Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children can say the darndest things. I am sure it was meant as a compliment, but at Confirmation I was introduced affectionately and proudly by one of the Confirmands to his family with the words. “Our pastor has never bored anyone with a long sermon. He always does it quickly.” I sheepishly walked away. Every child has a way of embarrassing his or her parents with the simplest phrases. I am reminded of a little boy in church who watched as the ushers passed the offering plate. When they neared the pew where the boy was sitting, the youngster piped up so that everyone could hear. “Don’t pay for me Daddy. I’m under five.”
Yes, life is filled with funny, awkward and embarrassing moments. At some point they do make you smile, and for the next few weeks, those phrases will be the favorite stories of parents, much to the chagrin of the graduating seniors. But then one day that smile becomes a lump in your throat- especially for parents as they realize their children are leaving home and it’s time to say goodbye. High school graduation is probably the most emotional and pivotal occasion in a person’s life- and not simply for the graduates, but for the parents. We wonder whether we have given you anything truly lasting that will carry you through life’s difficult times.
Now I wish I could say that as you leave home, that everything in life will be easier for you, but you’ve probably already discovered a pattern. When you got to high school and looked back, you could only remember how easy grade school was. The same will be true when you look back from college. We tend to think that the grass is always greener on the other side, and that if we can just change something, it’ll be ok. But the truth is life can be tough every step of the way, and unfortunately, your main supporters, your parents will not be there to cheer you on from the sidelines.
This morning’s reading from the Book of Acts teaches us that there is a name that gives hope and strength for life’s challenges. Even though Jesus wasn’t physically walking side by side with his disciples any longer, they carried with them a power and confidence. That is what I would like to share with you today. It is my conviction that it is the power of Jesus’ name that can make a difference for you in the difficult times of life. Indeed, there is no name like his.
We don’t know exactly how much time has passed since the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples, but we do know they were still regularly worshiping God in the Temple. They followed the example that Jesus had taught them, and so we read that, that Peter and John were on their way up to prayer in the Temple. “Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.” For this man, there was never an easy day to look back on. He was physically challenged from birth. From the earliest days of his childhood, all he could do was watch. His destiny was to beg from a dusty mat, from whence he would throw himself at the mercy of the crowds. He was dependent on his friends or family to carry him everywhere day and night and place him outside the temple waiting for someone that was generous. His life consisted of hoping, trusting, and praying that someone would have mercy on him. And if that wasn’t harsh enough, countless people simply ignored him and passed him by, looking down on him as some kind of poor sinner who had received the just rewards of punishment.
“When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for alms. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So he fixed his attention on them, expecting to get something from them. But then to his surprise Peter did something that he never expected. The apostle said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up walk.”
All his life, the lame man had thought that money was his greatest need. He thought things would always be like they were then and never get better. Begging for alms from his mat was all he’d ever known. Sometimes we make the mistake in thinking that as well. We believe that everything will be and stay just as they are. The answers we seek aren’t the always the solutions we need. We think, if only I had a little more money my life would be much better. The truth is, money is seldom our greatest need, nor was it the lame man’s greatest need. Our greatest need is to have a vibrant life filled with meaning. So, if you ever find yourself thinking, if I only had more money, then I would be happier, use that thought to quickly remind yourself that there is something wrong with your thinking. You don’t need more money, you need more meaning. Simply said, and perhaps simplistically said, remind yourself, you need more Jesus.
It’s interesting that in the previous chapter of Acts we read that the members of the early church had sold all their possessions and given to those who were in need. So why didn’t Peter give the lame man some of this money? It’s what he wanted. Why not? Because Peter was of the mind of Christ, and he wanted to help the man in a way that he needed it most. Money wouldn’t solve the lame man’s problems. That is a hard lesson for both graduates and parents to learn. The lame man needed to walk. He needed to be healed. The apostle wanted to get to the root of this man’s problem, and Peter knew that only Jesus could do this. Peter had faith that “in the name of Jesus” great and miraculous things could happen.
Now you may think that having faith “in the name of Jesus” is like casting a magical spell. But Peter understood that calling on the name of Jesus was more than simply say words in the right order. Peter understood that calling on the name of Jesus was inviting the living presence of Jesus into that moment. Praying in the name of Jesus and doing things in the name of Jesus, was inviting Jesus to be part of the struggle. It is just as true for you and me today. There is strength of the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But it doesn’t happen with words alone. It always continues with an action.
Saint James, the brother of Jesus wrote in the Epistle of James that faith without works is dead, and rebuked those who substituted warm words of empty inspiration for the concrete actions they could be taking as well. Peter and John had no silver or gold to give, but they took the time to give a blessing to the lame man, and their blessing in the name of Christ brought a miracle of healing. Then “Taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk.” If Peter hadn’t acted on his faith, the lame man would probably have missed God’s blessing.
Of course, most of us won’t have that kind of dramatic experience. But miracles still abound, and you never know what God can do through you if “inviting in the name of Jesus,” you give a blessing, with your money, with your time and with you talent. Yes, for the man who was born lame, the gift of a relationship with Jesus, changed his life. He had once been an outsider, but suddenly he walked with Peter and John entering the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
Now you may be wondering, why is the story of the Peter and John Healing the Lame Man such an important story for high school graduates? It offers two profound lessons. First, the story reminds us that there will be occasions in life when you may not know what you really need or want. You may think its money, the right job or good grades. But what you may actually be longing for is a new beginning. In those moments, we are taught that you are to pray in the name of Jesus for God to guide you. There may be times when you are lonely and in distress. The story reminds us that you can call upon the name of Jesus, so that he will be stand beside you. What you may need most in life is simply Jesus, so you are inviting him to come with you on your journey.
Second, the story teaches us, that there may be times in life when God wants to use you, so be open to him. And what an honor that is. Yes, through you and your life, God wants to offer a blessing do others in your work and in your words, and in everything you do. In these moments, call upon God’s presence “in the name of Jesus” to use you and make you a channel of his love and mercy.
Living and acting in the name of Jesus is a Christ-like acceptance that God’s power and grace will be sufficient for all life’s trials. That is our graduation wish for you and your families. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.