A sermon for 19 April 2015 – 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:1-20a (NRSV scripture included below).
Before I jump into our next scripture reading, a few words. . . . Monday morning this week, a shot was fired at the West End Synagogue in Nashville. To my knowledge, it hasn’t yet been discovered who did this or why. But what we know is that the shooting happened a few hours before the Jewish community of Nashville was gathering at the State Capitol for Tennessee’s ceremony in memory of the Holocaust. It happened at the time marchers were gathering in Overland Park, Kansas in commemoration of the 2014 shooting on 13 April of three people at a Jewish Community Center and Jewish assisted living center there. (al.com, by Kay Campbell, 13 April 2015). It happened just a few hours after Christians across the world had gathered on the second Sunday of the season of Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our crucified yet risen Lord – Jesus of Nazareth, who was both one of us: a simple Jewish man, and the Holy One in full, God’s anointed Messiah, the Christ. . . . This week more than any other, we need a reminder – especially before delving into a text like this one from Acts that records a debate, if you will – a fierce one to be sure – but a debate nonetheless among Jewish people who weren’t so sure what to make of one of their own, being handed over for death by their own to their Roman occupiers. We’re going to be hearing about it all throughout Eastertide as we hear the stories of the first disciples as recorded in Acts of the Apostles. . . . It was an insiders fight, if you will. Like if HPC’s session would make a decision regarding one of you, for instance, to have you arrested, jailed, and sent off for sentencing for some reason. Certainly we’d have a fight on our hands in here – a taking up of sides regarding the fate of the HPC member we handed over to the authorities for punishment. . . . Remember as we listen for a word from God in this text and all the Acts texts we’ll hear throughout this season of Easter; for they are from the earliest days of the Jewish Christ’s Jewish followers in reference to their fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. He was of a particular time and place as we all are – not for the descendants of that particular time and place to be chastised forever for events we remember but can’t quite fathom. But for us all – Jew and Gentile alike – to know the deep, deep love of the One who first covenanted with this whole creation through our Jewish ancestor Abraham.
With all this in mind, listen for the word of God in a reading of Acts 3:1-20a.
“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what God had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
I heard a disturbing story this week – one other than the shooting at the West End Synagogue. And it reminds me of this story from Acts – which happened, by the way, right after Pentecost. The story I heard was a woman telling about her brother. She didn’t go into all the details, but it was clear from what she did say that over the years, her brother had been quite a handful for their family. He really had struggled with some things that deeply impacted them all. A few of you might have lived through such situations – as the sibling or the parents or maybe as the struggling person yourself. In fact, some of you might be going through such stuff right now. . . . I mean no disrespect to the woman telling the story, but even as she told it, she kinda was contradicting herself. She said her family had prayed for him for years. And she also said it was all of a sudden that his whole life got turned around. One song he heard on the radio hit him deeply and from that song on, he was a totally different person. Healed. For that she gave great thanks.
Now I realize it feels like that sometimes. All of a sudden something inside shifts and we’re freed from whatever has been haunting us for o so very many years. In an instant, something changes for the better and life is different from that point on. Maybe we too hear something – a song, a sentence, the one word we’ve needed all our lives in order to know our own worth – and presto! Everything inside is all better. One touch, like the touch we hear of from Peter, and legs that never had worked, instantaneously are strong. For all of our sakes, I want it to be like that. It’s just that, in the lives of so many of us, that’s not often how the healing takes place. In fact, I would point out to the sister telling the tale, that it wasn’t all of a sudden that her brother instantly was healed. She said it herself: she and her parents had been praying for him for years. All of their care, all of their concern, all the positive energy of their love had been sent daily to him through the fervent words of their prayers. Certainly that had some part to play in the healing the brother finally came to know. Like dirt being given all that is needed to ready it to be fertile soil. Then and only then does the sprout shoot forth from the ground. Primed and ready to produce in abundance. It might feel like all of a sudden. But so much has been happening with and in that dirt to change it into fertile soil.
We might want it to be as all of a sudden as it was for the lamed man who met Peter and John that day on their way to prayer in the Temple, but don’t we more often see the long hard road of healing? . . . I still can’t get over a few of you who just a year or so ago had backs that didn’t allow you to stand up straight and left you in pain each day. Not to single you all out or anything, but the journey through your surgeries and recoveries wasn’t one touch one day from one person. It was step after step after step and what a blessing to see you mobile and smiling and ready to keep on keeping on. That’s the healing you experienced by Christ. . . . A little over fifteen years ago, I met a young woman at about the time nighttime had turned to nightmares for her. I’ve never known a person with so much fear to sleep and such an inability to make it through each day because when she laid her head down on her pillow, memories of what her father came into her room to do to her when she was a young child haunted her. She was terrified and broken and really an entire mess. Every little thing was triggering all those horrible years. And then I saw her last year for the first time in a long time and she looked well. She looked rested and happy and at peace in work that seemed to have been created just for her to fulfill. She had found a special someone with whom to share her life and they were like kids in a candy shop together. So very deeply in love. It was beautiful to see! It didn’t happen overnight but step after slow, painful step until this woman was healed – if not entirely, at least enough to cherish herself and her life. Years of therapy, journals full of poetry, person after person on her journey treating her differently than she’d been treated as a child at home – until today, she’s a miracle to behold! That’s the healing she experienced by Christ. . . . I’ll never forget the day a woman came to me early in my years as a pastor. She just had found out that her husband had had an affair. It was over – a short lapse – and she was coming to me for someone to listen to how absolutely crushed she was. We talked a few times before she decided to seek out a professional counselor. She had lots of difficult conversations with her husband before they both began to see they each had become something they didn’t really want to be. They still deeply cared for each other, but both of them had failed to love and cherish and be who they once had promised to be for each other. It wasn’t easy and I can’t imagine how they learned how to trust each other again, but after several years of trying and talking and counseling together, they sought me out in my next ministry setting. Five years to the day their world fell apart from that affair, they wanted me to lead them through a renewal of their marriage vows. They finally were healed enough – individually and together – to re-commit themselves to one another and to the journey of growth they wanted to continue alongside each other. All three of us cried through the entire ceremony that day five years after. It was holy ground as we celebrated the healing they had experienced by Christ.
All of a sudden, after step after step after step so many of us experience incredible healing by Christ. Moments when the shame we’ve carried for years loses its tight grip on us. Times when the loss that has defined our lives releases a bit. The mistakes we have made no longer are held against us by others or by ourselves. Whatever it might be. If we sat down to tell our stories, certainly some of us would be able to testify to remarkable healing we’ve experienced all of a sudden after step after step after step. We’d tell of the person who listened. The parent who prayed. The friend who understood in ways nobody else did. The doctor or nurse whose hands skillfully healed. . . . What a powerful role we’ve been called to play in each other’s lives. In the journey of healing so many people are on. . . . Peter said it that day when he reached out his hand to touch: “what I have, I give you” (Acts 3:6). What he had to give was the very same love, the very same presence, the very same Spirit of God living through him. What he had to give is the very same thing we too have to give. To be those who pray each day, if it takes that long. To love unconditionally with full acceptance of the person standing in need before us. To listen to the pains of another with compassion. Maybe even to be a touch that heals instead of hurts. The word of hope another needs to hear. These are the ways Christ still heals . . . through us each day. In that process of all of a sudden after step after step after step, what is it you have to give to those longing at last to be healed by Christ? . . . Freely, in the very same love of Christ, give that healing gift!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)