Ah Spring!!! I love spring, I didn't realize how much I loved it until I spent a winter in Northern Michigan, 40miles north of the 46th parallel (for you non-geo people thats 40 miles closer to the Arctic circle than 2/3 of the Northern Hemisphere). Spring brings rain, flowers, blooms and WARM WEATHER and having spent the last 7 months in clouds, cold and snow...all those things are pretty nice. Along with warmer weather and life, spring brings with it Little Leauge. I think just about every American boy from the last two generations has played Little League baseball at some point. I did and I'm sure many of you did our many of your children have. When kids are real small like mine and are just starting to play the game, like their first or second year of Little League, the focus is basic skill development; i.e throwing, catching, fielding and hitting...and somewhere in all that we teach them to run the bases. My sons just recently had their first day of little league practice. My two older boys have played baseball, or a variation of baseball...t-ball before. It's amazing that still after two years of t-ball my older boys are still working on the basics of throwing and catching, we haven't even introduced hitting yet. As I watched the practice I could hear the voice of the coach instructing them, telling them how to place their feet, how to rotate their arm how to stop a ground ball, and I heard it over and over and over again to the point were if I where the coach I'd have gone nuts!! The goal is repetition and hopefully from that repetition the player learns the mechanics of the game and just naturally stops the ground ball, fields in his glove, transfers it from glove to throwing hand and makes an accurate throw. Eventually they will get there :).
How many of you can still hear the ole ball coaches voice? Maybe you played football or hockey or maybe you ran track or played volley ball, either way coach's voice was a consistant. It was a voice that should have encouraged you and corrected you and made you a better player. Sometimes coach yelled, cussed, and even humiliated us, but in the end we were better players for it and in some cases we are better people. In high school the only sport I was ever good at was football. I had my growth spurt early, so I was about the same size I am now in the 8th grade, minus about 60lbs :). The high school coaching staff thought I was going to be a monster, but unfortunately I stopped growing and never became that big dominate player they hopped I'd be. However I did not quit the game and I was a smart player so I transitioned to a different position and was a playing varsity football my sophomore year on a football team that had close to 60 players. I was never very fast and struggled in speed drills. I had a coach named Craig Curdy who was a small and very obese middle eastern man. I can still hear him yelling at me in Arabic. "Ya-la, Ya-la, Ya-la imshee" which meant "run, run, run faster." There were other things I remember Curdy for, like how he told me to never give up, to always work hard and to be honest and fair. That sophomore year was my first and only year of playing varsity football. I suffered several concussions that season and my doctor told me he would not clear me to play contact sports anymore, but despite that both Coach Curdy and Coach Osborn(our head coach) still invited me to be part of the team and that meant a lot.
Coach Curdy's voice is not the only voice I still hear from my childhood, adolescents, and early adulthood. I still hear the voices of teachers, professors, pastors, priest, employers, and of course parents. I rely on those voices to this day and so do many of you. I rely on the voice of Mr. Kelly, my high school history teacher, who told me to never be ashamed of my faith, even though he did not share it. I rely on the voice of Pastor O, the senior pastor at the mega church I grew up in, who always told the truth, who was always up front and who loved God more than anything. I rely on the voice of Nate Elerton, my youth pastor, who to this day still pastors me, still prays for me, still nurtures my call and encourages me in it even when it starts to become to much. I still listen to the voice of Padre Hill, the Episcopal Priest whom God used to bring me assurance of my faith and whom formed my faith into what it is becoming today. I still hear the voice of Dr. Paul Alexander who taught me that God is not this neatly packed product for us to buy and resale and so therefore neither is faith, it's real, it's organic, it's living...it's personal. I still hear all these voices and they still speak life to me to this day!
Unfortunately not all voices are like those mentioned above, not all voices we still hear encourage and build us up. Many of the voices we still hear everyday are voices of abusive parents, or maladjusted teachers or misguided preachers whose voices tare down, destroy, crush and kill. They are not life giving, not life affirming, not constructive...just down right hateful! In my prior life as a social worker I came a cross many young people who were products of abusive adults who's voice was filled with vile and malice. They never heard a good word about themselves in their entire life. They were always told they were stupid, fat, dumb, a whore or a slut. They were told they would never amount to anything and if a person hears this enough they start to believe it about themselves. Fortunately there are times where the good voices drowned out the ugly ones and these young people made a turn around and become productive people. My wife was abused in many ways as a child especially verbally by her mother. But thankfully she had coaches, pastors, youth pastors and teachers who saw the good in her and nurtured that. I'm not saying she never hears those other voices on certain days, because she does and it's hard for her sometimes, but because of the positive people in her life and their voices she has over come adversity.
Our passage this week speaks to the power and authority that is found in the voice of Jesus. With his voice he challenges and overcomes preconceived idea's and religious convention and beliefs. Jesus has come to Jerusalem for one of the Jews many annual feast. While the proper and the pious gather near the temple and the city center Jesus is off on the margins. He is out wondering about the area of the sheep gate, where the sick, lame, and unclean gather hoping to be healed in the sheep gate pool. The sheep gate is a place of suffering and loneliness it's where the "in-valids" are. It was said that at a certain time an angel would come and trouble the waters, that is stir them up. If a sick person could get into the water while it was being troubled than it was said that they would be healed of their "in-validness". As Jesus approached the pool his eyes, well really his heart, perceived a man who had been an in-valid for 30 years. He was paralyzed and could not move. Jesus went up to him and asked him, "do you want to be well?"Then man responds, "of course." but he has an excuse for why he's not healed. He says that he cannot get to the waters when they are troubled by the angel because no one is there to help him to the pool. Jesus then responds with his voice, "If you want to be well then get up and walk." and the man does just that. Jesus's voice is a different voice from what the man had become accustom to hearing. It wasn't a voice of judgment or condesecion, a voice the man had grown accompany to. After all the prevailing theology of the day was that he must have done something wrong to have ended up that why. It wasn't a voice of sympathy or a voice of advice, i.e "Oh you poor soul", or "you should go see the Physician or healer." Jesus' voice was one that was unexpected and unpresidented. It was a voice of possibility, a voice that gave the man hope that he could be transformed if he would only act. And it was that voice of possibility, that voice of potential, the potential that he could be everything that God had created him to be that empowered and ultimately healed the man and turned him from "in-valid" into valued person.
Do we head to the voice of possibility for transformation? Or are we stuck, tuned into the empty, lifeless voices that tell us, "you can't do this", "you can't do that." "God doesn't love you." "You will never be anything to anyone." Are those the voices we hear most? Or are you tuned into the practical voices that reminded you to always play it safe, always make smart investments, never over extend yourself...don't swing at the high fast ball. If we regularly listen to those voices instead of listening to the voice of Jesus which offers us infinite possibilities for transformation and healing, then we are not accomplishing anything for the Kingdom. If the paralyzed man had not taken the risk of trying to get up and walk, he would have died there next to that pool, but he didn't he headed the words of Jesus and all the potential they had, potential to make the man whole and well.
There's a story of a young man named Cameron Lyle. He was a champion division three track athlete. One day he was tested for compatibility to become a bone marrow donor. At the time of the test he was told he was a 1 and 1millionth match for someone not related, meaning it was unlikely they would ever use his marrow for someone not in is family. Well the day came when they found that unlikely recipient. He was a young man who would die without the transplant. Now before you think, "this is a no brainer, Kyle has his chance to help someone out here." Let me tell you a bit about bone marrow transplanting and Kyle. It's tough and even tougher on the donor. It leaves the donor virtually incapacitated, unable to lift more that 20lbs over their head. Kyle was a champion hammer thrower, a possible olympic athlete as well as a national champion contender. If Kyle donates his marrow to this other young man he will miss his track season, forfeit his national championship chances and he can forget the olympics. What Kyle did next was remarkable. Kyle chose to forgo all these other things all so he could help in the possibility of making another human whole (possibility because no transplant is guaranteed, there's always the chance of rejection). When asked about his decision he responded with his voice saying, "it was a no-brainer, I had a chance to help out another person, thats more important than track." Kyle's voice that day was like the voice of Jesus' at the Sheep gate, it was filled with possibility, not sympathy, not selfishness, not judgment, but possibility that through his action another person might become whole.
Is your voice filled with possibility that you could be part of healing another person? Do you hear the voice of possibility? So that you can be made whole, be healed and saved? Jesus is calling out to you today the same why he called out to the "in-valid" at the sheep gate, all you need to do is get up and walk and experience all the potential God has created you for.