Pastor, preacher, teacher; you may need some thoughts for Sunday. Here are some from an unlikely text.
Men Running to See What God Does
Peter and John, two of the three of the inner circle of the apostles, walk down to the Temple at the hour of prayer, three in the afternoon. They meet one beggar, who does what beggars do. He begs.
Three in the afternoon, two apostles, one beggar. Lots of numbers in the first part of the story, Acts 3:1-10. In fact, the title of the first part of the story might be Two and a Half Men, at Three O'Clock in the Temple but that gets to be a title longer than the story.
The utter nonchalance with which Peter and John effect the healing/strengthening miracle invites comment. Clouds do not gather, apparently, or the wind scent new. Peter sees the beggar stretch out his hands, hopefully, but not, and announces what anyone might know.
"We are a couple of impoverished preachers," Peter says. "Not enough to go around, just trying to make it work. Oh, we do have something for you. We'll make you a full partner in the ministry here. Our God is named Jesus of Nazareth. You may have heard of Him. For sure you will think of Him after today. Get up and walk."
Talk about your scratch off millions! This guy is up and about before you can say Jimmy Crack Corn or God Heals Beggars. He does what anyone would do; adjusts to the new altitude, skips around a bit, runs out of nerve and comes back to cling on to Peter and John, who seem to know something about all this.
Word gets around. People come running.
If we think of the setting, if we consider the words Peter uses in his sermon, if we decide to take the history here seriously, most of the people who come running are men. Let me tell you why.
The Gate to the Temple they identify is the longest distance from the Gate of the Women, where the women go into the Temple area, because men and women do not worship together.
The Beautiful Gate to the Temple, so named here, is hard to identify, because there does not seem to be such a gate, so named, in history. The Temple is gone now, this Temple, way gone but it had at least three gates, none of them officially called beautiful. It is just possible Christians used this term, because this is a favorite meeting place for them. It is near the place Jesus likes to teach when he comes to Jerusalem, it is the place where the scribes hold their schools, where debates are held and near where the money-changers ply their trade and so it is the place where Jesus rids the temple of corruption.
Money flows into the Temple here. Naturally, that makes it a good place for beggars, because the penitent and guilt feelings are close cousins.
Now, it is Father's Day, 2008, and we can tell men, guilt feelings make you think.
"There but for the favor of God, go I."
"It could be worse. I could be like him."
"There is always someone who has it worse."
These are some of the explanations men use, conceived in doubt, born of anxiety, carried on in guilt. Men are clouded in guilt feelings. We just have to do something about these guilt feelings, rather than wallow in them, rid ourselves of them instead of considering them daily.
In our guilt anxiety, we may give someone what they ask, until we cannot give more, or until we feel we gave enough or until we just give enough to allay the guilt.
Guilt, you see, is the heat from the stove that keeps you from putting your hand on the burner. The danger of guilt is simple; cling to it and you will still get burned.
Religion ought to make us forgiven. To be forgiven is to be a full partner in the family business. Peter and John are fallible, full partners. They invite another into the firm that day but not with a few coins. They want a full partner.
Guys, if your religion just fills you with guilt, you have the wrong one. If that is your idea of faith, get rid of it. Don't pass on the Man-Guilt to your sons and daughters. Life will do that for you. Accept the faith that relieves guilt at its source.
So, preacher, how do I that?
Get out of character. Run to see God at work.
The people come running to the Beautiful Gate, probably the Shushan Gate, opening in the east to Solomon's Portico. This is the greatest distance from the Gate of Women and Peter, when he opens his mouth to speak, addresses "Men of Israel."
Men come running. No big deal, in our day. Whole industries depend on it. In Biblical times, men do not run, for it is undignified. They walk and people lesser than them adjust to their pace. The big deal some miss in the story of the Prodigal Son is this one; the father runs to the errant son and loves on him. This is remarkable.
Men run. The gawk at Peter and John. This is remarkable and erroneous but very, very manly.
Psychologists in modern times tell us that women think anyone who looks at them in critical of them, while men think those who look at them do so because they thinks we are so cool. I know this is true in my case. This is why we call our bald spots in the back "solar panels" and our flabby obliques "love handles."
The truth is, guys, we may have some confidence, but we tend to look with awe at anyone who can do what we cannot.
So, naturally, the men who come running look with awe at Peter and John. We do the same stuff today. We invite athletes or celebrities to come to our meetings, so that people will come to see them. In this, we promote the feeling among men, our cause must be ok because it attracts men (and women) who do what we cannot do.
Peter and John point all the men to God.
"You have run the right way. You are just here for the wrong reason. Jesus of Nazareth is the one God glorifies. Not us."
Guys, it is ok for us to line up to see someone who can run or jump or think or earn. We just should not gawk at them as though we have to be able to do what they do. In fact, we should never compare ourselves unfavorably to anyone. That is not the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.
What is the will of God? The will of God must be what God does, so we can see it and copy what God does.
Peter says something about what God does, compares it to what men do and then draws a conclusion.
Peter says, "God glorifies Jesus, His servant (for His service)."
Peter comparesthat to the works of men. He says, "You killed Jesus (for His service to God)."
Peter makes a conclusion. He says, "What you do is the opposite of what God does. God is quite right to leave you out of His place. That is not what God does. Do what God does. Love the Son."
So, let's review.
- Religion, like life, has guilt attached to it but just to feel guilt is not the intended end of religion, or life.
- Guys can get out of character (do the uncool) to demonstrate our interest in what God does.
- We should not compare ourselves unfavorably with those who can do what we cannot, or stand in awe of talent we cannot imitate.
- We should do what God honors; in every case, God honors the service of His Son, Jesus Christ, so God will honor the service we do in the name of Jesus, His Son.
Here are some of the thoughts I got in study/prayer. Get your own illustrations.