What do you have to give?

Sermon by Wesley White, Interim Pastor
Milton United Methodist Church
July 31, 2005

Acts 3:1-10

Last week we remembered four key qualities of the earliest church – The life-long learning of Jesus and his way, widening fellowship, frequenting communion, and deepening prayer. These are still qualities people look for in a congregation.

Today we look at a congregation from the point of view of a healing ministry. If you consider the various component parts of your life there is an on-going need for healing. At some times this is more evident than at others. For instance, this past week I have cycled through needing to have healing adjustments made to my body and the cooler weather has helped in that. I have also had my days when my mind sort of floated all over the place and needed to be better grounded. There were times when my emotions went haywire. This doesn’t even begin to talk about the healing I have needed in the larger realms of relationships and spirit-living.

How was your week? Uniform in its well-being?

Nearly always some part of me is in greater need of healing than some other parts of me. I find that this means my moments of feeling particularly put-together come as pleasant surprises.

I don’t tend to rise and fall with the news cycle, as there is nothing new under the sun, simply who is experiencing the joys and sorrows of life this time.

I do tend to rise and fall with what is going on in my body, mind, spirit, emotions, and relationships.

My falling times put me in mind of the person in today’s scripture who was not able to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. He had to be carried to a place that would see him through. This place was the temple where he could beg for a survival type living. Even having enough support to get him to the temple wasn’t enough to effect a change to better living. He was in a cycle that, day-by-day, moved from stationary position to stationary position. Now he was carried here, now he was carried there.

If we look at our own lives we recognize that there is a lot of this type of paralysis going on. How different is this Sunday from last Sunday? How different is tomorrow going to be from last week, Monday? How different is your relationship with your spouse, your partner, your best friend than it was yesterday? What about your relationship with a parent or your child? What about your job or the state of the warring world? Where are you with those?

We find ourselves caught being a cripple in this way or in that. The specifics change from time to time, but the sense of being used or being useless is fairly pervasive. I think it is a part of why we so often hear the word “bored” or its equivalents, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”.

While in these states we have fantasies about what it would take to get us to live more fully. Often times this is about hitting some jackpot, even if we didn’t enter the contest. Money is a big fantasy. A different relationship is a big fantasy. Being promoted in power is a big fantasy. I expect we all have our favorite fantasy, “If only such-and-such happened I’d be able to get up and get on with my life.” Simply fill in the “such-and-such” blank and you’ll get a pretty good clue about where your sense of being a cripple is.

Now, admittedly, we don’t like to think about ourselves as being crippled. We would much rather see ourselves in a more functional role. But, left to our own devices, we find that there is a “hole in the middle of a pretty good life.”

We’ve been carried around. We have found ourselves placed now here and now there. We have fantasies but no way to take a next step toward seeing them come to be.

Where is good news to be found when we find ourselves spinning our wheels? One place we know it is not is in simply repeating our current behavior. This simply keeps bringing us to the same place — the same result.

One of the intriguing images of hell is that the doors to it are always open. Folks can leave whenever they want. This leads to a question of spiritual maturity and moral development.

In part, this is a question of how our moral character will mature to take advantage of the opportunities being offered to leave our particular crippled state.

The cripple at the temple gate could have continued to focus on his way of earning a living, begging. He could have denied his healing because that threw his whole economic life into question. All he had known was begging. He had no marketable skill. How could he survive without being a crippled beggar?

This sort of fear affects not only individuals but whole groups of folks. Families sometimes carry particular fears on for generations. Nations get fearful to change their relationship with other nations. Congregations get afraid to step into new ministries and locations of ministry.

Healing needs to take place on all sorts of different levels.

As we listen in to this episode of the early church it is very easy to get caught up with the miracle of healing from the cripple’s point of view. We learn a fantasy that sometimes miracles happen and if we just wait long enough we will be taken care of.

I think the key question we need to address, though, is the behavior of Peter and John. They had a two part response to folks who were stuck in repeating their behavior.

The first one was that they weren’t going to reinforce the kind of thinking that would lead to one more round of failure. I don’t know that they expected a result as quickly as they got one, but they started out by saying, “We don’t have what it is you are begging for, we have something that puts your request in a larger picture.” They put it quite bluntly, “We don’t have money for you.”

This kind of news is seldom taken kindly. We are so used to doing what we are doing that any change can be upsetting. “Well, why are you bothering me if you don’t have any money for me?” might well have gone through the mind of the crippled man.

Peter's second response was, “but what I have, I give to you.” In the scriptures it reads as all one sentence, but I suspect Peter might have paused here to raise the expectation of what he might have. Perhaps some commodity that the cripple would have had to spend money on and so it would be as good as money?

Peter finally concludes his second response, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

I suppose the equivalent in our setting would be Peter walking in here this morning and saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, be in ministry with one another and the community around you.” Or saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, build.” Or saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth commit yourself to the teachings of the disciples, fellowship with one another, remembering the sacraments, and deepening your prayer lives.”

Imagine your home or your workplace or your school – what would Peter say there in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth?

May we be filled with the wonder and amazement of people and congregations and nations that cease their crippled thinking.

As the faith descendants of Peter we, too, are to say both, "No" and "Yes." We assist folks to acknowledge their limitations and freely give the assistance that will break them out of their stuck place in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. This "No" and "Yes" is the essence of healing ministries.

Today I am going to take this opportunity to place some oil on our altar that I will leave there. We have been using this oil during baptismal services and I would like for us to have a tangible sign of new life and healing in our midst week by week.

This oil will remind us of our having been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who calls us to new life. This same Jesus Christ of Nazareth intends for us to be healed from being crippled in our ministry and, in turn, to offer the healing of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to restore relationships within our congregation and community, so those who have little won’t have so little that they will have to beg and those who have much will not just be charity givers but enter into new relationships with those currently poor. More about this next week.

For now, may we understand ourselves to be in the tradition of the apostles who continue the healing ministry of Jesus and who will be about the business of healing the paralysis of those who are stuck with some part of their life and need to move on.

To put this understanding into action we need to know that the healing process is for Peter and John as well as the crippled man, it is for us as well as a gift working through us. Today I want to give an opportunity for any who are willing to acknowledge their "No", a sense of crippledness in their hearts or minds or spirits or relationships, to come forward to receive their "Yes", an anointing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, for your healing that, in turn, will allow you to be used as a healer.

During our next hymn, you are welcome to let your neighbor carry on singing while you come for a moment to receive a sign of hope in your life.

As always, I leave an option for you not to come forward. This isn’t the right time for everyone, but it is probably the right time for some to come for an anointing.

I invite you to arise to sing and to walk forward for an anointing. You won't have more money to take with you but you will have a more whole life that is willing to give the gift Jesus Christ of Nazareth has given to you.

What do you have to give? Only yourself.

What do we have to give? Only ourselves.

The gift Jesus gives is the gift to give a clarifying "No" and a healing "Yes". He modeled this for us in the way he lived and invites us to give life to one another.

Come and receive that you might give — life in its fullness, its wholeness, its joy, and its peace.