by John Lowe
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Get On Your Feet
Acts 3:1-3:11 (NRSV)
It was a day, just a day like any other day. His brothers had gotten him out of bed and gotten him dressed. And on their way to work they carried him to his usual spot at the temple gate. It was just an ordinary day, the sky wasn't any bluer, the birds didn't sing any louder, and the sun didn't shine any brighter. It was just a day, like any other day. And yet before it was finished it would be unlike any other day in his life.
And, as he lay with his shriveled twisted legs extended in front of him, he thought of all the days he had laid in front of the temple gate and how those days stretched out like an endless horizon before him. And he looked down at the useless limbs, stretched out on the blanket in front of him. They were his, but they weren't even a part of him, he had never felt them, never moved them. Never ran as a boy, never walked as a man.
And today was just a day, no better and no worse than all the other days that had made up the life of this poor crippled beggar. But without his knowledge and without his consent, today would become the day he would never forget. And today would take him from being a beggar destined for an obscure life and obscure death, and would propel him into immortality.
We don’t know who he was. The scriptures reveal nothing about his life up to this day, and nothing about his life after this day. But today, this day, this ordinary day would be written about by a doctor and read about by millions upon millions of people all over the world. The man and the day are written about in Acts 3:1-11.
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.
3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms.
4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”
5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”
7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
9 All the people saw him walking and praising God,
10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.
What a day. A day that would never be forgotten. And this morning we are going to look at that day.
The first thing we discover is that this man was not whole. Now a man crippled from birth was a man with a problem; he was a cripple. This wasn't a subject open to discussion. It wasn't debatable, it wasn't abstract or iffy; instead it was definite. It wasn't his fault that he was crippled. Sometimes our misfortunes have only one person to blame and that is us. We smoke and die of lung cancer, but don't stand there shaking your fist at God demanding "How could you do this to me." You're paddling your own canoe. You abuse alcohol and get cirrhosis of the liver or drive your family away, and it’s your fault. If you commit adultery and your spouse leaves you, don't blame everyone else, ok. But as far as we know it wasn't this man's fault that he was a cripple. And as far as we know it wasn't the fault of anyone else either.
Sometimes there are others who are responsible for our problems. We know for instance that children who are born to people who smoke or drink, or take drugs during their pregnancy are more apt to have problems than other babies. Sometimes physical abuse will occur, or an accident will happen for which someone else is to blame.
I heard of a woman who is a cripple, because a doctor, who had been partying prior to the delivery, goofed and severed her spinal cord when he performed the caesarean. But there is no evidence of that here. All we know is that this was a man who wasn't physically whole.He wasn't everything that a physical man is supposed to be, he was a cripple; he couldn't walk.
In today's climate, where everything has to be said in the politically correct way we would say that he was "physically disadvantaged" or "physically challenged". I have a friend who is bald and he says that he is "follicley challenged." Does that mean that someone who is short is "vertically challenged"?
Many of us are not whole physically, and there are some of us who have problems with a physical handicap. But we are all born with a spiritual handicap. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us are born worthy to enter into the presence of God. We are born with a predisposition toward sin, and with a streak of rebellion. We try to achieve goodness, but we can't quite reach it on our own.
Every culture has a set of customs to be followed. Every group of men on this planet have sought to justify themselves and have devised some means to appease their god or gods and yet the prophet says in Isaiah 64:6: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” In themselves our righteous acts are really neat; they are wonderful, beautiful, marvelous things. And, if we compare them to the works of others they may appear to be the best. And yet when we hold them up to the righteousness of God, then they are just dirty pieces of cloth. They can't stand the comparison. And that's not just your righteousness, its Billy Graham’s, and mother Theresa’s and John Wesley’s and every other person who ever lived. We aren't spiritually whole, we are spiritual cripples. Or to be politically correct we are "sin disadvantaged" or “righteously challenged.”
The second thing we notice is that he was honest in his evaluation of himself. Acts 3:2 tells us “And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.” This man didn't fool himself; he knew he was a cripple. He'd come to grips with that a long time ago.
And it was a rough time to be handicapped. There was no Social Security or Medicare. It was a time and an age when physical ability and the pursuit of perfection flourished. The Romans had their gladiator contests and the Greeks had their Olympic Games. And there was no sympathy and no place for those who weren't quite as perfect as they should be.
Not every age or culture takes care of the less fortunate like western society does today. Where else do they take those who are too old to work and unable to make a meaningful contribution to society and appoint them to the Senate.
This man knew that he had limited potential, he knew that all the dreams and all the hopes and all the aspirations in the world could not make his dead legs function. He was honest in his evaluation; his friends were taking him out to beg. He wasn't going for a walk, or to tap dance or play basket ball.
He had accepted the facts. If he was going to survive it would be by begging. And he sought out one of the most profitable spots, the main door to the temple.The devout Jews came here at 9 am, noon and 3 pm. People were coming to worship God, and he was trying to make them feel guilty. There's a lot to be said for guilt, I remember the Salvation Army in Kansas City setting up their Christmas appeal stands just outside the liquor stores.
Jeff Steinberg, when he was a child said he was determined to ride a tricycle. And he spoke about the numbers of times he fell off and got back on again. Determined to ride a trike like a normal child he tried and tried, but he never did.
Ray Charles makes beautiful music, but he will probably never paint a sunset. Rick Hanson wheeled around the world in his wheel chair but he was honest and didn't try to walk. Michael J. Fox is a pretty good actor but he'll always be short. And sometimes we need to be honest with ourselves and admit our short comings.
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