Sunday Worship: COMBINED SERVICE 10:00am May 28th 2023

crowd in the city clipped

Grace in a Compete-and-Win World
by Susan Ridgell

4 March, Wednesday – Psalms 72, 119:73-96;  Jeremiah 3:6-18; Romans 1:28–2:11; John 5:1-18

I grew up in a family of five children, and I’m the youngest. Read: lowest on the food chain. Unless you have a strategy. Mine was compete-and-win. What was I competing for? Resources from my parents. Attention, permission, attention, money, attention, clothes, attention, etc. These were limited resources that required elbowing your way to achieve. Creative elbowing to get things done.

In addition to my compete-and-win mindset, I had something else during those years. One of my brothers was consistently looking out for me.

This informed me for life. My modified version of compete-and-win in adulthood: Work hard, accomplish much, stay in the game, and keep a positive approach. And my big brother taught me the value of surrounding myself with support systems. We all need each other. Sounds right.

But what about this man – we don’t know his name – in today’s Gospel reading (John 5:1-18)? He’s been ill for 38 years, and he’s near a certain pool at Bethesda with others who are disabled – blind, lame, paralyzed. An astounding thing happens there from time to time: an angel of the Lord appears and stirs the water in the pool. Whoever steps in first after the water-stirring is healed.

First one in wins! Are you kidding me? Was there ever a more competitive landscape? Elbows seriously flying.

Enter Jesus: “Do you want to be healed?” The man doesn’t say yes or no. He assumes there is one way to be healed: compete and win the freshly-stirred-water rush hour game. He tells Jesus he can’t win that game. He’s tried it for 38 years. It’s not happening. He’s not winning.

He gives us two details. Look, I have nobody to put me in the pool. If that weren’t bad enough, when I try to get to the pool, someone always cuts me off. Nobody helps me, and they’re all competing against me.

He answered Jesus’ offer to get healed with a summary of what hasn’t worked for him! He didn’t know that Jesus was offering something different.

Jesus did what Jesus does: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” We watch as the man is healed instantly, stands up, takes his mat, and walks.

I’m a lot like this man. If I’m being honest, I’m exactly like him. Compete-and-win is often my go-to. I can make {fill in the blank} happen if I work hard enough, compete and win. If I could just get more support, I’d win quicker.

It’s not pretty.

There’s something better than pretty, something stunningly beautiful. God’s grace. How he leans in and says: Hey, I love you and I will make you whole.

Am looking at the rush hour scenarios I participate in and asking God to give me a new answer when he asks if I want to be healed.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found – was blind, but now I see.
John Newton (1725-1807)