When I was in Tampa for General Conference, I saw a few folks on the street who were looking for handouts. And every time, I diverted my eyes, or I politely said “I’m sorry” and kept going. Except for one instance. A man on a bench asked me for some money for food. I went through my usual explanation – I don’t have cash, I’m in a hurry, I’m sorry… and kept moving. But I got about 25 feet from him and I stopped. I knew that I could help him. I knew there was something I could do. The Holy Spirit filled me up and turned me around and before I knew it, I was introducing myself to Fred and taking him across the street to Quiznos. I really was in a hurry, but I stood in line there with him and he ordered a nice hot sandwich and we talked about his life. He had lost his job and had moved here looking for work. He hadn’t found any. He was waiting for his unemployment check to catch up with him and until it arrived he had nothing, so he was staying in a shelter. He was hoping to be back on his feet in a week or two… but I had the feeling that this was only the beginning of a tough road for him.
I knew I couldn’t fix all of his problems… but I could get him a nice hot dinner. As we parted ways outside the door, he gave me a huge smile and said, God bless you.
As we heard from Acts chapter 3 – a lame man was carried to the temple every single day to beg for the resources that would sustain his meager life. He was begging for bread and water and shelter. And when Peter and John encounter him – his life is turned upside down and will never be the same again. It wasn’t a sandwich that stirred his blood – it was the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ that strengthened his weak legs… and this broken man stood up leaping and laughing. He ran in through the temple gates and made a joyful exuberant scene – praising God for the chance at new life.
I want to invite us to look at this story from a couple of different angles this morning.
First, from the perspective of Peter and John. If you remember from last week, they had found themselves leaders of a small movement – three to four thousand people were now following their guidance and were committing themselves to the way and the teachings of Christ. Each person – and especially Peter and John as leaders – had given up everything they knew before in order to help support and care for and nurture this precious new community.
One of the primary things they did together was to worship and pray. And so it is not surprising that these two are on their way to the temple for the 3:00 prayer. It is a custom in the Jewish faith to pray three times a day – morning, afternoon, and evening – as a way of keeping your whole life focused on the Lord.
So they walk to the temple, passing through the same gate they might have entered hundreds of times before…. and probably past dozens of beggars along the way. In fact, maybe we can’t fully understand the story unless we appreciate the culture of begging that would have surrounded them.
Bob Deffinbaugh describes his experience with beggars in India this way:
There were so many beggars there was no way one could respond to all of them. The solution was often not to “see” any of them. But the beggars made this difficult. Those who were mobile would press themselves on you. They would approach your taxi at an intersection, tugging at your sleeve and pleading for help. Those not mobile would call our for charity. The beggar would be aggressive, something like the salesmen as you try to walk through the appliance section at Sears. You would concentrate on not seeing them as they converged on you, and you hurried to get through the section before you were trapped.
Living in the midst of this culture, you train yourself to ignore them, because you simply cannot respond to the needs of all. Maybe you occasionally stop and help one person to make yourself feel better. But you don’t make eye contact. You keep moving.
Imagine Peter and John walking a path they have every day and seeing countless beggars along the road. As I thought about my experience in Tampa, I have to ask.. What is different about today? Why do they stop? Why do they reach out to this particular man?
Peter and John stop that day intentionally. They, too, were filled with the Spirit and knew that there was something they could do for this man. They had not a dime in their pockets, no food to offer, nothing that could satisfy this man’s earthly needs… except for their faith in Jesus Christ.
We each have times in our lives when we feel that small tug on our heartstrings. And as the people of God – even though we might not have confidence, or money, or resources, we do have faith.
Our two disciples were familiar with this concept because they had once been sent out to preach and heal and teaching with nothing but the clothes on their back. They had learned through practice that God truly can be depended on, that he is our very present help in times of trouble. They knew that faith could move mountains… and if it can move mountains than it can certainly help this lame man to walk.
Everyday, you and I pass countless people who are broken and hurting. They may not be sitting on the street corners and their pain might not be visible to the naked eye, but if we look closely – we can see the strain of tension by the eyes, we can hear the waver in the voice, we feel the frustration and despair in the way they move and live in this world. And because it is so common, we keep walking. We don’t have the heart to pay attention because it might overwhelm us.
Listen to your heart. Listen to those promptings of the Holy Spirit that stop you in your tracks. Stop, listen, and share with that person the hope and faith and love you have experienced through Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we have the opportunity to be Peters and Johns – going through our daily lives and coming across the opportunity to heal someone.
But we are also the lame beggars who sit by the gate.
Each of us has a whole host of problems – aching backs, sore knees, family disagreements, conflicts in our marriage, struggles with our children, sinful pasts and temptations in the present, stress around deadlines and finances, cancer, disease, death.
You name it, this community has experienced it or will experience it.
But unlike the lame beggar, we tend to hide our struggles. We don’t sit with them out in the open for all to see, but hold them close to our hearts and silently wait for an answer.
This lame man knew he couldn’t remain at home and do nothing. So every day he convinced someone to carry him from where he slept to the Beatiful Gate. For nearly forty years he had done this daily. He went to the temple, to the place of God, and begged.
I wonder if sometime during the last year or two, he heard rumors of Jesus passing by. I wonder if he had heard about the miracles that had happened. Maybe Jesus had walked through that very gate, but he was too weak, or too quiet, to catch his attention and to ask for a miracle for himself. Maybe he didn’t feel worthy, like a lost cause, a hopeless mess.
It doesn’t matter how sick you are, how broken or how sinful… the grace of God has time for you. The Holy Spirit has time for you. And so even though our beggar could not even look into their eyes, Peter and John stopped in front of him and shared their faith – they healed him.
He could do nothing but leap for joy.
Some of us have experienced miracles, healing, and forgiveness… and we know that when we do, we cannot go back to life as it was…. nothing will ever be the same.
I must admit, I always have a deeply engrained, “BUT” in my soul whenever I talk about the power of healing and the miracle of faith.
I know too many people who have prayed for miracles that have never come.
I watched with agony as my friend, Doug, prayed for healing for his wife that never came.
In my time as a hospital chaplain, I watched one young woman healed of lukemia, and watched another die within a week from the disease – both clutching their faith.
I believe that sometimes, we hide our problems and our sins; we refuse to tell others about our disease, because we are afraid that we will be found wanting. We are afraid that if we tell the truth, everyone will know that we “didn’t have enough faith” and that the answer we want will not really come anyways.
Friends, prayer is not magic. It is not an incantation that we can repeat over and over in order to get what we want out of this world.
Prayer is a relationship with God. A two-way relationship. And sometimes the answers that we recieve are not the ones we initially begin praying for. Sometimes we recieve the gifts of peace and comfort instead of cures. Sometimes we hear a calling to be strong and to share our faith with others in spite of the pain we are experiencing. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is that we ourselves have to change – that we need to forgive or give up a lifestyle that was harming us or move away from a difficult relationship.
In the miracles of healing – the answer is never, “if you just had more faith, you would be healed.”
No, the words the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts are these familiar words of scripture, “be still and know that I am God… trust in me and my goodness… I am with you… Do not be afraid… repent and believe the good news”
Sometimes, as is the case with our lame beggar, the healing comes in the present moment. Sometimes, we know that the wholeness will only come after our time on this earth is complete.
But still we pray, and still we have faith, and still we trust, because we know that there is some good that God can make out of the brokenness of our lives.
Today, we have the opportunity to be both disciples and beggars. We have the opportunity to come forward and to offer prayers of healing and to ask for healing in our lives as well.
I know that one of the primary gifts of this church is the gift of healing and prayer… so many of you believe in this power of miracles and that God truly does work for good in our lives. I want to invite you to claim that gift, and as we come forward for healing, to take time to talk with someone, to listen to their prayers, and to pray with and for them.