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On Walking, Leaping and Praising God


 Acts 3-4.


I: — When they walk up the back stairs, sit in my office and ask for money, they always tell me what the money is for. It’s for milk for their children and disposable diapers for their infant, as well as prescription medicine for them. (You must have noticed that people with high-paying jobs who can therefore afford to pay for their own drugs also have drug plans through their employer, while those with low-paying jobs who can’t afford to pay for their own drugs also don’t have drug plans.) These people have come asking for help — “alms” is the older-fashioned word — and I am glad enough to be able to supply them with a few alms.

At the same time that I’m glad enough to furnish a little financial help I often feel bad about it. You see, I know that their deepest need isn’t for paper diapers. Their deepest need is for our Lord himself; for faith in him — for trust and love and obedience and its concomitant contentment — all of which together add up to that throbbing, pulsating, world-altering difference he makes to all who cling to him.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not singling out the poor (the materially poor, that is) as alone spiritually needy. Neither am I singling out the poor as unusually spiritually needy. Neither am I singling out the poor as needy with a different kind of spiritual need. The spiritual condition of the resident of Jane-Finch is the same as that of the resident of Forest Hill. (The ground at the foot of the cross has always been level.)

Peter and John are on their way to a church-service in Jerusalem when they come upon a man who has been lame from birth. (No doubt he has had his physical disability from birth. At the same time, you Streetsvillians have been schooled for a long time now in the different layers of meaning in scripture. Therefore you grasp immediately that “lame from birth” in Acts 3 has precisely the same force as “blind from birth” in John 9; namely, a graphic reminder of the root spiritual condition of humankind.) The man wants money; he needs alms. (After all, how else does a lame man eat?) No doubt Peter and John would have given him money if they had had any with them. On this occasion, however, they had none.

The man is calling out for alms, charity, to anyone who happens by. He isn’t looking at anyone in particular. “Can you spare a quarter, mister? Can you spare a quarter?” mumbled a thousand times a day. Peter and John, not having a quarter, have no reason to stop before the man.

Not true! They have every reason to stop. What they are about to set before the fellow is beyond price. “Look at us”, Peter calls out, “look at us! We have no silver or gold, but what we can give you we shall: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”

We should pause for a minute and note what it is to walk. At one level the man who is told to walk and made able to walk is simply to transport himself, move his body, put one foot in front of the other. But “walk”, in scripture, is also the shortest shorthand for expressing every aspect of the Christian life. Paul writes to the congregation in Corinth, “If we are alive in the Spirit, then let us walk by the Spirit.” In other words, if the Spirit of God has made us alive unto God, then everything we do is to reflect this vitality. Throughout their epistles the apostles tell us that Christians are to walk worthy of the Lord, walk worthy of their calling, walk as children of light. We are to walk in newness of life. We are to walk in honesty, in love, in truth. John tells us to walk in the commandments of Jesus. And according to Luke, Jesus gives his followers authority to walk on serpents and scorpions; that is, Christians are to tread down evil knowing they are safeguarded against the very evil they trample. All of this is gathered up and pressed on the lame fellow when Peter and John look at him and say, “Now you look at us. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, start walking.”

What did the man do? He walked! — into the temple, to worship. (The first indication that someone has been made alive unto God is that this person worships.) The man leapt as well; his cavorting attested his new-found freedom and his effervescent joy. And he praised God.


II: — Peter and John insist that they haven’t healed the man; they aren’t to be congratulated or thanked or revered. “Why do you stare at us”, they remark to onlookers, “as though our power or piety had made him walk? Christ’s name, faith in his name, has made strong this man whom you see and know.” Name, in scripture, always entails the presence, power and purpose of the person whose name is named. To impute effectiveness to Christ’s name therefore is simply to say that the living Lord Jesus Christ himself is present in his purpose and power and he, by means of faith in him, has made this man walk.

The attitude of the apostles is the exact opposite of the attitude which religious stars exude in our day. The stars of the religious media say less about their Lord and more about themselves. Their crude financial pressure is in marked contrast to the two apostles who don’t traffic in megabucks. Contemporary religious stars feed the cult of the hero, the cult of the wonder-worker, the cult of the glitzy personality — all of which adds up quickly to the cult of someone who is equal parts entertainer and exploiter. Little wonder that the programming “hypes” the star as the feature of the event.

Not so Peter and John. “Not through our power”, they insist; “we aren’t religious gurus, we aren’t possessed of semi-magical substance or powers of suggestion which we can turn on when the crowd is ripe.” “Not through our piety either.” They mean that of themselves they aren’t spiritual super-achievers who have advanced beyond the lower levels of religious amateurism. If Peter and John don’t traffic in unusual power or piety, then how did the enfeebled man come to walk, leap and praise God? “We give you what we have”, they had said to him, “we give you what we have: in the name (presence, power and purpose of a person) of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

By the name of Jesus Christ, by faith in his name (to quote the apostles) my grandfather Robert Shepherd was lifted out of a life of degradation. He had been to prison many times; he was a disgrace to himself, an embarrassment to his family, a burden to many others, a wastrel. Subsequently he became a bricklayer. Decades ago bricklayers were out of work four or five months each year, especially in inclement weather. My grandfather eked out a living by working in a livery stable. A livery stable, in those days, was considered an ultra-masculine place, macho to the core. Milquetoasts and pantywaists didn’t last a minute. Neither did phoneys. My grandfather was a small man; small in stature, but large in energy and feistiness. Following his deliverance by the name of Jesus Christ, by faith in his name, Robert Shepherd would write a scripture verse on the livery stable blackboard, and then sign his name beneath it. Can you imagine it? Then he waited. He never had to wait long. Now don’t think he did this in order to cause trouble; he wasn’t out to provoke a fight. On the contrary, he wanted to provoke discussion, debate, about what mattered to him above all else. My grandfather, like the apostles of old, never spoke of his own “power or piety”; but he did have an experience of his Lord in his heart and a recommendation of his Lord upon his lips, and this he was unashamed to put before the toughest dude in the livery stable. He lived and died without silver or gold. But what he had to give he never failed to give. What other business are we in?

When church authorities question Peter and John, the two apostles don’t mumble apologetically for what has occurred; neither do they try to excuse their place in it. As the authorities become angrier and angrier the two men don’t back away from their insistence on the efficacy of Jesus Christ. Instead they declare it even more starkly. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Contrast this with developments elsewhere. When plans were underway for Voices United, the United Church’s newest hymnbook, it was announced that the Christmas carols would have to be rewritten if they were to be included in the new hymnbook. All references to our Lord’s incarnation, atonement, and resurrection were deemed an embarrassment and would have to be bleached out. These rewritten Christmas carols would retain all of the sentiment associated with the tunes but none of the substance. Jesus Christ has become an embarrassment. And an embarrassment he remains to our current moderator, Rev. Wm. Phipps, and to the numerous church authorities who have defended Phipps repeatedly with utmost zeal.

Not so for the apostles; not so for my grandfather; not so for me; not so for anyone who knows that to speak of the name of Jesus Christ is to say that he embodies fully definitively, the presence, power and purpose of God.

There is one item in the story we are pondering together that always makes me chuckle. When the authorities oppose Peter and John, rail against them, even imprison them eventually, the authorities still don’t win their case! Luke tells us, “But seeing the man who had been healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.” The authorities, unable to refute Peter and John, are reduced to becoming abusive.

A living demonstration of the truth and reality, power and purpose of Jesus Christ is rather hard to refute, isn’t it! Such irrefutable demonstration occurs over and over again in the gospel-incidents. In the gospel of John the man born blind is made to see through the touch of Jesus. Conflict boils up. Opponents of our Lord want to discredit him. They interrogate the parents of the man who has been granted sight. The parents are afraid of church-authorities who will also ostracise them from the community. Nervously they tell the interrogators that their son is an adult and can speak for himself. “Then what do you say?”, the authorities jab at him. The fellow, now set upon, doesn’t attempt to out-finesse his attackers, doesn’t try to get “cute” with them in any way. With that child-like simplicity and transparency which is irrefutable just because it’s so manifestly unembroidered, uncontrived, real, the man says with quiet deliberateness, “I know one thing: I was blind, and now I can see.” Irrefutable. When the deranged fellow who raged in the Gadarene hills is found seated, clothed and in his right mind, the townspeople don’t rejoice with him. For now the townspeople are afraid: on account of the presence and power, the touch, of Jesus something has happened in their midst that they can neither control nor refute, neither deny nor disregard.

When I went off to university to study philosophy people in my home congregation were alarmed. “He’s going to study philosophy? He will certainly end up an atheist! Why doesn’t he do as his cousin did and study medicine? No one ever lost his faith studying medicine.” Why did those dear people fear for me? I didn’t fear for myself. Then why did they fear for me? Were they themselves so slightly persuaded of God, was their faith so unsecured, that they assumed it would take as little to dismantle mine as it would to dismantle theirs? Luke writes simply, “But seeing the man who had been healed standing beside them, the man’s detractors had nothing to say in opposition.”


III: — The last point we should note today is the apostles’ inner compulsion to speak of Jesus. When the authorities tell Peter and John that it’s time for them to shut up and remain silent lest something nasty befall them, Peter and John reply calmly, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” What they have “seen and heard”, of course, is the ministry of their Lord as that ministry altered men and women forever. “We cannot but speak” means “it’s impossible for us to remain silent.”

At one point in the earthly ministry of Jesus his disciples extolled him exuberantly. One of his detractors sharply admonished him, “Rebuke your disciples.” Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these men were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) The glorious truth of Jesus cannot be suppressed; if human lips do not confess it, then even the stones in the roadbed will find a voice.

The Sunday School teachers whose influence I shall never be without and whom I remember so very fondly were those, whether clever or not, who spoke from a full heart. The ministers who have impressed me were those, whether festooned with postgraduate degrees or not, who ministered from a full heart. Let’s be sure we understand one thing: no one is fooled for long. If opponents of Peter and John, men whose hearts are shrivelled, nevertheless recognize the two apostles as “having been with Jesus”, how much greater is the discernment of those who themselves keep company with the master and have done so for years! No one is fooled for long. A rich experience of our Lord is certainly necessary if we are to have anything to say on his behalf; at the same time, an experience of our Lord which is this rich impels testimony, for today it remains true that “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”


It will always be the case that those who have been with Jesus, whether possessing silver and gold or not, will have the one thing to give to those who are newly apprised of their deepest need: “We gladly give you what we have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

And then someone whose Spirit-quickened faith is as irrefutable as the shining of the sun will indeed walk; walk worthy of her calling, walk as a child of light, walk in the commandments of Jesus, walk in honesty, truth and love, walk in that newness of life which is made new every morning.

And not only walk, but also leap. And even praise God.


                                                                       Victor Shepherd

August 1999