Act of Healing



Sermon Title “Act of Healing” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  This is our third Sunday in the series “Courageous Acts,” looking at the Acts of the Apostles, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and God’s mission for the church.  Two weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday, I talked about God’s act of communication in Jesus Christ, and how that message was conveyed through the power of the Spirit and the proclamation of the apostles.  Last week I talked about Acts of Caring, and the fellowship and prayer which the first believers shared breaking bread together with glad and generous hearts.  Part of last week’s text, Acts 2:43 says “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  Our text today, from the beginning of Acts chapter 3, relates a specific instance of those signs and wonders: one which had a happy outcome for the receiver, and some unintended consequences for Apostles Peter and John.

The first couple verses give us some information which helps set the scene, and gives us a glimpse into the activities of the apostles.  The epicenter of Pentecost has been the city of Jerusalem, a destination for people from all around the Mediterranean, but a central city for the Jews and the Jewish faith.  It is the physical and spiritual capital of Israel because of the Temple.  This is the Second Temple — the first one, built by David’s son Solomon, was destroyed by the invading Babylonians 500 years ago, and rebuilt — but not on quite the same scale.  Still, there are some breath-taking architectural features, including the Beautiful Gate, which is so named because it was inlaid with precious metals.  That’s where John and Peter are headed to enter the Temple at the hour of prayer — so they were still practicing the Jewish custom of prayer, usually seven times a day.  Only men would have been allowed to enter the Beautiful Gate — or the inner courtyards of the Temple. The Beautiful Gate may not have been restricted for use only by the wealthy, but at least one man had figured out that it was a strategic place to be when asking for alms — begging is another way of characterizing this behavior.  Like the Christians who came after them, Jews had a practice of giving charity and caring for the needy, and hitting people up when they are going into prayers is good timing.

Some of you may have encountered people here at Creekside on a Sunday morning who are asking for money for groceries, gas, travel expenses, etc.  Most of them have some kind of transportation to get out here to County R 113.  I have never been in such difficult circumstances that I have had to ask strangers for money, but if I were, I think I would pick the nicest-looking church building and grounds which I could get to, and show up there on a Sunday morning right before services.  There’s no way you’d leave that setting empty-handed.  Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll get all you need, either.  Begging isn’t exactly a predictable income.

This beggar at the Beautiful Gate was almost certainly a familiar character.  He had been lame since birth, and he was of advanced age — over 40 years old (!)  Somebody had to bring him to the Temple and take him back to wherever home was every day — or whenever he was there.  It is intriguing to consider that maybe he had been at the Temple sometime when Jesus was there.  Jesus may even have walked by him; if Jesus ever did encounter this lame man at the Temple, Jesus didn’t heal him.  Whatever the case, something special happens in this encounter.  The man asks for alms, and Peter and John pause and look at him intently.  We don’t know what passes in that gaze, but Peter says to the man, “Look at us.”

This is a significant moment.  It certainly gets the beggar’s hopes up.  I don’t know about you, but if I pass a homeless person or drive by somebody with a cardboard sign asking for money, if I’m not going to help them, I try not to make eye contact. No sense trying to imply any connection or raising any hopes, or any hostility on their side or guilt on my part; I’m just turning my head and walking by.  Because actually looking at people is somewhere on the scale of intrusive to rude to risky.  Peter blows through that scale, knowing that the man will be expecting a hand out, and knowing that he has something even better than what the man is hoping for.  Peter says, “I have no silver or gold,” which could mean simply, “I don’t have any money” or “Hey, do I look rich to you?”; it could also be a reference to this new Jewish movement around Jesus of Nazareth, which doesn’t look much like the power and wealth of an ornate inlaid gate of the Jerusalem Temple — I don’t have anything like that.  The beggar was disappointed, because silver and gold was what he was asking for, and the best he hoped for.  Instead, Peter goes on to say, “what I have, I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  And Peter grabs the man’s hand and pulls him up, and he is able to stand. He is not only able to walk and leap — which is miraculous given that it takes some practice to do those things well — but he is given wholeness which he had not expected and had never known before. The author of Luke/Acts, the physician Luke, describes the strengthening of this beggar’s feet and ankle in 1st century medical language — language which is found nowhere else in the Bible.  This man realizes the source of his healing and gives praise to God: in the name of Jesus, this man received more than he asked for, more than he hoped for, more than he could have imagined.

When thinking of ourselves personally, we may identify with the lame beggar in this story: what about me and my health problem; when is God going to fix those for me?  It’s tempting to go there, and if you have reached the advanced age of over 40 years old, there are probably some things which need fixing; but I would caution about making this story only about my personal health needs. Ultimately, the lame man in this story doesn’t get what he asked for: he gets what God wants for him.  Not everyone wants to be transformed — transformation means change.  Most of us have adapted to our dysfunction, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual.  This man being able to walk is wonderful, but it was news because he had lived most of his life with a disability and very limited prospects. 

When we consider this story in the context of the mission of the church, it makes more sense to identify with Peter and John in this story — the way they were empowered by the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to offer transformation and new life to a lame man who had never known a healthy life.  There are opportunities in our congregation, our families, and our community to be agents of healing and messengers of hope.  Some of those ministries take silver and gold — or their US currency equivalent — but not all of them.  The Holy Spirit is our guidance and inspiration, and whatever we have to offer is in the name of Jesus Christ.  But it helps if we look at the people to whom we are offering healing and help.  In 2017 Creekside was chosen to be part of a Community Ministry Grant process.  A significant part of that process was surveying our neighborhood, talking to community leaders and other folks in the community, and trying to match Creekside’s connections and resources to the needs which we saw.  This was the process which led to our container garden ministry to serve people living with food insecurity.  Part of the strength of our ministry with the Elkhart Women’s shelter is that Cheryl Borem has developed a relationship with the women who work there, and can ask, “What do the ladies need?”  This includes being able to offer things which money cannot buy, like a faith community who cares and is praying for the safety and healing of these women and their children.  We may not know the outcomes for these people; when we offer healing and care in Jesus’ name and within God’s will, we have to leave the timing to God. Peter and John got an immediate, dramatic response — that is not always the way healing works.

There may also be times when it is the church itself which is need of healing.  Since the church was just in its infancy at the time of Peter and John’s ministry, this would not have been the case for them, but in the intervening 2,000 years or so, there have been plenty of times when the church has needed to take a good look at itself to assess its health as the body of Christ and how faithful and authentic the church has been at ministering in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 

And finally, this is also a story, as we will hear in the coming weeks, about unintended consequences — at least unintended by Peter and John.  It is likely that this was the sign and wonder that Luke decided to share in the book of Acts because it triggers a series of events which further reveal the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the apostles.  We never hear again from the lame beggar; he walks and leaps and praises God and that is all we know, but that story of that healing reverberates through the Jewish community, and lands John and Peter in some hot water.  You wouldn’t think that healing people would get you into trouble, but Peter and John’s rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, got into plenty of good trouble in his time, too.  This story may be a cautionary tale about being careful what we pray for, as individuals and as the church.  Being healed might mean giving something up: our lameness, our dependence on other people, our assumptions about our own future, the outcome of our ministries for Christ and the kingdom.Next week we’ll talk more about Peter and John and an act of boldness in front of the leaders of the Jewish Temple.