26 May—Easter 6
It is the sixth Sunday of Easter, the sixth Sunday in the season that reminds us that our lives are about more than our earthly responsibilities and the sum of our “To Do” lists. The season we are invited to be connected to the miracle of new birth and the fulfillment of God’s promise in Christ.
This weekend also marks the official beginning of the summer season with graduations, transitions, and a slower pace assumed. At All Saints, we are living into this new season already changed, with our Rector Richard on sabbatical and with an open invitation to experience our own Sabbath Summer.
This Sunday is also Rogation Sunday. A description of Rogation Sunday is included in the Parish Notes. In the modern church this morning is set aside as an invitation to take stock and bless boundaries, both physically around the church and spiritually in our lives.
At our Vestry meeting earlier this month, members of the Vestry and I toured the physical plant and looked at some of the work that is needed so that we can continue to be an inviting community while keeping people safe within our church walls. After this morning’s sending hymn at the traditional closing of our service, we will begin our Rogation procession, walking our parish’s boundaries publicly blessing and asking for God’s good care of us.
We are fortunate that this morning’s gospel reading offers us a pretty terrific frame through which to consider our worship and activity this morning and for the summer ahead.
The setting for this morning’s gospel is quite different from our corner of Brookline. The area in which we find Jesus in Jerusalem is not pretty. Beth-zatha or Bethesda is described as being full of broken people who were blind, paralyzed – desperate for healing in the pool’s waters. Imagine the cacophony, the sights and sounds of that suffering.
It evokes our own Methadone Mile – the area where Melnea Cass Boulevard meets Massachusetts Avenue. Only 3 miles from here, but it might as well be another world. The corner of Melnea Cass and Mass Ave and the corner of Dean Road and Beacon appear to have nothing in common – 3 miles away is an area of constant human suffering, crime, recovery and masses of humanity waiting….forever waiting either to meet people leaving addiction treatment programs, being released from Suffolk County jail, or Health Care for the Homeless, Boston Medical Center or some other respite care center or waiting for an opportunity to buy and take drugs. It is the most concentrated expression of need and brokenness that I have found in Boston, and thousands of people drive by and through it each day. I’m not aware of an equivalent Sheep’s Gate or healing pool of Bethesda, but certainly there are some of God’s most beloved and broken children awaiting a miracle, day in, day out for months and perhaps years of their lives. While the corners there and here may appear to be vastly and starkly different, each is equally primed for God’s grace and healing.
Into this complicated and heartbreaking morass we find Jesus, on the sabbath, who sees a broken and despondent man lying on the ground. The man has been sick and in need of healing for 38 years. Jesus sees him and asks, “Do you want to be made well.” A direct and for us – philosophical – question. Do youwant to be made well?
Rather than answer the question, the man launches into an explanation of how no one will help him get into the pool. The man does not know that he is speaking to Jesus, that it is Jesus who is asking the question, but nonetheless the broken and lame man responds in such a human way – the equivalent of “let me tell you something…”followed by a complaint about how he can’t get any help.
Jesus is essentially asking this man, “What do you want?” And the man is not prepared to answer. He has had 38 years of suffering to bring him to this moment, but he isn’t ready.
Jesus’ question is profound and important and echoes through the ages to us this morning. What do we want? We know that Jesus’ desire for us is health, joy, connection and love and support of one another. Are we prepared for that? Are we prepared to be made well? And what do we need to be ready?
Is it respite? Time off or time with family or loved ones? What do we need to grow closer in our understanding of God’s desires for us? How might we connect with the sick and scary people who frequent the methadone mile or are wandering broken in our neighborhood, hungry for a kind word or connection?
I know that it takes preparation, but I cannot answer what it will take for any particular individual, other than myself. I can tell you want I want this summer. I want us to use this gift of sabbath to grow in our relationships with God and one another. I want us to practice loving our neighbors as God loves us, and when we fall short, I want us to comfortably return here for consolation and courage. I want us to discover new gifts and talents for ministry. I want us to walk in love each week and then carry ourselves out into the world refreshed and ready for a world that needs us and needs to be reminded that God is love.
To prepare for this sabbath work, I want to encourage you to begin by asking yourself What You Want? Do you want to use this Sabbath Summer to consider a new ministry, reading a new author or engaging in a new summer spiritual practice? If you have ever wondered about joining a ministry at All Saints, I want to encourage you to take this opportunity of a sabbath summer and dive in, volunteer or make yourself available. And if you are someone who is tired from having done the same ministry for weeks, months or years and you are wondering about a break…I hope that youwill take advantage of this sabbath opportunity as well. Take a rest from your ministry. This is a summer of preparation and answering God’s question – “What do you want?”
Later in this service we are going to observe Rogation Sunday by processing to specific spots in our shared community life to give thanks and to pray for healing and guidance and support at the Resting Chapel, out on Dean Road, at our beautiful Rose Garden and finally at the Parish House – asking for God’s blessing and guidance at each. At each stop, we are making specific requests in response to God’s question – we are answering What we Want – for the Parish; we will tell God that we want to do the work given to us and to work for the common good. We will answer God that we want refreshment and peace. In our Prayers for Commerce and Industry we will tell God that we want to make the land responsive to God’s will and when we pray for Brookline, we will tell God that what we want is for God’s power and presence to be known everywhere and that we will be transformed into a people grateful for all that we have.
I hope that you are like me in being excited to encounter God and each other in new ways this summer, to grow closer in understanding of God’s work in the world and to grow more spiritually connected with each other so that we are prepared to take the spiritual nourishment that we receive in this community back into the world.
My hope is that our expression of love and wholeness will interest others to join us on Sundays. I hope to meet some of your friends and neighbors as you invite them to join us for any portion of our shared life in Christ at All Saints.
We will return here each week to check in with God and with each other to consider how our pursuits are going.
The man in John’s gospel waited 38 years for healing. We have the weeks between now and September to make a go of answering what we want and attending to God’s unchanging desire for each of us. I am excited to be with you as we embark on this journey together. I am excited to get to know you and to learn more about you and our shared life in this community. I am excited to join you in answering God’s question – What Do You Want?
The Reverend Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Esq.