“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our Fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus …” Acts 3:13
Peter and John were on their way to worship at the temple when they were stopped by a lame man begging them for money. This man had been lame from birth and every day some unnamed people would carry him to the gate called Beautiful so he could beg for alms. On this day, however, he would not receive any money. Peter looked the man in the eyes and said, “Silver and gold I have none, but what I do have I freely give to you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.” Not only did the man get up and walk but he began leaping and praising God. In the presence of all who had come that morning to worship God, the Holy One of Israel, this man was healed. They were all amazed and wondered what had happened.
I wonder how often the church looks like a lame beggar sitting at the gates grasping for silver and gold instead of being the one to hand out life in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I must confess that I have never had to beg for my daily bread. I have met a lot of people who have, and I know that this story was once many of your stories. When I think about begging I can only imagine how difficult it must be to even begin. I know I have a hard time asking for help, let alone admitting that I can’t take care of myself. It seems though, in general, that begging either gets easier or one’s hope of a different way of living disappears. For I have certainly met people for whom begging appears to be no trouble at all and is the only solution they can imagine. Over time begging becomes the norm. Over time the church has learned to be a lame beggar sitting at the gates begging for silver and gold rather than leaping and praising God.
How did we get here? There are probably lots of contributing factors, but one I think is vitally important – we have lost our story. To be fair, it really is Israel’s story, not ours. We are simply the recipients of great grace and have been invited by the God of Israel to join in their story. When our story changes our identity changes – new job, new duties, new way of life; new child, new roles, new way of life; new crisis, new struggles, new way of life. If the story of the church changes then her identity changes. There is no greater story than the one we have so let’s not lose it. This morning we’re going to have a short history hoping to accomplish two things: (1) to begin to recapture our story, in which God has graciously grafted us in and (2) to capture a new understanding of how that story empowers us to live today, not as lame beggars, but healed people who leap and praise God for all to see.
12When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. – Acts 3:12-20 NLT
As the Israelites come out of the temple, having been praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they stare at Peter with amazement and he reminds them of the one to whom they have just been praying and who is responsible for this healing – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This phrase, which is almost like a creed, contains a beautiful story. Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldeans when God called out to him and said, “Abraham, leave your country, leave your people, leave your family and go to the land I will show you.” Later God promised Abraham, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God did many wonderful things in the life of Abraham, preserving him and blessing he and his wife with a child in their old age.
The God of Isaac is the very God who provided the ram for sacrifice so that Isaac would not have to be sacrificed on the altar.
The God of Jacob is the God who gave to Jacob 12 sons, through whom the tribes of Israel were produced. The God of Jacob is the God who wrestles with his people and causes them to limp so they must rely on him, but richly blesses them, even giving them a new name and a new identity. (Note: You can read more about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the book of Genesis)
Peter reminds the crowd that this God is also the God of our ancestors. This God is the one who preserved his chosen people Israel through war, famine, genocide, deportation, and captivity. This God who was faithful to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also faithful to their descendants. His faithfulness endures forever.
This God is also the God who glorified his servant Jesus, who, through ignorance, was traded for a murder to be crucified. The Holy and Righteous One, God’s chosen Messiah, the one who alone could make the recreation of all creation possible, was rejected and the Author of Life was put to death. The God who invites us to join the story though, was not satisfied at our attempt to kill his chosen one so he raised him from the dead three days later, proving his faithfulness, love and authority.
This is the God we are called to serve and to worship. This does not sound like a God of lame beggars sitting at the gate but a God who empowers his people to live lives of leaping and praise, witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to God’s love, faithfulness and authority. Our story is rich and diverse and needs to be recovered.
Now I want to to turn to the second objective of this message: a new understanding of this story empowers us to live today. Last week I challenged us to rethink how we do community. I imagine some of us left here and before we finished our coffee forgot what the message was about. For that group I’ll work on being a more dynamic speaker and trust that the Holy Spirit will work making you dynamic listeners. Others of us left here rejecting the idea for a variety of reasons. For this group I pray the Holy Spirit will continue to softly and gently work in your heart. Some of us, I hope, left here with a holy disturbance taking seriously the call to rethink community. This is the group I want to address now.
When I think of loosening my grip on the things I possess and on the way I live my life it scares me. In fact, just the thought makes me want to squeeze tighter. Yet I know that it is not silver and gold that I need, but Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Apart from the “rest of the story” such a paradigm shift seems impossible. However, when I realize that God who calls us to live as alternative sign to the world is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, the one who glorified the Holy and Righteous One, and the one who raised to life the Author of Life I can be confident that this God will not abandon me. On the contrary, it is only by the power of this God, through Jesus Christ, that we can be transformed from lame beggars into leapers and praisers witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The church is called to be so much more than a beggar at the gate. We are called, set apart and empowered to take the good news of Jesus Christ into the world leaping and praising God.