Outlook Standard Lesson for May 14, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Acts 3:1-11
Breaking the routine
Every day. Always there. The person you see standing at that busy backed-up intersection stakes out the same spot day in and day out, endlessly seeking a helping hand.
The new Christian community took part daily in Temple prayers. Peter and John were on their way to the Temple’s daily prayer time when they ran into the guy who was always there, begging. They had doubtless passed him countless times at his post.
But this time was different. Why did they stop and engage him this time after passing him by so many times earlier? Perhaps they had some spare change most of the time, and they would just put a coin in his jar and move along. In any case, this time they had no money to give.
Even though they had no money, they had something better – a new-found confidence that God could do something spectacular through them. After Pentecost, they manifested a boldness that was conspicuously absent beforehand. Pentecost changed them dramatically.
After Pentecost, it’s no longer business as usual. Life will never be the same again — either for the crippled beggar, for the apostles who raised him up to wholeness or for those who witness his dramatic transformation.
People who encountered Jesus often lost their inhibitions. A woman poured expensive ointment all over his feet. A man whom Jesus ordered to keep his deliverance story quiet shouted it to all who would listen. A crowd cried loud hosannas to him, and when authorities asked Jesus to quiet them, he replied that the shouts of praise were unstoppable.
The disciples who cowered in hiding at Jesus’ arrest and after his crucifixion rise after Pentecost in bold defiance of all orders to be silent. And the cripple whose legs are suddenly made whole bursts into jubilant celebration, jumping for joy as he shouts his thanksgiving.
Most of us were taught from a tender age to bridle our feelings, whether joy or sorrow or anger. We quickly learned to worry about what others would think if we let loose. We can barely fathom the apostles’ utter disregard for public opinion.
The unbridled joy of the lame man, unleashed by the uninhibited boldness of Peter and John, leads to unrelenting pushback from the establishment. This event becomes a bone of public contention between the apostles and city leaders that occupies the rest of this chapter and the next. It leads directly to the authorities issuing a gag order against the apostles, which they cheerfully disregard. When threatened to stop stirring things up or else, the apostles declare they would obey God rather than human authority, regardless of the consequences.
As unrestrained as their boldness appears, it is something they know they could lose. After all the reactions spurred by this miraculous healing erupt, they pray that the Lord would grant them still further boldness (Acts 4:29-31). Fearless witness to the gospel requires constant prayerful cultivation.
Decently and in order
Presbyterian hearts are strangely warmed (to borrow a phrase from John Wesley) by Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth: “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Paul is responding to a church’s worship life that has gone from unbridled to undisciplined. Worship is not a free-for-all.
Yet in celebrating his counsel for good order, we can easily miss the first part of his instruction, “Let all things be done.” It is okay to rejoice, to be exuberant, just like the lame man healed at the Temple. Going “all in” is exactly what Jesus preached when he claimed we must lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel.
Muzzling joy cuts against the grain of the teachings and examples of Jesus and his early followers. Doing so in the name of decency and order makes it no more acceptable.
A young couple had begun attending the church I served as pastor but hesitated to make a commitment to church because one of their children with special needs became disruptive when excited. They felt judged whenever he began expressing his feelings in worship, and not without reason. He made no noise, but his arms and legs flailed about when he got excited, and he found church exciting – a Presbyterian church, even! So I asked them to sit on the unworn front pew and let him lie on the floor at their feet where nobody but the worship leaders could see his happy dance. They feared it would bother me, but instead, it inspired me. Someone was finding and expressing their joy in worship!
Questions for discussion
- Compare a time when you were afraid to express your spiritual feelings because of what others might think with a time when you expressed them regardless. What do we learn from such a comparison?
- Does our congregation encourage or discourage spontaneous expressions of joy in worship? How do we define “decency and good order” in the life of our faith community?
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