Apr 15, 2018

“The Power of Jesus” - Acts 3:12-19

“The Power of Jesus” - Acts 3:12-19

            For a time, the great evangelist Dwight Moody preached at a church in Chicago.  One day, a man who had far too much to drink was drawn to the warm lights of that church.  He staggered up steps to the front door.  He went in and found it empty.  But he saw these words above the pulpit.  “God Is Love.”  The man slammed the door, staggered back down the steps, and muttered this to himself.  “God is love?  Hah, God is not love.  If God is love, God would love me.  But God hates me.”

            He continued his uneven walk around the block, still muttering to himself.  But those words began to burn images into his mind.  Then some sort of power drew him back to the church where he found a crowd of people trying to make their way in.  Somehow he managed to find a seat just as Mr. Moody began to deliver his sermon.

            When he finished, Moody made his way to the door to shake hands with the people as they left.  But this man didn’t leave.  He continued to sit in his seat, weeping.  Moody went over to him, put his arm on the man’s shoulder, and asked.  “Is there something that I can do for you?  What was it in my sermon that touched your heart so deeply?”

            “Oh, Mr. Moody, I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear a word that you spoke tonight,” the man responded.  “It’s those words up there over your pulpit that finally got to me.  My life has been stuck for so long I thought I would never get free.  But finally those words sunk in.  ‘God is Love.’  That’s what ended up touching me so deeply.  I saw that God IS love.”

            That’s exactly what our reading from Acts is about.  It’s about being stuck.  You see, the man in that story was stuck.  He was stuck in his thinking.  Stuck in his addiction.  Stuck in his beliefs.  He’d come to believe that God didn’t love him.  That God even hated him.  It took the power of God in those words above the pulpit to get him moving again.

            The disciples also had been stuck.  They’d been stuck in a closed upper room.  There they were stuck in fear.  Stuck in worry.  Stuck in grief over the death of their beloved friend and teacher.

                        It took Jesus actually showing up in their midst to convince them that they too were still loved by God.  It took his presence and his love to get them unstuck.  Yes, Jesus came to them and gave them the gift of peace.  He gave them the gift of a reason to carry on.  And he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide them and to energize them.  As a result, those cowardly disciples finally found themselves unstuck.  As a result, those fearful followers found themselves on the move again.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Our reading for today opens with those disciples on the move.  They’re no longer hiding.  No longer stuck behind closed doors.  We find two of them, Peter and John, out in the open and on the way to the temple.  They go there regularly to pray.  They go to draw closer to God.

            On the front steps, a beggar hits them up for money.  We don’t know his name.  Luke doesn’t tell us.  All we know about him is that he’s lame.  That he’s stuck.  So here, Peter and John are on the way to church and minding their own business when this man confronts them.

            But remember, Peter and John know what it’s like to be stuck.  To be unable to move.  So their hearts go out to this man.  They feel for him.  They want to help him.  Want to see him unstuck and on the move.  But their wallets are empty.  Not a dollar between them.  But that doesn’t stop Peter.  He looks right at the man and says this.  “Sorry, we have no silver or gold, but what we have we’ll give you right this very minute.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

            With that Peter helps the man to his feet.  Immediately, his leg muscles are filled with strength.  He jumps up and begins to walk.  Then he enters the temple with them leaping and praising God.  He’s no longer stuck.  Many now see this man on the move.  The very man who’s been stuck and begging for money outside the temple for years.  They’re filled with wonder and amazement at what they see happening.  They think Peter and John must be some kind of miracle workers.  But Peter and John refuse to take credit for what has taken place.

            It’s Peter’s cue to speak, and he begins with a harsh message.  “Why do you wonder at this?  Why are you staring at us?  Do you think we had the power to make him walk?  Let me tell you how this man really got unstuck.  It was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob who did this.  Yes, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected.  You rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer set free.  Yes, you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.”

            Peter pauses, and then he continues.  “It is the Spirit dwelling in the name of Jesus that has made this man strong.  Yes, it is the power of Jesus that has given him perfect health today.”

            Then, Peter changes gears and concludes with these shocking words.  “Friends, I know that you acted in ignorance.  Repent therefore, and turn to God.  For God is love.  God is forgiving.  And God will even forgive us for what we’ve done to his beloved Son.”  Believe it or not, we are told that 5,000 people repent that day.  5,000 people accept God’s gift of forgiveness.  5,000 people get unstuck from what has held them down and held them back.  That’s because in the healing of that unnamed man and in Peter’s sermon, they get a glimpse of the God who is love.  They get a glimpse of what it is like to be freed from sin. 

            I’m reminded of a story of two other men who got a glimpse of God’s love.  The kind of love that can free people who have become stuck or trapped.  The kind of love that defies logic.  The kind of love that is stronger than hate.  The kind of love that is stronger than anything human beings can get stuck in.  The kind of love that’s even stronger than death.  For Christ’s Spirit doesn’t want any of us stuck.  

            Once upon a time, a psychologist made a study of this very thing.  He studied people who once were stuck and had become unstuck.  He was trying to understand what enabled some people to become unstuck.  So, he interviewed a number of people who had experienced this.

            On the third day of interviews, he talked with an elderly man.  The man told how he had been stuck in anger and grief for many years.  It seems as if his ten-year-old son had been hanging out with another kid who was quite a troublemaker.  One day, after being told many times not to do it, his son was persuaded to go swimming with this boy in a nearby river.  The man reported hearing screams.  He ran to the river and saw both boys caught in the current.  He picked up a rope and threw it toward them.  To his disbelief, the other boy grabbed the rope, while his son was swept away to his death.  “For years, I was so angry with that boy.  My son died and that scoundrel survived.  I was full of hate for him.  Then, one day I happened upon a sermon by Peter.  He said that all of us—every single one of us--are ignorant and all have made mistakes.  That we all—every single one of us--need to repent and to forgive.  So I managed to track down that young man, and with the help of the Spirit I forgave him.  I can tell you, that’s the very day I became unstuck.”

            On the sixth day of interviews, he visited with a young man.  The man told him how for years he had been consumed by guilt.  It seems that he had persuaded his friend to go swimming, and his friend had drowned.  Year after year he found himself stuck in guilt.  Then one day he answered a knock on the door.  There stood the father of his friend.  “I thought he was going to hit me.  But instead, he held out his hand to me.  He offered his forgiveness to me.  That was the day I found myself unstuck from guilt.  Since then I have remained in contact with that man.  He has become like a father to me.  I am now enrolled in seminary to prepare for the ministry.  And he is helping with my tuition.  In my wildest dreams, I never thought such a thing could happen.”

            That kind of love is still available to the world today.  That kind of love can still help us get out of any mess we find ourselves in.  And that kind of love is still available because God still is love.  And that kind of love is still available because God has raised Christ from the dead.  And that very Christ still reaches out his hands of love and welcome and forgiveness to us.

            Yes, his Spirit of love is still active in our world.  Still reaches out to us to offer precious gifts of healing and forgiveness and love and hope and joy.  And he’s still very much a part of our world if we will only open ourselves to him.  He still gives us what we need when we are stuck like that lame beggar.  Still gives us what we need when we are paralyzed by fear like his disciples.  Still gives us what we need when we are trapped in ignorance and evil like those 5,000 people who heard Peter speak.  And still gives us what we need when we are stuck in guilt and in anger like those two men.  Yes, he helps us to stand and to move again.  Yes, he helps us to forgive and to be at peace again.  That’s because God is still love.  And that’s because Christ is still risen.  Yes, he is risen.  Yes, he is risen indeed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.