First Congregational Church
May 22, 2015
1st Sunday after Pentecost & Education Recognition Sunday
“One Day You and Your Friend Will Go….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So one day, the teacher asked the class, “What is the axis of the earth?” Raising his hand, the teacher called on little Ole, who answered, “The axis of the earth is an imaginary line which passes from one pole to the other, and on which the earth revolves.” The teacher replied, “Very good. Now, could you hang clothes on that line?” To which Ole replied, “Yes, Ma’am.” When the teacher asked what sorts of clothes, little Ole replied, “Imaginary clothes.”
For those who haven’t been here, we’ve been focusing the Sunday messages around the book of Acts - properly called the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the book that tells about the days after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the days when the believers thought that Jesus was going to return sooner rather than later - much, much sooner - as in weeks or months maybe.
So Acts tells us about Jesus returning to sit at God’s right hand, and the choosing of a new disciple, Mathias, to replace Judas. Then there is the most famous part of Acts, Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down to rest on the believers, looking like tongues of fire on their heads. The red dove on the wall behind me is an homage to that event, and if the Benzie Central students want to think it is in honor of their school colors, that’s fine, too.
That day, after Peter finished his Pentecost sermon, Acts tells us that 3,000 people were baptized. While most people call that day the birth of the church, I wonder if maybe it was a sort of graduation, too - a graduation into a new life that was - and is - lived differently than before.
Because they were so focused on Jesus’ return, many of those same individuals sold all they had and divided it among those who were in need, living together in a communal sort of way, sharing their food, prayers, knowledge and worshiping together. It was not too long after that big Pentecost day that our scripture passage for this morning took place.
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Thank you, Josie. It wasn’t until I got to Michigan that I came across so many places with local names: Stratton Hill, the Mystery Spot, Arcadia Bluffs, and the like. And so many houses have names here, like the one on Crystal Lake called Serenity, and swords of medieval times had names. We probably don’t think of giving gates names, but if you’re going to do so, Beautiful is a lovely name for a gate.
In looking to this passage, we recognize the obvious characters of Peter and John, the lame man and all the people. But who’s missing? The people who took the lame man to the temple every day. Maybe they were on their way to work and it wasn’t much of an inconvenience for them to carry him and his pallet to and from the temple every day. Maybe there was a rotating list of people who carried him: the neighbors to the east took him on Mondays, the folks to the north had Tuesdays, those on the west had Wednesdays, the house to the south had Thursdays….
The rest of you don’t have to listen for a couple minutes, because this next part is just for Levi, Josie, Morgan and Luke. When I thought about this passage - and you - and this day - it fits so perfectly. One day Peter and John were going up to the temple to do their usual thing, and along the way someone needed their help. It didn’t take much time out of Peter and John’s day, but it completely changed the lame man’s life. Not only could he jig and dance, but he was no longer dependent on someone else to help him live. In fact, he was now available to help someone else - dependent on others - to help that person live.
I know your parents have taught all of you well, to be kind and gracious, and one can see those - and other good characteristics - in each of you. But you will have days when you are on your way to work or school or living your life, and someone will need your help. It will seem like a distraction you don’t need or can’t afford, but the value may not be what you think it will be in that moment. So be like Peter and John and change the world, one person at a time - whenever you can. In doing so, you will act as an extension of this church family, and you increase our hope every time you do so.
It’s truly gratifying to be able to be such an effective part of someone’s life. But it’s the people who carried him each day, for who knows how many years, that are the real spiritual heroes. If the people who carried the man didn’t show up, he didn’t get to beg that day, and perhaps that meant he wasn’t going to eat that day - or help to feed his family if he had one.
It would be nice to think that the pallet people worked just beyond the gate where the man begged, so two or three minutes and a little effort out of their day was no big deal. Chances were, life wasn’t that perfect, and taking the lame man required extra effort and planning on the part of the pallet people. Since the lame man was begging, chances were probable that those who carried him not only had to see him home, but probably had to do something about getting his food, all while getting no pay for their extra work.
But maybe what you do for “work” is not the most important part of your day - for any of us. Perhaps, like all those who carried the lame man, a greater importance of our life happens in the day-to-day realm of life. Maybe the most important part of those litter-bearers days took years to be realized - the part they played in the healing of a lame man.
It’s maybe more true than most of us realize - as students, workers or retirees, that most of our important work is not the big part of our day. And maybe our best work is not likely to be recognized as such. (Even after all these years and all the research available to us, we still don’t know the names of those who carried the lame man.)
We are all, however, agents of healing, each of us containing the power of the Holy Spirit to change and heal the world in little ways that may ultimately make for a transformation of another person’s life. One day, you - and maybe a friend - will go, doing your usual thing, and you will see another person’s life completely turned upside down - in a good way. Even today, as we go, doing our thing, we will be part of something much bigger than we realize at the moment. For such an honor, we might pray to be our best.
God of all our days, we thank you for the opportunities in our lives that have helped people - even in ways we may never know. Give us energy and patience and compassion to continue your work of healing and changing the world for the better, even when we may feel like giving up. Help us to see the larger picture of life, that we may find the hope in it. We ask your special blessing on Levi, Josie, Morgan and Luke as they take new directions in their lives. Remind them - when they need reminding - of us back here - cheering them on, and holding them in our hearts before you. For all that you have done in using us to bring healing to this world, all your people thank you with a grateful - Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.