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Worship and Sermons
May 1, 2016

 

"Seek the Water of Life" By the Rev. Don Wahlig

THEME:  Seek the water of life that only comes from Jesus, trusting the Holy Spirit to heal us, make us whole and giving us real, abundant life.

 

About 15 years ago, Beth and I went with some friends to a resort spa called the Mohonk Mountain House.  Have you heard of it?  Anyone been there?  It’s located in upstate New York, about two hours north of New York City.   

We had a great time.  We played some good tennis, had great food and wine, and went hiking.  We even got a massage in their spa. I’d never been to a spa before and it was the first professional massage I’d ever had.  It wasn’t cheap, but it was wonderful.  It made us both want to go back again.

        Well, it turns out that we weren’t alone.  We were part of an ongoing trend that continues today.  Every year, more and more people want that same kind of relaxing, rejuvenating spa experience.  That’s the reason why, over the last 15 years, the number of spas has grown 5-fold.  The number of spa visits now at a record high of 175 million / year.

What lies behind this trend is the growing consumer desire for wellness, holistic health.  Resorts, spas – even hotels now – are all trying to cash in on this trend by offering treatments that are supposed to promote mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. They don't just promise relaxation:  they promise rejuvenation, spiritual renewal.

I recently went back to look at the web site for the Mohonk Mountain House.  It’s obvious they’re attracting droves of stressed out New Yorkers willing to pay hundreds of dollars for exotic treatments like customized water cures in your own private hydrotherapy tub with under water lights and your choice of oil or salt.

Their spa service menu says you can have warming extracts of arnica, rosemary, basil, and bay laurel.  And, if that’s not to your taste, why not try lavender blossoms, sweet birch and magnesium bath flakes.

And then there’s the top of the line treatment: Peace in the Pool (by appointment only).

It’s a combination of guided stretching, Tai Chi, and meditation in the quiet, serenity of water.  Your personal guide will help you achieve “mental clarity and relaxation of body, mind, and spirit, as the calmness of water and our unique overhead and underwater pool music soothe throughout your session.”

        As I read about this miraculous Peace in the Pool wonder treatment, I couldn’t help but think about that lame man sitting by the Pool of Bethzatha in our gospel text.  He has something in common with all these folks flocking to spas all across the country: he, too, is looking for healing and wholeness in the water.

       He’s been coming to this pool in Jerusalem for 38 years. For that entire time, he’s remained lame because he’s unable to make it down to the water in time. 

       Every once in awhile the waters would be stirred up, supposedly by the angels, and the first one in the pool is the one who is healed.  Being lame, someone else would always beat him into the water.

       Then, one day, Jesus sees him. He walks over, looks down at him and asks, “Do you want to be made well?”  The answer is obviously yes.  The problem is not the man’s desire to be healed, but where he is seeking healing.   

       The lame man’s response tells us that he’s concerned with the practicality of seeking healing in the unreliable waters of the pool.  Yet the surest source of healing is standing right next to him, speaking to him. 

       So, Jesus heals him.  “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  And so, after 38 very long years as an invalid, waiting in vain for healing from the supposedly live-giving waters of this pool, only now, through the presence of Jesus, is this lame man finally made well.  

       He found Peace at the Pool, alright, but it didn’t come from that water; it came from the source of living water – from Jesus himself.

       The more I read this passage this week, the more it became clear to me that this message is also for you and me, and everyone else who lives in this crazy, stressed out world of ours. 

       We all need healing.  Whether in body, mind or spirit, every single one of us is like that lame man. We, too, are invalids and we all need to be made whole.  But too often, like so many others in the culture we live in, we search for the water of life that will make us whole and give us life in all its fullness, but we look for it in the wrong places.

       It’s as if we’ve forgotten that the only reliable source of life-giving water is not found in some high-end spa, as much fun as that is.  It can only be found in the risen Christ, God’s presence here with us on earth, available to us all the time – 24/7 – through the Holy Spirit.

       This is one reason why many folks far wiser than I, are asking the question, “Have we in the church perhaps become too much like the culture around us?”

       Our Session has begun to grapple with this very challenge.  In order to understand it better, we’re working our way through a book called “Becoming a Blessed Church” by Presbyterian Pastor, Graham Standish.

       In this book, Graham shares a theory he learned from one of his teachers.  He claims that there are 4 dimensions to life:  the spiritual, physical, mental and relational.  A balanced life requires that all 4 be fully integrated.  That’s what it means to be whole.

       The critical thing is this integration begins with the spiritual dimension.  That’s what keeps us open to God’s presence and purpose for our lives.  It’s what allows us to seek, identify and do God’s will – when we would rather follow our own.

       He puts it like this:  “When our spiritual life is strong we aspire to what God wants and [we] become inspired by God. The stronger our spiritual dimension in our lives and our churches, the more God’s will and God’s ways seem to flow through our thoughts, plans and relationships.”

       He’s right.  But there’s a hitch. We live in a culture that has systematically marginalized and cut off the spiritual dimension from the others.

       As a result, without a solid spiritual foundation, we get stuck in the surface aspects of the other dimensions:  We seek the perfect body, endless riches and boundless power.  We assume that these will make us fulfilled.  For a short time, that may work, but inevitably it leads to deeper unhappiness.

       On the other hand, we can choose to swim against the cultural tide.  We can keep the spiritual dimension strong and let it guide the other dimensions.  That lets us see what God wants in all aspects of our lives.  Then we can only marvel at the way God makes us whole in Christ, and puts his Spirit to work in us and through us to help others find the same healing and wholeness that brings abundant life.

       That’s what the church is meant to be:  the community of disciples who seek Christ first and foremost, because we understand that he is the only reliable source of living water.

       That’s what John’s vision in our reading from revelation is all about. He’s urging the churches in Asia to remain faithful followers of Christ, even in the face of hostility from the surrounding culture.

       He does it by giving them a glimpse of what will happen at the end of time.  When Christ the Lamb has finally defeated death for all time and the saints are gathered into the New Jerusalem, it will be like a new Eden.

       We’ll live together in a gleaming city filled with the light of God.  From the throne where God and the Lamb sit, a river will emerge.  It’s the river of the water of life, shining bright like crystal.  It’ll flow right down the middle of Main Street, watering those trees of life that produce the fruit of righteousness, not just for a season, but all year round.

       That’s how things will be when, one day, you and I live in God’s constant presence, with Jesus’ disciples of every age.  I like to think of all of us basking in the glow of his glory and splashing around in those pure, crystalline waters. Talk about a spa day!

       We may not live in that New Jerusalem just yet, but we can certainly be a church that points to it.  I’m talking about a church filled with disciples who know that Jesus is the only reliable source of water that brings abundant life. 

       I’m talking about a community of believers who, though far from perfect, nevertheless do their best to let the Holy Spirit guide them to that living water. And that means they can help guide others to it as well.

       I think that’s what James and Hannah Silver had in mind almost 300 years ago.  When they saw the spring out back, they decided that this was the spot where God wanted them to form a community of Jesus’ faithful followers. I have to imagine that a lot of prayer and listening for the Holy Spirit went into that decision, don’t you?  That’s how they knew that in that spring out back they had found the water that would support the life of this new congregation.

       What do you think they would they say about us today?

       Maybe they would the say “Well, if you need a spa day, go ahead. But remember, real healing, real wholeness – real life – only comes by following Christ. 

       Only he has the water of life.  May we always seek it.

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:24 AM
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