|1 John 3:1-7
By Bruce G. Epperly
This Sunday’s lectionary readings invite us to ponder presence, power, and fidelity as characteristics of God’s relationship to humankind. God’s spirit empowers us constantly and enables us to do great things, when we awaken to the possibilities present in this holy moment. We also can be embodiments of divine fidelity, power, and presence in our own healing and nurturing relationships.
In order to be faithful to the Acts reading, we need to expand the lectionary selection to include verses 1-11. Peter’s testimony to the crowd makes little sense apart from the precipitating event: the healing of a man who had been crippled from childhood. In fact, this is the most interesting and provocative part of the narrative. Verses 1-11 describe the experience, while verses 12-19 seek to provide a theological rationale for the man’s healing.
The account of the healing of a crippled man reminds us of Jesus’ healings of the man at the pool and the man let down through the roof. In the narrative, the apostles encounter a beggar who asks for money, but receives something he could not have imagined – the healing of body, mind, and spirit. He got more than a handout, he got a new life!
Peter proclaims to the man that he will be transformed in the name of Jesus, commands him to rise, and then helps him up. The man leaps for joy, grateful for God’s healing energy moving in his life. Peter asserts that the healing is a result of the interplay of invoking the name of Jesus and the man’s faith. Healing is a communal process – a partnership involving God and humanity. But, the initial agent of all healing, Peter contends, is the power of Jesus’ name.
What could this possibly mean – the power of Jesus’ name? Those who have studied Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christian centering prayer recognize the significance of repeated words, mantras, to shape our lives – whether by bringing us closer to the divine, eliciting the relaxation response and positive physiological changes, or giving us greater peace of mind.
Words matter and Peter believes that the name of Jesus can transform any life. The name of Jesus is filled with the power of the resurrection and the spirit of new life. It is continuous with God’s first words of creation and the power present in the dancing Sophia/Wisdom, described in Proverbs 8.
I follow the practice of invoking the Celtic caim or encircling – to awaken myself to God’s presence when I travel or am facing a challenge, I draw a circle around myself and say a prayer in Jesus’ name. This reminds me that wherever I am, God’s healing and protective presence is with me.
Does Jesus’ name have power? I believe so! I believe that through God’s energy of love and its impact on the course of history, this name creates a positive field of force around us and those for whom we invoke it. This is not magic or a violation of the laws of nature, but a recognition of the quantum entanglement, the intricate creative and interdependent energy of the universe that moves through our lives, enabling us to embrace the living energy of ancient events and contemporary faith practices. Christ is alive, transforming souls and cells and offering protection from harm, whenever the name of Jesus is invoked.
Faith makes a difference, whether we invoke the placebo effect, or see faith as opening the door to greater divine energies. When we open to God – the one who stands at the door and knocks – we enable God to do new and greater things in our lives and the lives for whom we pray. The Acts reading invites the congregation to take a chance on faith – to trust God, invoke Jesus’ name, and open to the Spirit – and then see what happens!
In a time of trouble, the Psalmist trusts that God takes care of the faithful. This does not mean that God neglects non-believers or doubters – and often non-believers and doubters have greater and purer faith than those who claim to be believers – but that opening to God through ethical behavior and worship opens channels of protection and guidance that will get us through the most difficult times.
The passage from the Epistle of John proclaims that we are children of God. This is a tremendous affirmation and an invitation for the congregation to say out loud, “I am a child of God.” Such an affirmation can change your life – it can banish low self-esteem and low expectations. A child who hears this message from her or his first years will have confidence in her or his value regardless of what others think. “I am God’s beloved child” is an affirmation that empowers and emboldens. More than that, it is an affirmation that reminds us we are growing into Christ-like living. The future is open and glorious, for we shall become like Christ. Our destiny is hopeful because Christ is at work in our lives, nurturing us and calling us forward to new adventures. There is no need to stall or be content with the personal, political, or social status quo – God wants us “to get up” and leap for joy as we claim the gifts and wonders of our birthright as God’s beloved.
The gospel portrays the resurrected Christ, wounded yet transformed. Not a ghost, but a living embodied force. The point of the scripture is not Jesus’ ability to eat, but Jesus’ message to his followers: “Wait until the Spirit comes.” Something great is going to happen but you don’t need to push the river: take time to recover from the trauma of the cross and the surprise of resurrection. Pray together and let my message sink in. Today’s passage reminds us of the interplay of contemplation and action: before you act and in the course of working to share good news of personal transformation, hospitality, and justice, you also need to wait and rest. This not only counteracts burnout and exhaustion, but opens us to greater wisdom and power in the tasks we are seeking to accomplish. Waiting is essential to acting: we draw back the bow, to aim it forward.
The disciples and ourselves have a great work ahead of us: we are to proclaim good news that radiates beyond our community into the wider world. We need to journey with faith in Jesus, affirmation of our value and giftedness as God’s beloved children, and protected and inspired by the name of Jesus that lures us forward.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats.