There are events that occur that make you absolutely stop in your tracks and say to yourself “I can’t believe that just happened.”
I remember when Lori woke me up in the middle of the night and said with a smile, “I think it’s time.” And we hustled to the hospital. Eight hours later, I’m holding Nathan in my arms. And with tears of joy in my eyes, I thought to myself “I can’t believe this just happened.” I don’t know why I was so shocked. I’d had nine months to prepare. And yet, there he was. The unexpected moments can be moments of pure joy.
I remember staring at the TV on September 11, 2001, watching the towers of the World Trade Center collapse. It was so surreal… It is a tragedy that is forever etched into my mind. I sat there and with tears, I thought “I can’t believe that just happened.” The unexpected moments can be moments of horror.
And I remember this week, turning on the news to hear the story of another black man, killed by the police, just a few miles away from where Lori, Nathan, Samuel and I lived before we came to Owatonna. My heart broke as I watched the story unfold… and as the tears came, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe that just happened… again…” The unexpected moments can be ones of deep sorrow.
Watching the events of this past week, and really this past year unfold, we are reminded that there is work to be done. Unfortunately, the issue of race has devolved into a partisan issue. But it is not a partisan issue. Race is a human issue. Race is a faith issue. And we believe that our faith has something important to say about it.
This is an uncomfortable topic. I know. And we are often nervous to take on uncomfortable topics. At least I am. But if we are to solve the problems that surround us…if we are to be agents of God’s healing…if we are to make God’s vision for our world a reality, we cannot let fear stop us from talking about the things we need to talk about. It takes some courage.
Sometimes we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And this is one of those times. Because if Jesus were walking the earth today, I am certain that he would wade right into the issue of race and justice. And so today, we are going to try and follow Jesus.
The text of our reading today from Acts is the story of an unexpected moment. The reading you heard actually starts half-way through the story. So let me fill you in on the first part:
The disciples, Peter and John, were going to the temple. There, they encountered a man, who, the scriptures say, had been lame from birth, he has never been able to walk, and he had to be carried everywhere he went. He was poor…a beggar…and because of this, he was an outcast.
Peter and John were walking up the stairs to the entry of the temple. It is basically a porch that was called “Solomon’s Portico,” or “Solomon’s Porch.” Literally, it meant “the place of wisdom.” Peter and John saw the beggar and stopped. They said to him “look at us.” The man turned and stared into their eyes. He was just hoping that perhaps they would just toss him a coin, or maybe a morsel of food. Peter said to him, “I don’t have money, or food for you. But what I give you, I give you in the name of Jesus.”
And Peter reached down and took the old man’s hand and lifted him a standing position. And for the first time…the first time in the man’s life, he walked. He started slowly, very slowly at first, and then his pace quickened, and up the steps of the temple he went. And then he leapt. And he danced with joy.
All the activity on the stairs stopped. The people surrounding this scene were shocked. They couldn’t believe what they saw. This old man had been on the steps of the temple every day…every single day, begging…they saw him there, every day. And they had probably just assumed that someday he would die there. And now…now he was jumping? Dancing?
This was one of those moments. They said to themselves: “I can’t believe that just happened.”
Peter and John continued up the stairs. But they stopped again when they realized that everyone was staring at them with wonder and maybe a bit of shock. The crowd pointed at the two disciples and cried out: “Look at what they did!”
And while the scriptures don’t get specific, I envision Peter kind of sighing, shaking his head, pulling out a stool, and sitting down on Solomon’s porch, a place of wisdom, and telling the shocked crowd, “ok people…we’ve got to talk.”
First, Peter tells the crowd, (and I paraphrase here) “You’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t about John and I. We aren’t the ones who healed this man. This was the work of Jesus.” “Jesus?!?” Confusion among the crowd: Jesus? But he’s dead! We saw him die on the cross.
And then Peter said “why are you all so surprised? God has been promising wholeness and healing and restoration going back to the days of Abraham. And in Jesus, God fulfilled these promises. You have seen him heal the sick, feed the poor and even raise the dead.
And yes, Jesus went to the cross and died. We all saw it. We were all there. But death didn’t win. Love did! Jesus was resurrected from the dead. And it is Jesus who fulfills these promises. It was because of Jesus that this man was healed.”
And then Peter talked with the crowd about a word they might not have wanted to hear. He talked to them about repentance.
“Repentance” is a tricky term. Because we most often equate it with “to apologize,” or to “make something right.” And that is certainly a part of it. But repentance, when we think about it from a Biblical perspective, is much broader. It means “to change one’s heart,” to turn your heart toward God. And in the context of what Peter is saying here, I think it means “to allow Jesus to change your heart.”
The scriptures often talk about “hard hearts” and “soft hearts.” A hard hart was closed to new thoughts, or ideas. A hard heart was often self-centered, or resistant to love. The pharisees were often accused of having “hard hearts.”
But a soft heart, on the other hand, was open. It was willing to be changed. It thinks of the other first. A soft heart listens with compassion. A soft heart cares. A soft heart serves.
Peter sat down on the porch that day to tell the people to soften their hearts and let God work within them.
So now, fast-forward to the year 2021, in a world where the tension around race is palpable, I wonder what Peter would say to us today. I wonder what he would say to you, and to the church…to Trinity Lutheran Church. If Peter could pull up a stool right here…on this chancel…what would he say?
Well first, I think he would say: “ok people…we’ve got to talk.” And then I think he would say “the world needs to repent.” The world needs to change. There needs to be a softening of the heart. And I think Peter would be right.
We are people of faith. We try to follow Jesus’ commandment to love God with all our heart, our soul and our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But what does this mean?
- It means that we know that God created humans in God’s image. All humans…in the image of God!
- And it means that we know that humans cannot love God while simultaneously hating what God has created.
- We know that that Jesus does this because he loves us, completely and totally. It doesn’t matter where you live, the language you speak, who you love, or the color of your skin. Jesus loves you. We know this.
- And we all know that racism is real. And we know that it causes pain in the lives of children of God. Pain that I cannot even begin to understand. We know that racism steals opportunity and breaks relationships. It causes poverty and it takes lives. Racism is sin. Racism is evil.
- And we know that Jesus has entrusted the mission of God to us. We know these things. We knowall of these things.
So, Peter would say to us, “my friends, you already know what you need to know. It is time to do the hard work. It is time for you to play your part in softening the heart of the world around you.”
It is time to be the witnesses who point to Jesus; to be the ones to stand up to for our sisters and brothers who are black, indigenous, or people of color.
Friends, in the past I’ve told you many times that we are called to be God’s hands and feet. Today I want to extend that. God calls us to be God’s voice, speaking out for those who are marginalized…for those whose voice is too often unheard. We are called to speak the love of Jesus into a broken world.
I have an invitation for you. It’s last minute, and it’s informal. Tonight, at 7:00pm, I am going to be in one of the church’s Zoom rooms. I’d love to have a conversation about this. And I’d love to invite you to join me. The link will be in the comments below and on Facebook later today. It’s a conversation, not a presentation. But if you want to talk about this, I’d love to have you be a part of it.
Empowered by God’s unconditional love and with the Spirit’s presence, we can do this hard, holy work. And someday, our children and grandchildren will look at the way the world was back in 2021, and they will look at the way the world is for them, and they will be able to say “Wow. God did something powerful. God was at work. God caused the world to change.” And it will be one of those moments: “I can hardly believe that it happened.”
But it did.
- Racism will be extinguished because God said, “Ok people…we’ve got to talk.”
- Racism will be extinguished because God called God’s people to change their heart, the heart of a nation, and the heart of a world.
- Racism will be extinguished because God worked through God’s people.
- Racism will be extinguished because God works through you.
Thanks be to God!