I was leaving Progressive Field one evening last summer heading down the brick paved street between parking lots and the cemetery towards my car parked across the way from the Wolstein Center, you know, there on Prospect.
I don’t go to a lot of games but “he” seems always to be sitting on the curb with his cup across the way from the Beautiful Gates of the Temple of Summer Delight. As people pass he seems to pick out one or two – making eye contact and asking for some change. Most of the time I slip by without notice, head lowered, picking up my pace to get beyond.
One time, however, he got me.
He looked at me, shook his cup and said, “Can you give me some change?”
I gave him a quarter and went to my car.
Sorry I don’t have a more powerful ending.
These interactions always leave me a bit befuddled. I wonder what would happen if I said something like: “I can’t give you a quarter but in the name of Jesus Christ….” What?
I read a story in the newspaper several years ago of a member of a Christian community in Washington D.C. who, as part of his faithful routine, always brought a bowl of soup to a street person who sat in same place everyday outside of a park. One day the street person actually threw the bowl of soup at this Christian do-gooder and said, “I don’t want your soup! You don’t even know my name!”
That was unexpected! And perhaps, in some way, no less miraculous than what happened in Acts – the lame didn’t walk but the one who was blind certainly began to see at least one street person in a new way. Can I get an Amen?
Unexpected things happen in the midst of the routine. I was just just walking back to my car after a game. The DC Christian was giving a man some soup.
The Christian in DC said the man’s words changed his life.
What happened to me?
I don’t know…but I hope it’s still unfolding.
My experience, the DC event, this story in Acts, this day of Ordination and Installation, it makes me think about routines and possible surprises.
A man, doing what he always does – seeking alms – gets something he didn’t expect. Instead of money he gets up and walks. Two disciples on their way to prayers, just doing what they do -not necessarily wanting to draw attention to themselves – and they too get an unexpected surprise. The usual turns into an unexpected God moment.
You simply can’t control these things or manufacture them.
We can keep it a simple miracle story, one that happened back then and keep our distance from it; we can wonder, “Did it really happen?” or ask, “What about all the others who don’t get healed?” We can let the skeptical and the cynical spirit rule. But there is substance in these verses. We need to pay attention.
Every 4th Sunday in January we have this routine – after the sermon, newly elected Elders and Deacons will come forward and kneel, and we ordain them for church leadership – just like Peter and John. ( Although, if you asked them they might tell you that they feel more like the beggar with severe limitations or handicaps – “Uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into!”)
We lay hands upon them and we presume that the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit that birthed the church at Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit that went forth from Jesus and the apostles to do works and signs and wonders like healing this lame beggar lying by the Beautiful Gate, the same Spirit that gave words to the stumbling and power to the weak and turned everything upside down – is going to course through the arms and hands of this wonderful network into the bodies of our Elders and Deacons. I wonder if something unexpected will happen? Probably not, but who knows, you can’t control these things. And if not today, then at some other time.
Anyway – “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer.” Now, Peter and John, they were the LeBron and Kobe of the first century church – superstars – known to us by first names only. (Although I would say slightly more appealing then either of the NBA stars…) And they meet this man who has been for years carried on a litter into the Temple area to beg.
Imagine the irony. Luke places this poor paralytic nameless, unappealing, ugly nothing at the “Beautiful” Gate. And then it gets interesting. Will Peter and John be like those religious folks that Jesus portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan and just walk on by? It seems as if they were – the beggar had to ask the top apostles for help before they slipped inside.
But on that day, and perhaps this day too, there was a convergence of serendipity. A kairos moment, a pregnant moment when the stars aligned, happened. Nobody was prepared. Peter and John were just expecting to pray. The nameless beggar was just expecting to beg. Who knew that this would be a day of power giving, power sharing, of healing and liberation?
It is funny how this happens.The Spirit comes during the routine when we are doing something else. A conversation with a friend during a weekly walk and new inspiration comes. Cleaning the bathrooms and a new idea hits.
There is a lesson here – in the practiced disciplines of going to church, of sitting at the gate, at doing the daily routines – is the space and place and time of miracles. It is doing the homework every day that all of a sudden clarity comes and you hop up and say “Thank You!” The drudgery of diapers leads to the delight in the eyes of your child.
The Spirit comes as you do what you do. Not necessarily in some spiritual trance or pose – because that can be just one more act of trying to control.
Now, I admit, I have my agenda. You have your expectations. We know how to manipulate to make things happen … but this story, indeed Acts, indeed the New Testament, indeed the whole Bible seems to scream – it is NOT about you and your agenda and your control no matter how sensible. Rather what is important is finding faithful practices and allowing yourself to channel the power of the Spirit; however it comes. We are not Peter and John, not everyone has those gifts, not everybody can do everything; Paul writes about this in so many of his letters.
Your loaf of bread is exactly what is needed; your supper lovingly delivered; your prayer shawl gently placed; your phone call is precisely what the Spirit needs and has called forth from you. Just be ready to offer what you have, do what you do, hold it loosely and I bet you, when you least expect it – something beyond your expectations will occur.
And did you notice the importance that Luke places on Peter and John looking intently at the beggar and demanding that the beggar look at them? Perhaps this detail speaks to me most profoundly in these days of social media when on email, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, with texting we never have to look intently at anyone anymore. I remember walking home one lovely summer day and there was a couple on the front porch of a house each talking to someone (I don’t think they were talking to each other) on their cell phones. When my Mother said: “Look at me, John!” I knew she wasn’t fooling around. You know what I mean? We judge people by their emails – that is a mistake!
Now more than ever – we have to create, we have to become that which we so deeply yearn for – personal connections: “Look at me.” It implies you want to see and be seen. Too often I want to hide. Too many years of crippling dysfunction leaves us withered. But, the love of Jesus Christ, the power that we have been given as the church, the spirit that is passed down allows us to look at each other and I dare say to look at ourselves not in judgment but in love, not in condemnation but in mercy, not as one unworthy, but as one for whom Christ died, not as “well all you need to do is one more thing” but “Just as I am, without one plea.”
I am telling you if we treat each other like that – if you treat yourself like that – there will be amazing acts of power, transformation, miracles beyond our imagining.
And then Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” These words put to flight our dependence on money. The goal of the church is not to create wealth and give it away, it is to claim the name of Jesus and be open to the transformative experiences. It is not in creating another program, but rather helping folks claim practices, disciplines, routines of grace where the powerful things can happen. “Look at me!” No hiding!
Speaking the name of Jesus fills me with tension. After all, some things that are said in the name of Jesus are down right silly, often hurtful. Who am I to think that I can speak in the name of Jesus? Doesn’t sound very humble. But who are we NOT to speak in the name of Jesus for the poor, for the left out and looked over? Who are we NOT to speak in the name of Jesus in compassion for our children? Who are we NOT to speak in the name of Jesus as Elders of the church? Who are we not to call out in the name of Jesus – and if not in the name of Jesus, then what name?
As you are ordained today, Elders and Deacons – your job is absolutely to speak in the name of Jesus, and do in the name of Jesus and seek to be always open to the name of Jesus. Who else do you work for?
And the last thing – what is the outcome of this unexpected moment? I believe it points to what you and I should be focused on as we consider what being church means.
What happens to the beggar? He gets up and walks and leaps and praises God. The beginning and end of all church work should be to get us all to leap up and praise God. Joy, thanksgiving and praise is the goal. Transformative relationships are the key. People notice and are filled with wonder and amazement.
Our praise of God, our routines and practices, our intentional relationships and gift sharing, our openness to the spirit, and ability to hold things loosely – will leave their marks, it will.
On this day of ordination and installation – just give what you have, keep to the practices – to worship, to prayer, to fellowship and important things will happen in God’s time. You never know when you will look at someone, or be looked at and called out in the name of Jesus. You might even want to leap up and praise God!