Year B Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 3:12 - 16 (CEV) When Peter saw the people, he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, why are you surprised at this, and why do you stare at us? Do you think that it was by means of our own power or godliness that we made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has given divine glory to His Servant Jesus. But you handed him over to the authorities, and you rejected him in Pilate's presence, even after Pilate had decided to set him free. 14He was holy and good, but you rejected him, and instead you asked Pilate to do you the favor of turning loose a murderer.
15You killed the one who leads to life, but God raised him from death and we are witnesses to this. 16It was the power of his name that gave strength to this lame man. What you see and know was done by faith in his name; it was faith in Jesus that has made him well, as you can all see.
At first glance, this passage in Acts might appear anti-Semitic. That is not really true. But we have to back up in the Word some to understand the background.
Peter and John were at the temple. They were there about the time of the afternoon prayers.(1) They ran across a mobility challenged (read crippled) man who was begging for money. The beggar asked Peter and John for money. Instead, the Peter replied, “I don't have any silver or gold! But I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, get up and start walking."(2)
Peter and John were probably going into the temple to pray. That is what devout Jewish men did. The commentator Albert Barnes notes that the apostles were “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”(3) That sounds like something people would do who considered themselves to be Jewish.
And the apostles healed a man in the temple. Anybody who hated Jewish people would not have been healing people. Those who saw the miracle were blown away. They were left astonished by what they saw – a real miracle.
Peter's sermon or speech does not make much sense unless we know the context. When we think about the context, we realize that this speech is an explanation to a crowd of astonished people.(4)
Peter's speech shows he is thinking and talking like a Jewish man. He refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That is “a description that is familiar to Peter's Jewish audience.”(5)
The healing demonstrates that those who call on the name of Jesus Christ will be saved.(6) The name of Jesus Christ was regarded as the “sphere within which miraculous power was exercised.”(7)
Peter makes the point that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, healed the man. This is the same Jesus that the spiritual rulers and leaders, and many Jewish people rejected. Peter asks the people to repent. The word repent literally means to change one's mind.(8) Peter challenged the people to turn away from their sin of rejecting God's son, and to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
You are a contemporary miracle. You are a contemporary miracle. And as a miracle, people see you, see God's work in your life, and praise God!
Let me retell the story, adding to this passage the important healing. Only I am going to change something in the story. There is a reason for doing that. The change is being made, because I respect the Word of God enough to want to see it touch your heart.
Afternoon prayers were starting in the inner city church. Peter and John were about to enter the historic church to say their prayers.
Right by the entry way, with its stained glass windows, the entry church members called the Beautiful Door, a gay beggar was lying down with his propped up against the back-pack that held all of his possessions. This gay beggar, wounded by self-loathing and chemical addictions, was unable to hold down a job. He called out, “I need a buck or two for food.” And he thought, “And pray that God makes me straight.”
Turning to the man, Peter commanded, “Look at me.” Studying the beggar's soul, through his eyes, Peter said, “I have no money. But I will give you what I have.”
Then Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk away from your self-hate and pain.” And Peter reached down, took the gay beggar by the hand and helped him up. The gay beggar left feeling whole and loved for the first time in his life.
The Life Application Bible makes an interesting point. The beggar asked for money, but he got a much better gift. He got the use of his legs. The Life Application Bible observes that many times we ask God to solve a small problem, but God says, 'I've got something even better for you.'(9)
Physical healing is a miracle. In many cases, I think healing of the heart and the spirit is even more miraculous. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have asked God to be made straight. Instead of performing the physical miracle, God performs the miracle of touching the heart and the spirit. God gives the miracle of self-acceptance, which is a gift many straight people do not have!
Queer Christians are some of God's most powerful living testimonies. They glorify God every single day, because they walked through the pain and remained faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And then they reached out to help others.
Answering the call to heal others is not for the faint of heart. It takes major guts.
I am going to paraphrase a neat story from the book Healing Spiritual Abuse and Religious Addiction by Linn, Linn and Linn.(10) I think the story is worth the entire cost of the book. The book can be purchased from www.amazon.ca or www.amazon.com.
As the story goes, Michael Weisser was a cantor at a synagogue in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Weissers started receiving hate mail from Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan. Larry Trapp was hoping to drive the Jewish cantor and his family out of the area.
Michael Weisser took a brave approach. He phoned the Klan leader and left voice mail messages confronting the Klan leader's actions. The Klan leader had a physical disability and was not able to easily get around. Weisser, the Jewish cantor, left one voice mail message for the Klan leader asking how he could support the Nazis when the Nazis passed laws against disabled people.
One day when Weisser was phoning the Klan leader, the Klansman answered the phone. The Kan leader started yelling at Weisser. In response to the hate, Weisser calmly asked if the Klansman needed a ride to the grocery store. The Klan leader grew quiet. Then he said he did not need a ride, but thanked the Jewish man for the offer.
Months later, the Klan leader phoned the Jewish cantor's home and said he wanted out, but was not sure how to do that. The Weissers brought him dinner and the Klan leader broke down and cried.
Later, the Klan leader was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The Jewish cantor's wife was a nurse. She quite her job, so she could care for the Klan leader. They understood the Klansman's most serious illness was loneliness.
The Klan leader wanted to make right the wrongs he had done. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He even apologized to people at the synagogue for his actions.
The Klansman later asked to be a member of the synagogue. As you can imagine, people in the synagogue were a little concerned about accepting somebody who had so recently been a Nazi. A survivor of the holocaust spoke and said, If a synagogue can't be forgiving, where is there for this man to go? We must forgive him. Moved by the love of the person who had survived the holocaust, the congregation decided to forgive the now former Klan leader.
A few months later, the former Klansman died in the home of the Jewish cantor. He died in the very “home of those he had terrorized, holding the hands of the people he had persecuted.”
The extravagance of God's relentless mercy, a mercy that will never give up or go away is what changes lives. And that love is inside the Christian, ready to reach out and encourage others.
You may know the chorus that goes, Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. Your body is a place where the Spirit lives. So I encourage you to personalize the song.
Surely the presence of the God is in this place. I can feel God's mighty power and God's grace. I can feel the brush of Angel's wings. I see glory on this face. Surely the presence of the God is in this place.
Eternal God, celebrate your presence in each person here, in each family represented here, by shining out of each tabernacle of flesh to be a living offering to those around us. Amen.