During these Great 50 Days of Easter we reflect on what it means to be people who live their lives shaped and formed by the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our Collect for the day calls us to love Jesus so fully that we might obtain his promises to us, which will exceed all that we can desire. And if we know anything about ourselves in these last days of the 20th century, it is that we desire an awful lot!
And in John's Gospel we hear Jesus making it clear that loving him means keeping his word, which he goes on to say means doing the things he does, and, says Jesus, doing greater things than these. And this keeping of his word will be facilitated by the Holy Spirit, God's Holy Wind and Breath which has been at work since the very first verses of the Bible as God's agency of creation. And this creation, argues the Bible, the prophets and Jesus, continue toward the reconciliation and sanction of All, as our Eucharistic Prayer puts it.
All of which forms the story line of the Acts of the Apostles. In the Book of Acts we find the first community of Christians keeping his word, doing the things he does and greater things than these.
Specifically, in Lystra we find a man who has been thought to be, and told he was, disabled from birth and unable to walk, listening and looking intently at Paul and Barnabas (called Hermes and Zeus by the locals.) The Disciples looked just as intently at the disabled man and sensed something about him: something that could only be described by the text as "faith to be made well." The man had "faith to be made well."
St. Paul shouts out, "Get up on your feet, man!" And the text states with elegant simplicity, "And he sprang up and walked." Then, as the author Kurt Vonnegut once preached in a Palm Sunday sermon years ago, leave it to the crowd to see the wrong end of a miracle every time. The crowd immediately set about offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they were surely Greek gods.
And here it is Paul appealing to the creation story, urging the crowd to seek the only God who can bring about such miracles in the first place. As delirious as the crowds are, even a superficial familiarity with the Book of Acts reveals the fact that "the authorities" are not pleased. They thought they could see the right end of the miracle very well indeed. They did not like the fact that the Lystrian could now walk.
This points us to the inner meaning of a number of these healing stories. Martin Israel, a British physician who writes theology, says, about the Work of the Holy Spirit, Healing is the binding together of the disintegrated personality into a new, transformed whole. Healing results in a true wholeness of the person which allows him to approach the transcendent holiness of God in intimacy and love. (Smoldering Fire: New York, Crossroad, 1952).
The problem was this: access to God was limited, at the time of Jesus, to those who were thought to be "clean." Those who were thought to be "unclean" were kept outside the town gates. That is, they had no chance of getting anywhere near the temple, let alone God. When people like Peter and John and Barnabas and Paul were brought before the authorities because of their activities, the first question they were asked was always, "By what authority do you heal these people?" A rather incredible question on the face of it, but one we are still asking every day in our society in regards to who will have access to such things as health care--not to mention God!
Behind the question of the authorities is always the following feeling: Listen, we had this guy convinced he could not stand up and walk, let alone come into the temple precincts. We assured ourselves that we would not have to deal with people like him. Now you have gone out and let the cat out of the proverbial bag! What are you up to? Do you want people like him here in our neighborhoods and in our churches and schools and so forth? Can't you see how nice and orderly the present arrangements are? Who authorized you to do this?
This question goes on in our world every day. Those who are in charge question the credentials of those who are blown on by the wind and live the life of the Spirit. Over and over again, when asked this question by the authorities, Peter, John, Barnabas, and Paul gave the same answer: JESUS. Haven't you heard, the Dead One is on the loose. His Spirit, the Spirit of God, is blowing through the neighborhood. We have been blown on by the wind. We go where it carries us to bear witness to what the breath, the peace and shalom of God, can do for people. Isn't it incredible? That's all we know. Oh yeah, and he says not to fear all this that is going on.
So the question for modern day Christians is, "Are we ready to be blown upon by the wind? Are we ready to let it blow us to new places and new people? Are we ready to see those who have not walked in our neighborhoods previously get up and walk? Are we ready to being the Spirit of Christ to others. And, finally, are we ready to answer to whatever authorities are not happy about what we are doing? What will we say to them?"
We are given 50 days each year to think about these things. The time is coming near. In less than two weeks we will be in Pentecost. The wind will start to blow. Will we be ready to let that wind fill our sails and send us on God's great adventure? Like Barnabas and Paul, we are those people whoknow which end of the miracle to look at. For those who are brought closer to God and the Spirit of God will receive promises greater than all we can possibly desire or imagine. And we imagine a lot!
The closer we allow ourselves and others to be to God, the more of us will get up and walk. And the closer we will be to the vision, heard this morning in Psalm 67, of a world in which all the nations are glad and sing for joy, all the peoples praise God, all the earth will be blessed, and all the ends of the earth will stand in awe of almighty God.