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“Do You Want To Be Made Well?” (John 5:1-17)

The Problematic Pool Party

Calvary Gospel Tabernacle

8.30.2015

John 5:1-17

“Do you want to be made well?” Seems a bit silly doesn’t it? Of course I want to be made well!  But I wonder…if in like a parallel universe this brother might look at Jesus and say, “Meh, come to think of it, lying down… it’s not so bad! I’m fine, really! I’ve got a Good view right here! plus the cool off the pool is refreshing at times. Yeah, I might stay a while…”

 

I love this situation. There’s a bit of agency included in this encounter with the Christ. Not so much agency that it gives license to twist the gospel, or reduce the gospel into some sort of self-help, pull yourself up by the bootstraps message. No friends I believe we have a situation where once again our Lord calls us, even us, into community and responsibility for one another.

 

The man who has been suffering in this story has been suffering for a long time! Scripture tells us in verse five that he has had his infirmity for thirty eight years. This man was a staple of the area, time and time again seeking his healing in the pool but unable to receive it. When reading this scripture my mind was drawn to the brothers and sisters I have encountered in my travels. At Penn Station, both Newark and New York, it would be impossible to pass through and not see a brother or sister experiencing homelessness. A brother or sister in desperate need of help. Food. Shelter. Some recognition of their humanity. Some dignified gesture that reminds them that they are not forgotten.

On the subway earlier this week I sat and watched two separate occasions where gentlemen attempted to gather the passengers’ attention and ask for help. Some change. Any food. Leads on shelter. Clothing for their children.

Walking around my neighborhood in Brooklyn I encountered two more men. One in a wheelchair trying to find shelter. Another asking for enough change to get bus fare.

In the encounters this week, I fear that I fell among the number whom James addressed in James 2:15 and 16. ‘If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’

You see I’m normally happy to give. A cheerful giver even! But I found myself with eyes glued to my book on the train, unwilling to open my wallet in public and give what I could. I gave a dollar to the brother in the wheelchair but found myself pretending to be unable when I really was unwilling to help more. The last brother was very polite and I wanted to help him too but I was unwilling to use my debit card to buy his fare. In all of these instances I felt my spirit bursting to grab hold of these brothers and love them; praying for them, encouraging them, showing the vitality of our faith, letting them know my works are grounded by the moving of the living God.

I made no such statements. My mind more attuned to my bank statement. Dollar bills held hostage by the tyranny of bill collection. And I paint this picture for you because I consider myself a good, charitable person. A nice guy even. Yet still I must wonder, like popular hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar wonders, “How much a dollar cost?” I’m not afraid that I’ve blocked my blessing nor am I fearful of any divine punishment as a result but I pray that God’s love pierced their situations in spite of my inaction. I am confident that my anxiety, my cowardice, could never build a wall high enough to impede the Lord from lifting them out of their circumstances. No doubt, this is the gospel but it is far from a license for complacency.

Brothers and sisters, in truth, we serve an awesome God. A God who continually calls us to participate in God’s life. Instead of seeing one another as an inconvenience how transformed would we be if we saw one another as an invitation to follow Jesus.

I wonder how many people we know in our own lives who are stuck like the brother by the pool. I love this story because I not only see Christ’s example but I see myself by the pool. I joked earlier about the parallel universe where the man is actually content where he is. But when I think about the ways I have answered “Do you want to be made well?” with complacency, fear, anxiety, or doubt, it is no laughing matter. If we are really going to be about this life and really trying to grow in our walk with the Lord then we need to be real about the ways that we too are attending a problematic pool party.

I would never go so far to call lupus and the difficulties that followed my illness a good thing but I saw so many examples where God used this tragedy to bless me. One example of this is learning to receive charity. We feel good when we help other people. There’s an extra puffiness we experience when we know we can reach out and help somebody. Maybe we even believe we are sowing a seed of some sort by helping somebody. I always wonder if I have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2) whenever I have helped somebody. But brothers and sisters, on the opposite end of that spectrum…it is not fun to need help.

Our culture teaches us to preserve our dignity at all costs. Some of us have been burned by needing help, ridiculed for taking a handout, seemingly suffocated under the weight of our shame. But receiving charity is not a mark of failure. No one gets anywhere by themselves. Both Thomas Merton and Dennis Brown agree, “no man is an island.” There is a strong sentiment within the culture to prove how much you are trying, that you are can do! But I submit to you that a crucial component of Christianity is reaching the limits of your agency. Where your try just is not enough, and you need to be made well.

This is beautiful to me because the man tried and it was not enough. Living with a situation like his for thirty eight years…that’s more than enough evidence to believe that this is his lot in life. That perhaps contentment in this stage would be wise. Save him from some heartache. Why try to get in the pool again? But thank God that this man’s story does not end there. He encounters Christ and Christ invites him to participate with God. It is a slice of being a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). Faith is participatory; we cannot afford to hold onto what we have whether that “have” is excess or doubt. We need to be available in order to be made well.

In verse 8, Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”


I wonder what we can accomplish when we believe in God more than we believe in our circumstances. It seems that faith always has to come with a level of absurdity. If I tell you I’m going to breathe my next breath you probably won’t be that impressed. But if I’m telling you that while I am in a hospital bed recovering from pulmonary embolism, some faith may be required.

We cannot be so married to our dignity, caught up in our sense of self that we forfeit these opportunities to participate with God. God is calling us to be made well. God is calling us to ask our brothers and sisters if they want to be made well. What’s realer than that?

Truthfully being faithful is difficult and I think we develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with our problems. The devils we know seem better than the ones we don’t. (Or as my great, late grandmother used to say “Never lef sure fi unsure.”) But what happens when we quiet our circumstances enough to hear the Master’s voice beckoning us to “Rise” take up our beds and walk. Don’t worry about where you will go, just get going.

In verse 17, when it is clear that some members of the community are offended by what the Lord has done, Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

Everytime I see this verse, I think about Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing “God is working.” It is seductive and rather simple to write off your life, write off the world even, and stay convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I wonder what happens when we take the Lord’s Prayer serious enough to believe that God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Not focusing on the situation (and surely not ignoring it, by and by) but believing that God is working, that God loves you enough to invite you to participate in that work and making yourself available so that “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am convinced that we cannot follow Jesus by ourselves. To be Christian is to be in community. And the beautiful thing about the beloved community is that God continually calls us to love folks we may not even like. The least of these. Those the rest of society has the leisure to forget. We do not have that leisure.

We see in Deuteronomy 10, verses 18 and 19 that God “administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Lord provides the example then calls us to be holy as God is holy.
‭‭
So where are we in this story? Are we going to be like our Master or are we going to care more about our sense of order more than one another? I pray that we guard our witness closely. It is conflicting, and rather silencing to say we love God when we do not show that love to our neighbors. In what ways are we forgetting that Sabbath was created for man and not man for the sabbath? (Mark 2:27)

Brothers and sisters, you do not need me to convince you of the world’s brokenness. The problematic pool party has too many attendees. Despair seems more logical than hope. Too many feel that it is over but praise be to God, we know the author of our story. And He intends far more than this. You are not defined by what ails you. You are not a prisoner of your problems.

May we see our Lord as our example and walk with such empathy. He got directly involved in the mess, he was not far removed. He lived His life worshipfully. May we open our eyes and pray with our feet so that we too may worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Heatrock of the Week KB feat. Lecrae “Sideways”

Support Youth Summer Arts Camp In Crown Heights

I feel like I am finally exhaling. I am relieved.

This is true in part because I just finished my first year as a Special Ed Teacher. Teaching is truly an exhausting and challenging calling but I feel like the relief I am experiencing right now is tied to the joy I get when I think about the past year.
This morning I sat with Brianna and talked about how this year was a faith walk. Last May, we experienced the birth of Coltrane, graduation from seminary and moving to Brooklyn all within one week! We were running before that time and we’ve been running ever since.
In preparation of our move to New York, we prayed with close friends of ours who were also having a child. (Their beautiful daughter was born a week before Coltrane). We prayed for the health of our children and that I would be able to find employment in the city of my birth.
As we prayed and conversed, my friends continuously raved about their church and how much they thought Brianna and I would love it there when we eventually moved back home. That first Sunday at Trinity Grace Church Crown Heights was surreal. I’d talked about coming home for years but being a part of this church sealed it. We worshipped in a school blocks away from where my family first lived when they came to the United States; a stone’s throw from where my grandfather ministered at Trinity Baptist Church.
I wanted to hit the ground running in terms of involvement. Youth ministry is the foundation of our church. I play basketball with young brothers from the church regularly as part of our “Youth and Family night” program and Brianna and I co-teach on Sundays. It is a joy to be in this community and a privilege to see our mentees become leaders.
Our church has an initiative to provide a Summer Arts Camp to 70 kids this summer. We need to raise $40,000 in order to make this happen. Please visit this link http://artscamp.causevox.com/ and help us serve.
Much love and God bless,
Chris

I’m hurt. I think I’ve always been.

I’m hurt. I think I’ve always been.

It first hit me when I was singing on the choir. The Children of Hope were a main attraction every Sunday. We stood in our robes, the pride of our parents’ eyes. One Sunday another child asked me, “Where’s your Dad?” I knew he wasn’t there but never thought about why.

I first spoke to my father on the phone at the age of five. I remember the conversation was brief; he told me not to take orders from any woman. Years later, I learned that our conversation was followed by my grandmother telling him about himself, “Yuh wutless!” she cried. I hope it’s not hereditary.

Every birthday, in spite of my mother’s best, oscillated between bubbling sadness and a fight against solemnity. Happiness was slippery. Accomplishments were punctuated by the absence.

Middle school taught me the importance of appearances. I learned to say my parents were separated even though they never married. I fashioned my father as a farmer, man of the people, whose agrarian will and political mind would usher in a new era in the postcolonial world.

In eighth grade he sent me fifty dollars a few times. Each time I felt rich and allowed myself to have pride. We would speak on the phone frequently, conversations ending abruptly when the credit ran out. I finally met him in person that summer, spending the whole day together, laughing with both parents, feeling complete.

I would not see him again until the summer I turned sixteen. I met so many people, good friends of his, who were surprised he had a son. I left Jamaica and was sure that this was going to be our new normal. Phone calls were frequent but still ended abruptly. He visited the next summer when I graduated high school. I realized the depth of my grandmother’s love when she behaved herself and sat next to him at my graduation dinner.

College would be another silent period in our relationship. He was always on my mind. Every accomplishment, any moment of success, filled with the reminder that he was not there.

I would not see him until I got married and I have not seen him since. Life moments have brought us together. We had a good run of phone calls after I nearly died. He called a couple times after my son was born. I had a lot of hope that my own fatherhood would make us closer, give us something else to talk about. Admittedly, becoming a father has made me angry. A younger me made excuses for him but now his negligence is unbelievable. I look at my son and think, “How could anyone not do this?” How could anyone feel the weight of responsibility and not press in? The thoughts spill my rage.
I don’t like to think about this often, much less talk about it. I worry that no matter how right I am, my silence is unforgiving. So I pray. “Lord, I’m hurting. I think I’ve always been.”

Nice Time (Was Full House A Good Show?)

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Nice Time (Was Full House A Good Show?) by Di Baddest Chaplain on Mixcloud

Skin in the game

Had a chance to write something for Wendy McCaig’s blog. Here’s a taste:

Enough work has already been done to make every claim of ignorance ring hollow. When I talk about the plight of black people in this country and receive a shocked response, I know I am speaking to someone exercising their privilege. Their ignorance takes me back to my first year in seminary when I first discovered how white supremacy is a religion unto itself. I remember standing in the bookstore, furious because books that talked about me and my experience in this country were not required for core courses. One could matriculate and graduate from my institution and never encounter the black experience much less contemplate their complicity in white supremacy. My rage was in the reduction. I loved myself enough to know I could never be an elective.

Sorry, Doc.

Wanted to apologize for last night.
You came in to do your job
And my elder only saw your youth.
“You’re a doctor?!” she exclaimed,
“I thought you were a nurse!”
Subsequent conversation was unpleasant.

I was not offended but understood
Your grasps for authority.
My elder could not see
How her question accused you.
Fulfilling for a moment your fears
Of being an impostor.

And I’ve felt it.

Like no matter what I do,
Take me to Oslo,
And my aunt will always see me as six.
Take me to Richmond,
I’ll give you a speech
And they’ll still ask if I am from Africa.

Eventually.

The horror of being lowered.
You being a nurse is like me being a janitor or some thing.
But I’ve learned so much from custodians.
Lunch ladies and the least of these.
These people, my people
Respectable carrying receptacles.
Walked so we could run away.

Quiet nuh!

I should probably be doing something else (like work) but longhair….

I laugh when my students hear my instruction and protest. “So does everyone understand? Are there any questions?”

“This sounds like work!”

It is.

They (the infamous secret government that controls us all) say that if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. I have found truth in that. A cornerstone of my theology and worldview is that God intends for us to enjoy life.

Life is to be enjoyed. Truly. And when you are locked into what you’re supposed to be doing THEN you get that fulfillment which allows you to never work a day in your life.

But as Bob says, “the harder the battle, the sweeter Jah victory”.

I have a tough time teaching Steinbeck. I get why Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are American classics. I would even entertain a notion that Steinbeck wrote with a prophetic voice in his time. But when my ninth graders call him boring, I can’t disagree. I remember being so bored by Grapes of Wrath that I wrote my final paper on the half I’d read. I even ended it with something cheeky like “who knows if they’ll ever make it to California?”

My English teacher was a good sport and said it was certainly an A paper but as I’d only read half the book she could only give me half the points.

Merry Christmas.

As bored as we are, a bigger issue to me is our study justifying their misogyny. Our book discussions always had somebody calling Curley’s wife a thot or students being incapable of seeing her perspective.

During a discussion where we confronted the issue, another teacher blamed rap for the misogynistic views.

That annoyed me though.

Misogyny is older than the Bible. Rap didn’t start it but it carries on tradition (like country music, movies and general society)

Sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable and I hear temptation tell me to look elsewhere. There has to be somewhere where my gifts and talents are appreciated. I can do so much more with a greater platform, it says.

But I am content in this stage because I recognize the journey and little interest in forcing fate before God’s time.

I get frustrated but then I look back.

I remember the hospital bed (it got better).

Leaving Trinity (it got better).

Living with my in laws (it got better).

Returning to Richmond (it got better).

So now, no matter the obstacles, difficulties and certitude that evil wants to destroy you, I can be reassured that the One who got me out of the hospital, kept my Beloved and I, and blessed us with the lil fella has not forsaken us and has no plans to.

As Paul shared in 2 Corinthians:

We  are  hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we  are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Enjoy the day my friends. Tell any doubt or insecurities, “Quiet, nuh!”

The Armond Episode #STCDNW

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The Armond Episode #STCDNW by Di Baddest Chaplain on Mixcloud

In this episode of #STCDNW, Di Baddest Chaplain speaks with Armond about his excellent album, The Epiphany of Marcus Graham. They talk about relationships, the GOATs (in and out of CHH) and another great show, Clock Radio Speakers.

“Songs that can do no wrong” is hosted by Di Baddest Chaplain on the globe, Chris B. Only on #Soundbooth Radio 1. www.soundboothradio1.com

Beautiful and Devastating 

  

For a few weeks I’ve watched with anticipation as NXT advertised for Nia Jax.
I didn’t know what or who to expect. Full disclosure, when I saw her last name was Jax, I kept visualizing some lady with metal arms running through the competition down at Full Sail. What happened last Wednesday was far more destructive.
The music hit, the video played and out walked an extremely formidable wrestler. Not diva and not just a lady. I’ve seen a few Awesome Kong comparisons pop up on the internet already but when I first saw Nia Jax my mind went straight to Bull Nakano. (Her match with Alundra Blayze is worth revisiting on the WWE Network and is where Paige gets her fantastic scorpion crosslock submission finish from).

Nia came through and crushed the buildings. Evie is no slouch. She has had independent circuit success and does not have the makings of a jobber. Nevertheless they booked Nia with such invincibility that the only thing she was missing was the blinking lights from Super Mario. 

The scary thing is I don’t feel like we saw the full move set. She had a devastating bearhug, an exceptionally disrespectful pin (folded Evie like some laundry) but I can’t help but think we are going to see some great striking techniques from her later on. 

She has the potential to make every move look critical. One can only hope they use her as the monster heel she was born to be and put her in some great matches with Charlotte and Sasha Banks. Initially I was most excited to see her work with Sasha but the thought of Bayley going against all odds and hitting that Bayley to Bayley on her? That’s how legends are born. After all, she is a member of the Anoa’i family (The Rock, Wild Samoans, Roman Reigns and ’em) so anticipating greatness is so necessary. 

The Finals Next Time (Between the Knicks and Me)

  

Little fella you’ve been in this world for nearly five months now and of all that I teach you, I hope you will always remember that #ballislife.

You will be blessed to grow up in New York City, a town that has as many courts as Brooklyn has churches. I will do my best to teach you the fundamentals of the game and I pray that you love the game as much as I do. But there is one thing that I will find difficult to pass on to you. I cannot teach you this, I can only give you exposure. And exposure to this thing I speak of, this thing I hold so near and dear to my heart, may cause repulsion more than reverence. Your mother has already threatened me with divorce if you grow to embrace them as I do. Others have asked me why I would want you to suffer like I have. But I’ve paid them no mind. Trust me son, being a Knicks fan builds character.
I, your father, am too young to fully appreciate the glory days of the Knicks’ championship years. I will show you one day the great moment when Willis Reed came through the tunnel. You will know that Walt Frazier was once Clyde and played the game with style as great as his suits. 

My glory days were in the 90s when the Knicks often lost to an evil man named Michael Jordan. (An evil man who sells fly shoes, more on this later.) They also had a heated rivalry with an annoying man named Reggie Miller. This man, as you will discover when we watch the blessed game on TNT, is just as annoying broadcasting the game as he was playing it. When the day comes and you ask me, “Father, why is that skinny man so obnoxious?” I will shed a joyful tear. 

There will come a time when you will ask me why my hate for the Heat is so deep. (#FIHM) I will tell you that my hate for them is twofold. In my glory days we had a great coach named Pat Riley. He took the Knicks to the Finals in ’94 and when the owners wouldn’t give him more power (power that he truly deserved), he went to Miami. In Miami, Riley turned a floundering expansion team into a conference powerhouse. The Heat would challenge the Bulls, Pacers and my Knicks and adopted that mean style that the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons fathered. My Knicks brushed them pretty regularly (Allan Houston’s shot to eliminate them from the playoffs in ’99 is my favorite NBA moment) but the hatred was solidified during the ’96-97 playoffs when PJ Brown hip tossed Charlie Ward. 

The Knicks went from winning the series 3-1 to losing in a game 7. They suspended 9 Knicks in the series! 9! Now as you hear this I’m sure you are thinking, “that must have been a big fight.” And yes there was a pretty sincere brawl (My Knicks were always ready to throw hands.) but many of the players who were suspended as a result of merely stepping onto the court. Including, my favorite Knick of all time, Patrick Ewing. Ewing is the most deserving of all legends who never won a ring and #FIHM because he should have won one that year.

You may be thinking, “Wow Father, that does not seem like enough reason to hate the Miami Heat forever (not to be confused with hatred for the city of Miami. After all it is gorgeous and not Boston.)” and perhaps you are right.

 I must admit my hate for them began to subside after Allan Houston hit that glorious runner against them and as my Knicks faded from conference relevance. But that hatred roars again because of the summer of 2010. A mere five years before your existence, I know son, but it is the summer of my discontent. 

That summer I anticipated LeBron James joining my Knicks and bringing the first championship we have experienced since 1973. But that did not happen. LeBron would go to Miami and win 2 championships then return home to Cleveland. You will learn that LeBron is a good enough player to take a team to the Finals by himself and most definitely could have won us a championship. So I admit, I am bitter. I had no reason to believe LeBron was coming to my Knicks but I was hurt when he did not. I have forgiven him but my hate for the Heat rages on.

So what will we do? I am certain you will love this game and can see an attraction budding as you watch the screen intently as I play 2K. I will not pressure you, simply expose you to Knicks games and hopefully take you to the Garden, the world’s most famous arena. Your mother wants you to be a Warriors fan and I cannot blame you if you do. Children are often frontrunners and they will be good for a long time. Just please, promise me you will never cheer for the Bulls, Celtics, Heat, or Pacers. You’re a Brooklyn kid though. So if you end up cheering for the Nets I will not judge you, I will only laugh. 

Wardell ain’t playin’ wit y’all 

  

“I apologize for us being healthy…I apologize for all the accolades we received as a team and individually. I’m very, truly sorry, and we’ll rectify that situation this year.”

– #CurryGOAT
I can’t help it. Whenever I read that quote, I hear “Takeover” playing in the background. Folks stay wanting to switch up the narrative, like we weren’t alive during the history. 

Let’s not pretend that the Golden State Warriors are the first team in league history to win a championship with some fortunate breaks. (Shoot, I still maintain that my ’96-97 Knicks would have given the Bulls the blues if the whole team didn’t get suspended during the Heat series. Forever I hate Miami. #FIHM) 

Yes Durant was hurt, yes the Spurs and Clippers got eliminated and Cleveland would have been a different team if Kyrie and Love were healthy. But what’s lost in the sauce with all that conjecture are the facts. 

Remember when the Finals were winding down and there was significant buzz about giving LeBron the MVP even in a losing effort? I was a fan of that idea because LeBron was otherworldly in that series. But that doesn’t mean Cleveland wins in a parallel universe where Kyrie and Love are injury free. LeBron’s superhuman playing would have changed during the Finals with Kyrie and Love there to share the load. And anybody watching basketball last season would be truly hating from the sidelines if they wanna pretend that the best team didn’t win the chip.

I used to get annoyed when I heard people endorsing anyone but #CurryGOAT for MVP last season. In retrospect, I can see how a reasonable case for James Harden can be made. But you guys really need to think this through. Before the reckless talking, hemming and hawing, I honestly wasn’t sure Golden State could run it back. But now? #Currypeat 

Every great is always looking for fuel to motivate them. A little extra to feed the hunger for more. You yentas done took Steph to Costco. 

I didn’t like it when I heard Steph sarcastically say that “we’ll rectify that situation this year.” But I was limited. I heard it as rectify=we fitna lose. But nah, not Steph. He don’t slack a minute. Steph is out here warning y’all that he’s about to leave no doubt who the “top shotta” is. Y’all done walked into Lennox’s house while he’s watching soccer and shot the place up?! You know who you a ramp wid?! Please leave it alone, don’t throw rocks at the throne. 

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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