O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
you know our struggle to serve you:
when sin spoils our lives
and overshadows our hearts,
come to our aid
and turn us back to you again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble;
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea;
Though the waters rage and swell,
and though the mountains quake at the towering seas.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; therefore shall she not be removed;
God shall help her at the break of day.
The nations are in uproar and the kingdoms are shaken,
but God utters his voice and the earth shall melt away.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come and behold the works of the Lord,
what destruction he has wrought upon the earth.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
John 5.1-3, 5-16
There was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”‘ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
… while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.
It is a popular myth that Napoleon, during his period of exile, described the British as a ‘nation of shop keepers’. Whether we subscribe (or have ever subscribed) to this description, which was intended as a criticism of Britain’s ‘interference’ in European politics, or whether we view it as insulting and outdated there is one thing of which we can be sure: the British are good at queuing. Or are we? Those who lived through the Second World War tell stories of the queues, and of how children were deployed on different queues at the same time, as a way of ensuring that precious, but meagre, rations were secured for the whole family. Even today the idea of forming a queue and taking our turn is generally accepted as the civilized and courteous way of carrying on.
But … the notion of forming a queue is not a universally accepted norm. When we travel outside the United Kingdom we are surprised, and sometimes outraged, by they way in which ‘first come, first served’ is translated into ‘survival of the fittest’. This is the situation Jesus finds as he comes to the pool named Beth-zatha (or Bethesda), which means ‘house of mercy’ or ‘house of grace’. The waters of this pool were known as healing waters. Every day, many came to the pool in the hope of being made well. In today’s reading Jesus encounters just such a person. As he arrives he meets a man who has joined the queue every day, for many, many years. However, despite his patience and persistence that unfortunate man has never got to the front of the queue. He has always been pushed aside by those faster and stronger than him.
Today’s reading is, of course, another moment when we encounter Jesus’ life-changing gift of healing, but it is also something else. This reading is also an admonition to each and every one of us. We live in a world where success is measured in terms of determination, strength and ruthlessness. If we buy into this negativity we harden our hearts to the needs of those who are weaker than ourselves. Every time we push our way to the front of the queue we are dashing the hopes of others, we are trampling on their needs as though they do not matter.
Let us pray that we may always put those weaker than ourselves ahead of ourselves. Let us pray that we may always love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Prayers of Intercession
In peace and confidence, let us pray to the Lord.
Make your Church a worthy temple for your presence. Bless all missionaries and inspire them both with zeal for the Gospel and understanding of those to whom they preach.
Lighten the darkness of the world with the light of Christ. Give the water of life to all who thirst for hope and direction in their human journey.
Grant that we and all those we love shall always be ready to respond to your call, to help each other or those as yet unknown to us. Bless those in our community who have recently come to faith and strengthen them to grow in love and obedience day by day.
Bring healing to those who are sick in body or mind. Lift up those whose spirits are weary. Comfort those who mourn.
Grant to the faithful departed that they shall indeed see the face of Christ and live with him for ever. May perpetual light shine upon them.
Taught by the Holy Spirit, we pray through Christ our Saviour.
Prayer for the week
be with us in our search for peace,
in ourselves and in the world you have made.
Diminish pride and increase humility;
weaken suspicion and nourish trust.
Deepen true love and understanding in every heart,
and unite us all as members of one family;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Help us to help each other, Lord,
each other’s cross to bear;
let each his friendly aid afford,
and feel another’s care.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)