Easter 3 - Year B
Is this simply a matter of balance? This week we hear about a healing followed by harsh words; next week we hear about arrest followed by affirmations.
It is difficult to deal with this interpretation of an act without reference to said act.
How is the crowd being addressed any different from the crippled one who was healed? Does his very lameness make him different in kind from the rest of the Israelites? Is he somehow exempt from the anti-semitically used accusations of being Christ-killers?
There is a feel here of the showmanship of faith healers who use the gift of healing for one, with no reference to faith, and then turn to the crowd to demand that those in the crowd can only get their healing by jumping through some creedal hoops.
Perhaps the best we can do is to focus on verse 16b. Our faith (what we have we give) is an important gift for the benefit of all. What an opportunity to assist folks to do their own learning to learn what we have learned about a radical trust in a GOD who welcomes back betrayers and a community that shares all it knows of the power of GOD in any language and context and shares all that they have with one another.
Lets not get hung up on the incantation of magical names, but rejoice in the sharing of life through a faith that leads to "what I have I give."
"You Israelites!" can be affirmation or dismissal. It is so easy to make determinations of who is in and who is out. A part of our peace is moving beyond categorization of people, whether an individual or a community. Hear this story:
Opinion: Knowing Who You Are
by Ray Buckley
It was not always popular to be Native American. In many areas of the Americas it still is not. Yet, as Native American art and music have come in vogue, and portrayals in motion pictures and television have become increasingly positive, many people are reaching for a Native identity. Sometimes the identity is a fascination with Native culture. Sometimes it is the unexplainable attraction and identification with those who have suffered. Sometimes the roots are close at hand and easily accessible. Sometimes they are faraway or non-existent.
In the political arena, the boundaries are not equitable, but they are at least, identifiable. Blood quantums and/or substantial documentation to tribal heritage are the criteria. Therein lies the confusion and the strength of Native people. We were, and are still, tribal people. Whether full-blood or metis (mixed-blood) , on this side of the border or the other, we are who we are, because our people recognize us. Our strength as people has always been our ability to define ourselves and those who will be called by our name.
In the church, the lines are not always clear. It is our mission to reach out to the disenfranchised. We seek out the lost, spiritually and culturally. In our effort to increase Native American awareness within the church, we have stressed the presence of Native Americans in every facet and region of American life. In many areas of the church, where there is no longer a strong tribal presence, it has sometimes become easier to "discover" a Native person or group. To fulfill our own expectations of ministry, we have offered "Indianness" as a prize, and then, often resented those who have taken it.
The face of Native American ministries in the church can be a confusing one.
Is there a ministry to those in "Native discovery" within the mission of the church? What should be the role of Native Americans in ministering to those seeking to find acceptance within the Native American community?
Helping individuals find identity, is a mission of the church. That identity is found in our relationship to God through Christ. That identity is also found within the Body of Christ. Our ministry, therefore, is to all persons. Period. That means that as some Native American ministries grow, others will be drawn to the faith community. What is essentially a Native American-based community may no longer meet the church's criteria of a Native American congregation or fellowship. There may be too many non-Indians.
There is a political function that the Church at large, and the Native church in particular, can pursue. We can address the issues of tribes and individuals and support them in their quest for justice. We can actively seek social justice for all Native peoples, but by doing so, we must recognize the right of tribes to define themselves.
We can assist those with legitimate claims to tribal affiliation by helping them identify the steps to recognition and net-working them within the faith community. Those who are re-discovering their heritage, which often includes tribal members, often fall prey to pan-Indian apologists who negate tribal traditions in favor of what "all Indians do".
We can also minister to those with marginal claims of Indian ancestry, by assisting them with avenues of learning about their heritage. Just as critical, is assisting them in appreciating all of the cultures which make up their background, and loving the person God has made them. To attempt to create something "Indian" is to circumvent the validity of their identity in Christ, and to raise Native identity to an idolatrous level. It is also to risk losing for the church those unique characteristics that God has given persons for ministry.
We must, however, recognize that tribal membership is not the "end-all". Membership in a state or federally recognized tribe is a valuable social and political tool. There are many persons of significant Native ancestry, who, due to tribal or governmental regulations have no legal status as Native people. In some tribes, membership is lost if one marries outside of their tribe. In some the blood quantum is 100%. In some, one can only join the tribe at birth or age 18. There are many thousands of Native people who were "adopted out" before acceptable laws were passed, and were never registered. During the relocation of Indian families in the 1950-60's, many children born away from reservations were unregistered, and still are. Status is merely a matter of documentation. It does not measure the heart or consciousness of a Native person. It is an appropriate time to begin addressing the issues of non-status Native people. It should begin in our church.
We must not be afraid to "speak the truth in love". We alienate tribal communities when we are free to label persons as Native American indiscriminately. We cannot use the words "Native American" to legitimize ministries, even if it suits our purpose.
We must also learn to use "of Native descent", and "Native American advocate", with equal value for the heritage and gifts that God has given those persons. These are our children, grandchildren and friends. The circle of our arms is wide, and they are part of us.
Sometimes the best pastor for a non-Native church is a Native pastor. Sometimes the best leader for a Native American ministry may be a non-Native leader. Sometimes it is not the best thing to establish a ministry for the sake of having one.
Our mission as the church is to love the world, not to make them Indians.
"...repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed...." (Luke 24:47)
"I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety." (Psalm 4:8)
These two lines play well together. In a season of resurrection we can spend time on the process (focusing on what we know - betrayal, injustice, torture, death - rather than what we don't know - visits to hell, empty tombs, experience of continuity even when not immediately recognizable) or on resurrection's intention - changing direction and forgiveness.
To lie down and sleep can also be to die. We can do so in "safety" when expecting to arise forgiven and with a changed direction.
When life is revealed we shall see it as it is - healed, changed, forgiven, onward from here - and we will participate in those same dimensions.
- - -
we see health or healing and
we shy away from their politics
to admit unexpected healing
that which we were not a party
raises our already high anxieties
to the point of denial of our senses
being out of touch with ourselves
puts us out of community with others
our wonder and amazement can turn on a dime
from loud praise to louder death to loudest peace
Who is not lame from limping around a variety of altars? Lameness, even from birth as we deal with our cultural lameness, is a most unoriginal sin. There's not much to it, it's not like soul-searing thievery, murder, adultery. It's pretty lame to be lame.
Here we are without a foot to stand on, still in the midst of community, being carried to our assigned spot. The only thing equal to the gift of being carried where one needs to go is to be able to carry another.
This story, to which Peter adds a lot of interpretation bordering on speculation, is much more an Easter story than the preaching about it.
Imagine a lame culture, a lame individual, and there being a quantum leap from lameness to a lovely deer leaping o'er the hills to its lover. There is a move here from passivity to partnership.
Just live with the first 11 verses without breaking into talk at verse 12 about blame and conversion. Experience again the various shifts you have experienced of seeming to have no choice and then having a choice. It is astonishing. It is also astonishing that we so quickly forget those experiences. When it happens again, we get astonished all over again. See if you can sense the beginning of astonishment before its full-blown arrival and be ready to jump in with both feet. In this way we might lose our lameness come from limping around Lethe's altar of forgetfulness.
Bait and switch is an ancient tradition. Come for the miracle and stay for the doctrine.
To document this, read what just went before this pericope. Here it sounds as if the man healed was the one with faith in Jesus. But remember that the lame man was only asking for alms, as he had done for all his life. It was Peter who enters Jesus into the conversation. It was Peter who enters faith in Christ into the scene. It was Peter who said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” [emphasis added].
Peter continues this switch as he turns to those observing this event and claims his, Peter’s, faith is the only blessed one available. Believe with me or you will be utterly rooted out. This is precursor to Constantine enforcing one particular strand of Christianity into the only orthodoxy available.
The Message puts the dynamic at work here as, “When Peter saw he had a congregation, he addressed the people.” Ahh, were Peter simply to have dealt with a lame man, we would never have gotten this apology for orthodoxy that makes heretics out of equally faithful folks, just differently faithful. Without this apology we might again pay attention to the wild variety of gifts and calls and miracles and signs and faith available at different times and stages of life and opportunities for experience.