Why Do You Do What You Do?Dr. Don Flowers, Jr. Acts 4:5-12; I John 3:16-24 Year B - Fourth Sunday of Easter
It happens to me all the time, and I hate it! I am sitting at home surfing through the channels, and there is that movie that I have wanted to see! It is on! There’s just one problem. It started 20 minutes ago! I have no idea who these people are—I mean in the movie. I recognize Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell, but why are they together and who is the monster chasing them and why is Samuel L. Jackson screaming at the rabbit in the corner.
This is not a real movie, I am making it up, which is what I have to do in this real movie because I have no idea what is going on. And so the choice is, either I just keep on surfing and hope and pray that it will be on some other time, or I just keep watching, hoping that somehow I can figure out what this is all about.
Well, that may very well be how you feel about our scripture lesson this morning from Acts. When I read it I had the sense that I was lost. Who are these people and why are they having a party? Why wasn’t I invited? Oh, sorry, it is an execution, but who are we killing? Oh, it’s Peter, what has he done wrong now? And so the questions go!
And so the choice is—just tune out, or hope and pray that maybe we can figure out what is going on! Oh, but today we have TiVo Bible! Yes, we have recorded the beginning of the show and we can catch up, avoid the commercial interruption and still make it home for lunch!
You see, as the story begins Peter and John are heading to the temple. It isn’t the Sabbath. They aren’t coming to worship. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, the time when the sacrifices were offered for the people. But that isn’t why they were coming. They are coming to the temple to pray, or maybe they are coming for a committee meeting, or to clean the building, or to lead a Girl Scout meeting. It was something they were doing.
But as is so often the case in the Bible, and in our lives, there was an interruption. They can’t get into the temple without passing by “him.” You know “him.” Everybody knows “him.” He stands on the corner of 526 and Sam Rittenburg with his sign that says, “Will Work for Food.” He is the one who sits outside the restaurant, asking for money for food, until the police move him along. He is the gaggle of people standing outside Crisis Ministry waiting for the soup kitchen to open. He is that family member who is always in trouble, always wanting something, that one who when their number shows up on your call waiting you are always tempted just to let the answering machine take over. Yes, we all know him.
For Peter and John, “Him” was the man just outside the gate of the temple, crippled, begging for funds—enough to feed himself, enough to provide shelter, enough just to get by. People then did the same thing as we do now. They would see him ahead and start to maneuver to the other side of the walk. They would do everything they could to avoid making eye contact. They would be filled with pity and anger and guilt. Why does he have to bother me now, now when I am going to church?
Maybe Peter and John didn’t see him in time. Maybe the crowd was so thick that they couldn’t get to the other side of the street. They were caught. Right there in their path was “him.” Sure he was a cripple, they could just jump over him, but how rude would that be. They had to deal with “Him.”
“Will you give me a few silver coins, enough to get a leftover hamburger at McDonald’s?”
Now it is an obligation of their faith, of our faith, of all faiths, to give alms, to help those who need help. But Peter and John are fishermen, in Jerusalem, which is not on the water. They have zippidy-do-dah! So their guilt is compounded by their embarrassment. But rather than just walking around, Peter is honest. “We don’t have any gold, or even silver.” That was not an excuse; it was the truth. But he didn’t leave it there. “But what we do have we will share with you—in the name of Jesus get up and walk.”
And he was healed! He felt energy surge through his legs, feelings that he had not had in years. He stood up, shaky at first, but then with a bit of trepidation took those first wobbly steps, which quickly turned into a hop and then a jump and then a jig. Before you know what has happened he is dancing around! He runs in and out of the gate of the temple, hooping and hollering, making a ruckus! He follows Peter and John wherever they go, disrupting their prayers and the prayers of everyone else in the temple.
And everyone started to ask what was going on, and the word spread that “Him” was walking around, and questions were raised, and before you know it Peter is trying to explain what happened—only it turned into a liberal sermon about how they had gotten it all wrong about Jesus—not at all the kind of thing that you should say in temple.
After all there are some things we don’t talk about, and some things you shouldn’t do in church. The authorities were called and before you know what has happened, Peter and John are thrown into Temple Jail, which is worst than regular jail. But in many ways it was too late, because over 5,000 people had already walked the aisle and believed.
And that is where we turned on the TV!
It is the next day and Peter and John have been drug into their arraignment. “Just what do you think you are doing? Can you explain why you are causing such a commotion?”
So we are sitting here, Peter is just getting going with his defense, saying that it is through the power of Jesus that this man has been healed, the music swells, the climax of the movie is just around the corner—and the phone rings and when you get back the show is over!
Well, here is what you missed! (I know, you think you will see it next week, but you probably won’t so I will tell you the ending!) Basically, the authorities realize that Peter and John are really just stupid fishermen, and if they put a good scare in them they will leave and all will be forgotten. So they slap them on the wrists, say, go be a good boys and don’t to do this anymore!
But they refuse! They cannot, not preach! They have been touched by the life and love and power of Jesus, and for them to do nothing is just not an option! And with that the music swelled and the credits rolled and there was a great commercial about a medicine that you really need to ask your doctor about.
And if that was the end of it all, it would be a colossal waste of time. But you see, there is a question that this story raises for us. Those of us who confess that we have been touched by Christ, what are we doing, and why are we doing it?
During World War II, a program was organized to train volunteers in emergency first aid. There was a fear that if the city should be bombed there would not be adequate medical care available for the people who would be wounded. There was one woman in the class who seemed bored and detached from all that was being taught. She was there out of a sense of obligation but had no enthusiasm for learning.
One day, this particular woman showed up to the first-aid class abounding with enthusiasm. She could hardly contain herself as she told the others in the class the source of her newfound excitement for the course. She said, “This class never meant much to me until yesterday!
Yesterday, I was sitting on my front porch, when there was a horrendous automobile accident right in front of my house. The cars not only smashed into each other head-on, but bodies were thrown through the air. Everywhere there were people who were seriously injured. I saw blood everywhere I looked. Then I remembered what I had learned in this class – and I put my head between my legs and I didn’t pass out!”
It’s obvious the woman had missed the point. She was not supposed to learn first aid simply to take care of herself, but to be equipped to take care of others. And too often, we in the church have missed the point too. The purpose of our church is not to fill slots on committees, to see that the building is cleaned, or even to make sure that we have enough Sunday School teachers. Our purpose is to help each other find ways to share what Christ has given us. As a church, we need to be finding ways to unleash our passions, to find ways so that you can live out our calling, our experience, and our joy!
One of my favorite quotes from Frederich Buechner is that God calls us to the place where our great joy and the world’s great need intersect. Where is that place, that topic, that issue that gives you the greatest joy, that when someone asks you a question about this subject, they better be ready for a long speech because just the conversation gets your heart beating faster? What are you passionate about? Think of that issue, that event, that hobby. Then how can you transform that passion into ministry?
Is your passion fishing? Then what would it be like to have a group that goes out together, to build relationships, that teaches some kids how to fish that would never have that opportunity?
Do you find yourself thinking more and more about what our addiction to oil means for our economy, our world, and our children? Then what would happen if 2 or 3 or 15 got together to explore what our faith has to say about this issue and to think what a valid response would be for our congregation.
That is a bit outside the box. It may not fill all our classrooms. It may not fit our committee slots. But maybe that is God’s way of telling us that really isn’t what is important. We may not get what WE are asking for, but then, this man didn’t get what he asked for! Instead he got something deeper, more life changing. Peter and John shared what they had—their passion, their experience with Christ, and he was healed. If we are willing to do the same then maybe, just maybe we can bring healing to our world, and maybe even ourselves.
About the writer:
Don Flowers has served as pastor of Providence Baptist Church on Daniel Island, Charleston, SC. since July 1997. Prior to coming to Charleston he served as Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church, Lenoir, NC and First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC. He is a native of Cherryville, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Wake Forest University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Emory University.
Don serves on the Board of the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. In the past he has served on the Coordinating Council of the SC Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, served with the Trident United Way and serves as a pool chaplain at MUSC Hospital. Don and his wife, Anita, are the parents of two daughters, Alison (married to James) and Savannah. He enjoys playing golf, biking and being in, on, or near the water (but not while playing golf!
Scripture and Music:
1 John 3:16-24
O Perfect Love
Faith of Our Mothers (Broadman Hymnal 1940)
With Grateful Hearts Our Faith Professing
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth
Happy the Home When God Is There
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Abide with Me
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (Dale Wood)
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Wilberg)
God s Family of Love (Ruth Ellen Schram)
The Lord Is My Shepherd
His Name Is Wonderful
The King of Love My Shepherd Is