Link to Service

Mark 8.22-25

John 5.2-9a

It’s a Process:  Two Factor Resurrection Authentication

Easter Day

I don’t do a lot of online shopping.  Maybe a couple books here, a pair of socks there.  But in putting together my sabbatical, I had to make a lot of advance arrangements online.  Airline tickets, rental cars, hotels and Air B&Bs, a ferry, tickets to events, and other miscellaneous plans.  And because I didn’t want to max out my credit card, I spread out the purchases over the course of eight or nine months.  As a result, and more often than I’d like to admit, for each reservation or purchase, I found myself getting up from my computer and scouring the house for my phone, because each time I pressed “buy,” a little box popped up on my computer screen:  “A six figure authentication code has been sent to the phone number on file.”  Has this ever happened to any of you?  So I’d go find my phone, wait for the text message, then dutifully enter the code.  And then, the next month, when I made the next set of arrangements, you’d think I’d remember, but no, “A six figure authentication code has been sent to the phone number on file,” and I’d wander the house once again hoping to find my phone before the code expired.  Now I get it, and I appreciate the use of two-factor authentication as a tool to prevent fraudulent charges to my credit card.  But I did wonder, as I often do when assessing life’s little foibles, “There’s got to be a sermon in here somewhere.”

On the third Sunday of my sabbatical, I attended worship at the second-oldest Christian church in Hawai’i the Kawaiaha’o Church in Honolulu.  You may remember I sent you a couple pictures from that morning, and if you saw them, you probably noticed the choir first.  There were about a dozen choristers, all dressed in bright green:  the men had bright Hawai’ian shirts, naturally, with multiple shades of green, the women wore long skirts which matched the pattern of the shirts, they all sported light green leis, every one of them was barefoot, and it made for a festive atmosphere.  [What do you think choir, time to brighten things up a bit?]  And the music was every bit as bright and colorful as the clothing.  In fact at one point they invited anyone who wanted to sing to join the choir in the chancel for an anthem – although, like the choir, you needed to take off your shoes to enter the chancel, because it is a sacred space.  The prayers and readings were in both English and Hawai’ian, at least ten different parishioners took a piece of the service, and the whole experience was an atmosphere of celebration and joy.  Except.  This being Easter morning, the only thing I will say about that morning’s sermon is that it took a much different direction from the passage in John I just read about the invalid at the pool at Bethsaida than I ever would take, and let’s just leave it at that.

As a way of approaching that story from John chapter 5, I want to look at it through the lens of that unusual story that Cheryl read for us earlier.  I say unusual because it is one of the only times, if not the only time in the gospels that Jesus attempted a miracle and did not quite get it right the first time.  Did you notice? 

“Jesus took the blind man, and put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him and asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’  Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently, and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

It took Jesus two attempts to bring sight to the blind man.  It wasn’t a simple matter of Jesus waving his hands in the air, saying a few magic words and healing the man instantaneously.  Jesus had to try a second time.    Billy Joel may have sung, “Get it right the first time, that’s the main thing / get it right the next time, that’s not the same thing,”  but I’m not certain the blind man at Bethsaida would agree:  he was healed and that most certainly was the main thing, in this gospel story anyway.  The first time his vision was iffy; on the second try it became authentic. Still like I said, it doesn’t happen very often that Jesus has to try more than once.

The second story, coincidentally, also took place at Bethsaida.  We meet a man who had been ill for thirty eight years.  Judging from the context, he was probably among the paralyzed John mentioned in the introduction.  When Jesus saw him, he asked if he wanted to be healed.  The man’s reply is telling:  “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  We come away with the impression that whoever entered the pool first would be healed, and the man’s infirmity prevented him from moving with any speed or nimbleness.  He had been trying for thirty eight years to no avail.  But Jesus was able to circumvent the healing powers of the pool at Bethsaida:  he said to him, “’Stand up, take your mat and walk.’  And at once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”

One of the lessons I take away from these stories is that the healing power of Jesus, the opportunity to be made a whole person once more, does not necessarily happen instantaneously.  It takes time.  It’s a process.  I know, there are also multiple healing stories in the Bible where people are healed immediately and onlookers are astounded by the instant transformation.  But this is not always the case. In fact, in our own day and age, it is seldom the case.  A few weeks before we left on our trip I was taking my dog Circe for her nightly walk on a moonless night and I tripped over an exposed tree root.  I wasn’t hurt and didn’t think anything of it until I got home, and as I was getting ready for bed I noticed my entire right shin was dripping blood.  Believe me, it looked a lot worse than it felt, but the cut took the longest time to scab over and the bruise hasn’t yet disappeared.  (I’m sure it has nothing to do with my advanced age.)  The point is, healing takes time, it doesn’t occur overnight, and we have no reason to expect it to occur overnight.  The paralyzed man at the Bethsaida pool waited thirty eight years to be healed, and the blind man was likely more than a little worried when this Jesus, this worker of miracles, couldn’t make things right the first time as his reputation may have suggested.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the commercial that for a while was broadcast every evening on the Channel 3 news just before the 5:30 break.  It features Franklin Graham, son of noted evangelist Billy Graham, inviting the viewer to pray with him.  At the end of the prayer, if you pray it with him, his promise is that you will be made right with Jesus; that’s all it takes, a thirty second prayer, and bang, here’s your ticket through the pearly gates.  It is a kind of theology I was all too familiar with in my college years; I attended a Christian liberal arts college where a number of my classmates believed that Christianity begins and ends with the tired mantra, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” and bang!  You’re in!  That’s all you need to do and you can cruise for the rest of your life.  I struggled with that.  Really?  One simple prayer gets me my get out of hell free card?  That was the evangelical line.  But I looked around and saw a still-broken world, where much good work remained to be done.  Who cares if my soul was saved when there were still families who had no homes, too little to eat, suffered from curable disease with no access to care, were marginalized by the color of their skin or on account of the people they loved?  I’m supposed to skate into heaven on Charlie Bucket’s Golden ticket when the man at the Bethsaida pool waited thirty eight years just to be able to use his legs?  Our two New Testament stories this morning suggest otherwise:  belief all by itself seems to require some good work to prove authentic.

I really enjoy the conversations I have with folks when I’m down at the Villager, or Simon’s or the Little House.  When people learn what it is I do for a living, they will often engage and talk about things that they don’t necessarily share on a regular basis.  And one of many common conversations goes something like this:  “You know Alan, I used to go  to church, but I don’t know.  I’m interested in a lot of what it stands for, but I’m not sure I’m good enough to go through with it.”  And my response, in so many words is, “Neither am I.  I’m not at all sure I’m good enough either.”  In fact if there even is such a thing as being good enough, I’m quite certain I’m not there yet.  But I keep trying, and I think that’s the key for all of us.  It’s a process.  We’re all a work in progress.  These things don’t happen instantaneously.  In fact if I ever give you the impression that I do think I am good enough, I want you to remind me of all the work I still have to do.  We all do.  I believe it is far better for us to think we still have work to do than to think we have finally arrived and our work is done.  Because it never is my friends, it never is.  One of the things my evangelical classmates did get right I think, was a button some of them wore with the letters, PBPWMGIFWMY:  Please Be Patient With Me, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet.

Consider the story we tell again this morning.  Jesus was crucified, he was buried on Friday afternoon, and for two long days and nights his followers were devastated and defeated.  Now, for those of us who know the story, those days between Friday and Sunday are days of waiting.  But the disciples had absolutely no idea that there was even anything to wait for.  Wouldn’t it have been better – wouldn’t it have been more in line with our instant-gratification culture for Jesus, shortly after the stone was rolled in front of the tomb and while the crowds were still there, friend and enemy alike to witness it, wouldn’t it have been better if he popped back out after a few dramatic minutes and said “Here I am folks!  Not even death can hold me!”  No, it would not in any way have been better.  Because then it would have been magic.  Instead, as Mark tells us, when Sunday morning came and the stone was rolled away and the tomb was discovered to be empty, his followers were so confused and astounded that they ran away and did not tell anyone about it, because they were afraid.  It was going to take some time even for those who knew Jesus best to come to grips with what happened that Friday afternoon and what happened that Sunday morning.  It was almost as though the world needed those two empty anxious nights to authenticate what happened the following morning.  Maybe those two nights of disappointment and despair were the very verification of the glory of what came next.

Life happens in stages, not all at once.  We learn our faith in stages, not all at once.  We make a little progress, we wait, we take a few more steps, we assess what we’ve done so far, and we keep going.  Faith is a couple steps at a time, knowing that there is always more to the journey.  And on this resurrection morning, when Jesus took his first steps out of the tomb and no one was there to see it, we know those steps continue, for us, and for Jesus alongside us.  Our step – Jesus’ step – two steps – every step our authentication as beloved children of God.

Uniter 2

 community 2

Current Events Button

 donate 2

Join Us!

Sunday worship

is at 10 a.m.

In-person &

online on our

UCC FB Page

 

 

Worship

Handicapped Accessible 

 

Directions

United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697

 

From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.

 

From the South: Take CT Route 9 North to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn Right; we are .8 miles on the right.

Office Hours

Church Office:

Tuesday - Friday 9-1

 

Minister's Hours:

Wednesday  - Friday

8:30-12:30

 

Mailing Address:  

Post Office Box 383, Chester, CT 06412

 

Physical Address:  

29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412

 

Telephone:

860-526-2697  

 

Email Address: 

unitedchester@uccchester.org