This is For Real – September 27, 2020
September 27, 2020
In the movie Apollo 13, Jim Lovell said, after watching the first moon landing, “We now live in a world where man has walked on the moon.” I don’t know if Jim Lovell actually ever said that, or if it was just written in as part of the movie script. But it was a good line. And it was true! And a similar statement could have been made a mere 65 years prior to that, after Orville Wright first lifted off of the sands of Kitty Hawk. It could have been said that day, “We now live in a world where humankind can fly!”
Now, I say that, not just because I happen to love aviation and space travel – which you know I do. But I say it because, when Jesus came to live among us, a similar statement could also be made. It could first be said 2000 years ago, but it can be said today as well, that “We now live in a world where God has walked this earth.” And I would suggest that the world became a different place then. And I hope it is also a different place for us.
As I said last week, this Pentecost event wasn’t just a one-time thing. It wasn’t just an amazing, supernatural, miraculous visitation of the Holy Spirit. This was more. Somebody had to say something about it, and that “somebody” was Peter. He had to tell them that from now on life would be different. They were now living in a different world, a world where God himself has walked this earth!
That was true then, and it has been true ever since. Life is different. And when Jesus comes into a person’s life that also is not just a one-time thing. It’s not just a one-time, wonderful event, a one-time conferring of salvation on that person. It isn’t just a matter of “Thank you, Jesus, I’ll see you someday in Heaven,” and that’s it. Too many people treat it that way. For too many people, Jesus coming into their lives means they’ve “punched their ticket to heaven,” and they’re happy about that. But that’s about it. It is so much more! From that point on, life moves forward differently! From that point on, this is for real!
Look at our story for today. And again, try to think of this without your understanding of the story. Remember, we the readers know more than the people in the stories knew. That day, the people were coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. It was worship time. It was time for “Church” – only it wasn’t called that. “Church” is a specifically Christian term. Every once in a while, I hear someone say they have a friend who goes to a “Jewish Church.” That’s not technically correct. Jewish people don’t have “churches.” They have “synagogues.” (Unless maybe we’re talking about Messianic Jews!)
So, the people were coming to the Temple at the worship hour. It was a “normal day.” And like they always did, they passed this man who was “lame from birth.” We aren’t told exactly what was wrong with him, or even how old he was, but we can only imagine the life he had lived. Maybe you’ve known someone like that, someone who was born with a birth defect that prevented them from ever walking. We can’t imagine what a hard life that must be! And yet in our world many people adapt very well!
Well, in that society, that kind of thing was very bad! Because if a man couldn’t walk, he couldn’t work. He couldn’t earn a living. There were no desk jobs. There was no office work. And there was no government assistance. All they had was what this man had. All they had was other people’s charity. For some, like this man, that meant “asking for alms.” That meant sitting by, asking for money from the people coming to worship. And the people’s religious training included the giving of alms. They were expected to give, as part of their life of faith. That was the system they had.
So, as the story goes, Peter and John were coming to the Temple, and they didn’t have any money to give them man. Either that, or they knew they had something better than money. Actually, I’m not sure which it was! But it doesn’t matter! Because what they gave this man was better than money! They had the power of healing through the Holy Spirit, and they could change this man’s life! And they were about to just that!
But first, remember, they were now living in a world where God himself had walked this earth! It was all different now. This was for real – this life of faith in Jesus! So, before he healed the man, Peter tied what he was about to do to that life of faith in Jesus. He gave the man this iconic line, “Silver and gold have I none, but that which I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” And the man leaped up! And he entered the Temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” (Do you remember the song?)
Things had changed! And it’s interesting to look again at these stories and see how these people were beginning to realize that! Something was going on here that was earth-changing! This was for real, this life of faith in Jesus! This wasn’t just about a one-time fantastic event with people speaking in tongues, and fire, and wind. It could have been. It could have just been another story of God showing his power to the people. But no! God came to earth to change things. God walked this earth to bring us back to him. God walked this earth so that we can bravely walk our earthly way, with him by our side, no matter what!
So, this man leaps up and follows Peter and John into the Temple. And Luke tells us that “All the people ran together to them, astounded.” I wonder what Luke meant by “all the people.” Think of the crowd that came together when they heard the “sound from heaven” on Pentecost. Are we talking about the whole city coming together – again? Well, picture that crowd – however big – with Peter and John and this very happy, this ecstatic man, at the center. And once again, somebody had to say something about this. This wasn’t just to be a miracle! And so, Peter addressed them. (He was becoming the spokesperson for the group!) And what did he say? He gave them a mini version of the sermon he gave them on Pentecost.
“Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power of piety we made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our Fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, who you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the holy and righteous one, and asked for a murderer be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God then raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. And the faith, which is through Jesus, has given this man perfect health in the presence of you all.”
I wanted to read that verbatim. Because it’s concise, and complete. It tells the whole story in only four sentences! (Granted, a couple of them are “run-on sentences!”) It says that this is for real. It says that this was the world that they were now living in! It was a world where they can move forward, and live their lives, with faith in this Jesus!
As he told them that, I love that he also tied this to “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our Fathers.” That was so important. This wasn’t something that was to be outside of their experience. This wasn’t a new god, like one of the gods of the nations around them. Peter put Jesus in that timeline, he tied Jesus to their history. And their history was so important to them! They were proud to see themselves as “Children of Abraham.”
I think that same tie is important to us, too. We’ve kept the Old Testament as part of our scriptures because we believe the Christian faith is not separate from that. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of our Fathers, too! Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. And even though we weren’t part of the crowds that actually denied Jesus, the people Peter was talking to that day, the rest is still true. Faith in Jesus is not a one-time thing. It’s not about our salvation alone! We live in a world where God has walked this earth! And we can move forward in a new life with him!
This is for real! Faith in Jesus was here to stay! And as we move forward in his story we will continue to see the realization of that, in these people who experienced it for the first time, so long ago. And I hope we will see that their story is our story!
Eternal God, help us to realize more and more, like the people long ago, that we can live our lives in faith and hope, knowing that you have lived among us, knowing that you care for us, and knowing that we can have peace in you, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. Help us to be your ambassadors to a world that so desperately needs the light of your peace and love. Fill us with your Spirit, that people will see and know that we are yours. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen