Let It Be Known

There was a man (in Acts 3, just prior to today’s reading from Acts 4:5-12),
a man whose legs had been lame from his birth.
Every afternoon during the hour of prayer,
his friends would carry him to the entrance of the temple
so that he could ask for alms
as people came in
and out
for prayer.

Every afternoon during the hour of prayer
the man sat
as a reminder
that one’s prayers & worship of God
should never go unaccompanied by
one’s compassion & love for others.

The man sat
and sought alms
while people sought God.

The man sat, every afternoon.

One afternoon, Peter and John came for their prayers
so the man asked for their alms.
His outstretched hand suggested,
“Remember to receive me
as you prepare to receive God.
Remember one in need,
even as you tell God your needs.”
A coin would have been the simplest gift.
Loose change from the pocket of passersby.
Maybe someone brought the man a fresh roll every afternoon before prayers.
No gift was too small.
Each donation reflected the connection:
God and giving,
prayer and alms,
worship and daily bread.

“Peter, will you give? John, will you give?”

But Peter said, “Let God give you more than you expect.
Not bread, but healing.
Not loose change, but renewed life.”
And then the man who sat, every afternoon, at the entrance of the temple,

and walked
and danced
all the way into the temple!

In other words, Peter said to the man (and to us),
“Let it be known:
there are greater gifts than we expect to receive.
Let it be known:
there is fuller healing, deeper living than we imagine.
Let it be known: 
the silver and gold and daily bread for which we scrape
and by which we measure life’s success
are not even remotely as life-changing as Jesus.”

Let it be known:
there is a dance to be danced for the glory of God
if we will turn our spirits loose
from self-consciousness and stress
long enough to enjoy it.

Let it be known:
when you join that empowering dance
(which is peace & joy & mindfulness of who you are),
when you change your life because Jesus touches you with healing,
when your love for God leads you to a love for others,
let it be known that you will be questioned for it.
You will be challenged,
pushed back against
because of it.

Peter and John stood before all of the rulers of Jerusalem,
before every person who had any official connection with God,
before every man who could say
that he had studied the scriptures or
that he was related to the priestly line.
And all those rulers and all the officials and all the scholars and all the wannabes
raised the question, pushed back, issued the challenge to Peter and John:
“By what power did you change a man’s life?”

“Who said that you could make a lame man walk?
Who gave you permission to give that man a hand so he could dance?
Where do you get the power, the authority to make a difference?
Who told you that there could be more to life than the prescribed patterns

of pain and poverty, privilege and power?
Who gave you permission to live beyond those boxes
and to invite others to do the same?

“Who told you that you could not only feed the poor
but also advocate for better responses to the causes of poverty?
Who gave you permission to meet the eyes of a lame man,
to recognize him as a person and not just a beggar?

“By what authority do you claim to give support and love to another person’s life

on the street or in a hospital room or across the work cubicle,
in the prison or over coffee or beside you in the pew?

“Who said that you can preach
or teach
or love
or change a life

or change your own life
or break barriers
or stand up and walk?”

All the rulers and all the officials and all the scholars and all the wannabes
said firmly to Peter and John: “We didn’t give you permission.”

How are you hearing, where are you feeling,
a person or a power or a private doubt saying:
“We didn’t give you permission”? Saying, “We didn’t give you permission
to change your life, to encourage another’s life,
to seek renewed life, to work for healing.”

But don’t you think Peter and John laughed
as they said, “We didn’t need your permission.”
And Peter began to preach.

“Let it be known:
You have called us to task for a good deed,
but this is God’s good deed — and there are many more to come!

“Let it be known:
You have called us to task for changing a life,
but Jesus changed this man’s life, we just offered a hand.

“Let it be known:
You have questioned our power
because you feel threatened in your power
but there is a power greater than politics, greater than money,
greater even the the power of giving or withholding daily bread from a man.

“You have ordered us to stop impacting lives,
to stop loving our neighbors,
to stop living boldly,
to stop speaking of Jesus.
But let it be known:
you cannot stop Jesus from impacting lives,
you cannot stop God from loving all people,
you cannot stop the Spirit from dancing and renewing lives,
and so we cannot stop speaking
of Jesus’ impact
of the Spirit’s dance
of God’s compassion for loving all people!

So long as people hurt, we will work for healing
because God is the Healer.
So long as people are cast out, we will invite people in
because God is the gathering Shepherd.
So long as the name of Jesus is used to break down and undermine,
we will keep saying the name Jesus for the sake of love and renewal.

Let it be known!
Let it be known in our speech and in our actions,
let it be known in our worship and in our giving,
let it be known that God does not settle for less than miraculous healing,
God does not settle for less than radical love,
God does not settle for less than justice in our interconnectedness.

And neither will we, for the sake of the glory of God. Amen!

Sermon preached 4/29/2012 at Grace United Church of Christ.

In Good Company

I would do well to learn from those who have sought you in the night:
Jacob, wide awake on that stone pillow;
Nicodemus, restless with questions;
Solomon, weighing wealth and wisdom;
Pharaoh’s baker, his head full of nightmares;
the weary Hebrews, following that Pillar of Fire;
Rizpah, unrelenting in her bitter mourning each night;
the widow, knocking on the judge’s door with determined hope;
the banished man of Legions, howling over his wounds among the tombs.
O God of all hours, when I am without sleep and overwhelmed by the night,
let me seek your faithfulness like so many others have
while the moon looks on in its pale silence.

Just Like Rush Hour

What else can I possibly do, if God chooses to hide his face from me, except wait? Be here … and wait. Wait for God’s mind to change. Wait for God’s face to turn. Wait, not in despair but with hopeful certainty that God will make his way around to me again at some point. It’s like waiting in a doctor’s office or in a line of traffic. I cannot speed up the doctor’s schedule by growing irate or hurry the cars in front of me with my finger-tapping, any more than I can rush God’s attention. I can only be here and trust that God is still there (even if he’s not here).

Getting Involved in the American Dream

“The American Church has been neglecting its role as an active storyteller of the American Dream story, as a prophetic minstrel transforming the American ‘Kingdom of God’ — not merely opining from the right or the left on moral concerns, not remaining quiet in deference to the distinctions between church and state, but engaging and relating to the nation as a creative narrator with a commitment to observe, question, disrupt, and reshape the American Dream.”

Read my entire blogpost on the Church and the American Dream in Huffington Post‘s religion section here.