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What I Have, I Give
June 13, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ACTS 3:1-10

Peter and John were asked for money. The lame beggar who had been carried daily and laid at the gate of the temple asked Peter and John for money, for alms. This incident, recorded in the third chapter of Acts, follows Pentecost which we looked at last week. Today we're looking at the next window in the series. It depicts the story where Peter and John met the lame man outside the gate of the temple and heard his question asking for money. They were called to respond in that situation as a Christian is always called to respond. When someone reaches out, when someone asks, when someone seeks, searches, the Christian is always asked to respond. It is our call to not shut our ears or our eyes, but to see the situation and to respond as Peter did by saying, “I give you what I have.” 

They did not give him what he asked. They did not respond in the manner in which he was asking. He asked for money. Peter said, “I don't have any silver or any gold, but I give you what I have.” The Christian is called to respond to situations of need not necessarily in terms of what the desired recipient asks, but we are called to respond and give what we have. 

What do you have that you can share? All that God has lavished upon you, what do you have that you can share to respond to such situations? Financial resources? Friendship? The bulletin cover this morning says, “Happiness is finding a hand in a crowd.” Offering a hand in a crowd is what you can offer. 

What else do you have that you can share? Looking at this incident gives another suggestion, a suggestion of a gift that you have and that I have, and we are called upon to give this gift in practically every situation. Perhaps you haven’t thought about this gift that you have. Peter, on that day, did not give the man what he asked but he gave him permission. He gave him authority to live his life. He said, “I don't have any silver. I don't have any gold, but I give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk, stand up.” Use your legs, stand up and face your life. Quit your begging, stand up and live your life. Peter gave him authority. Peter gave him permission to live his life. What a beautiful gift he gave to that beggar! 

Now perhaps it wasn't that well received in the beginning. I can imagine a lot of consternation in that beggar when Peter refused to give him money, but gave him the gift of walking. I imagine the first reaction was one of fear. “Oh, I can't. I can't. After all, I've been lying like this since I was born. I'm a cripple, you know, and I have developed a very comfortable pattern in my life. I come here every day. They lay me here at the gate. I know how to do that. This is where I belong. I know how to beg. This is my lifestyle. This is my job. This is my life. And you tell me to walk?” I imagine there was fear and perhaps a lot of pain as unused muscles had to be stretched.

Responding to the man's need, not in terms of what he wanted, but in terms of what he needed was what Peter gave him and that's a gift that you can give. Parents know that children do not always need what they think they want. Other people also do not always need what they think they want. And you have the privilege, the opportunity, the gift to give them permission to live their lives, to give them freedom, opportunity, and encouragement to develop self-respect, self-initiative, self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness. Do not give people what they think they want—more dependent, reinforcing their feelings of helplessness, reinforcing their feelings that they just can't quite cope with life. A lot of people are ready to give up their lives. A lot of dangerous groups are getting popular in our country these days, like Moonies, dangerous groups that exploit people, manipulate people, take away their freedom. They say, “Give me your mind and I will tell you what to do and how to do it.” Some people are only too willing to give up their lives. But, as Christians, our great mission, our great calling is to give freedom to people, give them the encouragement of self-respect, so that they will stand up on their own two feet, hold their heads up, their shoulders back and take courage to risk the pain, the daring to live their own lives. And you can help them.

Over the years, the United States has given a lot of foreign aid to countries and then we can’t understand why we are unpopular, why we're not loved. But the old adage that we tend to bite the hand that feeds us applies because it's possible to give things to people, give them welfare to satisfy their needs in such a way that they develop dependence, helplessness and feelings of inferiority. Then they become resentful, they become bitter and bite the hand that feeds them. A much better system is the Heifer Project. The philosophy of the Heifer Project and our fall Round Up. Oh, I forgot to make the announcement. You are asked during the month of June to fast one meal a week, to ride your bike to church and to give the money saved to the project of raising an animal for the fall Round Up. I'm glad I forgot the announcement because it fits here in the sermon. We gather funds to buy and send animals through the Heifer Project. The philosophy of the heifer project is beautiful. An animal is given, a heifer is given to a family who raise the heifer as their own. And the first girl calf born is then given to another family as they share. This is a beautiful self-help project. In northern Japan on the island of Hokkaido, there is a large dairy industry that helped change the face of that island because of the Heifer Project. 

That's the kind of help people need, not the kind that makes them dependent, weak and helpless; but the kind that helps them stand up and live their own lives. And you have that opportunity. Children of all ages cry, “Wait on me. Take care of me, pity me, help me, make my decisions.” Children manipulate us adults, and when we respond to the manipulation, we are increasing their feelings of dependence. We play the games that allow them to beg and not to walk. In the Headstart class, which has been using our church this past year, there's a three-year-old blind girl. What a temptation it is to take care of her! What a temptation it is to pity her, to wait on her! But the Headstart teachers do not do anything for the girl that she cannot do for herself. And it's beautiful to watch her play, to watch her get around the room and the play yard by herself. You think that's cruel? But they are giving her her life. They are saying, “Walk.”

Do you remember the play, The Miracle Worker? We saw the stage play several years ago. What a powerful story of Helen Keller who was born blind and deaf. Imagine not seeing and not hearing. She was an animal until Ann Sullivan came into her life. I'll never forget that scene in the play. It was powerful, and seemed like an eternity. For several minutes, Ann Sullivan tried to get Helen Keller to feed herself. Ann tried to put a spoon in Helen’s hand and put the food in her mouth. She tried to get her to hang on to the spoon and learn how to eat. They wrestled and they fought. Helen threw the spoon, tipped over the tables, they slapped each other, hit each other. It was a brutal scene, a powerful performance! They must have been black and blue when they were done with that scene. Of course, Ann Sullivan won. Helen Keller learned how to eat. She learned how to respond to the scratching in the palm of her hand. That was cruel, maybe. But Ann gave her her life. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” 

When a child falls down, it's such a temptation to run to the poor little thing, pick her up, brush her off and pity her. Let her get up. Let her learn that the world is cruel, hard and rough, but that she can make it. To overprotect, to over care is to reinforce the feelings that “I'm just a weak little thing. I can't make it all by myself.” It's a temptation when a youth gets in trouble at the school, gets in trouble with a teacher or gets in trouble with the police for parents to storm over there, overprotect and try to defend the youth. Let him stand on his own two feet, face the reality of what actions do, accept the responsibility for his actions and stand there as a man—walk. 

One of my seminary professors when he was a minister in a small town, had a woman in the congregation who would call him up from time to time and ask him to pick her up and take her downtown. She was a great manipulator. She had everybody waiting on her. He took her downtown about three or four times but then the next time she called and asked for a ride, he gave her 50 cents for the taxi. Now you may say that was cruel, but he was helping her to live her life. Quit expecting people to wait upon you. Stand up and walk. And that's difficult to do. It's difficult to give freedom to people. It's difficult to give people the opportunity to fail, to fall and to live. 

But the beauty of this story about Peter and John is that the lame man did not have to rely entirely on his own power. They said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, walk!” The power that has come from Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is alive and in our midst today. That power comes in and through you, It enables you to do his work. That power is at your disposal. That power is there for the asking. That power is there in the name of Jesus. You don't have to rely on your own power to live your own life. He helps. You don't have to rely on your own power to enable others to live their lives. “In the name of Jesus Christ, walk!” 

Happiness is finding a hand in a crowd. May the hand you extend to someone else help them not to be more dependent, more helpless, more like a charity case. May the hand that you extend enable them to stand up, walk and live their lives.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris