April 26, 2020
I had some banking to do a couple of weeks ago.
So, keeping social-distancing in mind … and wanting to minimize the risk of coming into contact with someone dealing with COVID-19 … I picked a time when I thought there would be less traffic and fewer people on the sidewalks. It also meant that I could just wear my sweats and be pastorally incognito.
There was no one in sight when I entered the bank’s foyer to use the ATM.
But as I left the bank a couple of minutes later, there was a man standing by the door.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Could you spare some change? I’d like to get something to eat.”
“No problem,” I said, as I reached into the pocket of my sweatshirt.
I handed him a couple of twonies and a loonie.
He seemed surprised by the sudden bounty and thanked me for the contribution.
There’s a little bit more to this story, but we’re going to circle back to it later.
In today’s passage from the Book of Acts, Peter and John are still in Jerusalem.
Earlier, they were among the gathering that was told to open themselves to the Holy Spirit and were called to take their witness … their ministry … first to Jerusalem and then out to the ends of the earth.
Today, Peter and John are heading to prayer at the Temple … the very centre of religious life … the very centre of life in that region of the world. They meet a man who had been lame since birth.
Being so afflicted, the man was left to rely on the charity of others to survive. He sees the pair arriving and calls out to them … asking for alms.
The beggar is no fool.
He has himself stationed at the entrance that offers the most lucrative opportunities … the Beautiful Gate.
No one has been able to determine the exact location of this entrance to the Temple complex in Jerusalem, but we do know that use of this gate was reserved for the city’s hoi polio … worshippers with money and status … the special visitors to the Temple who were too well-off or connected to use the same entrance and wait in line with the common folk.
So, when Peter and John arrive, the lame man figures they have some special status … which … he might believe … meant they had a measure of wealth.
If someone tossed a silver coin onto his cloak, it would be enough to get him to the next day. If someone tossed a gold coin onto his cloak … well, that would be worth celebrating … his needs would be met for some time.
Still, you have to believe that after a lifetime of not being able to walk and relying on others to get him around and to survive, that desperation and despair were the man’s constant companions.
There is also the sense of isolation … of being forgotten … cut off … from the community and his worship life … because, being crippled … the gate was as close as the man was allowed to the worship space.
As he sat there each day, he probably wondered what was going on inside those walls … why he was excluded because of something he was born with … something that was not his fault.
And … maybe … we can wonder about the people who passed the beggar each time they went to worship at the Temple. Did they look the other way or fake a conversation to avoid making eye contact or tossing a coin on the cloak? Did they offer a coin happily or grudgingly?
Peter and John answer the man’s request … they don’t have a coin to give him … they offer something that holds more value. They take him by the hand … raise him up … his legs strengthen and he begins to walk.
Then, entering the Temple for the first time, he begins to leap for joy and praise God
Their gift … led to the death of an old way of life … and a resurrection to new life for the man sitting on the street.
It’s a new life that gives cause to dance and leap for joy as the man now fully and completely feels that God active in his life.
This is the first healing in the Book of Acts and it shows that the power to heal has moved from Jesus to the disciples. Jesus’ ministry is now in their hands … and through them … into our hands.
So, let’s circle back to the scene at the bank in downtown Owen Sound.
After the man thanked me for giving him some money for food … keep in mind that I wasn’t collared or wearing vestments … he didn’t know what my day job is … I told him that I would pray for him.
I thought that he would just nod or smile at this strange notion and we’d both be on our separate ways.
But, it didn’t work out that way.
Rather than just give a nonchalant shrug or a “thank you,” the young man held out his hand for me to hold … and there … on a downtown street corner … I offered a prayer for him to find security and safety in the days ahead. My social-distancing plans went right out the window.
The man gave a whispered “Amen,” and headed toward a nearby pizza place that was still open.
It surely wasn’t what I expected.
But God shows up in the most unexpected of places and a reminder that we never know how what we offer will affect those around us… or how it goes out into the world … is always welcome.
Many of us don’t hesitate to offer a coin or two when someone asks for assistance, but I wonder how many … like Peter and John … offer a prayer as well … or seek ways to raise others up in such face-to-face encounters.
How many of us bear witness … through our words or actions … to the promise of new life that comes as part and parcel of the resurrection? How many of us fully and truly live into the call to be God’s servants in the world.
This pandemic brings each of us … and our faith community … to a corner … a place where we are called into ministry … a place where we are called to look at the world and ourselves differently … a place where we can let the old prejudices … the old practices … old values … die away … a place where resurrection and raising others to new life is entirely possible.
But, sadly, it’s also a place where we can simply look the other way … accept the way things are … and stay set in our ways and in our perceptions … just toss a bit of silver on the cloak … and continue on our way.
During this season, I hope we reflect upon and embrace those things … those actions … that bring people to community … that offer comfort and security … that offer new life.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!