NextSunday Worship

April 22, 2012

What I Have I Give You

Dr. Brett Patterson Psalm 4; Luke 24:36-48; 1 John 3:1-7; and Acts 3 Year B: The Third Sunday of Easter

Have you ever been in a situation when you needed something from someone else? Did you have the courage to ask for it? Life is full of complicated situations. Perhaps you were at the dinner table and you needed more iced tea. The pitcher was sitting on the other side of the table next to your spouse, and you had been arguing before supper about who had been doing most of the household chores. Do you ask for the tea?

Perhaps you were working on your lawn mower and discovered that you needed a tool that you didn’t have, but you knew that your neighbor did. You had borrowed several tools from your neighbor over the last couple months, and as you stood up on your way to ask, you discovered the wrench that you borrowed last week and didn’t return. Do you still ask to borrow another tool?

Perhaps you lost your job to further company cutbacks and find yourself in a tight situation. You know that your parents could help you if you got into a bind, but you know that they have medical bills. And you know that you did not listen to your dad when he told you that he did not like the job you chose to take. Do you still go to them and ask for money?

We quickly learn in these situations and other relationships are complicated. When we are in need, we cannot “just ask” for things from others without dealing with feelings that if they do something for us then we will have to return the favor sometime and do something for them.

We might feel that the other person might get some power over us in some way, or we might feel that if we go ask someone for help, we would have to place ourselves in a position of weakness. We are needy, and the ones we ask have power as long as they have the very thing that we wish to have. What do we expect in these situations? What are we looking for when we ask for things? We may be relieved that someone has helped us, or we might be wondering if there is some secret agenda, if the other person is angling to get something out of us.

Can you imagine what kind of life this man, who was lame since birth, was living? Acts 3 does not give us his name; it merely tells us that someone–friends or family we are not certain–carries him daily to the Temple courtyard. Then all throughout the day, the man begs for a living. Because he is lame in this culture, he cannot find a job to support himself. He finds that he must depend upon the charity of others. What would it be like for him to be out there, exposed, in such a public place? Did the people in the crowd even see him anymore? When he cried out for their mercy, did they hear him? Did he have to watch them walk by, ignoring him or sneering in disgust or half-smiling in pity? What was it like for him to ask these people on a regular basis for help?

All these years of having to depend on others weighed on his shoulders. He would no longer look up when he asked for charity. He held the cup up, but he always looked down at his feet. His thoughts resemble the prayer in Psalm 4: “Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” He wondered how long he would have to wait for God’s deliverance.

This day would be different, though, because Peter and John walked by, on their way to the afternoon time of prayer. When they heard the man ask for help, when they saw the man lift his hand in invitation, they turned to him and saw his needs. Peter and John had compassion; they would not walk by; they would not ignore him.

Peter and John, though, had taken up a life of simplicity; they did not have silver or gold to give him. But as disciples of Christ, they knew that they had something better to give, something that would change his life. Before they would give it, though, they requested that he look at them.

No longer would this man look down and be embarrassed about asking for help. No longer would this man be overlooked and forgotten. No longer would this man lose his humanity in the crowd’s sneers. No, Peter and John demanded that he look them in the eyes; they wanted to connect with him. They recognized that he was a child of God, that Jesus loved him too. “Look at me.”

When the lame man does look up, Peter says, “I don’t have any silver or gold, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, walk.” Peter then places his hand in the man’s hand and lifts him. The man who has been carried for years now feels his legs and ankles strong. The man who lay on the ground as others walked by feels that he can stand, that he can walk–and not only can he walk, but he can jump, skip, and dance.

This is not a little change. The man knows it, and immediately starts praising God. He is amazed. What a wonderful gift? What a blessing? This is what they had to give. So much more than silver. So much more than gold. So much more than he could have ever expected.

And this is something that the crowd could never have expected. They have come to the Temple courts for the time of afternoon prayer, a time of reverence, a time of formal worship. And just before prayer time starts, there is a commotion. A crazy man is skipping and leaping through the crowd, laughing, disturbing the peace.

Some of them move away from this man in fear. Others start talking, “Is this that lame beggar? What’s going on? Can you believe this?” And a few in the crowd are smiling, not quite sure what to make of the situation, but wanting to share in the man’s happiness. The healing demands the attention of the crowd. Previously the people could walk by this man; now they cannot. Something has happened, something that they cannot explain. This is like what happened when Jesus was alive, but he was crucified. What could be happening now?

Here Peter steps up to the plate. He shows initiative again and addresses the crowd. The healing has drawn their attention, and Peter takes the opportunity to instruct them, making sure that they know that this healing has not come through power of their own.

This sermon is Peter’s second in the Book of Acts, and it resembles his first, delivered at Pentecost. Peter emphasizes that Jesus’ death was not an accident, but that it was part of God’s plan. Those listening to Peter had participated in the rejecting and killing of Jesus–the Son of God, who had participated in the creation of the world. The Author of life submitted himself to their hands, and they killed him. Peter softens the accusation a little bit, saying that he understands that they acted in ignorance.

But death is not the final word; they do not follow a memory, but a living Lord, for God–their God, Israel’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–glorified Jesus and raised him from the grave. And it is Jesus’ power, claimed through Peter’s faith and the healed man’s faith, that brought this restoration, this miracle standing before them.

We know that Peter himself faced that power when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. Luke 24 records that the disciples were afraid when Jesus appeared among them; they first think that Jesus is a ghost. What else could he be? People do not come back from death.

Yet Jesus pushes them to recognize him, inviting them to come forward to touch him, to feel the wounds. He eats in front of them to show them that there is no cause for fear. He then seeks to explain how these unprecedented events were part of God’s plan from the beginning.

The disciples came face to face with Jesus’ power over sin and death. It was this power that transformed them into apostles. It was this power that Peter shared with this lame man.

Peter seeks to explain these things to the crowd that gathered around him and the healed man. Peter tries to show the crowd that they should not get trapped in the moment. They need to learn that this miracle is part of something much, much bigger.

Today in our culture we have the cliche, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” The expression suggests that we often get lost in details and lose sight of the bigger picture. How does everything fit together into a greater whole? But how do we have such a vision? We often need some distance, for if we are too close to something, all we can see is what is immediately in front of us. Peter is asking those gathered there momentarily to move beyond the miracle, so that they can now identify God’s overarching plan.

The crowd has been astounded by the healing of the lame man, but the source of the power that healed him is the Messiah Jesus, who rose from the grave, after his death on the cross. Those who killed Jesus did not win; they did not seize control of the situation. No, they played into God’s plan. For Jesus, as Son of God, as Author of life, had power to break death.

Cross and resurrection had been part of God’s plan from the very beginning. God’s plan had been outlined in the covenant with Abraham: Through Abraham’s line, God would bless the world. Moses had announced that a prophet would come that they must follow. The testimony of other prophets, since the time of Samuel, foretold that the Messiah would be one who suffered for the sake of others. By his wounds we are healed. In death Jesus took on the penalty of our sins, and in rising Jesus brought in a new age, a new creation.

By God’s grace, we find forgiveness for our sins and enter into communion with God. Jesus is the Messiah; he is Israel’s deliverer, sent so that they would repent of their wickedness; Jesus is the one who restores them to relationship with God. So here Peter outlines the larger picture to those gathered; he tells them that the healing of this one lame man is part of the larger movement, God’s movement, to bring about the healing of all Israel.

We Christians today know that the plan also extends beyond Israel for the salvation of the world, for all who will follow in the footsteps of Christ. This story also speaks powerfully to us today. There are times in our lives when we are in need, and we have to face the difficult situation of asking someone else for help.

We are all hoping for a bit more money. We think that some more silver and gold will solve all our problems. We are listening too closely to voices in our society who say we should fill our hands with fast food, with beauty products, or with the latest and greatest electronics. Our culture tells us that we will not be happy unless we have these things.

We may also be listening to other voices, darker voices, telling us to fill our reaching hands with alcohol, with drugs, with pornography, with guns, with knives. But such choices lead to addictions, lead to never-ending needs–our hands will then always be reaching, never finding peace. Never finding peace–that is until we place our hand in the hand of Christ, until we find God’s plan and purpose for our lives. When we enter the Church, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the suffering in the world, and we discover that there are other people in our community who are reaching out their hands in need. There are crowds of people across the nation and around the world who are reaching out their hands too. How will we respond? What will we share with them?

But these people have been beaten down by life situations. They are lame and looking down. They feel like they have lost their humanity; they may not even look us in our faces when we come to them. But Christ calls us to serve them, just as Peter and John did. Christ calls us to greet them as brothers and sisters. “Look at me.” We acknowledge that once we were lost, but by God’s grace, Christ found us. We extend that hope and joy to others. “Such as I have I give you.” There is no more fulfilling quest in life than to share in this ministry. When we bring others to Christ, they will learn about God’s plan for the world.

Such knowledge will bring a revolution in our thinking, for we are all too often lost in the details as the crowd was who gathered around the newly healed man. There are all sorts of things in this life that we do not understand. We are like the lame man, lying on the ground; we are stuck on the question, “Why me? Why did this happen to me, Lord?” Why did I lose my job? Why do I have cancer? Why did my friend have to die? There are questions we cannot answer because we do not have the vision to see, to understand.

There are moments when we will retreat from fellowship with others, when we think that all hope is lost in a dreary life. We Christians must be observant; we must notice when others retreat. We are called to reach out to them. “Look at me.” We are then to rehearse the story of God’s working in the world. We tell the story of Israel, Jesus, and the Church. We remind ourselves that God loves us: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 1:1). God is redeeming us, pulling us from our sins. God is turning all of history toward God’s glorious end.

The morning that the lame man went to the Temple courts, just as he had done for months, years before, he did not know that today would be the day when everything would change. He did not know his story would become part of the story of the start of the Church. He did not know that his story would be included in the Bible, for a multitude of generations later to study. All he knew was that he was sick of his life. All he knew was that he was lame and that people walked by. But Peter and John, filled with the Spirit, changed that.

Christ offers such life-changing moments to us today. And we are called by Christ to offer such life-changing moments to those around us. These moments in our lives may not involve such obvious miracles, but they are nonetheless miraculous. We find that our lives, which we thought were insignificant, do have a purpose. We find that our choices, which we thought were inconsequential, do have a direction. God has blessed all peoples on earth through the promises made to Abraham. God has blessed all peoples on earth through the work of Christ. Such blessings are open to you today. You will find a stronger, healthier, happier life. This is what we have, and we give it to you.

About the Writer

Dr. Brett Patterson is a South Carolina native, having grown up in the Lowcountry and pursued a B. A. in English at Furman University. After receiving an M. Div. from Duke University, an ordination from the Baptist Church of Beaufort, and a Ph. D. from the University of Virginia, he taught biblical studies, theology, ethics, and church history at Meredith College and Anderson University. In 2009, through encouragement from the CBF of SC, he entered into full-time church ministry. He and his wife Stephanie currently serve as pastors for First Baptist Church of Lake View, SC. He is particularly interested in ecumenical efforts and in theology and the arts.

Scripture

Year B–Third Sunday of Easter

Psalms 4 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. {2} How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah {3} But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. {4} When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah {5} Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. {6} There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!” {7} You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. {8} I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

Acts 3:12-19 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? {13} The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. {14} But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, {15} and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. {16} And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. {17} “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. {18} In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. {19} Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,

1 John 3:1-7 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. {2} Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. {3} And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. {4} Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. {5} You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. {6} No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. {7} Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Luke 24:36-48 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” {37} They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. {38} He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? {39} Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” {40} And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. {41} While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” {42} They gave him a piece of broiled fish, {43} and he took it and ate in their presence. {44} Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” {45} Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, {46} and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, {47} and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. {48} You are witnesses of these things.

Posted in Dr. Brett Patterson on May 1, 2012.