate. When our coach pulled up for our visit, I noticed a man sitting on his front porch in a string vest just over the road from this place of outstanding beauty. Smoking, staring into space. He barely looked up at our arrival.
Do they ever come to the church I asked one of our lovely guides – the people from the Estate. No she said – none of them do – not a single one of them ever crosses the road. Except at Christmas when they come for carols and mince pies.
I didn’t ask whether anyone from the church ever crossed the road to visit the houses.
But it struck me that either way a single movement of love might set off a complete chain reaction.
Had the man at the pool really been there for thirty eight years – or had he come lately?
It depends on how you read it!… but in any event…
Jesus had been making enquiries about him before he moved up close.
Which man did you say… Him? No! Don’t know him… never spoken to him if I’m honest. Clutters the place up a bit don’t he – best not to get down wind… stinks a bit!
And imagine again for a moment – that man’s life of being ignored, trampled on, cursed at, spat at, kicked and bruised… when the waters bubbled up causing a frenzy, no chance for him to get anywhere near.
Imagine what a single movement of love would have done for Him…and see what it now does when Jesus offers it.
For Jesus does here what he would do time and again in his ministry.
A single movement of love towards an untouchable.
Follow me – to Matthew at the tax booth.
Can I come to your house – to Zaccheaus in his shadowy world of wheeling and dealing.
Let her alone – to the woman facing stoning by the crowd.
And here as elsewhere it’s not with a cry of pity or words of soft compassion that the love of Jesus is given voice –this morning its like a hard hearted interrogation.
Do you want to get well…?
And when the paralysed man speaks he does not answer the question…
Sir I have no one… he begins…
And to be honest we can hold his words there.
We don’t need to hear the rest – so as this story ends up with little challenge for us as we suspect him of laziness, self pity or not having the motivation to help himself.
The big truth was that no one had moved towards him with a single movement of love – until Jesus breaks the silence of his isolation – until Jesus extends his hands – until Jesus causes him to rise – like Easter Day come early.
A single movement of love – that could mean so much and change so much…and we miss so many of them.
The things we fail to see – Jesus sees.
The people we forget about – Jesus remembers.
The situations we push to the edges of our consciousness – he drags back to the centre.
That which we deem of no value – he counts as priceless.
All sorts of things about our ourselves, and more importantly about others.
And a Church’s mission today is nothing less than exercising the character of Jesus as seen here.
Worship here is about testifying to this truth about ourselves.
Witness beyond here is about living it out towards others.
Our discipleship has about it a common task. To make a series of single movements of love towards places and people where no one else will go.
Do you want to get well…
Sir… I have no one…
The question for us is… where will we be that someone in the name of Christ?
Where will the single movement of love find its shape in you today?
There was a moment not so long ago – when it’s as if God the father rolled up his love into a ball just like my dad did with his socks – and wedged that love as a seed in the womb of a young girl in Nazareth.
There was a moment not so long ago – where the divine love of God held in the heavens crossed the street into our experience to become enfleshed in the place we call Bethlehem.
There was a moment not so long ago – where that love was trampled all over and squashed to death like a man with no one to help him to the pool– or so it seemed – on a cross just beyond Jerusalem.
And today… Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem are not so important to us as here.
For the important thing is that the single movements of love found there now find their mirrored action, where we are and where we go.
At the end of the Gospel passage – the healing of the man is pronounced with the words – take up your mat and walk.
So I wonder what will you make of that story and these words today.
Would you ball up the love of God and wedge it somewhere so as to create an opening and response to another’s cry.
Is there a street you need to cross to bring two worlds close together.
Is there a love in you that you might just be prepared to put on the line for someone else.
Jesus says don’t close the words on this story and return the book to the shelves.
Don’t fold up your news sheet and hand it back before you leave church.
Is there a Jesus whispering to you to not take up your mat and walk – but take up my words and walk… be a single movement of love in this aching world – and then you may be surprised to find where He is risen.
26 May 1981 – 38 years ago.