April 26, 2020

“Looking Straight at You”

Acts 3:1-10

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

April 26, 2020 (Easter 3)

 

As a follower of Jesus, are you like him at all?  Sometimes, sometimes not.  It’s hard to be like Jesus because he was so loving, wise, gracious, and he healed people.  I’m more not like Jesus than I am like him.  But we are called to be like Jesus.  In our faith journeys we are called to become more and more like him.  In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul says, “we have the mind of Christ.”

 

How do we take on the mind of Christ?  During the season of Lent, our theme was “Think Like Jesus” and the stories from the gospel of Mark challenged us to take to heart Jesus’ mind and attitudes through his teachings and character and behavior. 

 

In the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit coming in power upon the apostles and other followers of Jesus.  After Jesus left earth and ascended, the Holy Spirit came in a very dramatic way upon the believers.  We’ll be reading that story from Acts 2 on Pentecost Sunday on May 31.  The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus’ followers to go beyond thinking like Jesus and having his mind, but living like Jesus, and doing like Jesus, and being like Jesus.  Acts is all about how the apostles and other believers were sent forth from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth with the gospel (Acts 1:8).

 

Today’s reading from Acts 3 is the first story about the apostles and how they began to apply all that they had learned from Jesus to their own lives and ministries.  In this story, they began to act like Jesus by healing a man who was lame from birth.

 

The beggar was a regular part of the scene at the temple gate.  Every day, he was carried there to beg.  That was the way he made a living.  It was a strategic place to beg because faithful people would pass by on their way to worship, and they would be in the frame of mind to give alms to the poor.

 

Peter and John were on their way to the afternoon prayer meeting, when they encountered the man who couldn’t walk.  “When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John.  Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them” (vv. 3-5).  There’s a lot of seeing and looking in these three verses.

 

The beggar saw Peter and John as possible benefactors.  But when he caught their attention, when they saw him, they didn’t avert their gaze.  You know how it is when you see people begging at intersections.  You try to not look at them because it makes it easier to just drive away when the light turns green.  Peter and John looked straight at him, and told him to look at them.  At that moment they wanted him to look at them with the same kind of attention they were giving him.

 

How you see people makes a difference, doesn’t it?  You can see someone in need as a victim, someone who made bad decisions, or a project for you to fix, or a child of God.  And how you see them will affect the way you respond to them.  It seems that Peter and John had learned from watching Jesus minister to people.  They didn’t see the beggar as an inconvenience, but as someone who was worthy of their attention and love.  

 

Peter did what Jesus did.  There are numerous stories in the gospels about Jesus seeing people and seeing their need, and then healing them.  Jesus saw people—often people at the margins, those who would normally not get much attention.  And he saw their need, interacted with them.  He saw a lame man dropped down through the ceiling by his four friends.  He saw a demon-possessed man who had been tortured for many years and unable to live with others.  He saw a desperate father, a respected synagogue leader whose beloved daughter was dying.  He insisted on seeing the woman who had touched his garment and had been healed from an illness that had baffled all her doctors for years.  He saw hungry crowds who had gathered to hear him teach.  Jesus didn’t see these people as bothersome or inconvenient.  He saw all these people as children of God.  And he loved them and healed or fed them.

 

Peter and John learned how to look at people from Jesus.  And Peter knew that the man needed more than just a few coins, which he didn’t have anyway.  He needed to be healed; he needed to walk.  And because Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was able to meet his need—just like he had watched Jesus do for others.  Peter extended his hand to the man, helped him up, and the man could walk.

 

This week I could think of two possible ways to read this story.  The first way would be to learn to be like Jesus by following Peter and John’s example.  We need to take time to really see the people around us—not as poor or unlucky or projects to be fixed, but as children of God with whom we can share God’s love.  I encourage you to take time this week to look at the people in your neighborhood—I see more people walking these days—or to stop to pray for those God brings to mind.  Look at people with the eyes of Jesus, and let him lead you to love them.

 

Another way to read this story is to put yourself in the place of the beggar, and to imagine that Jesus is looking straight at you, at all of us, at the whole world.  Jesus sees us all dealing with this pandemic.  He sees the overwhelmed healthcare system and the brave medical people who are taking care of the sickest people at great risk to themselves.  Jesus sees that we’re feeling a bit helpless against the invisible, contagious and lethal coronavirus.  Jesus knows that we’re feeling the pain of our neighbors, family and friends who have lost jobs or whose businesses are on the brink of shutting down because of the stay at home order.  Jesus sees us.  He’s looking straight at us—with loving eyes. 

 

Instead of a handout, instead of giving us what we think we need, he extends his hands to us and lifts us up, heals us beyond our imagining.  I’ve mentioned to several people during this time of staying at home that their phone call or email or Facebook post touched me in ways I didn’t know I needed.  I wasn’t looking for encouragement or wisdom, and they provided it to me.   And then I realized it was just what I needed at the time.  I feel like Jesus has looked straight at me and provided what I needed even before I could ask.

 

Not only is Jesus looking straight at us, he also wants us to look at him.  Jesus wants us to look at him to see that he sees us and knows what we need.  He wants us to trust him to get us through this time.  Whether we need money or encouragement or prayer or a listening ear, Jesus says to us, “Look at me!”  Look at Jesus.  He’s looking at us with love.

 

When we look at Jesus, we can look forward to the day when we will be able to jump and praise God for getting us through all this.  I can just picture the man, walking and jumping—like a toddler who is becoming confident on their feet, seeing how much they can do.  And the man is praising God the whole time.  He knew that his healing came from Jesus Christ, through Peter.  So his response was to jump and praise God.

 

Friends, no matter where you find yourself in this story, Jesus sees you.  Jesus is with you.  And Jesus is looking straight at us with eyes of love.  And he is at work redeeming the world.

 

This week, be on the lookout for the ways you see Jesus raising you up during this pandemic.  Watch for indications that Jesus walking with you.  And respond by walking and jumping in praise and worship of the God who is saving you.

 

Jesus is looking straight at you, and me, and the whole world.  Thanks be to God!