Adapted from today’s sermon on Acts 3:1-19.
Why are you staring at us?
I’ve been preoccupied this week, thinking about General Conference and preparing to leave for this global gathering of United Methodists. There are petitions to read and perspectives to think through and clothes to wash and dog-sitting to arrange. I need comfortable shoes for thirteen-hour workdays. I need to be well-rested in case the rule change asking committees to finish their work by 9:30 p.m. doesn’t pass. I need to review the legislation that the women’s commission I am on submitted. And I need lots and lots of prayers because it will be a tough two weeks when things I passionately care about will be decided while *I* don’t have an official voice.
You see, as General Conference starts tomorrow, I’ll be a monitor. I’ll be a watcher.
There are only ten people from West Virginia who will be voting at General Conference. (10 out of 1000—that’s 1% of the people there!). And these five clergy and five laity from West Virginia will be able to speak, to make amendments, to vote on the final resolutions. They’re entrusted with the task of doing their research and listening to others and praying about the implications of their every decision.
My mother will get to do this. But I will not. I will be a monitor. I will be WATCHING.
There were people watching as Peter and John walked up to the temple on that hot afternoon, hurrying so they wouldn’t be late for three o’clock prayer. These people had been watching for a long time.
They had watched Jesus healing those with blindness both physical and spiritual. They had watched as the lame walked and the mute spoke and deaf heard and the bleeding stopped and the dead came to life. They had watched as the ones called “leper,” the ones cast out by society, were brought back to full communion—were welcomed without reserve.
They had watched as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and the people of the city shouted, “Hosanna!”
They had watched as the crowd later shouted, “Crucify him!”
They watched as women as well as men began to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection—the good news that Christ is risen (indeed)!
And they watched as women as well as men received the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost festival, and three thousand people were baptized and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
And then—strangest of all, they watched as all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need… and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
So when Peter and John approached the Temple, people were watching, waiting to see what they would do…
Peter looks at the man who is asking for help. He stares intently. And then he says, “Look at us!” So the man stares back at him and John, fixing his attention on these people who are the church. He stares, expecting to receive something from them.
But Peter and John have already given it all away. They’ve sold their possessions and their goods and given the proceeds to the community, given the money to those who are in need. They’ve given it all to be the Body of Christ in this world. And like that broken Body hanging on a cross, those watching think that this Body has no more to give.
But Peter says, “Silver or gold I have none, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk!” And the man leaps up, dancing, joyous in the turn of events.
The people watching begin to murmur. They’re staring. They can’t believe that this situation with no hope, this gridlock that will never change, these needs that outpace our ability or desire to give… even THIS has changed!
So they stare. They watch, mouths open.
“Why are you staring at us?” ask Peter and John. We’re being the church!
…At General Conference, the other monitors and I will be watching intently… What will we see? How will we treat each other? Who has a voice at the table? Who is missing? Where are the young people? the older adults? the laity? Who cares for the translators, for those with disabilities, for those struggling to adjust to a time-zone change? Will we back up our words of repentance with changes for our Native American brothers and sisters? Will we repent of the racism that separates us from the African-American churches in the Pan-Methodist connection? Will we elect diverse leaders of every legislative committee? Will we truly listen to those whose culture or personality tells them it’s not okay to speak out? What stands toward justice will we choose? Will we heal the world through our financial commitments? Will our prayers cause those outside our community to leap for joy?
I pray that as I monitor the proceedings of General Conference that my watching will turn into stares of amazement. “What I have I give you,” the delegates will say to one another. “Meet my eyes so we can connect.”
“Let me hear the pain behind your words.”
“I’ll give you freedom greater than what you’re asking for.”
“Stand and walk!”
“Leap for joy at the justice that is brought!”
And when those who watch begin crying, amazed at the liberation unfolding, I hope the delegates will say back to us:
“Why are you staring at us? We’re being the church!”