The gates of Jerusalem are busy places. There are so many people coming and going – whether for religious festivals, or for trade and commerce, or for administrative purposes. The flow of people is almost nonstop at these gates – through these portals into the city.
There is a pool near one particular gate of the city – and that pool near the sheep gate – is also a busy place. But this pool is busy not so much on account of the religious festivals, or on account of those traveling for trade and commerce, or on account or the administrative needs of the city or of that Roman colony more widely.
The area around that pool is busy because there is a tradition of healing associated with it. There is a tradition that when the waters are stirred – when there is some movement in the waters, as if stirred by an angel – the waters have healing or medicinal properties.
And so the area around that pool – the five porticos or porches that encircle the pool – they are filled with those looking for healing. This space is a kind of ancient hospice or hospital. By definition this is a group of those who are broken in some way; their bodies in need of healing in some respect. According to John’s gospel, those gathered around the pool are the blind and the lame and the paralyzed. And of course we know that in that culture, on top of their particular physical challenges, each of these individuals would also have faced a high degree of social isolation. So they seek healing in this pool – they seek healing in the stirred waters – they seek healing of their bodies and souls – a healing in their physical being and in their social identity. Continue reading
There’s a great phrase used in the New Testament – a phrase that speaks to the heart of our faith – to the heart of our identity. Here it is: One another. One another. Now that you hear it, it’ll probably strike you as familiar.
Love one another.
Wash one another’s feet.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Let us stop passing judgment on one another.
This little phrase speaks beautifully of the mutuality inherent in our life of faith. It demonstrates beautifully that within the Body of Christ each person must be intentionally engaged with the other – on a two way street. It’s not that only one person acts or speaks or teaches or whatever – rather as one is engaged with the other, that other is equally engaged with the one. Thus we read about the first Christians in the book of Acts, Chapter 4: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” — And so the list goes on as we scan through the New Testament writings:
Bear with one another.
Be devoted to one another.
Instruct one another.
Build one another up.
All of which brings us to today’s passage in James, in which the Apostle says: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
A sermon preached in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.
Well, once again this morning I find myself in an unenviable position – here I stand, with about fifteen to twenty minutes to explore the forgiveness of sins. That’s our topic for today. Of course, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. It was my choice to preach through the Apostles’ Creed and there’s no backing out now.
You could say that I feel this morning like someone who has been asked to explain in a few words the music of Oscar Peterson, that great Montreal Jazz artist. How, in a few words, could anyone capture the musical ability, the keyboard dexterity, the emotional range of that great pianist and composer? How could words ever come close to capturing the essence of great music since by definition music belongs to a different realm than that of words? Ultimately, the great music of Oscar Peterson isn’t something to be explained or talked about, it is something to be listened to, experienced.
The same thing goes when it comes to forgiveness. Words about forgiveness, explanations of forgiveness, can only dance around the subject – words will never get us as close to forgiveness as we really need to get. The truth is that you can only understand forgiveness and know forgiveness from within the experience of forgiveness. Like the amazing music of Oscar Peterson, perhaps, forgiveness isn’t something that can ultimately be explained – forgiveness must be lived, must get a grip on our lives.
A sermon in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.
Judgment. Well – that’s quite a sermon title isn’t it?
It almost makes you feel you’re back in the nineteenth century, when hell-fire and brimstone were the order of the day in sermons. That title makes me think of what may be one of the most famous sermons ever preached, by the great America theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards. It was entitled Sinners in the hands of an angry God.
When I was thinking about this sermon, and about that title, I was also reminded of a billboard that stands in a field outside the town where my parents live. As you come to a particularly treacherous turn in a country road, there stands the sign – Prepare to meet thy God. The choice of location makes you think that some congregation posted it there almost hoping that a driver would come to that curve a little too fast and would see the sign just as they skidded off the road.
As we spend some time thinking about judgment this morning, I’d actually like to begin by pointing out that judgment is a part of everyday life for us as a society and as individuals.