Wednesday, April 8, 2015

No Silver or Gold

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

The Acts of the Apostles are just that—the acts that they did in the name of Jesus Christ as the gospel spread across the known world—and today’s lesson is the first of those. In Acts 2, we read about Pentecost—the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Peter and the other apostles. Immediately, they began to speak in other languages, and all of the residents and visitors in Jerusalem heard them speak in their own native tongues. Peter interrupts the disbelieving crowd to explain to them what this means—the first speech/sermon of Acts. And then, as soon as you turn the page, you get the story of the lame man (Acts 3:1-10).

Hear how the author (Luke) describes this individual. “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.” His identity was inability. His life revolved around the generosity of others. I would guess that someone who had that kind of support—people who would carry him here or there every day—probably made a decent living begging for alms. But where was that living headed? What sort of career goals does a career beggar have? What kind of fulfillment comes from that?

As Peter and John walked by, the man asked them for alms. He kept his eyes down, humbly staring at the ground where they walked. He knew not to look them in the face because people don’t want to give money to someone who has too much pride. Pride doesn’t evoke pity. But Peter wouldn’t have it. “Look at us,” he commanded, and the beggar “fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something.” But Peter surprised the man, not offering “silver or gold” but granting him healing “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Peter reached out his hand and pulled the man up, “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” The man jumped up, stood on his own, and began to walk around, jumping and dancing and leaping about, praising God as he went. Had the man simply walked away, the miraculous healing would have been remarkable, but Luke wants us to see that the apostles had given him something more important than physical healing. They had used the name of Jesus to give this person fulfillment—a state of being Luke indicates when someone praises God (see also the healing of the bent-over woman in Luke 13).

I walk around in a clerical collar. I drive around town in a clerical collar. It’s pretty easy to see me and tell that I am in the church business. Although I prefer to wear a bowtie to work, I wear that collar as a testament to the one I serve—our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. The collar gives me access to a lot of places—the ICU even when it isn’t visiting hours, the staff discount at local hospitals, the heart-warming exchange of eye contact and smiles with a total stranger, spontaneous questions about God and church and religion. But there’s one area of my life that I feel incredibly uncomfortable wearing a collar: meeting a beggar.

The other day, I was driving down Fourth Ave. and saw for the second time a woman sitting on a street corner holding a sign that read, “Homeless/ Out of Work Artist/Will Work for Food.” I’m fascinated with her sign—with what it means to advertise one’s self as an artist. Who stops and picks her up to do a portrait? When I’m wearing my collar and pass by someone, I feel the need to look them in the eye. No, I’m not going to give them any money or food, but I could offer a little bit of respect. I looked her way, but she stared down at the ground. She knows the routine. She knows what works.

What should I do? Stop and give her some money? Stop and engage her in conversation—let her tell her story? Offer her a job? Reach out my hand and say, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and be employed?” I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that the Holy Spirit gives his followers the ability to transform the lives of others. But how can I do that for her? How can I do that for any beggar?

I don’t know. This sermon doesn’t have a happy ending because I don’t know. You’ve heard me say that I’m tired of writing checks to put Band-Aids on people’s deeper financial problems. I certainly don’t make a habit of tossing change to someone—in fact I have a policy against it. I want to be in the transformation business. I think that’s my job. I think it’s your job, too. That’s what we are called to do. I think our life is supposed to have just as dramatic an effect on the lives of others as Peter’s miraculous healing had on the man lame from birth. We are supposed to help people find their fulfillment in God—a life-giving, life-changing fulfillment that comes through Jesus Christ. But what does that mean? What am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do? Pray about it with me. Pray that God will help us see what we can do to bring transformation to those in need. Listen with me for the Spirit’s answer, and seek the courage to do it.

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