When Peter and John went to the Temple to pray, a man who had been crippled since birth called out to them, begging for alms. I’m guessing that Peter and John had seen him before this, but this time they responded. Here is their reply laid out in the form of a song I learned long ago.
“Silver and gold have I none,
But such as I have give I thee,
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
rise up and walk.
He went walking and leaping and praising God,
Walking and leaping and praising God,
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
rise up and walk.”
If you had been in the crowd and had seen this man “walking and leaping and praising God,” how would you have responded?
When Peter saw that a crowd filled with amazement was gathering in Solomon’s Portico, he knew it was time for a sermon. Peter opened his sermon by letting the crowd know that it wasn’t the power or piety of Peter and John that made the man whole. It was faith in the name of Jesus, the one whom they had crucified and whom the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had raised from the dead, that made him whole.
Now, Peter’s sermon poses a problem because it’s one of those passages in the New Testament that seems to blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. That in turn has been used to justify anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic actions, including the Holocaust. So, when we approach a passage like this, we have to reject any interpretation or application that would denigrate Jews and Judaism. If we remember that this is one Jew speaking to other Jews, then perhaps we can hear in Peter’s sermon a word for us as Christians today.
What I hear in Peter’s sermon is a warning about the power of systems that can suck us in without us even realizing it. Consider what Peter says in verse 17 about acting in ignorance. What Peter was saying here is that the people who perpetrated this murder of Jesus had been caught up in a system called the Roman Empire.
When we think about the systems of this world that can take hold of us, it is worth pondering the word we hear in chapter 6 of Ephesians. What we read there is that we are involved in a battle that’s not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities. In other words, our battle isn’t against human beings it’s with systemic and structural evil (Eph. 6:10-13). That requires a spiritual response.
One of those systems is white privilege. If we don’t acknowledge this privilege then it can lead to racism and racist acts. One of the ways the system takes hold of us is through the creation of stereotypes, which can then be used to label people, and then marginalize them. What Peter is saying to us is that it will take more than political activism to change the situation. True healing requires repentance so that we can view the world through a different set of lenses. That is, through the lens of love.
We’ve been given a helpful lens in the inclusion statement we adopted when we became an “Open and Affirming Congregation.” This statement is a lens of love that begins with repentance and from there it leads to a willingness to learn from others and hear voices that have been historically silenced. From there healing of the soul, even the soul of a nation, can take place. Repentance, therefore, has implications for the systems we inhabit and that inhabit us.
To give an example of how this might take place, I’ll point to the “Stop Asian Hate” rally I attended last Sunday afternoon. I went there not as a speaker or a leader, but simply to listen to the stories told by people who have been marginalized by our society. One of the messages I heard was a call for repentance on the part of those of us who are complicit in the system. That is a call for repentance on the part of those of us who have benefitted from the marginalization of others.
While Peter issued a call for repentance, he also offered a promise to those who heard his message and chose to repent of their complicity in the execution of Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. Peter promised that if we repent then God will wipe away our sins. That means getting a fresh start in life by adopting a new outlook on life. Mark Andrew Jefferson puts it this way: “True repentance is an embodied disruption to the forces that distort God’s image alive within our neighbor and in creation” [Connections, p. 222].
The good news is that if we recognize and acknowledge the systems that enslave us through repentance then we can experience liberation from these systems. As we experience this liberation, we will have the opportunity to participate in the times of refreshing that come to us through the name of Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.
Peter closes his sermon with an intriguing promise. He tells us that Jesus will remain in heaven until the “time of the universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” Of this day, Jürgen Moltmann writes that “what is meant is nothing other than the restoration of all things, the homecoming of the universe in the form of what Irenaeus called the recapitulatio mundi.” [Moltmann. The Coming of God, (Kindle Locations 3467-3470)]. But, until that day comes, we must navigate this world and its systems, drawing on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit who opens hearts and minds to the systems of this world so that we might move toward that day when all things will be restored.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 18, 2021
Image attribution: Gerung, Matthias, approximately 1500-approximately 1570. St. Peter Healing the Crippled Beggar, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58591 [retrieved April 17, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ottheinrich_Folio228v_Act3.jpg.