Get Up and Walk the Talk

Pam Weiss Avatar

Good morning, Church family!!  What a delight to be seeing you from this perspective.

This morning I would like to talk with you about power structures.  Power structures.  We may not even be aware of the way power is used, or abused, or even just ignored in our lives.  But it is there, determining events and influencing what we can and cannot do, and perhaps, keeping us from living fully into the lives that God created us to be.  We just heard two Bible stories about power structures:  The lame man living so close to the pool of healing, which speaks to us as individuals, and the Israelites outside the city of Jericho, which speaks to us as a community.  For the next few minutes, I’d like to unpack these stories, and my challenge for you is to decide which character, or characters, describe you best.

Let’s begin with our Gospel story about the lame man, and let’s set the stage.  The events of the story take place near the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem, meaning that the man, and others, are located at the very edge of society.  A few more steps and they would be outside of the city, outside of any participation within the community.  Not only are they on the fringe of society, but they are located at the place where the animals are brought in for market or for sacrifice at the Temple.  According to the power structures of the city, these people have no more importance than animals.  These people are relegated to sit at the gate.  Sit there!!  Don’t move!!

Next, we’re told that in this location is a pool of water called the Pool of Bethesda.  When we break down the Hebrew of the word, Bethesda, we find that it is actually two words.  Beth meaning house or dwelling place.  And hesed meaning God’s love and mercy, the incredible bonding between God and all creation, and the kind of love and mercy we are called to practice among all people.  The pool of Bethesda is the dwelling place of love and mercy.

Our scene creates a paradox.  On the one hand, there are people who have been excluded from society, deemed less important than animals, considered unworthy as people and so are resigned to live huddled in the porticos of the gate.  On the other hand, these same people, just feet away, have access to the pool of God’s love and mercy. 

So now let’s look at what plays out for the character who is only identified as “One Man.”  He is not named.  It could be any person who finds themselves in a similar situation, a situation where power, dignity, or even identity has been denied to them.  Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation.  Oh, I don’t mean literally lame, but circumstances where you felt paralyzed because of the dynamics in which you were living.  Maybe it was mental, emotional, or physical abuse.  Maybe it was a job where the message was, “You will never get ahead.”  Or you were caught in some sort of addiction.  Did you ever hear the message, whether actually spoken or through the actions of another, “You don’t matter.”  “You don’t matter.”  Yes, it’s paralyzing.

Let’s continue in our story.  Along comes Jesus and asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?”  Jesus doesn’t just heal the man.  Jesus gives him a choice about what he would like to see happen with his circumstances.  “Do you want to be made well?”  Or do you want to continue living as someone who is powerless?  What do you want?  What do you want?

And what’s the man’s response?  Not, yes, I want to be well.  Rather, he offers excuses as to why he is not well.  It’s not my fault.  I try to get to the pool.  I try to get to the place where I can receive God’s love and mercy, to regain personal power, to live a life of wholeness, but everybody gets in my way.  It’s their fault that I stay lame, paralyzed with no power.  Ah, the blame game.  It’s so easy to play.  We easily find excuses to just stay stuck in the status quo.  And the man doesn’t even recognize that all of those other people are also trying to deal with things that keep them from being whole. 

“Do you want to be made well?”  Do you want to be freed from powers that keep you from fully living your life?  Do you want to regain the power that is already there for you?  Do you want to know the profound love and mercy of God?  (pause) What does Jesus say?  (pause) Get. Up.  Get up!!  What are you waiting for?  “Stand up and take your matt and walk.”  Stop thinking that you are powerless because a powerful society makes the rules.  Stop thinking that you can’t know and experience the love and mercy of God because you haven’t fulfilled some ritual.  Stop thinking that you don’t matter.  Get up and walk.  You do matter, and it is through Jesus that you can now know the love and mercy of God that offers healing and wellness, and a new life.

So, who are you in this story?  Are you the authorities of a society who keep others relegated to the fringes of a community?  Are you the man who feels paralyzed, powerless to experience love and mercy?  Are you one of the people also trying to experience healing, and in so doing, you keep others from finding their way.  Are you Jesus, who offers the message, Get Up!!  You are not powerless, you do matter.  I see you and your situation and I offer you love and mercy, and freedom to fully live your life. (pause)

In our second text, the story of Jericho, we are given the same dynamics but on the community level.  Jericho was a city/state in the Judean desert.  It was a center of power in that inside the city walls resided the king, the politicians and decision makers, the capitalists, the leaders of the religion of the city, the determiners of appropriate culture, and the people who abided by the standards set by all of these people.  Their reality of daily living was maintained by a status quo established by the people within the power structure.  Anything beyond this status quo was perceived as a threat, and this standard of lifestyle was protected both literally and figuratively by the great walls that surrounded the city. 

By the way, the meaning of the name Jericho is “sweet fragrance.”  Did it actually smell good?  Maybe.  But more importantly, the name implies that to live in Jericho was to live in a delightful place, and the powers that be made sure that no stench of otherness invaded the community.

Back to the text.  The first verse of this story states, “Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites; no one came out and no one went in.”  Insiders.  Outsiders.  Those who were different, a different culture, a different religion, were excluded from participating in the sweetness, the goodness, the power within the city.  Rather, they were relegated to functioning outside of society.  Like our lame man from our previous story, the Israelites were stuck in exclusion because of the power of the city insiders. 

It’s a long story, so here are the highlights according to the instructions given to Joshua and the way in which those instructions are carried out.

For six days, the priests, the leaders of the people, marched around the perimeter of the city one time each day, and they blew the trumpets of lambs’ horns.  Now anytime you read in Scripture about a horn being blown, pay attention.  It means that an important message is being declared.  So, what is the important message being declared to the inhabitants of Jericho and to us, the readers?  It’s the message protected in the Ark of the Covenant, which is carried within the procession.  Inside the ark are the tablets of the covenant between God and humankind.  The tablets of the law by which people should abide.  A law which at its most basic, is a law of justice, a law of balance, a law that declares that those who oppress should be made low, and those who are oppressed should be lifted up.  A law that explains that when people live by the dynamics of justice, God will show them mercy and love and will carry them into new life.  Ahhh.  Here we are again at the edge of the Pool of Bethesda.  The message of the priests is a message of justice.  Justice for the oppressed, for those who are excluded from full participation in society.

But is proclaiming the message of God enough?  According to our story the answer is emphatically, NO.  The leaders may announce the significance of the way of God, but it is only when the voices and actions of the people are added will there be an affect in bringing down the walls of prejudice.  The Israelites are given the instructions to GET UP AND WALK, and the results are profound as the walls of separation and injustice fall.  We, too, are invited to GET UP AND WALK.  We are invited to allow our words and our actions to break down the walls of injustice, and prejudice, and oppression.  Do we?  Will we?

So again, I ask you…where are you in the story of Jericho?  With whom do you relate?  Are you inside the city, happy with the comfort of the status quo while those on the outside suffer exclusion?  Or do you add your voice and actions to declare the messages of God.  Messages that affirm that power structures are not just meant for some, but that power is a gift from God, a gift offered in mercy and love.        

In closing, I would like to remind us that on Wednesday, we remember Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom and emancipation from slavery.  The holiday is specific to hundreds of African Americans who were released from captivity, but it reminds us that oppression continues to keep people outside of society, outside of the city, as it were. 

Since I was a little girl, one of my all-time favorite songs has been Wade In the Water, and learning the meaning behind the song made it all the more special.  Wade in the water.  Wade in the water children.  Wade in the water.  God’s gonna trouble the water.  The words were used to instruct escaping slaves to walk in the streams so that they could not be tracked.  Like our man at the Pool of Bethesda trying to get into the stirred up water, escaping slaves walked in the streams longing for wholeness, health, well-being, and freedom from oppression.  The man at the pool got up and walked.  The Israelites got up and walked.  The slaves got up and walked.  Wade in the water my friends, for yourself and for the community.  Get up and walk so that you and others can know the mercy and love of our God.  Amen.