Sign 3: Getting Unstuck

The Gospel of John 5:1-18

Have you ever been passed over? Have you ever been not good enough, not fast enough or just not enough to be picked? Did the teacher pick someone else? Or a friend didn’t pick you first for their team? Or you didn’t get that job… I think we’ve all been there. It doesn’t feel good. The guy in our story today had been too slow, too sick, for 38 years. Others always got the prize before him. Can you relate to that? But then Jesus came along and picked him. Just him. For no apparent reason, that day was that man’s lucky day.

From the man’s perspective, it started out as any other day. Then, a total stranger came up to him and asked him if he wanted to be healed. Then this guy told him to pick up his mat and walk. He hadn’t walked in 38 years. How ridiculous that command must have sounded to him! Maybe he had just the tiniest shred of hope left. Maybe he was just tired of lying there, watching everyone else getting into that pool before him. Maybe he felt a surge of strength flowing through his body. But he did what Jesus told him to do.

We’d like to be in this man’s spot on that day, wouldn’t we? When we feel like we’re stuck in one place for a long time and can’t seem to get unstuck, it would be so nice for Jesus to come along and just say, “Do you want to get unstuck?” This story gives us hope. Even after 38 years, this man got unstuck. Sometimes we get that lucky break too. God’s grace happens for anyone at any time. There’s nothing you need to do to deserve it. You just receive it and say, “Thank You, God!”

Let’s also look at what happened next.

There was a big problem with what Jesus did. Jesus healed this man on a Sabbath. That was a big no-no to some people in town. They believed that you shouldn’t do anything on a Sabbath. Including helping people. So they decided to give Jesus a hard time about doing the right thing. Sometimes that happens to us too, right? We do something that is good, something that is right, and we get in trouble by the people who make the rules. Like when we help a kid on the playground who is getting picked on but we’re supposed to line up because the bell rang, or stuff like that. Sometimes we do the right thing even when it’s against the rules, and sometimes we get in trouble for that. When that happens, we’re doing just what Jesus did for this crippled man. Not worrying about the rules and doing what is right.

During WWII, the people who were in power, the Nazis, decided that other people, especially Jewish and handicapped people, were not wanted. So they worked towards getting rid of them. That was very wrong. But because they were in power, they made the rules. So, many ordinary people broke the rules and helped these poor people to safety. They did the right thing. But it was very dangerous because the rule makers sometimes found out and then these people would also be in very big trouble. Again, these people did what Jesus did for this crippled man.

Where in our lives do we come across injustice that we can do something about?

Maybe we are being called to identify with Jesus, and not the cripple by the poolside. We might be a miracle in someone else’s life and get them unstuck. Whether that gets us into trouble or not.

We like to identify with the man who was healed – we need healing too.

We are always invited to identify with Jesus – to do good even if it might get us into trouble.

Sometimes we are like the rule makers – not considering all angles, just sticking to what we know the rules say, not acknowledging that rules sometimes get in the way of better things.

Sign 2: Do you want miracles or Jesus?



Advertising sells. Sex sells. Miracles sell. Jesus advertised his status as Son of God by causing miracles to happen. Who wouldn’t buy into a miracle? Who wouldn’t want an end to money problems by winning the lottery, or an end to hospital stays when someone we love is sick, or an end to phone calls from the school because of your child’s learning disability? Who wouldn’t want a miracle?

We all want a miracle in our life. Probably more than one. We pray for miracles to happen. We hope for them. And when we don’t receive one, our faith in Jesus, the miracle maker, is on shaky ground.

As much as miracles are what we want, they are not the best thing for our faith to grow and mature. Hear this story from the Gospel of John:

John 4 (NIV) 46 Once more Jesus visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Jesus did miracles for people so they could see that he was the Son of God. Jesus did miracles to grab the public’s attention and advertise his unique status. People came to see him, to hear him. And word about his miraculous abilities spread at a time and place without cell phones, satellites, or newspapers; a time when news spread by word of mouth from one neighbour to the next. That’s how the official heard about Jesus.

The official was a wealthy man and likely not popular with the crowds because he was connected to the Roman governor, either as employee or relative. (The Romans were occupying the land and subjugating the Jews.) He would have seen doctors and tried other things before coming to Jesus. In desperation, he came to Jesus, having heard that Jesus did miracles. He wanted a miracle in the worst way. He hoped that what he had heard about Jesus was true, and that Jesus would heal his son. His faith was such that he went on a 2 day trek across mountainous terrain from Capernaum to Cana because he had heard that Jesus was there.

It does show faith to ask for help. You wouldn’t ask someone for help if you didn’t think that they could, right?

Jesus is fed up with people wanting only miracles and tells them so. The Galileans were more interested in signs and wonders than in who Jesus actually was. The people welcomed Jesus for his signs and wonders, but they never bothered to see the man behind the miracles. I think that’s a problem. But the official seems to say, “I don’t really care about why they are here, I am here because I have nowhere else to go and I am trying to believe that you are who you say you are and that you can help me.” So he persists.

Jesus granted him a miracle. He spoke a miracle into being, across a space of 20 miles. Jesus gives life to the boy then and there. The fact that life is given for a royal official that was probably quite unpopular among the Galileans breaks social barriers. Jesus and the life he gives knows no borders.

The fact that the official believed Jesus and went home without certainty shows his growing faith. Instead of pestering Jesus to come with him, he believes that Jesus healed his son. He believed Jesus’ word without any guarantee and acknowledged Jesus as the giver of life by believing his word before he saw the outcome. When he met up with his servant and they figured out that the son was healed at exactly the time Jesus said those words, the official’s faith in Jesus was boosted and when his family heard all about it, they believed as well.

Sign 2 points to who Jesus is — the one who can heal at a distance by only a word.

(Sign 1 showed us Jesus converting water into wine – control over physical elements in the world)

What this story teaches us:

  1. Faith based on miracles alone is incomplete.
  2. Faith in who Jesus actually is, in his word and authority; that is praise-worthy faith.
  3. When we need help, we need to ask Jesus ourselves. The official went in person instead of sending a servant.
  4. Faith in Jesus is the priority. Not everyone receives a public miracle. This is the problem with faith based on experience because it’s dependent on “what have you done for me lately.” It’s not the kind of faith that Christ wants from us. He doesn’t want us to trust in him just for things, he wants us to trust Period.
  5. We must sometimes take Jesus at his word and act before seeing the result. Faith that results from a miracle alone, will not grow spiritual faith. However, when faith is placed in the person responsible for the miracle; that will grow faith.
  6. Whoever believes in Jesus will receive the life he gives. One of the reasons that signs and wonders aren’t plentiful today is because of the dangers in that. The miracles become an end in themselves. Signs and wonders actually hinder people seeking Jesus for a right relationship. If miracles were regularly done for Christians then many people would become Christians for the wrong reasons.

Sign 1: What Sign?

Sign 1: Jesus turns water into wine. John 2:1-11

Over the summer, we are going to study parts of the Gospel of John. John records 7 miracles in his gospel even though Jesus performed many more. John calls these 7 miracles “signs”. Each signs shows something specific about Jesus as the Son of God. By calling them signs, John wants us to focus on their significance rather than the marvel of the event. So what is the significance for changing water into wine at this wedding? Why should we care what happened 2000 years ago at a party?

Much of the Gospel of John contains symbolism. What he writes has meaning on the surface, yes, but it also holds a deeper meaning for us today. The gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be written. John had many years to reflect on Jesus and he told his gospel from that vantage point. This does not diminish the gospel at all. In fact, he saw deeper truths in the life and death of Jesus because he had spent many years living as his disciple, reflecting on everything that Jesus had said and done. So John carefully wrote his gospel account, working diligently to convey as much of the revolutionary teaching and life of Jesus as he could.

So let’s read through the account. It begins with “On the third day.” This indicates that this event shifts from one era to another, it echoes the death and resurrection of Jesus, who rose from the dead “on the third day.” A shift in the world order is being announced here.

Weddings were typically week-long drinking parties, with wine being the available drink.

The location of Cana is significant in its insignificance. Signs happen in insignificant places. One does not have to go to Jerusalem to witness the works of God. Mary and Jesus were invited – this wedding might have been extended family or close friends.

To run out of wine is a major oops. Family and friends would be very outraged and offended by those who could not carry off a wedding properly. So Mary, in an indirect way, says to Jesus, “They have no more wine.” She knows her son. She knows that he can do something about this. He pushes back. Nonetheless, she tells the servants to do whatever he says. (This is good instruction for us today too, by the way.)

Jesus changes six stone jars of water into wine. That is about 180 gallons – or 4 bathtubs full! And it is really good wine! In the Old Testament (Jewish writings before Jesus), an abundance of wine is used as a symbol of the fulfilment of time. There are several references to this, one being Amos 9:13 The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. So Jesus changing water into an abundance of good wine in this story tells the reader that something new is happening. A new era is coming. The shift is from law to grace, scarcity to abundance. That is the substance of “Sign 1”.

John’s account of this event finishes with the observation that “and his disciples believed in him.” This sign was primarily for them. It is early in the Gospel of John, being the first sign, so getting the disciples on board with Jesus’ mission is step one: makes sense. But what about the other people at the wedding? The servants who filled the stone jars, the host, the bridegroom: they were at least somewhat aware that something unexplainable had happened. A miracle had occurred and they were not affected by it. The rest of the guests just kept drinking, not even noticing. Something new has come into the world and yet most of the people there are oblivious! A miracle occurred and most of them just kept on drinking.

Jesus revealed his glory and the disciples believed. They were transformed from fishermen to Jesus’ disciples, they answered the call because they understood what had happened, the significance of it. And yet, existence goes on as before for the majority people, for the rest of Cana, Israel, the world.

So why is this important today? Jesus ushered in a new era – a shift from living under the law to living under grace. It is no longer “you must do such and such” but rather, “I already took care of that. It is done” We live in a time of grace if we accept Jesus’ sacrifice. Believing in him as the disciples did then, means we shift our thinking and our hearts to a new perspective. Actually, we allow God to make that shift in us. Our outlook on the world changes from law to grace. Not all at once, but bit by bit. Becoming a follower of Christ is a journey. Often there is a first day, when you say yes to the whole idea. Sometimes it’s because of an event like the disciples experienced – a miracle, but it doesn’t have to be.

Christians believe that the answer to strife in the world is love. To live in the abundance of God. To know there is enough for all, so that hoarding and greed will go away. Fear is the opposite to love. When we fear that there isn’t enough, then we hoard. That’s the way of the world. And there are Christians who are caught up in the world as well. Like I said, it’s a journey and none of us have arrived. As St. Augustine first observed, what Jesus did at Cana was really no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides as vines silently turn water from rainfall into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing God is behind all of that. It’s a reminder that we serve a God whose generosity is over the top. It’s a reminder that God is also often content to watch people—sometimes even Christian people who should know better—from afar as they soak up the goodness of his creative work.

Doesn’t it amaze you that Jesus’ miracle happened within earshot of people who never knew anything unusual had happened? Might it amaze you, when you shift your life outlook to believing in Jesus that that will mean we see divine glory a lot more often in our lives than we do otherwise? When there’s food at the foodbank, when the homeless are housed, when children without decent shoes get nice new sneakers from a local clothing ministry, when the despairing are comforted by a word of hope, when the sad can dry their tears with the gospel comfort of the resurrection to come: when we see these things happening in our churches and in our communities and in our families, then we are seeing the glory of God as God continues to guide us back to that for which he created us to begin with.

A Promise Filled

Discussion for May 31:

Who or what is the Holy Spirit? I believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence with us (John 14:15-19). That is why Jesus said he had to leave before he sent the Holy Spirit. Last time we met, we talked about the Ascension of Jesus – when he returned to heaven after 40 days of showing himself to his disciples after his death and resurrection.

One of the Greek words for the Holy Spirit is paracletos. It translates in the world of the courthouse, as legal language, as “advocate” The Holy Spirit is our defense attorney. So in a court case, what does the defense attorney do? – They have our back. They represent us. They believe in us and in our story. The Holy Spirit is not the judge or prosecutor. He’s on our side. He wants what’s best for us. The Holy Spirit will advocate for you against those who accuse, against every obstacle, against the voice in your head that says you’re not good enough.

Another word used in the Bible for the Holy Spirit is the Hebrew word Ruach. It means spirit, wind, or breath. When someone makes the decision to become a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit enters that person as if he was breathed in. The air you breathe becomes a part of your system. It gives you life. God gives you life.

God’s very life, breath and energy lives in, with and among us. Christians experience this life through Jesus because they see the Spirit so fully manifest in him. The Holy Spirit is the Yes of God within us. As in: yes you are fully loved just the way you are, yes you matter, yes, you are beautiful, wonderful, and so very special.

When the decision to become a follower of Jesus is made, you don’t look out at reality anymore; you look out from reality. In other words, God is not “out there”: you are in God and God is in you.

Our problems, personal, relational, political and global, are so complex and multifaceted, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. We need power from beyond ourselves to address challenges, and that power comes to us through the Holy Spirit. We also need love, perfect, Godly love. Love is more necessary than ever. Jesus’ love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is essential.

Maybe God is hinting to us that in the Spirit we can come together to be in community, to reverse division, hatred, and that sort of stuff . . . to bring about the kingdom of God.  That is what we ask for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer – “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” The Spirit within us teaches us how to live in community with each other and the world will be a better place as more people believe and learn to live in God’s way. God has designed the world as a very good place. He declared it so in the creation story. But people have made a big mess of it because they often chose their own ways instead of God’s ways.

Wait & Pray

The Ascension of Jesus

The Book of Acts 1:1-14 (The Bible verses are in bold, my comments in italics)

Dear Theophilus [this may be the name of a particular person, or it might be a general address to believers, since it means ‘Lover of God’], in  the first volume of this book [the Gospel according to Luke] I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days [plenty of appearances to validate the truth of his resurrection]. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together [eating was important to note – it shows that the resurrected Jesus was not a ‘ghost’ but had a real body], he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.” [baptism = immersion; having the Holy Spirit envelop them as the water in the Jordan River does. The Holy Spirit fills them, transforms them, gives them a new heart.]

When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” [the disciples were still waiting for Jesus to save them from Roman occupation. They are still asking the wrong questions, same as we are tempted to today. They still did not understand fully that his mission was on a global and eternal scale.]

He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” [this is a huge promise to simple, uneducated Galilean fishermen! It also suggests that we shouldn’t waste time speculating on when Jesus will come again, but rather, to get going and witness. Witnesses witness to the truth of the gospel: the truth of justice for the whole world, the love of enemies, and the care for the marginalized and outcast.]

These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? [as in: don’t just stand there, there is work to be done!] This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.” [and we are still waiting, thanks to the grace of God, so that Christian witness may indeed reach the ends of the earth and all people will understand that Jesus has overturned the old ways, that ultimately, God’s ways are the answer to our troubled world and lives. We live in the in-between-time, between the end of the age held by the powers of death and evil – because Jesus had overcome those – and the new age where there will be no more tears and suffering, which is not yet fully realized. We know, because of our messy world, that the old order has no yet fully passed away. At the same time, we know, that Jesus has taught us a new way of being. It is the poor and the marginalized who will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.]

So they left the mountain called Olives and returned to Jerusalem. It was a little over half a mile. They went to the upper room they had been using as a meeting place: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas, son of James. They agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the women included. Also Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers. [the men in white suggested they do something – and the thing they do first is wait and pray together. These are the two primary activities of faithful followers. Our waiting implies that the things that need doing are beyond our ability to do by our own effort. Some other empowerment is needed. The gift of the Holy Spirit, for which the disciples are waiting, is also our gift, and it empowers us to live as faithful followers of Jesus, waiting and praying and doing kingdom work.]

More thoughts:

Jesus has taught the disciples the basics over the three years of his ministry. They have watched him heal people, love people, berate the hypocritical ‘holier than thou’ religious leaders of his time. Jesus has shown them what it is like to live as if in heaven. Now it was time for the disciples to do the same. In the Gospel of John, John records Jesus saying, “So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend (Holy Spirit) won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.” (John 16:7)

We also know that living with Jesus, even for three years like his disciples did, doesn’t mean they know everything there is to know about the Kingdom of Heaven. To prove the point, even in today’s passage from Acts, after the resurrection, they still ask questions about Jesus restoring Israel from Roman rule. Just before Jesus died on the cross, he told his disciples, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.” (John 16:12)

The disciples respond by waiting and praying. They do not know the time. They trust God’s timing. In the meantime, they wait and pray. Wait and pray. When we don’t know the next step, it is good to wait and pray, and trust in God’s timing.

It is when we accept the Holy Spirit from God that we also will be guided into all truth. This is a journey. Our hearts are changed for sure, but our eyes only gradually learn the truth of God. We learn to see the world in a new way – through the eyes of faith. And we learn to share this Good News with those who don’t yet believe.

We accept the Holy Spirit in baptism. Jesus baptises people with the Holy Spirit to empower them to live according to his example. We will see, at the next Cornerstone meeting, the changes which the Holy Spirit caused in the disciples. Water baptism in the church is an outward indication of the changes that take place within us when we accept Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life in our own lives.

John 14:12 “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing.”

Ladies Bible Study

10:00 am – 12:00 pm, May 30 – June 27 at the Haldimand Pregnancy Care & Family Centre. Study materials and childcare for children up to age 4 are provided free of charge. Please contact Nicole Reid to register by May 23, 2017. All are welcome, bring a friend!

discussion for Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In God’s design, death precedes resurrection. Always. Without death there is no new life. We see this in nature: decay leads to growth. Without a seed falling to the ground, there is no new growth. Without struggle, there is no victory. Without suffering, there is no overcoming. The disciples were hopeless and dejected before they rejoiced. As the truth about the risen Jesus begins to sink in, despair becomes delight. Without death, there is no resurrection. It is God’s design. This gives us hope while we muddle through our imperfect lives, where we experience struggle, suffering and death. We do see glimpses of joy, beauty, and love. We can know that this is true.

2017.05.03 Emmaus blog

The Cross

What exactly happened at the cross is theologically complex  and some of it remains a mystery. No one has all the answers and if they tell you that they do, they are misleading you. So our passage starts at 9:00 am. Jesus had been arrested and gone through mock trials before the government and the religious leaders, and he had been tortured. He had no sleep nor food.

Being a king when Caesar ruled from Rome was illegal. Rome had allowed Jews their religious practices, and the Jews didn’t want to further jeopardize their relations with Rome. The Jews were waiting for a powerful saviour. Jesus renounced the use of force. He came as a servant to show us the way of love.