Life Can Be Frustrating

John 5:1-18

There may be some people who can say that life has turned out just as they planned.
Everything worked out according to their dreams and visions.
I cannot say that.
I have experienced the frustration of trying hard to have something, and having life deny it.

I read the story of a woman examining a mechanical toy in a toy store.
She asked the clerk, "Don't you think this is just a little too complicated for a child?"

"Oh, no," said the salesman, smiling.
That is an educational toy.
It is especially designed to adapt a child to life in the world today.
Anyway he puts it together, it is wrong
."

Life does have this puzzling way of frustrating our fondest hopes and dearest dreams.

One story could be that of a young man who starts out to study medicine, but his father dies,
and he has to come home to support his mother and younger brother and sister.
His dreams of medicine are history.

We should also mention a young man starting out in business, but finds the competition a lot tougher
than he had thought.
Though he struggles to keep up – he finds that he doesn't have what it takes,
and he will never make a go of the business.

There are those here who could add their stories to this class has this puzzling way
of frustrating hopes and dreams.
And often, we feel powerless to do anything about it.

One day Jesus walked through the outpatient ward of an inner city hospital at Bethesda.
As John describes it you can feel the grim gray walls, and the sickness and the smell of it.
There is one man there who is a patient, and has been there for 38 years.
Jesus noticed him.

John writes as if he had watched Jesus single this man out.
He says Jesus "saw him."

Just a few yards away there is an underground spring that is feeding a central pool.
Local tradition was that every time the pool bubbled, some angel of healing had touched the water,
and the first person in the water received healing and health.

Imagine the pathetically wild and agonizing scramble down to the water.
For almost four decades, this man has found himself caught up in all that.
Since most people could get there first, he found himself always on the edge of things.
It was that he was like an outsider looking in on the scene, but powerless to do much about it.

Think of a boy born in this world because his mother and father thought they ought to have a family.
They teach him how to speak correctly and how to behave.
They send him off to school to learn values that will make him a respectable citizen.

Now and then on the weekend, he receives a little religious training.
After he graduates from high school, he is drafted into the Army, and is almost killed in battle.
Then he is discharged, and finishes his education, and begins to work for a large firm.

During his 30 years with the firm, he falls in love, gets married, raises a family, he votes, and pays his taxes.
When he dies without Christ, he continues to contribute to the economy by employing the skill
of an undertaker and taking up space in the graveyard.

When did anybody in this world ever see this person as more than a means to an end?
When did he ever see himself as more than that?
When did his company, or his neighborhood, or his city government ever get together to serve
his deeper personal needs?
What did they have to say to his frustration, his deep hunger so that he would feel like somebody of worth.

It is like this man -- like the man Jesus saw in this hospital at Bethesda, lots of people struggle
to live feeling always only on the edge of it, but never quite in the mainstream.

Jesus stopped when He saw the man in the hospital and asked, "Do you want to get well?"
At first, that sounds silly, but it seems as though there are people who seem to enjoy their misfortune.
That's why Jesus asked this question: "Do you want to get well?"

Would you just continue in this dog-eat-dog existence, scrambling and clawing and fighting your way
down to the water?
Do you want to go on living at the level of the survival of the fittest of the unfit or do you want to get well?

After all, maybe the man didn't want anybody tampering with his life or suggesting that he change his approach.
He was weak, yes, but maybe he would rather stay weak.

Look at some of the ambiguity behind the man's answer to Jesus.
He didn't say "yes" or "no," but begins to complain:
" Look, I have laid here for 38 years.
Now you asked me if I want to get well?
What do you think?
If only I had someone to put me into the pool when the angel troubled the water.
If only I had a little more energy, I could make it; but every time I try, someone beats me to it.
For 38 years, I have struggled to get there, and you asked me if I want to get well
."

How any "if onlys" lie behind the frustrations of life.
How many have said that things would change:
If only the children would straighten out.
If only we could get our money affairs in order.
If only this person was out of my life.
If only this person would come into it.
Or if only ...

The Lord challenges us to live a whole and complete life.
But we hedge.
We would, Lord, if only we were younger.
Or if only we were older.
Or if only we were smarter.
Or if only we were rich.
Or if only we had better connections.
Or if only we were better looking.

If only we could add a little of this and subtract a little that, or change a few circumstances,
then we could make it, Lord – I know we would.
If only I had a couple of friends to help me at the right time.
There so many who have felt the rejection of significant people in their lives at critical times.

Sometimes children have a way of making a parent feels something less than human, as though somewhere
between the diaper pail and high school graduation, there had been decreed an offense against humanity.
The young person may not leave home, but he simply plays no attention to what adults think or feel
– he just ignores them.

And then there are young people who have felt neglected by their parents.
It is not that the parents left the child on the doorstep or threw them out of the house
after they graduated from school.
No one listens to his opinions or considered his feelings after all, what parents can listen to their children
when they have so many important things to tell them about how to live their lives.

Rejection and frustration happens in all of our lives.
It is how we react to frustration that is critical.

People tend to do one of two things.

Some get mad.
They would rather bemoan the status quo than change anything about themselves,
so they quit their job, break up their home, or start a fight.
Other people find situations so frustrated that they just give up.
They say, "I have put my whole self into this project.
I have given it the best years of my life, and no one appreciates me for what I've tried to do or think.
So what's the use
?"

In the middle of all these human complaints, Jesus says to us, "Come on, take up your bed and walk."
You don't have to go through life full of anger and frustration.
It just looks that way to you.
You don't have to continue crying to win this mad scramble to get down to the pool first.

The forces of healing aren't somewhere else or somewhere off in the future.
They are right now and right here.
You will find them in the middle of your own particular frustrating circumstances.

You are a participant in God's world, and God's purposes does not depend on the little more of this
or a little bit less of that.
It does not depend on your being in some other place or living at some other time.
Right now, right where you are, you can take up your bed and walk.
Everything depends on your willingness to take hold of this moment, and rise to this occasion.

You believe what you do more than you do what you believe.
Take up your bed!
Walk!
God will strengthen you to do it.

Jesus did in Bethesda what He is always ready to do.
He asked the man to precisely what the man found impossible.
How often today God brings people face-to-face with the one thing that seems impossible.

This man felt something starting in his mind and in his heart, and as he tried to get up,
he discovered that God had given him the strength to do it.
In a blinding flash of glory, we see have faith works – what faith means.

Jesus said, "Rise to your feet," and somewhere in the depth of that man's soul,
his will went out to the will of God for him.
Those shaky old legs became pillars of strength beneath him.

Personal fulfillment in Christ does not lie behind me or in front of me.
It is my opportunity here and and now.
God sees me, and has important things for me to do.

God's acceptance of us, and our faith in that acceptance will enable us to be different people,
and to do what we never thought that we could do.
Don't complain about your circumstances and frustrations any longer.

Stand up!
Start to walk?

God will help – God will bless – God will use you.
The God in whom you believe believes in you, and that is something that you can always count on.
Though I still have a lot of things to live down, a lot of things to live through, the voice of God encourages me:
"Harold, take up your bed in the middle of your frustrations."

That's where you begin to become the complete person that you have longed to be
– that God wants you to be.
God says, "Trust me with your life – with your future – with your…"

You can stand!
You can have purpose!
You can be victorious!
You don't have to wait until your headache is better, or until that important call comes.
You can live now by the power of God.
You can find help in your present circumstances.

"Take up your bed and walk!"

Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White