God's Story, Our Story: What I Have, I Give You!

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Acts 3:1-10

Introduction

            Even though Easter was two weeks ago, we’re in the season of the church year called “Eastertide,” which is the six weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost (May 15).  It is during this season of Eastertide that we find ourselves drawn into God’s Story of how the risen Jesus is on the move in the world.

            The NT book of Acts picks up the story where the Gospel writers left off—showing us how the ministry of Jesus continues by the power of the Holy Spirit in the life and work of his disciples.  As we said on Easter Sunday, the stone was rolled away not so Jesus could get out but so we could get in!  So we can get into God’s Story of resurrection and new life; and get into God’s mission in the world.  And so this story of Easter continued not only with the first disciples but goes on with us today.

            Last Sunday Marlin Vis preached on these words of Great Commission from Jesus in Acts chapter one: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

            The Easter story goes on with Jesus’ disciples; the Easter story goes on with us…

            Our story today happens right after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit Jesus promised is poured out upon his disciples in Acts chapter 2.  Hear the Word of the Lord from Acts chapter 3:1-16.  Read Scripture.

 

A Man Lame from Birth

            Every day someone would carry him out and lay him there. By the gate called Beautiful.  A man crippled from birth.  All of his life, not able to walk.  Not able to stand or run or leap or dance.

            He’d just sit there.  From mid afternoon to dusk, he’d sit there by the gate of the temple.  With a rusty tin cup in his hand, he’d call out to those entering the temple, “Have pity on me!  Please, have pity on me!”  In other words, “Spare me some change?!”

            What else could he do?  He was totally dependent on the charity of others, forced to live off the table crumbs of those more fortunate.  His cripple marked him not only as one vulnerable and weak in society but also as a sinner.  That’s what people saw when they looked at him.  Sure, they may have had pity, but their theology told them that he was born lame because of his own sin, and even more so, the sin of his parents.

            So he sat there by the gate called Beautiful every day and begged.

            And then one day Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, come passing by.  Luke tells us they were on their way to the temple for afternoon prayer.  And when they pass by the crippled man, he begs them for some spare change.  And how do Peter and James respond?  They don’t ignore him and keep walking, nor do they avert their eyes.  They interact with this lame man by the gate.   I want to highlight three key responses of Peter and James—let’s call them “missional gestures”-- that show us how we, too, might continue the Easter story in our own lives today as seek to participate in Christ’s mission. 

 

Missional Gesture #1: Look Intently

Here’s the first: When they hear the man call out, Peter and John stop and they look at him.  They look intently at him.  And they say, “Look at us.”

            What were Peter and John looking for, I wonder?  A sincere spirit, ready to receive more than he was asking for?  A heart full of pain and sorrow, ready to be touched by God’s healing love?  A real person who even in his current state bears the image of a compassionate Creator? 

            We’re not told what they were looking for, but there is something powerful that happens in this moment of deep eye-to-eye contact.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit’s power and ready to join Jesus in mission begins with our way of seeing—having our eyes opened to see what and who God wants us to see.   And when God opens our eyes, the Spirit calls us to simply be present to the person in front of us and really see them.  Not look down on them nor judge them nor see them as a mission project.  But really see them as a human being.  I’ve heard more than once from persons who are homeless that the most painful thing is not when others pass by and refuse to give them money but when others refuse to see them, to acknowledge their existence.  To feel invisible is the most dehumanizing thing of all.

There is a South African Zulu greeting that goes like this.  When you encounter someone, you say, Sawubona, which means “I see you.” And they respond by saying, “I am here.”  Sawubona means more than a simple “hello.”  It means I see your humanity, your dignity and respect.   Something powerful and beautiful happens in this kind of exchange.  It is by having another acknowledge that they see you that you feel affirmed in your existence—that you are not invisible but your life matters.

            This is what Peter and John do.  Before they do anything else, they show compassion by saying to this lame man at the gate, “You are not invisible.  We see you.  We see your humanity and your dignity.  Your life matters.”  And the man looks at them in return and they also feel seen.

 

Missional Gesture #2: Reach Out

            What happens next?  After Peter and John look intently at the man, then what do they do?  Luke tells us, “And he [the man] 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…”

            I love this part of the story.  The man wants and expects to receive a “hand out” from them—food or money, perhaps.  An act of charity that will help him survive for that day.  There is certainly a place for this kind of generosity.  But Peter and John have no money.  Yet their focus is not on what they lack.  Rather, they offer the man what they do have.  And what they do have is even better than money or food. 

            What do they have? They have the power of Jesus’ name, available to them by the Holy Spirit’s presence.  And Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  Now it could have been enough for them to simply speak these words of healing over the man.  We saw this with Jesus too—that he need only speak and his words made things happen—healing, forgiveness, the dead raised.  But Jesus rarely just spoke words of healing without also reaching out and physically touching a person.  Because he is the “Word Made Flesh,” his ministry is incarnational.

            And so we see the same pattern for his disciples like Peter and John.  They look intently at this man and really see him.  Then they are agents of the Spirit’s power of healing in his life by not just speaking words of power but by reaching out and embracing this man.

            So here we see the second missional gesture of Peter and John.  Once they see the man, they reach out in the power of the Holy Spirit and embrace him.  In a real way, they continue the incarnational nature of Jesus’ ministry.             

Reaching out to others with the healing presence of the Holy Spirit is about relationships.  It’s about moving out towards “the other” and meeting them in the place where they are.  And it’s about sharing what we have to give—our time, resources, talent, friendship.  Most of all, it’s about sharing the power of Jesus’s presence—his very healing and love.  Peter and John take it one step further.  They are not just interested in giving a hand out, but they are determined to give this man a hand up.  And this leads to the third key missional gesture we see in this story.

 

Missional Gesture #3: Raise Up

Peter takes him by his hand and lifts him to his feet, and immediately the man’s feet and ankles are made strong.  To this man’s utter astonishment, he asked for money but he received more than he asked for: he received healing.

            Peter and John see this man, they reach out to him, and then they raise him up.  Notice something else important in this story.  Notice the location of the man.  When Peter and John encounter him, he is located outside the temple, by the gate called “Beautiful.” The risen Jesus heals this man through the human agency of Peter and John, and in the act of raising him up they then bring him into the Temple with them.  “And he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” The man’s location has now changed.  Because he has been healed by the Spirit’s power, he is no longer unclean but now allowed entrance not just into the temple—the gathered assembly.  This man finds welcome in the community of God’s people.  He walks and leaps and praises God, and the people see him and are filled with wonder.

            This is the beautiful mission of the risen Jesus in the world—he moves out into the world to bring healing and wholeness to all people, drawing them to himself and into the family of God.   And we are his witnesses—the human agents of this healing and transformation.  Look intently.  Reach out.  Raise up.  We focus not on what we lack, but we courageously give what we have…or rather, the One who has us!  Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

            It strikes me that this is at the heart of what it means to be the church—a beautiful community of the healed and healing.  The 20th century missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin puts it so memorably in a sermon he preached:

“The whole congregation is called to be a healed and healing fellowship, in which the healing love of God was ever at work to bind up the wounds of its members.  And beyond this, the healing work is to spread beyond the congregation into the community around it….Whoever touches the church, even in the most tenuous fashion, even in the midst of all the bustle and press of business—should find that he has touched the source of healing.  The healing that we receive here, as we meet in Holy Communion, is given to us for the sake of all our neighbors.” (The Good Shepherd, pp.72-3).

Whoever touches the church, even in the most tenuous fashion…should find that he has touched the source of healing.  And whoever the church—that’s us—touches as we go into our week and throughout our days…should also find that they have touched the source of healing.  The source of healing who is Jesus himself, his power and healing presence, flowing through us into the lives of others.  That’s what’s happening in this encounter between Peter and John and the man at the gate.

            Did you know that it was exactly fifty years ago this month that the Holy Spirit stirred a group of people in the Holland Classis to imagine planting a new church that could be a place of healing and hope on the north side of Holland?  June 12 marks the 50th Anniversary of the first worship service of Fellowship Church in Waukazoo Elementary School.  Five months later, on Dec. 6th, FRC was officially organized.  We want to celebrate God’s faithfulness over the past 50 years in the life of this church, starting this month.  We’re calling it “Fellowship Jubilee.” Jubilee is a rich biblical word that carries with it the idea of celebrating ever 50 years.  Think about all the lives that have been touched by the Holy Spirit’s presence and power through the people who’ve been part of FRC over the years.

            There are so many ways that I see you, Fellowship Church, embracing your missional identity and calling to be a healed and healing community in the name of Jesus.  And there is still more room to grow, yes?  God’s not finished with us yet.

I wonder…who are the people outside our gates?  Those who have not yet found welcome in God’s family?  Who are the people we pass by everyday but fail to see or choose to not see?  What if we saw them?  Reached out?  Raised them up?

So I leave you with this challenge.  As you go into your week, be attentive to the people that God places in your path.  Look them in the eyes.  See them as God sees them.  And step out in faith by making a personal contact, a relational investment, allowing the presence of Christ to work through you.  Who knows what the Spirit may do?  That’s what makes all of this so exciting.  Simply be available.  Maybe the Spirit will use your words to bring healing.  Maybe the Spirit will simply use your presence.  Maybe you will even have an opportunity to share about Jesus or to pray for healing in the name of Jesus for that person.  Remember that it’s not about what you don’t have, don’t know, don’t understand.  It’s about what you do have. 

            And what you do have is more than enough.  You have the Spirit’s presence, the power of the one who called you and has healed you and now sends you to join him in his mission to take the dry bones piled up in this world and breathe healing and new life.

            Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus from one generation to the next!  (Eph. 3:20-21).

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

Renee Krueger