Monday, April 20, 2009

Pointing Away from Ourselves

The sermon text for this week (Acts 3:12-19) is a speech which follows on the heals of a miraculous healing. God has just worked through Peter and John to heal a man who had been lame from birth and sat at the Temple gate every day begging. As the man stands to his feet for the first time in his life, a crowd quickly begins to form, amazed at what has just taken place.

As I think about this man standing up and the crowd quickly closing in to see what had happened, I wonder what I would have done in that situation. If God worked through me to heal someone, how would I respond? To be honest, I'm not sure I would really be prepared for that. I think I would be just as astonished as the crowd that was forming and I probably wouldn't know what to say. My intentions and actions would probably wander back and forth between wanting to stay and enjoy the adulation of the crowd and wanting to slip away, trying to remain unnoticed until I could wrap my mind around what had just happened.

But Peter, the same Peter who couldn't confess his association with Jesus during his trial, doesn't hesitate here. As soon as he sees the crowd gathering, he immediately begins to turn the attention away from John and himself and toward God and his servant Jesus. Peter declares boldly that it was not because of any power or piety on his or John's part that this man was healed. It was because of God's action in Jesus' name that he was made whole. In fact, Peter (and Luke as the writer) goes to such great pains to make it clear that this is done through Jesus' name that the sentence structure of v. 16 becomes very awkward. The Greek sentence reads something like this; "And through the faith of his name, this man whom you see and know, being strengthened by his name and the faith on account of him has given to him this complete health before all of you." It is as if Peter is tripping over his own words in an attempt to make it abundantly clear that this is done through Jesus' name. Peter's entire speech in these verses points away from himself and toward the crucified and resurrected Jesus.

I often think of the Book of Acts as a series of stories or snapshots that give us insight into what it means to be the Church; a kind of narrative ecclesiology. In Peter's speech, Luke gives us another glimpse of what it means to be the Church: a community who is constantly pointing away from ourselves and toward the story of Jesus and thereby inviting others to become a part of that story as well.

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