Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Walking and leaping and praising God

Acts 3:1  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.

100 years after Jesus Luke records one of the stories from the early history of the Christian community. It would seem that the reason he does so is because the Christian community struggling with divisions of both culture and class:

1.     We do know that the church was split between those who wanted the followers of Jesus to become Jewish as a condition of joining the church and those who said that Gentiles were welcome without becoming Jewish.  And as you read Acts you will see that one of the reasons that Luke has written is to clear this up. He spends four chapters describing this conflict, and telling how the Christian leadership included Gentiles without expecting them to convert to Judaism
2.    But Luke also has another point wants to make: he is writing to a church that is also divided along class lines. Some think that they are superior to others. We find this in the writing of this period: 1 & 2 Timothy & 2 Peter carry this theme. There is also another piece of writing from this period – a record that says it so well:  

In those days there will be many who love office, although lacking wisdom ... many wicked elders and shepherds who wrong their sheep ... and many will exchange the glory of the robes of the saints for the robes of those who love money, and there will be much respect of persons in those days ... there will not be many prophets nor those who speak reliable words, except one here and there ... among the shepherds and elders there will be great hatred towards one another.[1]

So Luke tells a story about the senior leadership of the group of early disciples: Peter and John go to the temple to worship. They go at the hour of afternoon sacrifice,[2] when the temple leadership is gathered, and they do the unexpected. Instead of getting to the sacrifice, they pause and spend time with one of the people who would not be allowed inside the temple. Here is a man whose disfigurement would have labelled him “cursed by God” and therefore ineligible to attend the sacrifice.[3] Peter and John have good news for this man. Theirs is a message of inclusion. This is a gospel that insists that all are welcome to the sacrifice. So they help the man to his feet and take him into the temple with them to attend the prayers.

Here then is Luke’s challenge to those who read his story; all are welcome to worship God – both the ‘righteous’ inside of the temple, and the ‘sinners’ who lie outside of the gates. So throw open the doors of the house of God and let everyone in.

For thought: today is a good moment to pause and ask who I need to bring into the household of God. Sometimes my answer lies with that person (or group of people) who make me most uncomfortable!

Fling wide the gates! Through Christ his work accomplished;
Fling wide the gates! His toils for others finished;
Laid down the sword, the cross for crown relinquished,
Hallelujahs fill the earth and sky

29 The Church of the Spirit
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 184.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

[1] The Testament of Hezekiah Ascension of Isaiah 3:23ff; transl Charlesworth
 The picture of the corruption of the Church which is given in 3:21-23 invites comparison with the descriptions of the Church given in 1 and 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, and 1 Clement 3; the similarities with these writings likewise suggest that 3:13-4:22 dates from about the end of the first century.
[2] Exodus 29:39-40
[3] Lev 21:18  For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand

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