Friday, May 13, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter: Do you want to be well?


Welcome back Seed  Group and Open Choir

Today our friends from the Seed group/open Choir have joined us again. They open our service with  songs from the southern African-American tradition; call and response, moving in circles. I wonder about the skein from this music to the full out high decibel rock in the Pentecostal service next door.

Our topic for reflection today is Do you want to be well?
I was in Louisville last week.  Another meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, the national board of directors of the Church, so to speak. It was another trying and sad experience. Another wave of budget cuts in the wake of ever declining dollars. The loss of more staff, good friends, faithful servants.
In the midst of the depressing meeting, I need a break. So I went to Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar. Their Tuesday night open blues jam. There I found a community of people who had been playing together for decades. And they welcomed me a stranger from New York. They were supportive, encouraging. I heard stories of how they had been there for each other. I often find in the music community what it is the church is supposed to be. It’s what our brother Dion offers as the host of our Friday night Open Mics.

Russ reminds us that we should  have the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the  other. And the first thing that jumps out at me from the  newspaper is income inequity. What commentators call the velvet rope economy.
 The Time article. has this to say:

With disparities in wealth greater than at any time since the Gilded Age, the gap is widening between the highly affluent — who find themselves behind the velvet ropes of today’s economy — and everyone else.
It represents a degree of economic and social stratification unseen in America since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan and the rigidly separated classes on the Titanic a century ago.
When top-dollar travelers switch planes in Atlanta, New York and other cities, Delta ferries them between terminals in a Porsche, what the airline calls a “surprise-and-delight service.” Last month, Walt Disney World began offering after-hours access to visitors who want to avoid the crowds. In other words, you basically get the Magic Kingdom to yourself.
When Royal Caribbean ships call at Labadee, the cruise line’s private resort in Haiti, elite guests get their own special beach club away from fellow travelers — an enclave within an enclave.
“We are living much more cloistered lives in terms of class,” said Thomas Sander, who directs a project on civic engagement at the Kennedy School at Harvard. “We are doing a much worse job of living out the egalitarian dream that has been our hallmark.”
Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that the top 1 percent of American households now controls 42 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from less than 30 percent two decades ago. The top 0.1 percent accounts for 22 percent, nearly double the 1995 proportion.
But even as income inequality and the wealth gap stoke the discontent that has emerged as a powerful force in this year’s presidential election, for American business it represents something else entirely. From cruise ship operators and casinos to amusement parks and airlines, the rise of the 1 percent spells opportunity and profit.
So in our other hand is the Bible. And today’s passage is John 5: 1-9:
1After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.3In these lay many invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4, 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 7The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." 8Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

That is the question:  Do you want to be well?
In this story, a man has been paralyzed for 38 years .(I can’t help but think of my mom, working her way through rehabilitation after a stroke…going from full freedom and movement one day to dependency on others the next..)The man describes the local health care system….a pool ….an angel troubles the waters…then the first one in gets healed…for 38 years he’s been pushed aside…the system doesn’t work…
So what does Jesus do? Does he helps him get to the water first? NO. He tells him to get up and walk…he avoids the stacked system altogether….moves outside the lines and creates a new reality.
That’s the Jesus question: Do you want to be well?
In addition to the bad news in Louisville, I also heard exciting stories from churches…moving outside the lines…
Like Madrona Grace church in Seattle…building their tiny houses….131 square feet…loft, kitchen, living space….first built for their  shelter volunteers, they realized, why not for homeless people? So tiny houses are soon to build for homeless people. At a cost of $12 to $20000 a house. The Wood Technology Center of Seattle Central College is providing all the labor, building the homes to specifications provided by the church. 
Tonight is our night to serve a meal at the shelter at SPSA. I hear more and more churches starting open table meals like Jan Hus…or Broadway Presbyterian …where all are welcome and break bread together…where all are served, volunteers and guest alike.  A new way to be church. Or perhaps a very old way. Metaphoric and existential simultaneously.
That is the question: Do you want to be well?
Our Washington DC ministry staff person J. Herbert Nelson had this to say in response to what was happening in  Louisville: Assumed attrition is not a vision…and certainly not a stragtegy…
The Presbyterian Outlook has important questions for us to answer:
1.     How do we address the problems inherent in our economic system while continuing to participate in them?
2.     What are some effective ways of challenging unhelpful myths about our economic system?
3.     How can faith communities play a prophetic role and help build a society that can make people whole? 

Do you want to be well?  Sharon Welch reminds us that the dominant ethic of our culture is that of  control. For good or bad intentions, either way, control is inherently violent to the spirit. What she calls for is an ethic of risk, that is where life is….that is where we can be well…where we can heal and be well again..
God grant is the courage to risk…
After we pray, we share bread and cup together, our own symbolic open table. Open choir and members, all together. Our friends sing again. And I close with these words from Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5
10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
John, Rachel and Mario

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