A sermon by Kevin Bright
Acts16. 9-15, Revelation 21.10, 22,-22. 5, John 5.1-9
We spent some time in Somerset in the week after Easter and visited the Roman Baths at Bath.
Can you imagine in the time of the Celts and later the Romans finding a location where hot water gushes out at a rate producing 257,000 gallons a day? It’s an amazing sight now but the availability of endless hot water must have seemed nothing short of miraculous all those centuries ago.
No wonder many early Celtic Religious ceremonies were organised around natural water sources.
I thought about those poor Roman soldiers leaving Rome in the balmy late summer to arrive in England for the first time in their tunic and sandals, it’s bad enough when you fly back from Spain in your shorts to arrive on a wet and windy day at Gatwick sometimes but at least you can put the heating on in your car.
It’s no wonder then that the Romans built a temple to Minerva Sulis a hybrid deity, Sulis is the Celtic goddess of healing and sacred waters and Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom. This was followed by the construction of an elaborate bathing complex where you could have oil massages followed by a good scraping of every bodily surface to remove dirt and dead skin then take hot, tepid or cold baths.
In John’s Gospel we hear of a pool in Jerusalem named Bethzatha, regarded by both pagans and Jews as a sacred site which could bring healing. It was said that when the waters bubbled up periodically the first person in would be healed.
There seems to be a question mark over just how effective the healing qualities of these waters were. Perhaps the site became more of a place of congregation and mutual support for the lame, blind and paralyzed we heard of laying in the five porticoes. Clearly the man Jesus identifies had made his way of life around the healing pools so Jesus seems harsh with his question ‘Do you want to be made well?’
Is that like one of those questions your parents used to ask, do you want a slap your legs, or do you want to lose your pocket money?
The answer is not quite as obvious as it appears. Perhaps it’s a question a bit more like do you really want to get fitter and healthier, yes seems the obvious answer but are we prepared to cut down on fatty foods and do more exercise. Do you want to speak a foreign language, of course but are we prepared to study all the nuances of a new language and do our verb drills?
'Do you want to be made well' or perhaps Jesus meant do you really want the fullness of life which you can only find in me. Are you brave enough to really seek this and want it or shall I leave you in your old ways so you can carry on moaning about how lucky other people are.
Does the man want to rely on Pagan myth and legend, as he has done for the last 38 years, or does he want to place his faith in the son of the one true God? A bit of a no brainer when you ask it like that you might say and surely that's the mans sentiment exactly or he wouldn't have followed Jesus command to 'stand up, take your mat and walk'.
This mans life was changed forever, at first it may have seemed a lot harder for him as he had to find new ways of life and work, other peoples expectations of him would have changed too.
We’ve heard a lot about change for the better from our political parties over recent weeks through their slogans:-
Vote for change
A future fair for all
Change that works for you, building a fairer Britain
While we wait for the politicians to do whatever they can to form a government they believe is in our best interest we may worry a little bit less when we remind ourselves that God remains in control, even Lord Mandelson still answers to him!
In the meantime that doesn’t mean that we should accept things as they are and sit back and moan about injustice in our world expecting whoever is ultimately in power to do it all for us. In fact 22,000 churches will be doing exactly the opposite this Christian Aid week, huge numbers will be getting off their backsides and plodding the streets to help some of the poorest people in our world.
For one week starting today each one of us has the opportunity to bring healing waters to the people of Kenya. We will be doing what we can to help fund the basic dignity of toilets and showers to people living in the slums of Kenya, not far from their capital city of Nairobi.
Here’s a few words from Christian Aid volunteers who have been out to Kenya and seen the work we are trying to raise funds for first hand.
‘We've travelled around Nairobi and we've seen all sorts of different areas: quite a contrast. Sixty per cent of the population – more than 2 million people – live in informal settlements. I was quite shocked.
‘The first things we saw when we arrived in Matopeni were the results of the flying toilets. There’s not a single working toilet here, so people go, put it in a bag, and throw it over the wall. And there is no official tap or clean running water. People have managed to access the water pipes below the ground – but the water is really filthy and carries typhoid.
‘By contrast, the people in Kiambiu are almost living a normal life. With the help of the water and development programme Christian Aid is supporting, they
have built five toilet and shower blocks and they've employed people from the local community to clean and maintain them. They charge people a nominal fee to use them and invest the money back into the community, for example to fund the building of more toilet blocks or emergency healthcare for families. They've also got clean drinking water now.
I’m sure that in common with many Christian Aid collectors I hate knocking on peoples doors asking for money and the weathers turning colder and wetter this week also. But we know that we can get home and have a hot shower at the end of it and it would be wonderful if the same became true for many in the Kenyan slums.
We bring our sometimes parched, barren lives and ask God to bless our efforts, so that Kenyan lives currently stalled will be germinated because his river flows. Change is possible and we shouldn’t underestimate the difference that we can make.
If you are ever feeling a bit despondent about what can be achieved it may help to remember how optimistic some of the poorest people in the world remain. A lady called Catherine who lives in the Matopeni slums exudes hope when she states’ ‘one day this slum will never be the same again. We will have beautiful houses, we will live a beautiful life. ‘
Whether giving or collecting think of it as our way of diverting a little of God’s life giving waters which we heard of in our revelation reading to our less fortunate neighbours, brothers and sisters in Kenya.
Christian Aid week is, unsurprisingly, for a week. For every day this week I’d like to urge all of us to keep the people in Kenya without clean water in our prayers.
We always get lots of Christian Aid stickers but I mostly end up giving them back at the end of the week. So this year I’m going to stick one on the wall above the tap in my bathroom and every time I wash my hands, brush my teeth, wash and shave I shall thank God for the gift of life giving water both now and for eternity. I shall also pray for the sanitation projects in Kenya and the efforts of all who support Christian Aid. I’ve got plenty more if you would like to do the same.
Maybe we should have our own slogan for the week ahead:-
Seal Church, people with a thirst for change!