Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 9/18/2016.
This is the second of a 5-week series entitled “A Missional Community.”
Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.
While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed. Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, even though he had already decided to release him. You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.
“Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away.” (Acts 3:1-19, CEB)
We’re in the second week of our series called “A Missional Community,” looking at what God’s mission looks like. Now, when I hear the word ‘mission’ or when I try to think of what God’s mission is, I find that I have my own preconceived notions or ideas of what this ‘mission’ looks like.
And these ideas of mine are absolutely shaped by my own experiences in mission, in participating in God’s mission myself. I went on mission trips with my church’s youth group all through high school, I’ve taken two trips to Managua, Nicaragua with two different teams. And when I was at ONU, I was a part of several outreach events through the Christian groups I was a member of. I think my favorite one of those happened my junior year. We set up tables outside of Ada Presbyterian Church around midnight on a Friday night and passed out pancakes to whoever was walking around. You might think that was pretty late for anyone to be walking around, but we were right next to ONU’s campus, and Friday nights aren’t really for sleeping when you’re in college, you know?
So anyway, those and other experiences that I’ve had are genuine expressions of God’s mission. But when I think of God’s mission and what that really means, I think first of mission trips and outreach events that I’ve participated in. God’s mission is much bigger than that, but it’s sometimes hard to see past my experiences to the bigger picture of God’s mission.
I think the same thing is true with us as a congregation. Our Missions Conference is only 4 weeks away, Oct. 14-16, you can see the banner behind me. And it’s Alger First’s 40th annual Missions Conference. 40 years – that’s a long time to be doing that. It’s awesome!
But when we’ve been doing this for such a long time, our experiences through the Missions Conference inevitably shape our understanding of God’s mission.
So what we’re doing in this series that we’re calling “A Missional Community” is taking a big picture look at what God’s mission looks like and what the community who follows God’s mission looks like. And we’re doing this to make sure that the mission that we say we’re following in the Missions Conference and in everything else we do is really God’s mission, and to see whether or not we really do look, act, and think like a community who follows that mission.
So we’re going to tackle the first big piece of the series today and next week: What does God’s mission look like, in the big picture? I’m reading a book by a man named Ed Stetzer and he has a great definition for God’s mission in that book. There are a lot of ways to understand and look at this, so this certainly isn’t the only way to look at God’s mission, but it gives us a place to start.
Ed Stetzer defines ‘mission’ as “All that God is doing to bring the nations to Godself.” (Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 1) So when we talk about God’s mission, we’re talking about all that God is doing to bring the nations to Godself. That gives us a good place to start from. Now let’s get specific: What does that really look like? That’s where the conversation really begins.
And the Scripture passage that was read for you can give us a possible answer. So let’s unpack the story in that Scripture.
There are several characters in that story. First, we have the beggar. Now Luke depicts this man as absolutely destitute. He has nothing, he hardly even has his dignity. He’s obviously poor, because he’s begging. So that means has no money for food, taxes, anything.
And Luke describes him as crippled. He couldn’t walk. In first century Palestine, that meant he was unable to work to make a living. His inability to walk shut him out of employment in a world without elevators, without ramps, without the Americans with Disabilities Acts.
And it appears that he doesn’t have a family. In those days, if you had a family around you, then you usually wouldn’t have to beg because you would all help each other out in your family. But in this story, it seems like the only people in this guy’s life are the people carrying him to beg at the gate.
So, there are three parts here: this man is desperately poor, he’s unable to walk, and he is excluded from any human community.
So Peter and John walk past him on their way to the temple, and this man gets their attention, like he does with everyone passing by on their way to afternoon prayer. So Peter and John turn aside, and they tell him that they can’t really do anything about the first part – they can’t do anything about his lack of money because they don’t have any money.
But God works through Peter and John to transform those last two parts. God heals this man’s legs and makes him able to walk.
And through this healing and the preaching that followed it, we can assume that this man was welcomed into the community of believers, the Jerusalem church community that we talked about last week. Remember what one of this deep community’s key characteristics were? There were no needy people among them. So God completely transformed this man’s life, through Peter and John.
Now when God heals this guy through Peter, he starts running and jumping around – just like you and I would – and he attracts a crowd. So Peter takes advantage of this and he starts preaching. He says (in the Andy Burns Version) “This transformation and healing was not through us but by the name of Jesus, that guy who was crucified. You see this outer transformation, this healing, that this guy experienced? You can experience inner transformation like this through the same name of Jesus Christ, and the inner transformation can be just as complete. So repent! Change your heart and life and find this complete inner transformation.”
So this tells us something important about God’s mission, about God’s work to bring the nations to Godself. This story tells us that God’s mission is about complete transformation of every part of ourselves. A lot of people like to focus either on the inner transformation or the outer transformation, but God’s mission, the way God is bringing the nations to Godself, is about both. It looks different in different situations, but it’s all transformation.
God transformed the man’s body and his outward circumstances, right? He was healed! And God offered him and the crowd inner transformation of the soul through repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
You see, when someone finds Jesus, when someone is saved, God’s intention is to change and transform them and not leave them as the same person they were before they found Jesus.
And in the end, God means for that transformation to be as radical as a crippled man being able to walk again.
Way back in the fourth century, there was a guy named Athanasius. Athanasius was a bishop in the city of Alexandria in Egypt, and he’s a really important figure in the history of Christianity. He taught and spoke and wrote a lot about Jesus Christ and what God really did in Jesus. A lot of his ideas can be summed up in one sentence that oversimplifies things, but is still incredibly important for us to hear with what we’re talking about today.
Athanasius believed that in Jesus Christ, God became human so that we humans might become divine.
That’s radical. And understanding this is essential if we’re going to understand God’s mission. God’s mission – what God is doing to bring the nations to Godself – is about our transformation, through Jesus, into the image of God and Jesus lifting us up to live the life of God. In God’s mission, God aims to transform us into the image of God so that we can live the life of God, through Jesus Christ. It is nothing less than that.
God’s mission is not about making other people agree with us or believe like us or look like us.
God’s mission is not just to make everyone into nicer, better-behaved people.
God’s mission is not just to build buildings or start programs. I don’t see any of that in this passage. I don’t see that in the Bible.
God’s mission is not to transform us into a Christian, but to transform the world and everyone and everything in it into the image of God.
God’s mission is concerned with nothing less than complete transformation.
Now that’s a big concept to wrap our heads around. What does that look like? Where do we see this transformation?
I saw this transformation that we’re talking about in 8th grade at a worship service for the West Ohio Annual Conference youth delegates when God grabbed hold of my heart in a new way and the Holy Spirit crashed over me like a wave of cold water, bringing me to the ground in a quivering heap.
I saw this transformation we’re talking about as a senior in high school when I went forward at an altar call to accept God’s call to be a pastor.
I saw this transformation when I let go of my dreams to be a band director or professional musician and for real followed the call I’d already accepted.
And I see this transformation each day when God nudges me to be extra nice to the cashier at Wal-Mart instead of just breezing through, or to actually listen and pay attention when Lauren tells me about what she’s learning in Occupational Therapy school even when she uses these big words I don’t understand, or to not get mad at the driver who cut me off and call them mean names.
We see this transformation when someone hears the Gospel for the first time or in a different way and they actually receive it, finding new hope and security and wholeness and a new reason to live in Jesus Christ.
We see this transformation when an alcoholic or drug addict quits and finds sobriety.
We see this transformation when a family struggling with unemployment and homelessness finds a job and a house and begins to support themselves.
God’s mission is concerned with nothing less than complete transformation. God is bringing the nations to Godself by inviting them into complete transformation. Complete transformation is what the crippled beggar-man in the story found in Jesus’ name. It’s what the crowd that gathered at the healing found in Jesus’ name. And it’s what the world and each of us can find today in Jesus’ name.
Now, what does this mean for us? First, we have to realize that this understanding of God’s mission is deeper than simply getting people to believe the Gospel. This is bigger than looking at specific practices of mission. It’s bigger than evangelism, bigger than sending missionaries and mission teams out. It’s bigger than passing out tracts.
God’s mission is concerned with nothing less than complete transformation. If a specific practice or action can be a channel of God’s transformation for someone or a group of people, then use it. But realize that God’s mission is bigger than that.
So this should change how we go about participating in God’s mission. When we engage in God’s mission – participating in God’s work of bringing the nations to Godself – we have to realize what we are offering those to whom we reach out.
We offer nothing less than complete transformation of their life, both in this world and the next. And the transformation is twofold, it is inner and outer. In God’s mission, we help people come into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Gospel message, AND we participate with God in transforming their outer and worldly situation.
So I have a couple of questions for you to wrestle with on your own this week.
First, have you experienced this transformation? Because we cannot truly offer what we have not truly experienced. I’m not asking if you’ve been completely transformed, because this transformation is a lifelong process, and none of us have arrived at completion yet. But have you experienced some of this transformation in your life? Are you actively participating in it? Are you searching out your own transformation and working it out with God?
Second, how is God calling you to be a channel of God’s transformation? If we are to participate in God’s mission, in God’s work of bringing the nations to Godself, then we must see ourselves as channels of God’s transformation, just like Peter and John. They were the channels of God’s transformation by healing the poor beggar-man and then offering people forgiveness in Jesus’ name.
So how is God calling you to be a channel of God’s transformation? What are you doing or what can you do to help others start on this path to transformation, either inner or outer? Can you volunteer at Commodities? Can you invite others to church? As we prepare to set our Faith Promise goal at Missions Conference, can you set a higher Faith Promise goal, and work to meet it over the next year? How can you be a channel of God’s transformation?
Because God’s mission involves nothing less than complete transformation – for me, for you, for the world and everything and everyone on it. God’s mission calls for us to be channels of that transformation. If God can use Peter, the same impulsive guy who publicly denied Jesus three times on the eve of his crucifixion, to be a channel of this transformation, then I know God can use each one of us.
God can transform and is transforming each of us.
God can transform and is transforming this village.
God can transform and is transforming this country and the world.
So let us join up with the work that is already happening and be about God’s mission of complete transformation.