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Sermon: Stand Up and Walk!

March 4, 2015

The sermon below was preached on Wednesday, March 4 at All Saints Church in Pawleys Island, SC, as part of an ecumenical worship series during Lent. I don’t write out sermon manuscripts too often these days; since I did today, I thought I would share it.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And greetings from the people of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Thank you to the people of All Saints for hosting us today as we gather in worship and praise of God. Amen.

I’m not sure if you saw that football game a few weeks ago. It didn’t involve the Green Bay Packers, so it’s not like it was a big deal and I wouldn’t blame you for skipping it, but the Patriots and the Seahawks got together out in Arizona for the Super Bowl. And of course, you probably watched it. It’s one of the most watched events every year on TV; some tune in for the game, some for the commercials, some because that’s what’s on at the party. But most of you probably watched it, and you were treated to a doozy of a game. New England rallied from a ten-point deficit and held on at the end thanks to a goal line interception by rookie Malcolm Butler – a play that no doubt seemed nothing less than a miracle to the New England faithful. It was an exciting, thrilling game. But things didn’t end when the clock ran out and the Patriots hoisted the Lombardi trophy. No, things were just beginning. Because what comes after the game? The postgame analysis. And this one was ripe for the picking, with talking heads debating whether or not Seattle should’ve even been throwing the ball in this situation, and asking if they wouldn’t have been better off handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch and letting him run it into the end zone and on to glory. Fair points, to be sure. And, with the clarity of hindsight, they would’ve been better off. But they didn’t. And after a while, the postgame analysis seemed to have a couple of effects. By talking so much about the would’ves and the could’ves, the game itself – the accomplishments of the players – seemed to fade into the background as the analysts made themselves the stars of the show. The game was forgotten in favor of a new game – the game of talking about the game so that everyone could show how smart they are.

Of course, postgame analysis is nothing new. We see a wonderful example of it in the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus has just pulled off a miraculous play of his own. He’s in Jerusalem for a festival and he wanders by the Sheep Gate and the pool of Beth-zatha, where he finds a man who had been ill for 38 years, paralyzed perhaps, since he couldn’t make it to the waters of the pool. And Jesus, in power and love, speaks to the man: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Well, hallelujah, right? Not so fast. In come the analysts, quick to point out everything Jesus had done wrong, most especially that Jesus had the audacity to heal this man on the Sabbath (they even try to issue a ticket to the man who had been healed on account of the fact that he dared to carry his mat with him when he took those first steps). It’s nice, they seem to say, that you’ve healed this guy but you shouldn’t have done it today! One wonders why they didn’t help the guy up yesterday, when it wasn’t the Sabbath, but whatever. They are right to be concerned with God’s call to Sabbath living, but wrong in at least two ways: First, the Sabbath is meant to help people live in holy, helpful community; it is not meant to prevent or limit healing and the fullness of life. And second, more importantly, they fail to see what Jesus is claiming here, what he is revealing about himself; if he can heal on the Sabbath, then he is Lord of the Sabbath. Then again, maybe they see this all too well, for it is in this passage that the religious authorities concoct their plan to kill Jesus. They are more interested in their interpretation of who they think God should be than they are in seeing who God really is, the Christ who has come into this world to break old barriers down and set people free.

In all their talking, all their picking apart of the whens and the whys of Jesus’ healing power, they completely miss the point. They are suffering from good old paralysis by analysis and, in the way in which Jesus so often subverts human understanding, they are shown to be the ones who are truly paralyzed. The man who is ill ends up being just fine, but those who would judge the ways of God at work in Jesus Christ are kept from the healing waters of God’s grace. They are paralyzed, unable to see what God is doing in the world. They are unable to see the grace of God, to see Jesus inviting the man to set aside his illness and stand up, to walk in the ways of God. Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” And the man responds with nothing but a list of reasons why it’s never going to happen. Jesus is unimpressed and heals the man anyway. He overwhelms him with God’s healing grace. He does this not because the man asks him to, but because when Jesus shows up, that’s what he does, whether we – or anyone else – like it or not. Stand up and walk!

Like the man by the pool, we are often left paralyzed by our inability to see what God is up to in our lives. We are great at listing the reasons why not, but Jesus remains unimpressed. When Jesus shows up, he does so with healing and hope, setting us free from all that afflicts us. Jesus is not limited by our paralysis, nor are his ways of grace at the mercy of our analysis, our opinions of how God should be doing things. Our task is not so much to describe what God is doing or, even worse, critique what God is doing. Our task, our call, is to see the work of Jesus as he overwhelms this world with grace and then, standing up at his invitation, join in this work of grace and hope and healing. We can stand around talking, paralyzed by our fears and assumptions, or we can get up and get on with it, freed by the grace of Jesus.

Today is the 150th anniversary of what may just be the most powerful speech ever spoken by an American. On March 4, 1865, following weeks of wet weather, thousands of people stood in the thick mud of our nation’s capital to hear Abraham Lincoln deliver his second inaugural address. He spoke to a nation that was weary, broken, and, of course, divided by the horrors of a horrific war – but he did not speak words of paralysis. Instead, he ended his remarks with an invitation: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.” Lincoln would be dead in a little over a month, but his legacy of freedom lives on in us today because he was able to see beyond the obstacles to freedom and hear above those around him who offered unending opinions about why freedom and union were untenable. But Lincoln didn’t listen; he saw instead a path to peace and freedom for all. Let us strive on, he said. Stand up and walk.

Today, by the grace of God, we see what Jesus is up to in the world. He is breaking down old barriers and giving motion to lifeless limbs; he is transcending our ideas of who God is and what God can do; he overwhelms the world with grace and – when the world seeks to do away with him – well, that leads to nothing but his final triumph, working through the cross to bring death out of life, for you and for me, for the broken-down and the left-out, for those paralyzed in mind, body, spirit and yes, even those paralyzed by analysis. That old game is over, and there’s really nothing left to talk about. God is done with our objections and our expectations. In the loving presence of Jesus, he stands over us once more, inviting us to let it all go, to stand up and walk, by his grace and to his glory. Stand up and walk, my friends! And while he’s lifting you up, don’t think too much about the whens or the whys. Don’t overanalyze it. As he lifts you by one hand, reach out your other hand and lift someone else up to Jesus, too. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

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