Sunday, April 14th, 2024

The Background Message

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives in Jesus’ name, Amen. Back when I lived in Detroit, there was a local legend whose name was James Van Horn. Now, most people in the city didn’t know his name. They knew who he was. He was the “Eat em up Tigers” guy. He would sit outside Comerica Park for every home baseball game with a big foam finger on one hand, and a souvenir cup in the other, collecting change from anybody who happened to drop some in the cup. And he would chant nonstop for hours before and after every game as people entered or left the ballpark. “Eat em up, Tigers. Eat em up.” He was the “Eat em up Tigers” guy. I don’t know how much money he ever accumulated on a game day. I do know he was homeless. I know he was one of the more recognizable figures in the entire city, even if very few people knew his name. I know that he was struck down and killed by a hit and run driver near the end of July 2013. At that time, pitcher Max Scherzer was on the Tigers and one of the reporters asked him about the death of James Van Horne. Scherzer had no idea who he was. Another reporter said it’s the “Eat em up Tigers” guy. And immediately Scherzer expressed how much his family appreciated him, how much they loved the way he added to the game day experience. That it would be sad that he wouldn’t be sitting outside the ballpark anymore. There was a general feeling of sadness across the city of Detroit and in the suburbs that summer. Van Horn was buried wearing a Tiger’s hat. And at his viewing and at his funeral, were probably more people than have ever attended the funeral of a homeless man in the history of Detroit, because people knew him. Maybe they didn’t know his name. Maybe they never sat down and shared a meal with him. They knew who he was. Because he was part of their ballpark experience. There was a similar guy in Houston. I don’t know his name. I know he panhandled at the intersection right by our school and so every morning staff and students would drive past him every day. He was an older guy, dirty white beard, but that’s not what people remember. People remember the trick he used to do with his hat. With the baseball cap in his hand, he’d flip it up in the air and it rotate a few times, and he’d catch it on his head, finish with a little “Ta-da” , and he knock on your window and ask for some money. So, for thousands of people every morning who got on or off the freeway at Dixie Farm, he was part of their daily life and probably still is. I haven’t been around Albuquerque long enough to know if there’s local legends who might fit that same description for you. People whose names you don’t know, but you see them on your way to or from work every day. I have begun to recognize some of the faces that I see as I get off the freeway at Eubank or Tramway. People asking for money. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen or heard of anyone who rises to the level of the “Eat em Up Tigers” guy. What I do know is that Acts chapter 3, which we heard part of a few moments ago, has a story about someone, strikingly similar. Someone nameless that people recognize. You see, Peter and John were in the temple. They went for the afternoon sacrifice, which was a very popular event. The temple would have been full bustling with people. Locals, travelers wanting to be part of the ceremony. And in the temple, there was a man laying there who had been lame from birth. Much like the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him through the roof and placed him at the feet of Jesus, this man was also being carried around by friends, family, someone else. He couldn’t walk. They were taking him to the place called the Beautiful Gate in the temple, as was apparently their daily custom, so that this man could ask for alms from the worshippers, coming in and going out. Apparently, he was a very recognizable figure at that gate. Apparently, he was there pretty much every day. Apparently, he was part of the temple experience for a lot of people. And when Peter and John saw him there, he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive a coin or two. But instead, Peter said “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And the man got up. His feet and his ankles, which had failed him from birth, were suddenly strong. And the man began to walk. And then skip. And then leap back and forth throughout the temple courts, causing quite a commotion, and when the people looked to see what was happening, they recognized the man. The same man who’d been laying in the temple gate for years, lame from birth, one they had passed by countless times, maybe even given some alms to, one who was part of their temple experience. Now healed. And they were filled with wonder. They were filled with amazement at what they saw, what had happened to this man? That’s where today’s reading picks up. While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people crowded in around them, astonished. And when Peter saw it, he addressed the people saying, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this or why do you stare at us as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus,” he healed this man. “And his name–by faith in his name– has made this man strong…and the faith that through Jesus has given this man’s perfect health in the presence of you all.” That in that, we see the first reality that is always present whenever there’s a healing miracle in the scriptures. Whether it came from the hand of Jesus himself, whether it was performed by the prophets or apostles, the healing is never an end unto itself. It’s always in some way an authentication of a message that’s being spoken. You see, Jesus didn’t just heal. The paralyzed man lowered to his feet. He did it so that the Pharisees would know he had the authority to forgive sins. And Peter and John weren’t just walking around Jerusalem randomly healing people. They did so when the Holy Spirit guided them to the opportunity. And it was always joined together with a proclamation of who Jesus is and what Jesus does. And there’s comfort in us, there’s comfort in that for us. Because we don’t always see the healings that we would like to see in this life. Whether it’s a stranger on the news. Whether it’s a family member or a friend. Maybe it’s even your own need. I can’t walk up to you today and heal you in the name of Jesus. I can’t miraculously fix the crippled feet and the ankles of a beggar laying outside the church doors. The church doesn’t walk up and down the hallways of the hospitals, healing the lame and giving sight to the blind. And sometimes we’re tempted to think that the absence of such miraculous healing is maybe an indication that we’ve somehow lost God’s favor. Maybe God has forgotten me. Maybe God doesn’t see me. When he healed the people in the past, he healed people in the Bible. Why won’t he heal me? But that’s not really the case. You see the miraculous healings and scriptures serve to grab the attention of the witnesses of that healing so that the message they proclaim might be heard. And while we might not have the miraculous healings, we have the message. The Holy and righteous one was crucified, while the murderer went free. The author of life was crucified in our place, and God raised him from the dead. Our sins have been blotted out and the times of refreshing are here. And that’s the second reality that’s always in the background of a story like this one. Yes, the lame man was healed. Where is he today? Can you go visit him in Jerusalem? Could we fly him to Albuquerque to give us a Ted Talk on what it feels like to run and leap after a lifetime of lying there begging? Of course not. For that man has long since died. So has every other person healed in the scriptures, everyone who received a miraculous healing from our Lord, or from one of his prophets or one of his apostles. Even Lazarus and the widow’s son who were called back out of death, had to walk through those doors again. For although the miraculous healing of the human body is by no means a small incident, it is not the ultimate gift that our Lord came to bring. That gift is resurrection. And that resurrection is our hope because of the work of Jesus in our place. Yes, our Lord may still choose to heal our diseases or our ailments this side of heaven, and if He does, we will rejoice in that. Or he may not. He may leave us our own thorn in the flesh to remind us that His grace is sufficient, that His power is made perfect in weakness. We can never say for certain. But what we can say for certain is that all who are baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Already today, we have our sins blotted out. We have been brought into the time of refreshment. And yes, we are still waiting for that appointed day when Christ returns to restore all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets. And until that day our Lord sustains us through the preaching of his word, the bread of immortality given out from this very altar. See what kind of love the Father has given to us. Not that he healed our ankles or cured our cancers or other bodily ailments. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God.” That’s exactly what we are. Adopted into his family because Jesus became our brother. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the healings you hope for in this life. Don’t think that the absence of such healing means that Jesus loves you less than the man born lame in today’s reading. No, beloved, we are already God’s children, even now. What we will be has not yet appeared. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him. Resurrected into glorious bodies. Living the eternal life, in the new creation. We will receive the gift of healing for our bodies and souls. And we will run and skip and jump throughout the new creation, seeing fully then the realization that is already ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. Trust in his promise. He will not fail. In the name of Jesus’ name, Amen.