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The Sixth Sunday of Easter                                                    May 1, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Acts 16:9-15Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 5:1-9

Pr. Steve's Sermon: Thinking Outside the Box
Pr. Steve's Sermon: Thinking Outside the Box

Children's Sermon: Knowing What Others Need
Children's Sermon: Knowing What Others Need

Youth Handbell Choir: THis Joyful Eastertide
Youth Handbell Choir: This Joyful Eastertide

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...
Have you ever been told that you "gotta think outside the box"? 
Thinking outside the box means imagining possibilities you hadn't considered before.  Thinking outside the box means being willing to do things very differently than you're doing them right now.  And thinking outside the box usually means ditching a tried and true system which - even if it isn't working anymore - at least you understand.
And that's why thinking and acting outside the box is easy to say, but not so easy to do.  Yet, it's implicitly what Jesus asks the man sitting by the Pool of Beth-zatha to do. 
The Pool of Beth-zatha was a spring-fed pool of water very close to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  And in Jesus' day, it was a place where John says many sick people with incurable diseases hung out, because of the belief that there were some healing properties in this spring.  If you look at an annotated copy of the Bible, you'll see that verses 3b-4 were a later addition that explained the legend of an angel of God stirring up the waters, and that whoever stepped down into them first would be healed...
So this man, like many others, figured that the pool was his only hope.  It was his "box", or system, if you will.  And so when Jesus comes along and asks the man if he wants to be made well, the man doesn't really answer the question.  Instead, he starts complaining to Jesus that the system hasn't worked for him.  He wants to get into the pool, but somebody always beats him to getting there first.
Jesus didn't ask him if he wanted to get into the pool.  But the pool is the only system the guy knows.  And it was hard for him to think outside of the box because:
  • The pool was a system he was familiar with, which he knew worked - or at least, it had worked in the past; clearly, somebody or some number of people had become better because of getting into this pool of water ... (and since it was a thermally fed spring, it was probably nice warm, bubbly water, and hey, I feel better when I sit in a hot-tub, too...!) 
  • He was tired, frustrated and angry that they system hadn't worked for him - he tried to find others to help, but he hadn't been able. Maybe Jesus would?  In any event, sometimes you get so emotionally caught up in how badly things have been going that you really can't even focus; and that seems to be what was happening with this guy;
  • Even though he knew the system wasn't working for him, and he was tired and frustrated, he just couldn't envision any other action he could take.  After all, he was apparently unable to even walk, so what else could he do?
But as Jesus begins to have a conversation with this guy, he invites him to "think outside the box" of the pool. And in this case, that means that Jesus invites this man to:
  • See an opportunity instead of just a crisis.  For many people, that's the first hurdle to thinking outside the box.  We're so caught up in the crisis that we can't see the possibility of an opportunity. Indeed, this guy seems caught up in his own personal crisis as he complains that he can't get into the water.  But he doesn't tell Jesus to go away.  And so perhaps on some level, he's at least receptive to listening and considering another way...
  • Focus on the goal of the pool, instead of the pool itself.  Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed.  That is, he invites him to remember that the goal really is about being healed, not in getting into the pool.  And sometimes, thinking outside the box begins with focusing on the goal, instead of on the vehicle you think you need to get there...
  • Try something completely unimaginable.  "Stand up. Take your mat and walk."  It was crazy!  The guy knew he couldn't do that.  But he tried it anyway.  And one of the reasons this story is a miracle is that the guy actually tried something he surely considered ridiculous instead of just telling Jesus to get lost...
And the reason this story is read during the Easter season is to remind us that often the way of hope and new life is found by heeding God's call to think outside the box.  After all, nobody expected that Jesus could die and rise again.  It was completely unimaginable.  And yet, Resurrection was experienced by people who could see that God acts "outside the box."  And sometimes, to begin experiencing the hope and new life of the Resurrection in our daily lives, Jesus invites us to think and live outside the box as well.
And thinking and living outside the box isn't easy for us, either.  But in our world in which so many structures and systems have ceased to work for us, it's increasingly important to:
  • Listen for the opportunities God is giving us in the midst of crises we face: too often, we can get stuck in anger and frustration that the "pool" isn't working like it used to instead of looking for a new way forward; this has been happening in our political process and it happens in our personal lives and in the church as well... (and we can even end up blaming or demonizing others...)
  • Focus on the goal instead of the vehicles that have brought us to our goals in the past  (remember how Kodak thought it was about the film instead of taking pictures?) Too often, we can get nostalgic for the "pools" instead of the goal of the pool, and this happens a lot in the church as well...
  • Be willing to try a completely new way to accomplish the goals that God intends for us (and, again, this begins with making sure we're not just looking for a new way to get back into the pool!); in some ways, this story is a bad example because Jesus tells the guy exactly what to do, and it works!  Often, in our lives, we don't know exactly what Jesus is asking us to do.  But Jesus' promise of forgiveness is the call to try and to be willing to fail in order to find the way forward that God is giving us...
Oh, one more thing about the pool of Beth-zatha.  I've been there.  Today, it's a big hole in the ground.  It's been excavated and you can see old pillars (perhaps even from those ancient porticos) and sometimes, there's even a little water at the bottom of the hole.  But the spring is dried up and the pool is gone.
Yet Jesus' promise of life and healing remains for all of us.  And the goal of life is not to look for the magical "pool", but to listen for the opportunities for hope and new life that Jesus is still calling us to.  The goal of life is not to set our hope on any kind of "pool", but to focus on the healing which Jesus offers.  And the goal of life is not to find a way down into the past, but to look for and explore the new ways of standing up and living that Jesus promises lie ahead of us.