By Faith In His Name
Bradley: Wesley UMC
April 19, 2015
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
My maternal grandmother died in 1967. She taught me a lot “By Faith in Jesus name”. Every time my grandmother had a chance, two things she believed were driven into my mind, heart and spirit. First, she wanted me to be a preacher like my grandfather. Second, she wanted me to attend college, preferably Philander Smith College where my grandfather had been a trustee. Adding to the difficulty of her dream, neither she nor my mother had any money to help or make it happen. Both things happened anyway, “by faith in his name,” her faith more than mine. Regrettably, what she saw by faith happened after she died.
Today’s sermon has to do with a man, lame from birth, being healed “in the name of Jesus.” And so focus on the theme “By faith in Jesus name” looking through a glass darkly at the faith healing, faith filled witness and the name of Jesus.
Last Sunday morning at 3 am I turned on my television and saw popular televangelist Peter Popoff conducting faith healings on television. People on crutches, in wheelchairs, suffering from headaches, backaches, cancer, paralysis and a host of other maladies declared they were healed. A new day in their lives had begun. Down through the years, some investigators have shown that is not the case. Some of the healed persons have been plants in the audience. Others said that Popoff’s miracles cost money. For example, donations to his ministry have brought miracle water and prayer cloths to anyone needing healing, a job or financial security.
None of that behavior marked Peter’s healing of the man lame from birth. One day, Peter and John were approaching the temple for the 3:00 prayer service. Their involvement in the ministry of Jesus Christ required spending time with God, not just alone but collectively. In passing, I am reminded of two trips to South Korea and time spent at a Korean Methodist church named Bupyeong. Six am every morning, the congregation met for prayer. 700 to 800 people showed up seven days a week.
Second, as they approached the temple, Peter and John met a man lame from birth who wanted money. The disciples had no money to give him and said so. While Peter and John had no money to give him, Peter agreed to give him what he had. Jesus had taught his disciples to be instruments of his grace. So Peter facilitated his healing. During my childhood years, my mother always reminded us that if we had little or no money to give to the church, we could always give what we had. That was service.
Third, so what did Peter give the lame man if he had no money? By faith and action, Peter healed the man “in the name of Jesus,” then, he reached out his right hand and commanded the man to stand up and walk. And by God, he did. Folks hollered. But none more than the man who had been lame from birth. He began walking, leaping and praising God for healing even as he clung to Peter and John.
Fourth, praised by the crowd for working such a miracle, Peter was crystal clear to the crowd and the man healed. He acknowledged that the man was healed by faith in the name of Jesus, nothing more, nothing less. He was an instrument. As important, neither Peter nor John requested money or donations for the healing of a man born lame. Quite frankly, Peter was doing what he had seen his Lord do countless times as they trudged up and down the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, do God’s will by serving others. Sometimes we fail to give God the glory for working miracles in which we were just an instrument. To be sure, the pioneers and pillars of this church have contributed much in 125 years. But we know the major force has been Jesus of Nazareth. Without Him, none of this would be possible.
One of the lessons of this healing story seems clear. God makes the best use of disciples when they are steeped, rinsed and engulfed in faith. Disciples can be instruments of faith. Or, disciples can provide examples of faith and lessons learned through their struggles. What is faith? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
When we pray, “the substance of things hoped for” materialize. What do I mean? Prayer chains, get well cards, prayers spoken by cell phone, personal visits to home or hospital, the surgeon’s knife or skill, refusing to abandon hope when “hope unborn had died” are reminders that we are instruments of faith healing. We hope people get well. We hope folks facing death do so fearing no evil. We hope family, friends and foes live hope filled lives overcoming obstacles that would keep them in bondage. If you commit to pray for somebody, do so. Your prayer may be the critical difference in how God touches a life or a people. Prayer changed things.
Clearly Peter sees himself as God’s instrument in the healing of the man lame from birth. “Why do you stare at us as though my power or piety we made him walk?” According to Peter, Jesus is the reason. He is the instrument. At least two past events drive the point home. First, our Lord informs Peter he is rock upon which he will build his church - a church against which the very gates of Hades will not prevail. In short, Peter’s leadership will carry the responsibility of growing the church - as an instrument not as her Lord. Secondly, after the resurrection, Peter assumes his leadership in one of the most daunting occasions in the early church, Pentecost. Inspired Peter preaches a dynamic Pentecost sermon. He explains the meaning and purpose to the fires of Pentecost. He retells the story of the life, death and resurrection of his Lord. Then, Peter invites people to repent and lead new lives. In response, over three thousand folks join the church. Peter steps in the gap: not as one seeking recognition; but as one called out to be an instrument of Jesus. Peter’s understanding as one responding to the call of Christ parallels St. Francis of Assisi self-understanding; “Lord make me an instrument of thy peace?”
I began the sermon by mentioning the big push my grandmother made on my going into the ministry and attending Philander Smith College. By the way, Philander Smith College is one of the Black Colleges supported by the United Methodist. I used to think her insistence about becoming a preacher and going to college was personal. In short, that it was all about what she wanted. As the years passed by, my understanding of what happened has changed. Now, I believe God used her as an instrument to call me into ministry.
When we do not have sufficient clarity about our roles as God’s instruments, our faith struggles provide light for others in their faith struggles. John Wesley confessed to friend Peter Bohler that his faith had become like dry bones, dead and nonexistent. He wondered if he should stop preaching. Bohler objected strongly. “Preach faith until you have,” he admonished. “And when you have it, you can preach faith.” Faith won’t allow anyone to give up.
Since the Super Bowl, Toyota has been running a commercial featuring Amy Purdy. Purdy, now 35, contracted a deadly form of meningitis when she was 19. Both legs below the knee had to be amputated. She lost both kidneys and her spleen. Her chance of survival was 2%. Two year later, she received a kidney from her dad. She recovered. And her life took off with her prosthetic legs and feet. Running, snowboarding, dancing, modeling, mountain biking, author, motivational you name book, a commercial force have been added to her life. Somehow, she grasped the essence of faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” With massive disabilities, Amy’s life has been become whole again. How can we think about quitting when we have such powerful examples as Amy Purdy overcoming the unthinkable?
Yours truly remembered a time when my faith was not what it ought to be. Some of the details have been lost over time; but here is what I have recalled. In East Ohio Annual Conference (my first assignment), a devoted member of one of my churches approached me in a wheel chair. Often, she sang with the conference choir. Because of severe illness, she lost her voice and couldn’t sing anymore. So she asked me to pray for her. And I did. Later, she began to tell all who would listen that I had healed her. I was stunned, yes in shock. I didn’t know what to say or how to respond appropriately. That I could heal anybody of anything never came to my mind. But she continued to tell folks the bishop had healed her. I have mulled that healing story in my mind countless times and reached this conclusion.
In my own life, I was fearful of a healing being attributed to me. Because of my lack of faith, I could not see God using me like that. It was as if I concluded that God stopped working miracles of healing in the first century and that none were possible for the past 21 centuries. What I failed to see or consider is that God could have used me as an instrument of healing at the very moment she asked me to pray. Because of her faith in Jesus Christ in the name of Jesus; her faith in a healing Christ did the deed. She was healed by faith, not mine but hers. How often has Christ called out disciples like me in every age saying: “O ye of little faith?” I have a question for you Bradley. After 40 plus years of membership decline in Methodism, do you still believe that Bradley can grow in 2015?
IN THE NAME OF JESUS
Last week, a tornado tore across Illinois damaging Rochelle and devastating Fairdale. Two people were killed. Most of the buildings in Fairdale were heavily damaged or destroyed. A commentator said Fairdale is two blocks wide and five blocks deep. It’ll take some time before Fairdale return to normal. Whenever a natural disaster occurs in France, Finland, Fiji or Fairdale, there is a religious disaster agency whose name and support stand on the same ground as agencies like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. UMCOR, or the United Methodist Committee on Relief, “provides aid in disasters around the globe, aid to refugees, food for the hungry and assistance to the impoverished.” Since its birth in 1940, UMCOR shows up with trained specialists to alleviate human suffering. UMCOR is there when the going got tough. Their name and reputation matter. Names matter. We speak them daily. Mother, father, friend, grandmother, pastor, tax preparer, doctor, lawyer and bishop are prime examples. Without the utmost trust in certain names, living and learning, surviving and thriving would not be possible.
Three weeks ago, we celebrated the triumphant ride of our Lord down the streets of Jerusalem. Before and after he passed them on the parade route, the crowd shouted: “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The crowd celebrated Jesus’ name because he had earned the reputation a new public leader who really cared about all people. Plus, his public ministry resembled the work and witness of the long expected Messiah Israel had been waited for. According to the prophecy, the Messiah would restore order. Someone from the house of David would rule Israel again and vanquish Rome, the brutal oppressors who held sway in Jesus’ day. Dashed hopes rose when Jesus came to town; the impossible became possible in his name.
All these things and more acted as catalysts in that one moment in time when the lame man asked Peter and John for money. “Gold and silver have I none. But such as I have I give unto thee, in the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.” Peter extended his right hand and the man got up and walked.
Joseph Garlington shared this statement about the Christian Life. “The Christian Life isn’t difficult—it is impossible. If we don’t know that, we will try to do things ourselves. Faith is not necessary when we think we can do it ourselves. Faith comes along when we realize that we cannot do it on our own.”
By faith in his name, I reach out to this congregation today. If you’re lame from sin, a family struggle, a secret that’s tearing you apart; if you’re lame from job loss, pending divorce, sickness unto death or heartbroken over your child or children; if you’re lame because you have no faith, feel alone, want to trust in God but can’t and or need healing only God can bring; if you’re lame from a struggling Sunday School, budget stagnation, membership decline or a spiritual malaise, “here’s my right hand.” “By faith in his name, stand up. Walk by faith not by sight.” Then, give God the glory. Amen.