The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing . . . and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter: a day we stand in awe of what God has done for us
through the risen life of Jesus Christ. Some also call today Rogation Sunday: a day we stand in awe of all God has done for us through the life of all creation.
Standing is the posture of the Risen Lord, a posture meant to grace our lives with hope. You can hear something of that force in our gospel today. A man waits by living waters. He waits outside them on a mat not complaining at all. But then Jesus sees him and asks, Do you want to be well? And the man answers with all the reasons why he can’t be well, why nothing ever works out for him.
Notably, the story doesn’t tell us what ails the man exactly. We only know he’s waited for thirty-eight years ailing among the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. You get the feeling maybe he doesn’t belong there. On his mat. And when he answers Jesus, we learn he’s made his way toward living waters before because he admits he’s tried and failed to get there. People get in his way. On the surface, he seems a man sinned against by all those others.
Jesus, though, doesn’t offer to put the man in the waters. Nor does he tell everyone else to make room for him. This isn’t that kind of healing. This is a healing that works on the will and in the heart of a person – on what’s inside the waiting man. And it’s a good thing God works on us that way now and then because sometimes we sin against ourselves. And sometimes healing can only happen when we take responsibility for the way we live.
Not always, but sometimes we grow comfortable with what ails us, comfortable with waiting on something or somebody to change things around us. Sometimes our struggles and the world’s struggles feel too big for us to tend to. Or even too big to care about. So, we wait on our mats. And while we wait, we do nothing at all.
Fortunately, Jesus cuts right to the chase. Addressing the man who waits, the Risen Lord says, Stand up and walk.
Life is the great gift: the one God gives each of you to cultivate and offer to the world around you. And here Holy Communion has something to teach you. You see, every Sunday you offer gifts – that’s what you do when the wine and the bread and the money are brought forward to the altar. You offer your gifts. The wine, the bread, and the money represent your life and labor, represent what you do with what God has done for you.
We name them the gifts of God. But they are also cultivated gifts from earthly hands. Bread and wine were once wheat and grapes. Consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ, they nourish us with his eternal life, and also remind us to cultivate (to make good and creative use of) here and now all that God has given us.
If the Bible is any measure – and surely it is – the earth itself is a sacred gift, every inch of it given to us to tend. Not to ignore, not to exploit, but to tend.
If you’ll remember, in the beginning was paradise, when all was given, no need to talk about it or tend much of anything. But after the fall, on the other side of paradise, came work to be done. Work and worry and care. In the words of Genesis, there was no one to till the earth. Said another way, the earth cried out for the sweet work of our hands. And still does.
The thing is, we don’t live outside the earth, watching it from a distance. We’re formed of the earth. Its joys and pains, its pleasures and problems, are ours. To ignore them is also to sin against ourselves. To ignore them is to sit on our mats and wait.
A friend of mine recently told me he gave up watching the news. He said, I quit because of the climate.
You mean the climate of bad news? I asked.
No, he said. I mean the climate. The real climate. I don’t watch the news because it feels like nobody really cares about the planet or anything else for that matter.
So, I asked him, What do you do about it?
He gave me an earful to listen to – in the category of “too much information”– but then again, I asked for it. He said he started out tending his own patch of yard, setting out birdfeeders and birdbaths, planting butterfly bushes and bluebird boxes. Said he recycles pretty much anything he can, but he started out just telling waiters they could keep their no-good plastic straws and quit giving people things they never thought to need.
Jesus presents a real challenge to those of us who wait for problems to be solved by others. We’re tempted to rest on mats beside living waters we make no effort to enter or tend or care about. And if we land there, and stay there, we’ll always have the comfort of blaming other people for why nothing works out like we hoped. We’ll be able to say nothing can be done and shrug our shoulders. But we won’t make our way to living waters. Instead, we’ll rest on the awful comfort of human helplessness. It’ll bear us up. Like a mat.
The good news is this: the man who waits in the gospel today gives up that awful comfort, and walks toward living waters in the hope of entering them. One step at a time is how transformative miracles often happen. They can happen whenever people hear the daily call of the Risen Lord to stand up and walk.
Though big problems often overwhelm us, God in Christ is on the side of our earthly days, and daily God calls us to make our way toward living waters.