One day, someone turns up in your life and changes everything.
What would they do for you? How would you want to change?
Trouble is, of course, that it’s not necessarily the kind of change you would choose in your daydreams.
Lydia was a devout Gentile woman living in Philippi, in mainland Greece. She was a successful business woman, a textile dealer. She used to meet other women by the river just outside the town on a Saturday – a kind of prayer meeting. One day, a man shows up and starts talking to them, telling them about Jesus and how he was crucified and rose again from the dead. For Lydia, it rings true. She recognises the truth. Her heart warms and she knows she has to respond. She asks to be baptised, and her whole household are baptised with her. Her life has changed for ever.
She didn’t go looking for transformation, but the kind of person she was meant that she was open to the truth of Paul’s message and ready to respond.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t necessarily make life easier, but it makes life more complete, more fulfilled. It means you have a relationship with Jesus who loves you and cares about you. It gives you responsibilities you would never expect, like representing Jesus to the world around you.
But when you experience a transformation like Lydia, you feel like you are in the right place at last, you feel like you’ve found that thing your heart has always been searching for.
I have seen people undergo that kind of transformation on Cursillo weekend. Cursillo is a renewal movement that I’ve been involved with for 14 years. We take people away for a long weekend, with lots of good teaching and amazing worship. And people change. Take Ian. He arrived on Cursillo and told me that his faith was at a low ebb and he was thinking of giving up the things he did with the church. By the end of the weekend, his faith was up here, and he went on with renewed energy with the community work he was so good at and helped to set up the Birtley Hub Resource Centre. He’s dead now, but his life was a testament to his faith.
There was another man. We don’t know his name. He had been ill for 38 years – we don’t know the diagnosis, but it left him not able to get around easily. In this church, we are trying to improve access for people with disabilities. This meant he couldn’t work, he couldn’t support a family, he couldn’t practice his religious faith. After so long, he had run out of hope. He would lay by the pool of Bethzatha hoping for a miracle that never came.
Then one day, Jesus came by. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asked him. And the man just gives an excuse about why he’s still in this situation, because he can’t get to the water quick enough when there are miracles on offer. And Jesus, the living water, tells him to stand up and walk. The trouble is, it was another Saturday, the Sabbath, and the man gets into trouble with the religious authorities for carrying his mat. He then shops Jesus to the religious leaders. It’s almost as if he’s in denial of his healing. There is no sign in him of thanks or joy. Jesus warns the man to keep from sin. His life had been so empty and hopeless – it would be sinful to keep ahold of that habit of attitude.
And it’s another story where Jesus is challenging the way we’ve always done things.
We never find out what happened to the man. What did he do with his life, now that he could walk? Did he slump back into his old attitudes and disabilities? Or did the real inner transformation take place, but over time?
Do you want to be made well? Being well is not just a physical thing. It’s about attitudes and habits as well. You change one thing, and it has a knock on effect on your whole self. We all need healing somewhere. We all need forgiveness.
So how would change be for you? What would be your lightbulb moment when God’s love touches your heart? When something unexpected happens that changes everything?
John has a vision of the final transformation, the ultimate healing, at the end of time when God establishes the heavenly Jerusalem on earth, where there is no darkness, no death, no mourning, no sin, no hurting each other. The gates are left open because there is no fear of the bad guys. In the city there is truth and light and abundant life. God lives there with his people, and his servants worship him in joy. There is another river – water has been a theme in all today’s readings – a river that gives life. And the trees on the banks of the river produce food and medicines for healing.
The heavenly city is not just about what happens when we die, our reward for good services on earth. Rather, this is what we are striving for, this is what we are trying to establish, building God’s Kingdom here on earth now.
When we are transformed by our encounter with Jesus, when we are healed from our immobility, from our habits and attitudes, when we are restored to a loving relationship with Jesus, then Jesus asks us to help do his work on earth, to build Jerusalem here in Bensham. That is the glorious vision that we have been given. It is built into the fabric of this church, in one of the windows of the All Saints Chapel. It is not an optional extra. This is what we are called to do.