A few years ago, I was in Tampa for a church conference in a part of town that had a lot of homeless folks around. I have to be honest that when I saw the folks standing on the street looking for handouts, I didn’t stop to respond. I spent a lot of time diverting my eyes, or politely saying I’m sorry and moving on quickly.
Until 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 in our scripture this morning, 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 would 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. 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.
After the ascension of Jesus, these two 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 had given up everything they knew before in order to support and care for and nurture this precious new community. They had gone all in with their time, money, and talents.
One of the primary things they did together was to worship and pray. One of the customs of the Jewish faith is to pray three times a day – morning, afternoon, and evening – as a way of keeping your whole life focused on the Lord.
And so it is not surprising that these two are on their way to the temple for the 3:00 prayer.
They walk to the temple, passing through the same gate they may have entered hundreds of times before, passing the dozens of beggars who would often gather along the way.
I think to fully understand this story of healing, we need to understand the culture of begging that would have been present. It was present in downtown Tampa, some of our participants on the VIM Trip to Memphis experienced it, and it would have surrounded Peter and John at the temple.
Bob Deffinbaugh describes his experience with a begging culture 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.
Peter and John are walking along the same road they do every day and they see countless beggars along the path.
What is different about today? Why do they stop? Why do they reach out to this particular man?
I think Peter and John felt that tug on their heartstrings that caused me to turn back in Tampa. It is the feeling we get when we encounter someone that God is inviting us to help – even if we might not have the confidence, or money, or resources to do so.
Peter and John felt that tug of the Holy Spirit and knew 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.
These two disciples knew that was enough.
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 God 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.
They looked him in the eye, they reached out their hands in faith, and the lame man leaped for joy.
Every day, 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. The world we live in is begging and crying out for healing and we don’t have the heart to pay attention because it might overwhelm us.
Listen to those promptings of the Holy Spirit that stop you in your tracks.
God will give you everything you need to share with that person the hope and faith and love you have experienced through Jesus Christ.
You know, 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 Beautiful 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 taking place all around Jerusalem.
Maybe Jesus had walked through that very gate, but that man 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 them in the eyes, Peter and John stopped in front of him and healed him.
He leapt for joy.
Some of us have experienced miracles, healing, and forgiveness… and we know that when we have, 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” on the tip of my tongue 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.
Earlier this week, I got word that Greg Leonard passed away. We have been praying with the Harvey and Leonard families without ceasing for healing in his life and yet no cure was to be found.
I have watched with agony as so many friends and so many of you have prayed for healing for loved ones that did not come in this lifetime.
One summer, I worked as a hospital chaplain and watched one young woman healed and watched another die within a week. Both had leukemia and both were clutching their faith.
Sometimes, I think we hide our problems, our disease, or our sins because we are afraid that we will be found wanting.
We are afraid that if we tell the truth, everyone will know we “didn’t have enough faith” for the answer we desire to come to pass.
Friends, prayer is not magic.
It is not an incantation we can repeat over and over in order to get what we want.
Prayer is a relationship with God. A two-way relationship.
And sometimes the answers we receive are not the ones we initially begin praying for.
Sometimes we receive 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.
But in the miracles of healing in the scripture and in my experience, Jesus or the disciples never told someone to go out and find more faith and THEN come back and be healed.
No, the words the Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts are: “be still and know that I am God… trust in me and my goodness… I am with you… Do not be afraid…”
Sometimes, as is the case with our lame beggar, the healing comes in the present moment.
Sometimes, complete healing and wholeness only comes after our time on this earth is over.
But still we pray, and still we have faith, and still we trust, because we have a relationship with the One who is able to bring some goodness and beauty out of the brokenness of our lives.
Today, we are both disciples and beggars.
We can both offer prayers of healing for others and we can ask for healing in our lives as well.
One of our primary gifts, one of our strengths, a huge piece of our vision is prayer… and this room is filled with people who believe in the power of miracles and that God truly can work for good in our lives.
I want to invite us to claim that gift today and before you leave the sanctuary this morning, I encourage you to take time to talk with someone, to listen to their prayers, and to pray with and for them.