Week 3 — Dignity
We respect and value each other, recognizing everyone’s worth
Call to Worship
The third week of our core values series focuses on dignity. Our values statement says, “we respect and value each other, recognizing everyone’s worth.”
As we worship together this morning, let us recognize the inherent dignity and worth of all people. Psalm 139: 13-14 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.” God, our Father, our Creator, breathed his breath into our lungs and gave us life. Let us rejoice and celebrate!
[Invite children in the congregation to join you at the front of the sanctuary]
Narrator: Has anyone heard the word dignity? Can you say that with me? Dignity.
When we talk about human dignity, we are talking about how every single person deserves to be treated with love and respect, because they are created by God.
Put your hands up if you like to play with bubbles. Do you like popping them? Do you like how they feel when they land on your skin? What is your favourite thing about blowing bubbles?
[Have children raise their hands and invite a couple of them to respond]
Can anyone tell me what you use to blow bubbles?
[Have children raise their hands and invite a couple of them to respond]
We blow bubbles by blowing air into them. We breathe into the bubble wand, and out comes one or two or even lots of bubbles! Did you know that when God created us, He did them same thing? He blew is breath into our lungs. How special is that?
Now as we know, from our bubble popping experience, bubbles are very easy to pop, so we have to treat them very carefully if we don’t want them to burst. In the same way, we need to be careful with how we treat others. God created each of us, which makes all of us special, no matter where we come from, no matter where live or what we look like. And that means we need to treat everyone well. Because we are all made by God.
Let’s pray together. Dear God, thank you for breathing life into us. Thank you for making each of us special. Help us to treat everyone with kindness, love and respect because they are yours. Amen.
Adapted from: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teach-kids-life-is-sacred/
LEADER: Let us open ourselves to the grace of God, to the brokenness of our world, and to the call to be agents of healing and recreation. Where human greed has stripped the world of beauty and life, and robbed people of dignity and subsistence.
RESPONSE: We pray, O God, for a new vision of abundance, and a new commitment to nurture the world that feeds us and share with those who do not have.
LEADER: Where human hatred has severed relationships, and broken the connection that unites creation,
RESPONSE: We pray, O God, for love to be renewed, and compassion to draw us back into union.
LEADER: Where human loneliness, weakness, sickness and grief, and the suffering of our planet and its inhabitants hide the signs of your life,
RESPONSE: We pray, O, God, for healing, comfort and strength and for courage to keep hoping in the renewed creation to come.
ALL: O, God, restore our faith, revive our hope, rekindle our love, and hear our prayer; for we offer it in Christ’s name. Amen.
Prayers of the People, written by John van de Laar, found at: https://foodgrainsbank.ca/product/let-usopen-ourselves-to-the-grace-of-god-2/
Outline by Lieutenant Brian Dueck
Scripture: John 5:1-18
A. Defining dignity – what does the word mean, what does it mean to feel dignified?
a. Typing the word “dignity” into Google yields this definition: “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect; a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.”
b. As human beings created in the image of God, owning a sense of dignity is vital to our sense of worth to God and others—and even to ourselves. Where a sense of our own dignity is absent, we feel less than human. Perhaps we feel like inconveniences to others or like resources at the disposal of someone else.
B. Why must dignity matter to us as a people seeking to “share the love of Jesus Christ, meet human needs and be a transforming influence in the communities of our world”?
a. Dignity is a basic, God-given human quality. Each person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). While sometimes we can feel undignified, and while we can treat others in less than dignified ways, nothing can take away God-given human dignity.
C. In John 5:1-18 we will look at how Jesus actively respected the dignity of someone who had been demeaned by society, showing us how to do the same.
II. Exposition of the Text
As we seek to treat those around us—and ourselves—as human beings created with dignity, we must see ourselves not as Jesus or the afflicted one, rather as leaders who can put up barriers to dignity, like by saying we have the power to give dignity.
A. Jesus advocated for the dignity of those who were seen as “lesser than” in society.
a. To set the scene, we need to understand why the pool was a gathering place for invalids. Verses 3b-4 are not included in the main text of most common translations such as the NIV and NRSV because they were not part of the original, earliest manuscripts most modern translations are based upon. Nonetheless, these translations still include verses 3b-4 in a footnote, which provides helpful context. These verses say that an angel of God descended to the pool at certain times and stirred up the water. Whoever stepped into the pool first after the stirring would be healed. Thus the man’s predicament stated in v. 7 is made clear to the reader.
b. v. 5 – The Greek word astheneia describing the man as “ill” is a general term describing sickness or infirmity, so we are unsure as to what exactly he suffered from. That is obviously not important to the Gospel writer. What is important is that the ill man had been trying to reach the pool for 38 years. Jesus learned that this had been the man’s lot. (The Greek word translated as “learned” is ginōskō, indicating Jesus’ deep insight of the man’s plight.)
c. vv. 6-7 – Having known the man’s predicament, Jesus proceeds to ask a seemingly obvious question: “Do you want to be made well?” I suppose in doing this he allowed the man to take some kind of ownership over what was about to happen. This man clearly felt powerless to help himself, so Jesus gives him the opportunity to have a say in his healing. Jesus was not in the business of patronizing people to strip them of dignity; quite the opposite, as we see from his treatment of this man.
d. vv. 8-9a – Once the man indicated that he wanted to be made well, the stage was set for Jesus to perform a sign that pointed to the Good News he embodied. The man hoped someone might carry him into the pool so he could at least have a chance of being made well. Jesus turned a chance into a sure thing, going beyond what the man could imagine by providing instant healing. The result, of course, is that the man felt the incredible onrush of confidence at being able to walk away from the scene carrying his own mat.
e. v. 14 – A further interaction between Jesus and the man takes place in v. 14. Here Jesus reminds the man of his healing, and this time turns the focus suddenly to what the man is to do with the “new life” he has received. Jesus’ instruction is pointed: stop sinning! This is not meant to encourage the religious view of the time that physical illness was a result of one’s sin and God’s way of punishing sinners. Jesus, in fact, rejects this kind of conclusion in John 9:2-3. What Jesus does in v. 14 is affirm the potential in the man to live as someone truly healed. The man would have been used to people expecting very little of him; in contrast, Jesus affirms his potential by expecting the very most of him: He can stop sinning and live a life worthy of his own God-given value.
B. In contrast, we discover that the religious leaders—intentionally or subconsciously—tried to prevent the “afflicted” from receiving a renewed sense of dignity.
a. vv. 9b-18 – One would think that the miracle of a 38-year affliction being cured would have been a cause for celebration amongst the religious leaders. Yet their only comment to the healed man was that he should not be carrying his mat on the Sabbath! This is a telling indication of how far the people had drifted from the spirit of God’s law—that is, love for God and for one’s neighbor—and towards legalistic rules separated from the true heart of worship. The religious leaders rightly observed that, according to Old Testament law, Jews were not supposed to work on the Sabbath, and carrying a mat was considered work. But surely if the religious leaders were attuned to the heart of God, they would not have been able to resist celebrating with the man who received healing! They would have seen that this man had been healed by God’s power, meaning that God’s concern was not legalism but valuing people and thus desiring them to be well.
b. Of course, a crucial part of Jesus’ mission was to change the perception of what type of worship pleases God. Just before this encounter, in John 4:23, Jesus told a Samaritan woman that God desires his people to worship “in spirit and truth,” setting the stage for what transpires in John 5. To advocate for and celebrate the dignity of others would qualify as worship of the One who created each human life with equal value. The danger of legalism was that it led people away from true worship of God and honoring the value of other people; instead, it promoted power over others. Power can fatten our own sense of value at the expense of honoring the dignity of others.
There is a poem by Myra Brooks Welch entitled “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” that tells of an old violin that went up for auction:
'Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?"
"A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?"
"Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…"
But no, From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bid for the old violin?"
And he held it up with the bow.
"A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?
Two thousand! And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone," said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
"We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?" Swift came the reply:
"The touch of the Master's hand.
" And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.
A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is "going" once, and "going" twice,
He's "going" and almost "gone.
" But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand.
The violin was seen as having little worth, but when a tune was played on it, its value shone through. It is so easy to miss the value of those around us – or even ourselves – based on apparent flaws. But the Master, our Father, sees us differently; he sees our inherent value, and when we give ourselves into his hands, what he can accomplish through us will astound! Perhaps the best thing we can accomplish is recognizing the dignity of others and working to honor it!
III. Conclusion and Application
A. God sees our value and longs for us to live out his purpose for our lives, no matter where we have come from or where we find ourselves.
a. There is a danger that the message concerning dignity we would pull from this passage is that dignity was restored to the man via his physical healing. But if we stop there, we are left with the unavoidable question: what about the rest at that pool who did not receive physical healing that day? Were they destined to live the rest of their lives without receiving a renewed sense of their own dignity? I can’t imagine that’s what Jesus intended. A message we can glean from this story is not that we need to be healed of every sickness, every “thorn in our flesh,” or be at the point where our sinful flesh has no influence over us before we can be of value to God. The point is that, regardless of what illness we contend with from day to day— physical, spiritual or otherwise—God sees our value. All along, regardless of his physical limitations, this man had the ability to be a testimony of God’s goodness. God has nothing against you and doesn’t see you as less valuable than anyone else, and here’s a miracle to prove it! So pick up your mat and get on with living as the intentionally created, inherently valued child of God you are!” I wonder if the others gathered at the pool who witnessed this event saw that God sent his Son to the world as an advocate on their behalf too.
B. There will always be those who will seek to demean and undermine the dignity of others.
a. The religious leaders’ zealousness for the law often caused the vulnerable to remain socially inferior, always longing to be healed and restored.
b. The reality is, the power of evil at work in the world will always seek to imprison and demean, and label certain people as “lesser than,” always finding ways to take issue with God’s restorative work in the world. But the power at work within the Church— that is, the Spirit of the Living God—always calls God’s people to actively recognize the dignity of “the least of these” and seek to support them as they are healed and restored to community.
c. In light of this, we must challenge our own thinking with some difficult questions:
1. First, taking on the perspective of the religious leaders: How have I acted as an oppressor of my neighbor by seeing their limitations? When have I failed to uphold their dignity? How have I contributed to the oppressiveness of our current social order by ensuring there is always someone closer to “the bottom of the ladder” than me?
2. Second, taking on the perspective of the man who found healing: Do I see myself the way God sees me, as someone called to participate in his work? Or have I believed the Enemy’s lies that tell me I have little of value to offer?
C. Part of respecting a person’s dignity is not forcing our own expectations on them.
a. How often do we assume we know exactly what people need to be “made whole”? Do we let people guide the way whenever possible? Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be made well before proceeding with healing him. We must be careful not to assume we know how to “fix” someone else and be willing to listen and walk alongside folks on their journeys of healing.
b. Are we guilty of reaffirming people’s own low self-expectations? Jesus gave a surprisingly lofty instruction to the man to stop sinning after he had been healed. Perhaps we would not be so surprised if Jesus had asked this of a rabbi. We need to affirm that everyone is capable of turning to God and recognizing their own God-given value.
As we go into the world today, may we see others through God’s loving eyes. Let us honor and respect the inherent worth with which we were each created. Let us not create barriers to dignity, rather remove barriers that obstruct the dignity of others and ourselves. Let us go humbly into the world and share the love of Jesus.