First Read:  Acts 3:1-16

Simon Sez #5 – What I have I give you…

beggar“Now that’s a good question,” the woman said.  And her husband shaking his head, looked up over top of his Wall Street Journal that morning and said, “What?  What’s a good question?”

“We got this catalogue in the mail yesterday, and look at all these exotic specialty items.  They have every thing in here from authentic Russian KGB medals to handmade cigars from the Dominican Republic.  They call it the ‘Good Life’ catalogue.  I wonder, what does it take to have a good life?”  she responded.

“I’m not sure,” her husband answered, his eyes moving back to the article on overseas marketing.  “But my guess is that you probably can’t buy it through the mail.”

But her question is a good question – what does it take to have a good life?  I imagine that most everyone else, at some point in time, has asked that very question, “What does it take to have a good life?”

We probably ask it in different ways, at the different stages of our lives, but the social scientists have noticed something over the last few decades – and that is that the present generation answers that question in a way that is different from the way their parents or grandparents answered it.  The studies show that increasing percentages of people suspect that it is the spiritual dimension of their life that is the major factor in finding the answer to that question.

Herb Miller, in his book, “Connecting with God,” talks about several of the ways in which people seek the answer to this question.  For example, he quotes a Time Magazine article that talks about how vacationers who have grown weary of white-water kayaking and dangling from cliffs and other trendy adventure trips who are now turning to spiritual vacations that feature meditation and silence.  In a recent year those who are part of the New Age movement spent more than $100,000,000 buying quartz crystals believed to possess healing and thought transmission powers.  In that same year Americans spent another $300,000,000 on tapes, cds and books that promise some sort of spiritual self-fulfillment – including in one case quote, “How to have out of body experiences in only 30 days.”  Sometimes we really are a gullible group of people, aren’t we?

George Gallup Jr.  says that the American people are eagerly and impulsively groping for ways to mature in their faith – that 8 in 10 Americans wish their faith were stronger, that three persons in every four would like to see religious beliefs play a greater role in people’s lives.  He also notes that Christians named “Spiritual growth” a priority over top of anything else they ever list in a questionnaire.

Many, many people are on a spiritual quest now – but unsure of where it is that they can find the answers.  I believe that we can find some direction in our search for spiritual growth – our quest to connect with God – in the passage listed above  from the Book of Acts – in the experience that Simon Peter and John had that day – and that we can learn much – once again, particularly from the comments of Peter.

The author of what we call the Book of Acts – or the Acts of the Apostles – is a man named Luke – who was a physician and who often traveled with the Apostle Paul – and he is the same fellow who wrote what we call the Gospel of Luke.  When we look at these two books of the Bible – Luke and Acts – we tend to think of them as some kind of general historical account – that Luke is writing in order to record the goings on of Jesus and then the goings on of the early church – so that there is some kind of history book for future generations to look back at.

But these two books – or what we call books – really aren’t books at all, rather they are two letters.  If you look at the opening words in both of these documents you will see that they are letters to a man named Theopholus – and that Luke is not trying to create some sort of general historical account – as if he were a newspaper reporter just trying to report the facts – but rather he is sharing specific stories for a specific reason.  He is trying to assist Theopholus in coming to know Jesus Christ and then in growing in his faith – and so he is not just writing down everything that ever happened – but rather he is taking specific accounts and using them as a way of showing Theopholus what the Christian faith is about.  Much like you when you write a letter – or an email – or make a phone call – you are focused on telling specific things to the person on the receiving end – you don’t go through all the details of the day – you tell them about the important things of the day.

These accounts therefore are not here by accident – and Luke is not just sharing some rumors that he heard – this account has all the marks of having been researched and followed up on by Luke – so that the information that he shares with us is accurate.

Luke uses very precise language – medical language in fact – to describe what we often simply translate in this passage as “feet” and “ankles” – the words “become strong” and “leaping up” are only used by Luke – and they are all medical terms.  It was as if Luke went and sat down with this man and said, “What was wrong with you before and how did the experience change you?” and he wrote it out using the technical language that the physician was familiar with.  He wants to present to Theopholus and to us a story that is accurate in detail and one with purpose – one that we can rely upon.

He begins by focusing on Peter and John – they are headed to the temple for the afternoon hour of prayer.  Now at first we might think that this is just a natural, normal sort of thing for Peter and John – we might not even notice that they are headed to the Temple to pray.  It only seems natural to us that Peter and John ought to be going to a prayer service – after all they are – to us – St. Peter and St. John – the leaders of the church – we know them as disciples and apostles.

But to readers in the early church – this must have struck a rather odd chord – they are Christian leaders remember – and they are headed to the Jewish temple for prayer.  They have seen Jesus raised from the dead – they’ve been touched by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – they’ve become a part of the New Covenant community in the upper room – surely they didn’t need to go off to the temple, off to church.  Couldn’t they just be spiritual wherever they were – and sit down and pray?  Certainly – but they felt it important – in order to stay properly connected with God – to also be participants in the public and corporate worship of God.

My guess is that in our day and age we sometimes overemphasize our individual relationship with God – and neglect our need to gather for worship together.  Could Peter and John have prayed at home – been spiritual there?  Certainly – but that is not enough – we must be involved in worship together – to truly grow in our faith.

Now as they head into the temple area – sitting outside the Beautiful Gate – is a beggar.  We would perhaps call him in our day a professional beggar.  You’ve seen the type – they have a little sign and they are asking for something.  Luke tells us that this man begs because he is lame.  He is crippled – not because of the result of some accident – not because of the malicious acts of another – not because of some sin in his own life – but rather he was born this way – it was a congenital defect that is the cause of his lameness.  So he sits – each and every day there are those who carry him to the Temple and he sits outside the Beautiful entrance to the temple – never entering therein – seeking alms – coins – donations – an act of charity thrown into a hat – to get him through.

I think Luke included this account on purpose – recorded it for us – because it is a picture of so many in our day.  There are so many who sit hopelessly right outside the Kingdom of God – the gate is called Beautiful because when you enter you are with the Lord – but there they are – lame, crippled, hurting – trying to live on that which will not ultimately satisfy.  Trying to grab for sustenance things that can bring some satisfaction but not what we really need.

As Simon Peter and John are about to pass him they can hear his monotone, repetitive cry for help.  He says it every day – thousands of times – “Alms for the poor, help me sir, won’t you? “Alms for the poor, help me sir, won’t you? “Alms for the poor, help me sir, won’t you?”

The crowds go in and out – most barely noticing this man – a few, perhaps, acknowledge his existence by flipping him a coin.  But Peter and John stop and that’s when the fireworks begin.

“Hey, look here!” they say.  “Look at us.”  They are not some passing strangers, they are going to connect with him.  And Peter leans over and looks into his eyes and sez, “I have no silver and gold” – but this is not an apology.  When Peter looks at him and says, “I have no silver and gold” he is not saying, “Ah, gee, I’m so sorry – I really don’t have any of what you are asking for.”  Peter is not making an apology. Peter has something for him alright!  But it is not second fiddle to silver or gold.

Peter’s statement shows us that this fellow is actually seeking the wrong thing in life.  What’s he looking for?  He’s looking for silver and gold – a gift – a coin – all the while he is sitting outside the “house of the Lord” – the temple.  But he never enter it – he never experiences the presence of God – he never rejoices in the worship of God – he never realizes that the thing he needs most in life is right around the corner – right through the next door.  He was satisfied to sit in the dust and dirt, happy with the charity of passing strangers.  There was a need for wholeness and healing in his life that went far beyond his physical lameness.  Instead – he is just begging for alms.

I have no silver and gold” is not an apology – it is a statement of fact – so often in our culture what do we do when there are people hurting and crying out?  We throw money at them don’t we?  We say – we’ll put together this social services program – and we’ll throw some money into it – and it will take care of them.  And while it is true that many of the social services programs do good and important humanitarian things – this is not all that is needed.  There is a need for dignity and self-respect and a spiritual wholeness that can only be found “inside the Beautiful gate” so to speak.

Peter didn’t say that there was no need for silver and gold – only that we need to recognize that it is not the most important thing in life – and it will not solve all of our problems.  He looks down at the man and says, “I have no silver and gold but what I do have I give to you.”  And interesting statement –  but what I do have I give to you.  You realize of course, that you can’t give to anyone – what you yourself do not first have, particularly when it comes to the things of faith.

We often talk about how we want our children to know God – or how we wish to help another in a time of crisis in their faith – how do we thikg it is going to happen?  Do we think it’s going to happen because we send our children to Sunday School 45 minutes once a week 40 or 50 times a year?  I happen to believe that Sunday School is important – but parents need to share the faith with their children – as has often been said, faith is often more caught than taught.  Do we think we can truly help another in need of faith – if we don’t share with them what we already have?

And we have it because somebody else has shared it with us.  You must have it before you can pass it on to somebody else.  It is true for parents and children – it is true for husbands and wives – it is true for Sunday School teachers and their students – it is true for preachers and their congregations too.  We need to make sure that we have what we need (faith wise) – so that we can pass it on to those that we care about – and to others that God brings into our lives.  We need to spend time working and developing who we are with Jesus Christ – so that we have something significant to give and to pass on.

And what is it then that Simon Peter gives – “Silver or gold I do not have – but what I have I give you – in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – rise up and walk.”  Taking him by the right hand he helped him up and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong and he jumped to his feet and he began to walk.  Then he went with them into the Temple courts – for the first time in this man’s life – he went into the Temple – he had been sitting outside the gate the whole time – but now he walked in – check that – he didn’t walk in – it says he went in walking and leaping and praising God.

He was so excited – he went through the gates jumping and screaming and dancing around in circles – and everybody stared and said “Wow!  Where does this come from?” Peter then shares with those who will listen a lesson explaining that this newness of life has come to this man through faith in Jesus Christ – worth more than all the silver and gold that he might get – faith and new life in Jesus Christ.  That’s what we have to give – to others.  It is amazing how many opportunities we have to pass on what we have – if we just look for them and do it.

And what is the result of this gift? – we’ve already talked about it – the man goes into the Temple – and he is so excited – excited, yes that he can now walk – but more than that – excited and filled with joy at what God is now doing in his life – and his opportunity to join with Peter and John in the worship of their Lord and God.  Luke tells us then that the people looked at him and were filled with wonder and amazement – at what had happened to him.  When we share what we have as people of faith – growing our faith and sharing it in such a way that others too may be connected with God through Christ in faith – there is amazement and wonderment in their lives and in ours too – an amazement and wonderment that all the silver and gold and alms in the world cannot bring.

Simon Sez – What I have I give you…  What I have I give you … wouldn’t it be great if we could hear those words coming from our lips too – perhaps we need to take a lesson from Simon – and pass it on.