April 26, 2020
by Jeff Lindsay
Do you appreciate oxymorons?
An oxymoron is a figure of speech containing words that seem to contradict each other. It’s often referred to as a contradiction in terms. Oxymorons are used for a variety of purposes. Sometimes they’re used to create a little bit of drama for the reader or sometimes they’re used to make a person stop and think, whether that’s to laugh or to wonder. It’s likely you’ve used, or have heard, a couple oxymorons in your everyday life, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.
Do any of these examples of oxymorons hit home for you?
Act naturally Original copy
Bittersweet Painfully beautiful
Clearly confused Passive aggressive
Deafening silence Random order
Definite maybe Small crowd
Growing smaller Weirdly normal
I am sure you have heard all of these before and are probably used to hearing them without giving them much thought. Using the words ugly and beautiful in the same sentence is an oxymoron too. Ugly is often attributed to something unattractive, unsightly, or unpleasant, to look at. Ugly is to be distasteful, disgusting, grotesque, or offensive to the sense of beauty. Beautiful, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Beautiful is amazing, appealing, delightful, gorgeous, striking, attractive, marvelous, awe-inspiring and pleasing to the eyes.
It was at this magnificent gate of one of the most beautiful structures ever made by human hand that we find the man from our passage today, in an ugly situation. The Bible does not give us his name. But the information written about him says that he was lame and a beggar.
We know from the story he was a beggar who had to be taken to the gate daily to beg. He had been carried from the time he was a baby, and now as a man, he was still being carried and laid at the gate in order to plead for the generosity of others. He has had no other options because he had been physically challenged since birth.
Each day this man’s friends picked him up and took him to the Temple. They brought the man to the Temple door but he never goes in. You see, as I have said, he was a man with great disabilities and they were not allowed in the Temple. He could come to the door of the Temple but could never go in.
It was a beautiful door, it was made of fine Corinthian brass. It took a lot of silver and gold to pay for it. For years, the man likely looked at this door and admired it but it kept him outside. Perhaps he could hear the sound of praise and worship in the Temple but all he could do was to lie at the door. It would seem like he was close to the Temple, but in reality he was still very far away.
This man had never walked a day in his life. He was dependent on charity. Occasionally a copper, or possibly silver or maybe even a gold coin, was given to him by those entering the Temple. But what did those temple goers think of this man? Did they give to him to be seen by others? Did they give grudgingly, as many do –like when we try to get past those Salvation Army kettles at Christmas time? Maybe others, knowing that this man was there, just went through a different door.
How often did this man wonder what it would be like to walk, like others? What it would be like to have a “normal” life. Did he wonder what worship in the Temple was like? But the reality was, without “grace actually recognizing his need” he was trapped outside. He was never going to walk. He was never going to get in, unless someone was to recognize his need.
This man must have had by now low expectations of the generosity of others. Perhaps today though, he would be lucky. Perhaps he might get a silver coin today. That would be a good day, as it would pay for his needs for the entire day. A gold coin would be amazing but those days were rare. Little did this man know that on this day, he would receive a gift far more valuable than gold or silver, for true “grace actually recognizes need.”
Our passage says that Peter and John came to the Temple at the time of the evening prayers, three o’clock. The man must have been lying there all day. Soon someone would come and take him home. How had the day gone for this man? Had the people been generous? Or would he have to satisfy himself, as he often did, with a few crumbs? Here was an ugly story at the beautiful gate, visible to all, yet truly unseen.
Along comes Peter and John who were ordinary people, yet followers of Jesus. Their appearance likely did not give the man much hope for a large donation. But at this late hour, any donation was better than none. The man noticed that these men did something that most people did not do. They looked at the man. They saw him. His hopes rose because he was at least somebody to Peter and John, even if it were only for a moment. When others dropped a coin for him they did so without taking real notice.
In our story the most unexpected exchange happened. Not only did Peter and John see the man, they began to talk to him. This man who was nameless and faceless in a crowd was being seen. This must have gotten the man’s hopes up, right? But then he heard these words, “We don’t have silver and gold.” Of course they didn’t and of course these were not the words this man expected to hear or wanted to hear. After all, this man’s life had been reduced to that of silver and gold. This is what he needed and what he was begging for.
Peter and John do not stop there. They share with this man the news that they do have something to give. They give this man an invitation, “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Wow! Peter then reaches out his hand in full faith, to pull this man up. He touched this man. And something happened when he did. As God’s grace actually recognized the need of this man — He was amazed. He was transformed. He could stand up. He could walk. He was healed!
In one gesture of grace this man was to experience two things he had never experienced before. The first was to stand up on both feet. The second was to enter the temple from which, most of his life, he had been excluded.
He could enter the temple with all those who had passed him by over the years and join in the worship of a God who’s “grace actually recognizes need,” his need. He was healed in soul as well as body.
It seems like in Jesus’ ministry, the people he healed didn’t often stop to offer thanks. Not this man. When he was healed in Jesus’ name, he went in to worship, jumping, leaping for joy and praising God, the passage says. He would have to find some other means of supporting himself. He no longer was the beggar at the gate. He had a new identity. But he would worry about that tomorrow.
We know that this man was not the only man who was healed by either Jesus or the Apostles acting in Jesus’ name. Why was this one remembered then when so many others were reduced to a group of people whom Jesus healed? I wonder if the Spirit inspired Luke to write down this account to teach an important lesson for us all.
Could it be that the church appears to be focused too much on silver and gold? We certainly ask for it enough don’t we? Is this what the church is all about? We want the silver and gold to do the work for us, often thinking this alone is what attracts others. What about offering our hands to others, or extending a personal invitation to visit our temple. I remind you my friends the beauty of the church is not the building; it’s us, the members.
There is a story told of the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas who was being given a tour of all the church’s treasure in St. John’s of the Lateran in Rome. He was told upon seeing all the silver and gold, that the church no longer had to say “Silver and gold have we none”. Aquinas reportedly answered, “Neither can the church say “Rise up and walk.”
Did God create the church to just build beautiful buildings? No! In fact the very building before which our healed man laid would soon become rubble. The Romans would carry off the beautiful doors, and all the silver and gold.
No. God raised the church to build beautiful, faithful, grace filled people, like you and me. We are the church. We are the ones who can reach out hands and hearts to the needs around us. We are the ones who can extend an invitation to come and see. We are the ones who could care for those we live with, work with, or meet along the way.
So how do we become these beautiful, faithful, grace filled, people? How do we live like Peter and John, who had been transformed by God’s grace to the degree, that they were able to recognize needs around them?
I think by living out one of Colonials “core values” — immersing ourselves in sacred spaces and rhythms — we will create space for God to re-form our hearts and spirits for God’s purposes.
Sacred spaces and rhythms like:
My friends immersing ourselves in these basic practices prepares us for real life. And life is not easy right now especially in this pandemic world. Life continues to be full of contrasts. We go through mountains, and we go through valleys as well. Some will be filled with joy and some with heartache. We go through successes and we go through failures.
There are many challenges in life aren’t there? Some of these challenges will test our courage, strength and even our faith in God. No one is exempt. Everyone has challenges. The fact that we are trying to live a faithful life does not mean we won’t struggle or suffer. People of faith have always experienced hardship.
So then what does it mean to have faith, to trust God,
if we aren’t exempt in some way?
It means we get to know that God is with us. By investing in some of these basic practices of the faith, we will remember God is with us. And that will free us to be the church, the people God longs for us to be, the people who can offer grace to others.
Whatever the situation you’re facing now, you are not alone. God cares! Through Jesus, what is ugly can be made beautiful. So we don’t give up! God can turn mourning into dancing and even ashes into beauty. God, by the presence of the Spirit can intervene in what seems to be impossible and hopeless situations because the God of grace actually recognizes need — my needs, your needs, and the needs of others.
There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in circumstances or opportunities that we cannot face on our own. This is when we look for God and to God. This is when God can step in and change the outcomes of hopelessness. In the case of the man at the Beautiful Gate he seemed be without hope, but God had something more for him. Peter and John, fresh from seeing the Easter miracles, were ready to be the people whose grace actually recognized need and led them to responded with a life-changing gift.
No one is broken beyond healing, damaged beyond repair or wounded beyond recovery! God can transform our ugly situations into something more beautiful than we can imagine. God can take messes and turn them into a message. And God will use us to share this good message, if we are willing.
Messages like “You matter.” “You’re beautiful.” and “Your past choices do not have to define you!” That God can bring beauty out of our ashes. That God can turn shame into a thing of glory.
Yes, you may be going through the toughest times of your life right now but know that God is faithful. No matter what you are going through today, keep thanking God for Gods faithfulness.
You know — I think the great miracle of today’s story, the real miracle, was that a person who was excluded is now included. The healing of the feet was only the
means to this great healing. God used the grace of Peter and John to restore this man.
Colonial Church — how many obstacles can we help others to overcome so the church, this church, can recognize and respond to their needs?
Could the miracle this man received, in a sense have opened the door for others to enter in? Could others like the Samaritans, your neighbors, the Ethiopians, your work mates, the Gentile God fearers, your extended family, and even the heathen, be invited to participate in the relationship with and the worship of God?
Yes, yes they could!
What if this church, meaning you and I, began to see, speak to, and touch others with the good news of the gospel? What if this church, having experienced the grace revealed in the accounts of Easter, just days ago, offered to the world, a grace that actually recognizes their need? What might God do with that?
That’s no oxymoron!