April 25, 2021
Through Eastertide we will be working through the lectionary selections of Acts. The sequel to Luke’s gospel, Acts tells the stories of the Early Church as the disciples became apostles and they figured out what the resurrection of Christ meant for their faith and community. Today’s passage is Peter’s response to the Jewish leaders about events that happened in the previous chapter. May the Spirit open our hearts to the lessons of the Word:
- In chapter 3 we find the story of Peter and John healing a lame man outside the gate of the Temple. This was a common place for beggars to sit and ask for alms, the giving of which was part of Jewish worship. Earlier in Acts we hear of the Early Church: “All who believed were together and held all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need” (Acts 1:44). So it’s not surprising that Peter and John have ‘no silver or gold’ to give to the beggar, since they’ve already given it away. Remember these disciples have been living on the road with Jesus carrying “no purse, no bag, no sandals” (Luke 10:4) for years now, and they were poor fisherman before that. Talking about money can be a contentious conversation, even or maybe especially in church. How do you decide how much to give to charities and to others in need? What do you think about orders of the Christian faith which still take vows of poverty? What would a community that held everything in common look like today?
- Peter responds to the beggar, “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” (Acts 3:6). How is this similar to other healing stories we hear in the gospel (take a look at Luke 5:17-26)? What do you think it meant to the beggar to hear these words? Acts 4:7-8: “And Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God!” When was the last time you felt like “leaping” before the Lord in worship? As physical beings, how do we express our praise and honor God with our bodies? Why might that be an important part of what we often think of as a cerebral and spiritual faith?
- When the crowds see this man they have recognized as the lame beggar walking in the Temple court, they are amazed. Peter addresses them (the lectionary text for last week), and his sermon inspires many to believe (about 5,000 it says in verse 4). This upsets the Sadducees and priests, who have Peter and John arrested. They spend the night in custody, and as our passage today begins: “The next day the rulers, elders, and scribes” assemble to question them. Imagine what Peter must be feeling standing before this council, after spending the night in a dark cellar, likely in chains. These are the same people who condemned Jesus, who brought him to Pilate for execution. But Peter speaks to them “filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 8). When has the Spirit enabled you to do something you were afraid to do? Have you ever prayed for the Spirit to give you wisdom and courage before you had a hard conversation?
- The question that the Jewish leaders pose is a telling one; they want to know “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (verse 7). These are men who are used to being in positions of power, and they were not used to having their authority questioned. As priests, they acted as the intermediaries between the people and God, which could have an exclusionary or ‘gatekeeping’ effect as those at the top decided who was “in or out”/“right or wrong” within the community. Compare this highly hierarchical system with the description of the Early Church of the apostles in Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35; how are they different? What happens to a religious institution that becomes so rigid in its structure that it doesn’t respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit doing a new thing (as is the story in most of Acts)? What message do you hear for today’s church in this passage?
Peter tells the priests and scribes that true power is found in the name of Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead and who had now raised this beggar to stand on his feet before them. May you experience the healing presence of the Spirit this week and be blessed to bravely be a blessing in Christ’s name.
Grace and Peace to you all,
Pastor Maggie Rust