“That times of refreshing may come”
Message preached on
April 15, 2018
It always seems to happen so quickly. For what has seemed like ages, the branches of the trees have been bare. The grass has been flattened to the ground and lacks a sense of being alive. Like that man “lame from birth” in this morning’s Easter story, it’s as is the land around us has been pushed down and cries out “alms for the poor, give us what we need to live.”
And then, suddenly, the sun brings its light and warmth and transformation begins. You saw it this week, didn’t you? The buds on certain trees and bushes open up and color returns. Shoots reach up through the earth from their bulbs, and the first flowers appear. Even the grass begins to green up the ground, as all these plants take the sun’s light and start the growing season. In the northern hemisphere of this globe we call “earth,” Spring and Easter are synonymous. “Rise to new life,” the heavens declare, and nature turns to the sun.
The swiftness of this happening always takes our breath away, doesn’t it. It refreshes us. Oh, I know it also has its downside, especially for those whose bodies have allergic reactions to the spreading of life through pollination. Not so refreshing, indeed, but still … light and warmth and color are welcome.
Of course, for the southern hemisphere of this earth we call home refreshment comes in the form of harvest. The land gives forth its rich bounty for all creation to share. For our friends “down under,” Autumn and Easter sing the same tune – the music of which flows from the same sun above. And it is good, as well…
We could have read yet another gospel story of Easter this morning. Luke’s version would have been on the docket this week, with Jesus appearing to his terrified disciples who had previously disregarded news the women had brought from the empty tomb as an “idle tale,” and had puzzled later over a further message brought by Cleopas and his friend who said Jesus had met them on the road to Emmaus. We could have paid attention to this resurrection account. But we didn’t.
Instead, we have jumped ahead in the ancient story we have received. The author is still Luke, but this time the disciples are apostles – still learning, but now sent, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost has happened (an event we will celebrate later in the church year), but is a launching time for what follows. In the book of Acts, this morning’s story happens soon after that day when the church of Jesus Christ was born.
You heard it, but let me repeat it. The focal point is still Jerusalem. That will soon change - all too quickly, in fact. Like the transformation brought by a new season, the whole land will be involved. But today, we see Peter and John heading into the Temple to pray. Please note: they are observant Jews going to the holy of holies to pray. Remember that. Don’t forget it!
Is there some meaning behind the gate they choose to enter through? “Beautiful.” That’s what it was called, according to Luke, the “Beautiful Gate.” Perhaps it’s merely a detail on which to hang this story, to help it be remembered. I imagine for some who heard this story later on in the first century, it was good to remember there once was a “Beautiful Gate” in that city. After 70AD the place was a ruin, destroyed by Rome – burnt to the ground, every stone overturned, except one wall against which Jews today still wail and pray. There once was a “Beautiful Gate,” and there beside it sat a man.
We have no name to call him, which is pretty lame, if you ask me. He ought to have a name. I’m sure God knew it. That joke was pretty lame, as well, told at the expense of this man who was born unable to walk. But he had friends. Friends for over 40 years, something we would have learned has we read to the 22nd verse of the next chapter. He’d made it that long with this handicap. His friends brought him to the “Beautiful Gate” every day so that he could beg. That’s how he survived.
I know. We live today with a different view of handicaps. We emphasize that persons are differently abled rather than disabled, and that no one deserves to bear a stigma as this man probably did back when Peter and John encountered him beside the gate. Of course, we still push stigmas on folks. When was the last time you judged someone for parking in a handicap spot who didn’t look appropriately handicapped? I found myself doing that more often once I got my temporary handicap sticker following surgery. Persons have to prove they are worthy. They have to bear the stigmata before we say, “Oh, you’re disabled, or poor, or widowed, or…” Then, we’ll do an about face and say, “you are differently abled,” or “you are working poor,” or…
We’re not that far removed from this ancient story. Beggars still surround us… Peter and John could have walked right on by. Would anyone have complained? Just look in the other direction. Don’t focus upon this man. He’s used to it. Forty years is a long time, after all. But then those two disciples, now apostles (still learning, but now sent), would have had to square their actions with what Jesus taught – especially that story of a man handicapped by thieves on the road to Jericho, you know, the one where various religious types look away and walk on by, but a hated Samaritan did what was right in the eyes of God. Peter and John could not have done less.
And so, there beside the “Beautiful Gate,” an interesting thing happens. No coins are exchanged, no alms given, no act of charity that just maintains the status quo. Peter addressed this man’s need. “Look at me,” he said (cause I see you, I’m not looking away. You are a man like me). “I don’t have money,” Peter said, “but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth (it isn’t about me, it’s about him – I just follow him), rise and walk.”
You heard the story. It’s much simpler than faith healers portray on stage, some with “whack-a-mole” theatrics. The nameless man gets up and joins them in going into the Temple to pray. Okay, so he does a little jig. And he praises God as he dances, maybe embarrassing himself (but he doesn’t care). Okay, so maybe it isn’t as downplayed as this simple Dunker preacher preaches. It actually causes a scene. Right there at the “Beautiful Gate.”
People got all googly-eyed over this miracle. “They were filled with wonder and amazement,” it says. “All the people ran together to them,” it says. They were “utterly astonished.” It was a “read all about it” moment in the book of Acts. Of course, having just read all about what happened on Pentecost, we might think that Luke is a bit prone to tell the story as large as he could. Just as on Pentecost, this healing the lame man event launches Peter into his second sermon. Right there near the “Beautiful Gate.” It was a real beaut’ of a message! Gone is the disciple lost in his denials, who misunderstood the cost of the cross and who bumbled his way to the resurrection. Here now is Peter who steps into his failure and claims it for glory.
“Don’t stare at me as if it was by my own power or piety this man walks, Peter reminds those folks who witnessed him rising. He goes on to connect them to the cross. They had a hand in killing Jesus – maybe not directly by advocating for his crucifixion, but indirectly by keeping silent. As Peter preaches some rough words to these Jews, remember two things: 1) that Peter was a Jew himself, and 2) that his sin of denying Jesus was worse – his own stigma. But as God rose Jesus from the grave, so God lifted up Peter. So also, God will lift up these people. That’s the main point of his message, why he is speaking up. It’s not just about raising a lame man. It’s about raising everyone, for we are all – then and now – handicapped in some way.
Those folks may not have known they were handicapped by sin, but after Peter opened his mouth, the words of this simple fisherman left no doubt. His words to them weren’t the same as what he said to the lame man, but the effect was the same. “Look us in the eyes. We see you. God sees you, and that’s good news. Now see God.” … Well, those weren’t his exact words. What he said was “Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” That is “turn toward that One who heals you, so that – like this lame man – you might rise to new life – as fresh as Spring.”
This message is for all, for we all bear responsibility for sin. Our inner land can be as dead as Winter, but God brings forth new life. Like that man lame from birth, we can rise and walk. By the way, I heard this story through different ears this time around. As one who less than 2˝ months ago was not able to put any weight on my left leg, this tale of rising beside the “Beautiful Gate” adds new color to my year. I feel it in my bones. You?
Of course, there is more to this story from the book of Acts, just like there is more to our story. Peter’s second sermon was interrupted by the Temple guards who came and arrested “them” (I presume “them” to mean Peter and John and maybe that no-longer-lame-man). This arrest, however, didn’t squelch the Spirit. It says that around 5,000 folks who heard what Peter had said believed. If I do the math, this was more than the 3,000 Luke claimed were baptized on Pentecost. I told you this author was a bit prone to tell the story as large as he could. But the point is, as hard as you try, you can’t silence the truth. Not in the long run.
Just like you can’t stop the coming of Spring. The earth erupts with goodness no matter what we might do to prevent it. Maybe a better course of action is (instead) to open ourselves to it, to be surprised yet again by our Creator, to turn toward the Son - not just that glowing orb in the sky, but turn to the One who died on the cross, who was buried in the good earth, and who rose from death to life – “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
Like Peter, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” rise in body or spirit and sing of your Redeemer, that he lives, and that you are alive in him. If your feet lead you, dance out your praise. Amen?