by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Carol and I have just returned from the California Pacific Annual Conference in Redlands. This is a 4-day conference of meetings, voting, legislation, worship and gatherings of the community comprised of clergy and lay delegates from the 350 local churches in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan.
We are lucky to have Carol Coy as our lay delegate. She and I work together well, but we both agreed that it wasn’t the same without Pastor Jim Brewster, who passed this last year. On Friday evening, the Conference held a Memorial Service for the clergy and clergy spouses who’d died since last Annual Conference and Jim was remembered and honored by his colleagues and friends, and especially by his daughter Rev. Julie Brewster, who is also a pastor in our conference.This memorial service reminds us that we are al a part of this vast connection with one another – that Pastor Jim was not only loved in our congregation, but in many churches throughout our region, by friends and colleagues and by his family. Such a connection was recognized by those who honored him; those who stood as Jim’s name was read and his family received a blessing from the Bishop. It’s a reminder that we need one another; in joy and in grief, in celebration and in sadness.
We need each other and , when the church works, we recognize our connection to one another in God’s family.We need one another. And this is made clear in our gospel story from the book of John, chapter 5, verses 1-9:
Here we find Jesus, near the pool in Bethsaida.
Now, it was a Jewish custom for those in need to go to this pool to be healed. They would wait by the pool and periodically an angel of the Lord would come to the pool and stir up the waters, and the first one to enter after the angel had touched the water would be healed.
Around the pool lay many people, waiting to be healed and among them was a man who had been laying there for 38 years! 38 years of the angel coming, stirring the waters and people rushing into the pool before him! And so Jesus approached this man and asked him:
“Do you want to be made well?”
What a question….. The first thing we do to Improve our connection with one another is to recognize our need for help. Sometimes this is the most difficult part… To recognize we are in need, and then to ask for help…
“Do you want to be made well?”Jesus asks.
(Now this is a yes or no question… and we would expect the answer to be…. YES, please, Lord! But what does the man say to Jesus in response?”)
7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one…” I have no one to help me, no one to care for me, no family or friends, no father or mother, no children, no wife, nobody!
Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?” and the man says, “I have no one..”
It is as if he responded, “Why should I be healed, for I have no one to share a healthy life with. What’s the point of being healed?” At least at the pool, he has company, he has purpose, he has something to do everyday, somewhere to go. Healed, he has no one. He faces a healthy future alone.
But Jesus heals him – no angel is necessary, no stirring of the water, no dip into the pool. Jesus heals him… with his presence.
9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Out into the future to connect with others, and himself, as a healthy man.
Many of you have met my father and you know what a joyful presence he is. But you may not know, we almost lost my father about 20 years ago, when a surgery for his prostate cancer went awry and he lost 10 pints of blood! Thankfully, he was healed and he has spent every day since then, learning to appreciate life and health anew.
When he and my mom joined our team in Padhar, India in 2010, I knew they would enjoy the trip. They are adventurous and easy-going; they can adapt to all kinds of circumstances including an 18-hour overnight train trip, dirt roads and extreme poverty, but I had no idea my father would make fast friends with the Padhar Mission School principal Mr. Rao. Their friendship began as we went to the Mission School to touch up the mural we painted there in 2008 and to paint a spot mural outside the teacher’s lounge. When we arrived, Mr. Rao began talking about the need to repaint the above-the-door classroom signs, so my father – a retired teacher – quickly took up the task. And then, Mr. Rao said it would be nice to have the signs in Hindi as well. My father said, “No problem.” And painted the signs in English and Hindi. Then Mr. Rao asked for another project: a big Welcome to the Mission School sign to greet the students as they enter the school. “No problem,” said my father, and even though he and mom were exhausted, having worked long past our quitting time, he happily finished all the signs Mr. Rao asked for. And as they worked they chatted and laughed, discussed teaching and schools as peers, claiming a connection forged over paint.
* I am lucky to have had such a father for all of my 51 years and I look forward to many, many more with him around. But I know others have not been so fortunate. Others have been neglected, harmed, and abandoned by their fathers. In this story we are reminded that however “damaged” we might be, Jesus is our family, our connection to the human family. He looks at the man – and us – and asks us, Do you want to be healed? If so, take up your mat and go connect with others.
Today, we will celebrate those who father us, those people in our life who protect us, care for us, guide us, nurture our growth, and today we turn our attention to the One we name our “Heavenly Father.”
In our Confirmation class, we discussed the three persons of the Trinity: which are (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
God the Father is our Creator. The one who made the heavens and the earth, the one who created us from dust, the one who created not only US but also everyone and everything else. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 93:
1The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; 2your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
God the Father, is not just the Creator, he is the everlasting presence – the One who is always there for us – helping, guiding, working with, working on, molding, creating, sustaining us. As Jesus healed the man by the pool with his presence, so the constant presence of those who father us can heal. And even though our fathers are human and make mistakes, we can take comfort in the everlasting presence of God, our Heavenly Father. As we join together, let us be aware of God’s presence in our circle. Let us honor the connection that God has created between us and let us admit that we need each other. May we honor our connection to one another, those in our extended family and to the Lord, who connects us all. Amen.