Walking And Praising

May 16, 2011

Today’s passage (from Acts 3) isn’t simply about the healing. It’s not simply about the lame man, begging for hand-outs near the Beautiful Gate of the temple. It’s about that healed and once-lame man being seen—being observed walking and praising by those who had walked past him day after day. Acts 3:8 says, “Jumping up, he stood and began to walk and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God”—and that verse is so cool that verse nine continues,

“All the people saw him walking and praising God…”

In fact, so closely had this person combined the physical act of walking and the spiritual act of praising God that the author of Acts—who happens to be the same as the author of Luke’s gospel—might have conjoined the two activities like this: All the people saw him walking the praise of God. And so, that’s the subject of this meditation. You and I, like the lame man, will have encounters with Jesus and people within the religious institution will either see or not see the way we walk our praise. And so—the question is, what if we can’t do it? What if we feel the full weight of Peter and John, the intimate disciples of Jesus—what if we feel their eyes upon us—and rather than disappoint them and all their predecessors, the prophets and the patriarchs and the matriarchs of the Bible’s long history—what if, you know, we just watched them go in and out of the temple?

During this year’s celebration of Good Friday I accompanied Sheryl to an ecumenical service at the cathedral in downtown Spokane. She actually had a role within the service and so I watched her. I watched her process out with the bishops and the leaders of other denominations—all of them robed up in their religious garb. And then I watched as they circled around this large wooden cross and I watched as they all bowed their heads. All of them but one. That’s right. You guessed it. Sheryl—the Presbyterian in the group—failed to bow her head. Now I teased her about this later. I told her that the nuns behind me in the pews scoffed and snickered at the audacity of this brazen protestant clery-woman. I teased her and made her so self-conscious that as of this morning, when I drove her to the airport, she said, “Did those nuns really scoff like you said?” And I said, No. They just told me they’d be praying for your immortal soul.

You see, walking and praising God is difficult—sort of like rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time. And it’s enough to make us so conscious of ourselves that we miss the point.

Recently I was engaged in a little physical therapy and the therapist told me to walk in front of this huge mirror. And when I did this, she watched me closely and I could feel her eyes and then she imitated me and I think overly exaggerated the way that I turn my left foot in. I said that’s the way my Dad used to walk. And that’s how my sister used to walk when I called her Donna the Duck. And my therapist told me, well, that’s how you walk too. Now, you see, that’s uncalled for. That hurts. It hurts even more than the other times in my life when people have told me that I walk with a little arrogant strut. And it hurts more than the times when people have told me to watch where I’m walking, “you clumsy fool.” I mean, just think about those options. In so many words, my therapist told me that I either walk like my sister or that I walk like my deceased father. And I’m sorry, the only way that I can see myself clear of this genetic quagmire is if I learn to do what Peter and John command the man to do in Acts 3:6, which is, not to think about himself, but to stand and walk into the temple.

Dead Man Walking is a film, starring Susan Saradon, who plays a nun by the name of Helen Prejean. This person actually visits and prays with a criminal on death row and as he is walked to his execution—as he hears the derogatory phrase “Dead Man Walking” Sister Helen is there in the room and she says look at my face. Let my face be the last thing you see on this earth.” So here’s the effect, the death row inmate walks to his death, but he walks differently than all the other guilty men who have gone to the chair.

And what makes me think of this scene from the movie is this inspiring detail from Acts 3. The lame man, who had been healed in Jesus’ name, had never before entered the temple on his own two feet. He had only hung around the gate and begged. So pardon me for cutting to the chase but listen to this. It may be that the best inspiration you and I will ever experience in this life is to see someone who is outside be invited or be commanded to take his or her place on the inside. That may be the best inspiration that God has for us, even here, at Latah Valley. Think about this. What about not only walking yourself into the world, praising God, as you go? But what about consciously challenged those on the outside to walk in? What about risking the change in the company? Could there today be other ankles and feet that God wants to heal?

Amen.

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