Climbing the Stairway to Heaven
Sermon for Easter 2 – Sunday 28 April 2019 – Christchurch, Felixstowe
Text: Acts 3v1-10
He entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
walking and leaping and praising God
walking and leaping and praising God
In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk
Oh the joys of a song from Sunday School with its uncoordinated actions, fractured metre and a suspicion that much contemporary Christian music is written by frustrated Country & Western artists! Why else would we be expected to sing the word ‘Christ’ as if it has not one, not two, but three syllables? Give me Led Zeppelin and Stairway to Heaven instead please. (This is where the keyboard player is supposed to strike a few impromptu chords and drag us all back to the era of platform shoes, psychedelic shirts, and flares…)
Today’s reading from Acts happens on a stairway and our lesson today will be about learning to climb it.
We start at the bottom of the stairway – archaeologists are pretty sure there was a stairway going up to the Beautiful Gate – and this is were our lame man would have been laid.
We know two things about him. He was lame from birth and he had some really faithful friends.
He was born lame. This reminds us of another miracle to someone born with a birth defect. Remember the tale in John’s Gospel of the Pool of Siloam and the man who was born not lame but blind? The story unfolds one of those ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin arguments’ about who sinned that he was born blind. Undoubtedly the same questions were raised at the gate as at the poolside. Since this man was born lame, according to the beliefs of the day, sin ‘must’ have been involved. For this reason many of those who passed him by would have thought he deserved to spend his whole life as a beggar and that he should be grateful for whatever scraps fell his way. With little hope and no sense that God cares for him, no wonder he looks expectantly at the hale and healthy worshippers passing him, begging them for whatever alms they can spare.
But he is not alone; he has friends. Friends, who are not frightened to be associated with someone who was associated with sin. Friends, who are committed to bending their backs, so that he is in the best place to receive the generosity of others. Friends who even though they couldn’t heal him, still helped him.
At the foot of the stairway to ‘heaven’, when we are at the bottom of the heap, we learn this. Hope can still grow and help is still offered. The lame man may be left outside the Temple and perhaps even an outcast amongst his people, but he is not alone. Whenever we meet anyone at the bottom of the heap – no matter why or how they got there – we should not hesitate to offer help even if we cannot provide healing.
On the way up the stairway three people meet. The lame man full of hopes and expectation, and Peter and John with empty purses yet overflowing with the Holy Spirit.
The lame man receives what he did not expect and the apostles gave what they never knew they had. The lame man had hopes of money – a hope limited by his experience. The apostles thought they had nothing to give – a despair limited by their lack of experience. For everyone grace intervenes and new life is born.
Sometimes, as the Letter from James reminds us ‘You do not have, because you do not ask.’ (James 4v2) and when we do ask we tend to ask for the wrong things for the wrong reasons! The lame man learnt that God wanted to give him more than he expected while the apostles discovered that they could give more than they intended.
There is a lesson in asking – like the widow before the unjust judge, do not give up hope. We are never in a place where we cannot receive.
There is a lesson in giving – we may not have what is asked for but we need to give what we have. We are never in a place where we have nothing to give.
In God’s economy we learn this ‘If you give what you’ve got you’ll receive what you need’. And if that is the case who needs more?
And so we come to the top of the stairway to find three brothers in the faith who moments before were strangers to each other.
The one who never even walked before is now leaping. Previously an encumbrance, his legs hold him up and propel him into the Temple were he can, for the first time, come nearer to the presence of God who never ever left him alone. What do the apostles do, they walk and leap and praise God with him, welcoming him into their fellowship.
The newly walking lame, like newly walking toddlers, like newly born Christians, will probably take a tumble once in a while. Sometimes they may even turn around and walk the wrong way. Occasionally they may leave the Temple altogether and fall down the stairway they have just learnt to climb and end up in a broken heap at the bottom.
What do we do then? We go to the foot of the stairs and we start again; be we the one who fell or the one who carried a broken lame body there each day or the one who offered healing in place of alms. Because our own climb up the stairway to heaven will never be complete until everyone has made it to the Temple of the Lord.
And they all lived happily ever after… Well Peter and John were thrown in jail overnight and were up in front of the Beak, I mean the Sanhedrin, the next day, but by the end of the next chapter we learn that the whole Christian Community has learnt to gather together to give thanks frequently and hold everything in common. Now ‘that’ is the real miracle that began on the steps outside the gate called Beautiful.
This blog ‘Climbing the Stairway to Heaven’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019