June 18, 2000
"What We Can Give Away"
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.
Scripture: Acts 3:1-16
At the end of Chapter Two in the Book of Acts, we are told that Jesus' disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit were able to accomplish many signs and wonders. The extraordinary activity of God was vibrantly tangible on earth through them. While they carried no significant material goods with them, they carried something far more valuable, the name of Jesus Christ. And they did not hesitate to give it away.
A man who could not walk from birth lay at Jerusalem's eastern temple gate daily. Companions, perhaps family members, carried him to his regular spot. He earned his living by asking for handouts. The location was choice. Not only did a lot of people pass by on the way to and from worship, but it was considered appropriate to do good deeds while engaged in worship. One day, in the afternoon, just before the prayer time, two men approached. The lame man cast his eyes down in humility and asked for alms from the two strangers. But unlike many who had already entered the temple, they did not pass by. They stood before him. The man looking down, could see their sandaled feet. He knew that they were looking at him. Perhaps one of them would hand over a generous gift. Then one of them, the man called Peter said, "Look at us."
Peter and John did not pass by the man, as was most certainly the custom of many who went to the temple. They were used to seeing the beggars lined up against the wall, the lame, the blind, the widow and orphan, the infirm. When the man took heed and looked up, their gazes locked, but they did not make any move to press a coin into his hand and continue on to the temple. What did Peter and John see? --A man in rags, unable to walk. --A man who could not make the short journey into the temple to worship, as they easily did. There was no one to carry him, a man with no freedom, trapped in the prison of his body.
How intently do we look at those we encounter outside the church? And when we do look, what do we see? This is a different place and time. In this community we do not see people seated along walls with their hands out. But in our everyday lives we most certainly see people who are in grave need. They wear the rags of trust in the temporary comforts of this world, trust in their own will and strength. Some we know may be seeking now for purpose and meaning in their lives, and others will come to seek. For all who have not found the healing provided by God's spirit, they need to be given the invitation and means to walk with the Lord, to be clothed in Christ. Each of us knows someone whose life could be changed for the better if they could just encounter God.
Now, the man fixed his attention upon Peter and John. He expected to receive something from them. What was he used to getting? Just enough for his survival. We know that because he was carried to the temple gate everyday. He didn't receive enough to take a day off or go on vacation. He expected from them, some temporary support. Just a little. That's what passersby gave.
We may have the attention of people we know and meet, but like the lame man, they do not expect that their lives will be changed by the encounter. We don't expect it ourselves. We know the name of Jesus and the stories of the power behind his name. We pray in the name of Jesus; we worship in the name of Jesus; we serve in his name. But it's a mighty power to which we do not see ourselves personally connected.
Peter took the man's right hand, as if he might give him something. Imagine the man's disappointment with Peter's first words, "I have no silver or gold." The man, required to beg for a living, may have quickly thought, "Then why are you taking up my time? Get out of the way and let someone who can meet my needs stand here before me." You can't give me what I need to survive, so walk on to your worship.
Peter reaching out to touch this man was actually quite a bold move. Chances are that this man, unable to enter the temple for worship was ritually unclean. By touching him, Peter risked becoming unclean himself. It would have been safer and less trouble to avoid the touch.
During my recent trip, one of our stops was Venice. I had the opportunity to stand in showrooms that displayed all sorts of Venetian glass. I was impressed with the color and delicate work of the artist. I looked a the prices on a few of the pieces and I got very worried. I decided to step outside rather than risk touching something or bumping into it and breaking it. Many of the objects on display were just too valuable. The people we encounter everyday are of inexpressible value to God, but God does not say to us avoid them. Instead, God says please touch those who are in need of comfort. Reach out your hand.
Peter, his hand grasping that of the lame man, said, "But what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stand up and walk." And the lame man did! He not only stood; he not only walked, but he jumped, he danced, he leaped, he entered the temple praising God. The once-lame man knew who to thank for the miracle of his new life. Peter may have uttered a word, used the name of Jesus, but the healed man knew that the full power of God was behind it. It was the finest gift he ever received, far more valuable than silver or gold.
What did Peter give through the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit? The obvious answer is the ability to walk. But we must remember that the power of God by the Holy Spirit reaches beyond the realm of physical healing, to heal the mind, heart and soul. Just as the power of God accomplishes wondrous physical healing, God gives moral and spiritual health. In the book of Acts we will learn that faith does not come by miracles, but by the grace of God. The miracle that Peter performs in the name of Jesus is an invitation to repentance and faith, both for the man who is healed and for all who witness the miracle.
(Sargent, p. 21)
The people who had passed this man with just a glance his way, saw him healed and praising God. They could not believe it. They stood amazed. Peter, standing there in the temple, had a sermon at hand. He preached just as he did on the day of Pentecost, this time emphasizing the name of Jesus. "Don't stare at us, as if it were our power or piety that healed this man. This man has been healed by faith in Jesus' name, by his name alone. The faith that is through Jesus has given him perfect health." Just as Jesus had done before them the apostles taught in the temple. Just as Jesus had promised, his disciples had been given the power to heal. And Peter proclaimed before the people that Jesus was the servant of God, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead. (Acts 3:14-15) This is the main point of the story. While the miracle healing is significant, what we must remember is that Peter offered Jesus. The story of Jesus' resurrection and the power of the Messiah spread throughout the land and the centuries because Peter could do nothing else but offer Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
What do we have to give away? There are many things that we give away, some with great generosity. Money. Food. Our opinions and advice. But how often do we give Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. How often are we prepared to have the reason for our hope? Just as the apostles and the early church had this to give away, we do too. As the church we have the opportunity to offer the power of God to the world. We can offer more than simply kind words of empathy to those in need of spiritual renewal. God is working in us the same power that was embodied in the ministry of Jesus. It is the power that Jesus gave when he sent his disciples out into the world (Luke 9:1-6). (Willimon, p.44) To give out the name of Jesus and the healing and fulfillment it brings can be our task.
Charles Francis Adams, the 19th century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: "Went fishing with my son today--a day wasted." His son, Brook Adams, also kept a diary, which is still in existence. On that same day, Brook Adams made this entry: "Went fishing with my father--the most wonderful day of my life!" The father thought he was wasting his time while fishing with his son, but his son saw it as an investment of time. The only way to tell the difference between wasting and investing our time is to know one's ultimate purpose in life and to judge accordingly. If our ultimate purpose is to help others to know and proclaim Jesus, then no time spent giving the name away is wasted. Even if we do not see immediate results. (Shotwell)
What do we have to give? Our hands in friendship, compassion and service. The name of Jesus and all the power of God that is behind it. This week tell someone where your hope comes from. This week offer the power of Jesus' name to one in need.
Sargent, James. Basic Bible Commentary: Acts. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988. Shotwell, Silas. Homemade, September, 1987. Walaskay, Paul. Westminster Bible Companion: Acts. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Williams, Michael, et. al. The Storyteller's Companion to the Bible: The Acts of the Apostles. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999. Williamson, Charles. Interpretation Bible Studies: Acts. Louisville, KY:Geneva Press, 2000. Willimon, William. Interpretation: Acts. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1988.