The man at the Beautiful Gate was stuck there…had been stuck there…for as long as anyone could remember. Born with disfigured ankles and legs, he was unable to walk…and in his world, there were no disability payments..and really no “desk jobs”… so the only option available to him in order to survive was to beg.
In parts of the world…that is still the reality today. On our last mission trip to Haiti, a few of us took a walk with Fanel, the director of the school we were working at..and we met a disabled man along the way who was being harassed by some kids as we passed by. It turned out that Fanel was familiar with the man…so he greeted him, and after chastising the kids and sending them off, he gave him a couple bills to help him out for the day. Poverty and begging are simply part of the fabric of life in Haiti…as they are in much of the world. It is how people who are stuck…who have no other options… survive.
I don’t know if any of you have ever watched ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. It is about a child who grows up in the slums of Mumbai. In it, you see how young children with disabilities are used to beg for money so others can get rich…and also, horrifically, how some orphaned children are maimed in order to be beggars for those who “own” them. There you see the abuses of begging mixed with the reality of survival. It is a hard and ugly life.
Some of you may have traveled to places like that where the begging was overwhelming…even frightening…at times. Often tour guides in those places will tell you not to stop…not to make eye contact…to just ignore them and keep walking. And for many of us, that’s how we deal with just a walk in downtown Seattle or even Spokane. Here, most of the panhandling we experience is driven by addiction or mental illness…and many of us are uncomfortable and cynical about supporting drug habits or being taken advantage of….so we look away and keep walking.
One of the things that sticks out most in this story this morning…is how Peter and John respond to the beggar at the entrance of the Temple. They didn’t walk past and ignore him. And like Fanel, they didn’t even just drop a few coins and hurry on. No. Instead…they stopped and looked at him. It says..they looked intently at him…and insisted that he look at them as well. They make direct eye contact, Peter and John and this lame man…and they see one another. Not just as beggar and almsgiver… but as people. People who share this life together. People who are connected to one another. People who belong to one another. And why? Why do Peter and John do this? What makes them look so intently and see him this way?
I believe it is Jesus. Jesus is the reason they stop and see this man. Knowing Jesus has altered the way they walk through their lives. Because Jesus saw them..and it made all the difference. Jesus stopped and looked at them…made eye contact…and they discovered that they mattered. That someone cared. That God cared. They were seen. They were loved. They were connected….and it made all the difference in their lives. And so that’s what they share with this man. They share Jesus…Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, if you’re at all like me, it’s hard to know what to do with this miraculous healing…his feet and ankles — spindly, unmuscled, atrophied — suddenly made strong by the command of Peter invoking the name of Jesus. In my world, I’m way more comfortable talking about healing through surgery and then some serious physical therapy. I mean, I know miracles happen, and I pray for them…but I’m just being honest here ….I’m not going to order someone up off their hospital bed in the name of Jesus. I’m actually not sure why that is, but I know that’s where I’m at.
However…I am going to claim that the name and power of Jesus and his love and grace can give people dignity and wholeness and change their lives. And I am going to claim that Jesus can pull people to their feet when life has knocked them down…and restore them to the community that loves them. I am going to claim that Jesus, who finds us where we are, in the midst of our loss and our struggles…in the midst of our feeling “not enough”…and who loves us as we are…adores us as we are…gives us the hope and the courage to start walking again when we feel stuck. And can even make us leap for joy at the wonder of a daffodil.
And I claim it why? Because I’ve experienced it. Just like Peter and John. They have experienced the life changing power of being loved by Jesus…when they didn’t deserve it, when they didn’t expect it…and they claim it for this beggar…because he’s just like them. Because the truth is, Jesus came for beggars. Jesus came for every person who believes that they don’t matter, that they aren’t seen, that their life is just a constant dirge of bad news, one dreary day after another as pawns in an ugly greed-driven world. And Jesus came to raise them to their feet…to remind them that they are children of God…that they matter…that they are loved by the God of the universe. They are loved by the God whose temple is the cosmos. That they are interconnected and integral to the web of creation and humanity. And friends, that was the true gift Peter and John had to share.
And that is also the amazing gift we have to share. Let’s be honest, these days can feel a little like a dirge of bad news…one dreary day after another…not knowing when things will change. But during these days, we claim that Jesus sees us. Jesus sees every one of us…those who feel isolated and alone…those who are afraid and unsure…those who are angry and confused. Jesus sees every person..every person…who feels like they aren’t sure why they matter in the grand scheme of things or where they fit in or whether anyone cares…and Jesus loves us. Each one of us. And pulls us to our feet. And gives us a new beginning. A new hope. You, as you are, are fully a part of God’s family. You belong. You are enough. You matter.
Yes…that’s the gift we have to share…the amazing and never ending love of God. Most of us are looking for ways to help these days…and there is no doubt that financially supporting the agencies that help the most vulnerable is critical at this time. But even more important is the way we treat people…the way we see people. As family. Just like us.
Because Jesus came for beggars….for all the people who are stuck…who need help to get through the day…who need help to keep going. That’s the secret that John and Peter knew…God loves beggars. And the other secret? We are all beggars. We are all people who need Jesus.
Those were actually Luther’s last words before he died. “We are beggars all”. It took me a long time to understand what he meant…and maybe I still don’t. But I believe it’s about the fact that none of us have it all together on our own. None of us are perfect. We stand on level ground at the foot of the cross….whether we are homeless or millionaires….priests or pariahs. We all need grace. We all need Jesus. And Jesus loves us all. There is nothing we could do to make God love us less…there is nothing we could do to make God love us more. God loves us all completely. Unreservedly. We are enough. We are perfectly enough…just as we are…even when we aren’t sure how to get through the day. We are Beggars all. And beautiful children of God. May we rise up and walk together…may we even let ourselves leap for joy….in that truth. That bedrock, rock-bottom truth. Amen.