What I Have I Give to YouPosted: May 6, 2012
WHAT I HAVE I GIVE TO YOU
The story of the healing of the blind beggar is one of the very first incidents recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles right after the experience of Pentecost. The disciples were still hanging out in Jerusalem expecting Jesus to come back any day. The followers of Jesus were having a communal meal each day, where everyone especially the poor were fed. At the communal meal they shared in the breaking of the bread and the remembering of Jesus.
Those early followers of Jesus probably believed that the cosmic Christ would also bring an army of angels to establish the reign of God, and then they would be appointed Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of the Interior. Slowly but surely they began to figure out that Jesus wasn’t physically coming back any time soon. Jesus was with them in the breaking of the bread. Jesus was also with them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was with them as they began to continue his ministry of teaching, feeding and healing people.
The followers of Jesus were also going to the Temple to pray the hours. In Judaism prayers were to be offered at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., Noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. When they were in the temple, the disciples also began preaching the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus. In our scripture Peter and John were walking to the Temple to pray at the 9th hour – 3 p.m.
In our story the beggar was sitting beside the Beautiful Gate imploring passersby for alms. Probably this was the double Hulda Gate, where most worshippers passed in and out of the Temple.
The beggar saw Peter and John and asked for a hand out. Peter made eye contact with the beggar. We should remember that most people do not make eye contact with beggars. Even people who give panhandlers money mostly treat them as non-persons never connecting with them. But Peter engaged this beggar by saying, “look at us.” He bonded with the beggar as a person of dignity and worth. Peter didn’t have any money, but what Peter did have to share with the beggar was love, respect and faith, and that was enough to heal the man.
Now this story raises an interesting question. If this beggar had been sitting at the gate to the Temple day after day, why had not Jesus healed him, as Jesus passed by on his way into the Temple? The gospels leave us with the impression that Jesus was healing everyone all over the place all the time. Probably Jesus healed some people and was not able to heal others. For instance, there is no record of Jesus reconnecting a severed limb. The miracles of Jesus are so wide and varied, and we really know so little about them it is hard to make any generalizations about the healings reported in the gospels. In fact the generalizations I am about to make can be contradicted by examples from the gospels, but let’s not let that stop me.
First, I don’t believe Jesus healed anyone against his or her will. There were times when Jesus healed individuals at the behest of a third party, but I think we can assume the individual had a desire for healing. And I believe even with all the miracles of modern medicine people cannot be healed against their will. If someone wants to be sick, if someone wants to hold onto their illness, I don’t think they can be healed against their will.
Second in most of Jesus’ healing miracles the person desiring healing engaged Jesus. They actively sought him out, and expressed some belief that Jesus could be an agent in their healing. Even when they harbored doubts like the father of the epileptic child, remember last week, “I believe but help my unbelief,” faith mixed with doubt was enough to bring healing.
Third, again and again and again after a healing Jesus said to the individual, “your faith has made you whole.” Therefore I think it is fair to imply that faith was somehow an important agent in the healings performed by Jesus. Now I want to be careful that we don’t use any of these observations to judge and blame people, when they are sick or when they don’t get well.
We don’t need people running around pointing fingers and saying, “the reason you weren’t cured is because you didn’t have enough faith, or because you are not a good person.” Blaming people for illness is counterproductive. Sometimes healing doesn’t consist in a physical cure. I have attended people on their death beds who found healing in dying.
Healing isn’t magic. Remember the three most common physician’s prescriptions? Exercise, lose weight and diet. I can testify losing weight, dieting and exercise are not magic. It’s hard. And giving up our addictions, whether it is tobacco, alcohol, drugs, work-a-holism, overeating – it’s hard – not magic.
Allow me to suggest four ways the faith community can engage our faith as part of a healing process. First, the way of Jesus emphasizes forgiveness. We are all welcome at the sharing table, and we are all wounded in need of God’s grace. Receiving the forgiveness of God through Christ encourages us to claim our need for healing.
Second as we engage with the faith community we will be challenged to enter into honest self-reflection to discover obstacles to our healing like over inflated ego, unresolved anger and hurt, lack of consideration for others, addictions. Honest self-reflection is one of those hard things Jesus encourages us to undertake. And because we are blind to many of our own failings, we often need to conduct part of our self-reflection with good spiritual friends to whom we grant permission to be honest with us. And while many of us are willing to give our honest opinion to others, not so many of us are willing to receive the same in return. Honest self-reflection is hard but essential to our healing.
Third, a faith community of good spiritual friends will encourage us and hold us accountable to do the hard things. In order to be healed we may have to give up an addiction, or commit to an exercise regimen, or go on a restricted diet (no more M & M’s and popsicles for lunch). Twelve Step programs have proven that recovery in community promotes healing. Exercise adherence is more consistent, when we have workout partners. We are more likely to be honest with ourselves, when we empower other people to hold us accountable.
Fourth, our healing is promoted as we invite others to pray with us and for us. I can’t explain it. Prayer is a mystery, but when we start to pray with other people, and ask them to pray for us, miraculous transformation becomes possible. Prayer’s miraculous power is graceful and therefore unpredictable. Though we can ask for an outcome, we can’t pray expecting any certain outcome.
We have to leave room for the Holy Spirit to surprise us. I know surprises can be tough for some personality types who like everything nailed down and in order. But when the Holy Spirit shows up, anything is possible. And the people of God need to be constantly making room for the Holy Spirit. So often the church shuts the Holy Spirit out, because we are afraid we will lose control and become carried away by God’s sacred presence. We want to be in control. And that is why so often we aren’t ready to fly, to make room for miracle. We sing “have thine own way Lord, have thine own way,” but we don’t really mean it, because we don’t want to allow God to be the potter and us to be the clay. Mold me and make me, after thy will, while I am waiting yielded and still. We have a hard time yielding to God, and being still, being patient long enough for God’s will to work in us and through us. Have thine own way Lord! God we have a long way to go to become your faithful people.
Now the good news is we don’t have to have perfect faith in order to begin to engage the faith of others. Consider Peter. When he tried to walk on water, he sank. The night Jesus was arrested, his courage failed him and he denied Jesus. And yet in our scripture today he was able to call forth from the lame man enough faith that he could be healed. And I believe all of us each in our own unique way can engage the faith of others. We don’t have to walk around hitting people on the forehead shouting “be healed!” We can be encouragers of others. Encouragement sometimes is all that some people lack to realizing a dream. When someone has been emotionally beat up by life, encouragement can help them get back up to try again. Encouragement is an important element in healing.
Faith sharing when it is discrete, subtle and welcome, can engage another person’s faith. I’m not talking about preaching on street corners or offering unsolicited testimony, but when we honestly share with another person a story from our life, we can give them the inspiration they need to move ahead in their life.
And let’s not forget small acts of kindness. Sometimes when we’re feeling beat up, or discouraged, and we’re down so low, we’re not sure how to get up, a small act of kindness can help to engage and energize our faith. And if we think we aren’t somehow spiritual enough to engage other people’s faith, just imagine the small acts of kindness we can offer to others. That’s what the caregiving committee is all about.
Finally, we can engage people’s faith by praying with them and for them. The Unbinding Your Heart Program last year helped to open up a whole new appreciation of the importance of prayer in the spiritual life of a congregation, and in reaching others. I truly hope we will offer another Unbinding Your Heart Group in the coming months. We sometimes underestimate the power of prayer, and I understand many of us are uncomfortable praying aloud. But hear me, if we are praying from our hearts, there are no wrong words. And I know it seems like too small a gesture, but when we have prayer circle I am always surprised by the genuine gratitude we hear from people for whom we have prayed and to whom we have sent cards. I think we are all capable of writing and send a card that says, “Thinking of you, and praying for God’s healing energy in your life.” Most of us do not have silver or gold to give to others, but what we have is faith enough to share.