The Coach – Video and Manuscript for Sermon Based on John 5:1-9

Below is the sermon based on John 5:1-9, preached at Patterson Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday, May 5, 2013, but Dr, Bill Nieporte.  I owe appreciation to an article by Len Sweet and a sermon by Dennis Atwood for some of the themes included in the sermon (both are quoted in the sermon).  Additionally, I am appreciative for a Facebook conversation with Len Sweet (and others) that inspired me to remember the story about my son’s first AT BAT during “machine pitch” baseball when he was younger.

I also want to express appreciation for Coach Scott, my son’s “Tee-Ball” and “Machine Pitch” and “Little League” coach. 

I have included information an links to several of Len Sweet’s more popular books at the end of this post.


John 5:1-9

It was the start of “batting practice” for the baseball season on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  Michael stood behind the plate, ready to take his first “at bat” during practice.   He’d started out in tea-ball.  Now he was facing down “the machine” as the kids called it, using the most ominous tones they could muster.  The purpose of THE MACHINE was to provide a steady and consistent batting experience for each young boy at the plate as they learned how to play the game.

During tee-ball, nobody really kept track of the score.  Kids in the outfield were often too busy picking daisies.  You could hit the ball from the tea to the boy standing on the pitcher’s mound – then run all five of bases before the pitcher figured out what to do with it.  Yes, I know there are only FOUR bases, but in tea-ball, the kids often seem to find a fifth based when running.

Anyways, when a boy moves up to “machine pitch” it makes him feel just a tad bit closer to the “big leagues.”

So there Michael stood, behind the plate, batting helmet on his head, gripping the bat, facing down THE MACHINE.  But he wasn’t alone.  The coach was right there, gently speaking instructions into Michael’s ear, just as he had for the other boys before him.

“Okay, Michael, square your shoulders, hold the bat up a little higher, adjust your grip…that’s good.  Now, even out those elbows.  Good job!  Now, keep your eyes on the ball and when you see it, give it a nice, level swing.”

Then this coach stepped back while his assistant coach put a ball into the machine.  The ball came whizzing past Michael, hit the glove of the catcher, who threw it back to another player – standing next to THE MACHINE, pretending to be the “pitcher.”

Just as the ball arrived back in the glove of the pitcher, Michael finally swung the bat with all his might.

Without missing a beat, the coach said, “What a terrific swing that was, Michael.  I am proud of you.  Let’s see if you can’t swing the ball a little sooner, next time, right as it is coming over the plate.”

If any of you ever played baseball, you probably remember your coaches voice offering the same instructions.

Square your shoulders.

Even out those elbows.

Lift the bat a little higher.

Keep your eye on the ball.

When you see it, swing!

After just a few more attempts, Michael’s bat connected with the ball, foul out over the third base dugout.  If you has seen his face you’d have thought he’d just hit the winning home-run in the final game of the World Series.

Looking back, the real star of the entire experience was not Michael or any of the other boy’s who’d had their turn “at bat” against THE MACHINE.  The real star was the coach.  He stood behind each boy as if that were his very own son.  He squared shoulders, lifted elbows, and adjusted each boys batting stance.  Each time he offered loving words of encouragement, no matter how early or late the swing.

Len Sweet points out that there are some voices that stay with us forever.  There are voices of encouragement that urge us to keep trying, keep working, and keep doing what we know is right.  Then there are the OTHER voices who also stick with us, but they are none too pleasant.  These voices accuse us of not being good enough, not being smart enough, of being a failure, of not deserving anything better than what we’re getting.

What voices have spoken into your life? Can you still hear them?

Len Sweet says this:  “The voices we listen to in our heart and soul can strengthen us or shatter us, push us forward or pull us down. The power of the VOICE we ultimately answer to can determine the destiny and direction of our life.”

Okay, so Jesus is in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.   He visits a pool called Bethesda near the sheep gate.  It must have been a place of a lot of hustle and bustle.  Hundreds visited daily…thousands during the religious festivals.  The poor was so popular that the city planning commission has erected five large outdoor porches where people could gather.

The pool had something of a reputation.  It was said that from time to time an angel would be dispatched to stir the waters.  As the rumor circulated it got bigger and bigger.  Eventually people believed that when the waters were agitated, the first one in would be healed of any ailment.  So the porch areas were occupied by numbers of disabled people (the blind, the lame, the paralyzed) all waiting for the angel to stir the waters.

Well, there was one guy there, an invalid for thirty-eight years, who’d been coming to the pool for all those years.

I guess we all have some challenge to face.  Brian Snead Sr. can’t hear.  Brian Snead Jr. can’t grow hair.  Lila Hicks has spent the better part of her years married to William.  We all have burdens we must bear.

Some things are beyond our control.  I was never much of an athlete.  During recess in grade school, when selecting teams for a game of kickball, I was always picked after the girl in the wheel chair.

We have to deal with those sorts of challenges.  We’re a woman trying to make it in a man’s world.  We’re a man trying to figure out how to related to our new boss, who is a woman. We are too tall or too short, too skinny or too fat, too old or too younger.

Then there are the disappointments in life.  We expected something more…but life hasn’t panned out as we expected.  We feel resentful, depressed, frustrated, impatient, angry and bitter.

Sometimes we feel like we’ve not been given a fair chance.  Daddy was mean to us.  Mommy was distant and aloof.  We didn’t get the breaks we needed in our career.  We struggle with chronic pain and debilitating illness.  Despite doing our very best, our children turned out to be spoiled and rebellious.

We may pretend that we all is well on outside – especially when we come to church – but on the inside we feel bitter, broken, and emptied of optimism.

We’ve been listening to a voice – but it is not the voice of God.  It is not that voice that stands behind us, offering instruction, encouragement, and words of hope – no matter how early or late our swing.  Instead it is the voice of criticism, cynicism, and sarcasm.   It is a voice that says we are no good – and never will be.

So we fall into routines – predictable patterns of performance – and we live out these templates – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.  Dennis R. Atwood says that we live out those patterns for so long “that we fail to realize the difference between living and simply existing…we fail to recognize the abiding sickness which resides within our own souls.”

This is what life was like for the invalid of 38 years in this story.  We do not know what was the cause of his struggles.  We simply know that for 38 years he’d been stuck in a despair that was affecting him down deep at the core of his being.

So, there he is, standing in line, waiting like everyone else, for that day when religious reputation says, “God will send an angels to still the waters, and when they stir – if you get there first – you just might be made well.”

I don’t think it was an angel, or even God, that kept all those folks waiting at the poolside.  I think it was magic, a pipe dream, the kind of hype you hear television evangelists talk about.   In fact, the most ancient and reliable manuscripts do not even include the words about the angel with the rest of the text.  Most translations omit verse four.  Others include it in brackets or as a footnote at the bottom of the page.  The ancient scribes did not want to confuse a religious myth with faith in God.

So, there is this man, accompanied by dozens of others just like him, waiting for some sort of magic to manifest itself in his life.  He’s been waiting for 38 years for the incantation to be spoken, for the angel to arrive, for the waters to be stirred.  He’s been waiting…and all the while, he’s been miserable.

Then Jesus arrives on the scene.  He walks up to the man, the invalid of 38 years, the guy whose spent the majority of this life living out the template of misery that he no longer recognizes the “difference between  living and simply existing” – and he says to this fellow, “Do you want to be made well?”

Of all the insensitive thing to ask.  Imagine you are in the hospital bed and I come to make a pastoral visit.  We engage in small talk for a few moments, and then I look you in the eye and ask, “Hey, do you plan on spending the rest of your life laying there sick, enjoying your illness?”

That’s really the kind of thing Jesus was saying.

“Hey, do you want to experience God’s power in your life, or are you still enjoying the way you can manipulate people with the sob story of what happened back in the day?”

“Hey, are you ready to experience real freedom, or do you want to keep singing that ‘gloom, despair, and agony’ song of lament?”

“Hey, do you want to be a part of a revolutionary movement of grace and mission in the world, or do you want to just keep sitting in the sanctuary lamenting that people don’t seem interested in our religious games anymore?”

Jesus opening lines to this man seem insensitive, obnoxious, and arrogant.  These are not kind words of compassion, but harsh words of confrontation.  Jesus is trying to shake the man up, shake him out of his complacency, out of his templates, patterns, and routines.  Jesus is trying to wake the man up.

Poor guy.  He wasn’t ready to wake up…not quite yet, anyways.

“Do you want to be made well?”

“Well, I’m doing the best I can.  I’ve been sitting here waiting for my miracle to 38 years.  I’ve been waiting for the magic to happen, but every time I hear that the waters are being stirred, I am a day late and dollar short.  I’ve got nobody – nobody who will help me get down into the water when it begins to stir.”

Have you ever met people like that…people who have been stuck in a rut for so long that they don’t recognize freedom when it is starring them dead on in the eye?

Have you ever met people who spend so much enjoy being miserable that when hope and joy are handed to them, they resist grasping it?

Do you know people given forgiveness and yet they prefer to live under condemnation?

Do you know people who have been blessed by grace but preferred to live under judgment?

God likes them, but they believe God hates them.

God loves them, but they imagine God just doesn’t care.

God accepts them, but they suppose they have been locked out.

God includes them, but they live under rejection.

God has adopted them, but they fear they have o place at the table.

God has given them heaven, but they prefer the hell of exclusion.

I know lots of people like that.  You might not like hearing this, but some of you are like that.  A lot of times, I am like that.  Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years, years turn into decades.  ALL that time we are liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted.  Jesus himself comes and shares his life with us. And what do we do?  We just sit there – allowing ourselves to be held down and held back by a sense of alienation we attribute to God, but it is not of God’s creation, it is ours.

Carl Sandburg once said: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

I understand that completely.  A part of us wants to fly like an eagle, but we have become too accustomed to wallowing in the mud.

I guess Jesus could have just said, “Well, good luck the next time the waters stir,” but he doesn’t  He is not content to let the man (or any of us) just wallow in the mud.  He came to set us free.  He came to pull us out the miry pit.  He came to redeem us – and he’ fully accomplished that.  He came to reveal God’s love to us – and he will never give up on that mission.

So, Jesus doesn’t quit – but he changes his approach.  No more questions, now he simply offers a statement of instruction.

Jesus tells the man:  “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

Now there is a decision to be made.  Jesus speaks healing over the man.  It’s a done deal.   BUT if he never stands up – if the man never walks – he will never experience the healing Jesus has accomplished in his life.

So the man is challenged to express faith.  He not challenged to recite a formula, adopt a creed, or confess a set of dogmas.  The faith challenge is this:  Will he trust Jesus enough to get up and start walking?

That’s the challenge we faced today.

Jesus speak over us:  “I have redeemed you from a broken life and restored you to what I intended in your creation.  Now, stand up and start living life in freedom, by the power of my Spirit at work in you!”

Will we do that?

I guess we can sit there if we want to, moping, lamenting, and complaining – but really, that’s one hell of a sad way to live.

Here’s our other option.  The Eternal Son of the Father, Coach Jesus himself, is standing right behind you as you come to the plate.  He’s speaking.  “Stand up straight.  Square your shoulders.  Keep your eye on my finished work of grace.  Never let that out of your sight.  Then start living the life I redeemed you to live.”


I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus
by: Leonard Sweet
publisher: Thomas Nelson, published: 2012-01-03
ASIN: 0849946387
EAN: 9780849946387
sales rank: 248547
price: $1.85 (new), $1.83 (used)

These two words echo the heart-defining call of our Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples.
Sadly, this life-changing invitation has lost much of its original meaning. Immersed in a society that worships success, we have succumbed to a trendy
fixation with leadership. In I Am a Follower, author Leonard Sweet explains how Christians in a twenty-first-century corporate-obsessed culture have shifted away from a Jesus art of following toward a popularized form of leading.
Through a colorful mélange of practical applications, imaginative metaphors, and probing biblical exposition based in gospel truth, Sweet reveals that the summons of Jesus and the message of the New Testament point clearly to an emphasis not on imitation but on incarnation, not on leading but on following.
Join Sweet on an exciting and intentional journey from leadership cult to followership culture. Discover for yourself the way, the truth, and the abundant
life of following Jesus Christ and what it truly means to “Follow Me”!
“At times I felt like I was reading Jeremiah, challenging the shepherds of Israel. This is a much needed and long overdue book.”
—BOB ROBERTS, senior pastor, Northwood Church
“If there was ever a leader who could convince me that it’s really never been about leading, that would have to be Len Sweet. May we all, like Len, become followers.”
—MARK BATTERSON, lead pastor, National Community Church

Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival
by: Leonard Sweet
publisher: WaterBrook Press, published: 2012-03-13
ASIN: 0307459152
EAN: 9780307459152
sales rank: 358231
price: $7.23 (new), $8.62 (used)

The gospel is nothing without relationship. And no one gets it like the Google Generation.

God came to earth to invite us, personally, into a relationship. And while Christians at times downplay relationships, the social-media generation is completely sold on the idea. In Viral, Leonard Sweet says Christians need to learn about connecting with others from the experts—those who can’t seem to stop texting, IM-ing, tweeting, and updating their Facebook statuses. What would happen, he asks, if Christians devoted less attention to strategies and statistics and paid more attention to pursuing relationships?

The current generation is driven by a God-given desire to know others and to be known by others. Most of them, in seeking to connect in meaningful ways, have found a place of belonging that is outside the organized church. Why not bring the two together?

Those who are sold out to relationships can teach Christians how to be better friends to people who need God. At the same time, members of the social-media generation can learn how to follow their desire for belonging, straight into the arms of God. It’s time for relationship to be restored to the heart of the gospel. And when that happens, can revival be far behind?

End-of-Chapter Interactives Included

The Greatest Story Never Told: Revive Us Again
by: Leonard Sweet
publisher: Abingdon Press, published: 2012-05-01
ASIN: 1426740328
EAN: 9781426740329
sales rank: 124531
price: $10.51 (new), $11.52 (used)

God raises up Methodists for such a time as this.

Here is a ditty Len Sweet’s Methodist grandfather used to sing:
A Methodist, a Methodist will I be
A Methodist will I die.
I’ve been baptized in the Methodist way
And I’ll live on the Methodist side.

What “genius” of Methodism inspired this kind of love and loyalty in the earlier years of the faith? What did it mean to live in “the Methodist way” and to die on “the Methodist side?” Perhaps it is time to resurrect a neo-Wesleyan identity and to challenge the prevailing “one-calorie Methodism” that characterizes so much of our tribe today.

What makes a Methodist? How can we re-ignite the spark of genius that motivated such commitment in our cloud of witnesses?

The essence of Methodism’s genius resides in two famous Wesleyan mantras: “heart strangely warmed” (inward experiences with a fire in the heart) and “the world is our parish” (outward experiences with waterfalls of cutting-edge intelligence). For Wesley, internal combustion, the former, led to external combustion, the latter.

In the 18th century, Methodists in general (and in their younger years, the Wesley brothers themselves) were accused of being too “sexy.” What else could all those “love feasts” and “strangely warmed hearts” be about? Why else were all those women in positions of leadership?  With this book the author hopes to bring back to life some of Methodism’s sexiness so that our current reproduction crisis can be reversed.

God’s EPIC Adventure | The Story Before the Story (The Reader’s Edition)
by: Winn Griffin
publisher: Harmon Digital Press, published: 2011-09-28
sales rank: 515693

God’s EPIC Adventure | The Story Before the Story (The Reader’s Edition)
The Story Before the Story is a straight forward presentation, which provides the reader of Scripture a simple but compelling introduction to reading Scripture as a story. This book interacts with four important concepts: foundationalism, fragmentation, story, and kingdom.

Reading with a foundationalism concept without knowing it leads to a reduction of the text into principles to follow simply produces patchwork followers of Jesus. The author believes that reading fragmentively produces fragmented lives in the followers of Jesus. Reading Scripture as a story is the antidote to foundationalism and fragmentation.

Kingdom theology is the glue for the reader that holds the story together. This book is an invitation to read Scripture with both eyes open because all you know is all you know, but all you know isn’t enough.

Jesus: A Theography
by: Leonard Sweet
publisher: Thomas Nelson, published: 2012-10-02
sales rank: 29708

Jesus says, “The Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39 NLT). But what does that mean exactly?

The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are largely a commentary on the Old Testament, and each part of the Bible is a signpost to Jesus. Once this is properly understood, everything changes, including our own identities. In this magisterial work you will discover a Jesus who is larger, more glorious, and more challenging than most of us have ever imagined.

Biographies of Jesus generally have been written by those trying to investigate the historical Jesus with little attention given to the grand narrative of Scripture. On the flip side, those interested in tracing the theology of Scripture are typically disinterested in historical Jesus studies. These two approaches have yet to converge…until now.

Jesus is written for the average reader as well as scholars. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (authors of Jesus Manifesto) unfold the greatest story ever told in a fresh and invigorating way. So whether you are a seasoned Christian, a new believer, or someone who is intrigued by Jesus, this book unveils the discoveries of a lifetime, transforming the tired and familiar way we have read the Bible into an electrifying journey of rediscovering Christ.


Introducing a new kind of Jesus biography.


In this compelling work, authors Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola reclaim the entire Bible as a gripping narrative about Jesus Christ.

Virtually every other “Jesus biography” begins with the nativity account in Bethlehem. In this groundbreaking book, Sweet and Viola begin before time, in the Triune God, and tell the complete interconnected story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation.

Jesus: A Theography is the first book ever written to combine historical Jesus studies with biblical theology, crafting together one breathtaking saga that tells the Jesus story in both Old and New Testaments. This flagship book demonstrates clearly that every bit of Scripture is part of the same stunning drama, what the authors refer to as the theography of Jesus Christ.



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