Kelly Clarkson sings a song about meeting the challenge of a relationship gone wrong. Part of the chorus includes these words:
“ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself and I
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone”
We sometimes believe, as this chorus relates, that we can meet difficult challenges on our own and, by doing so, that action somehow builds up our ability to meet other difficulties.
The Human reaction to meeting crisis or experiencing something profound, refutes that premise. In times of trouble we seek out others, and often, if we aren’t already in the process of maturing in our faith, we turn back to it.
We are drawn to sacred places and to people who seem to have divine power.
At the end of World War II, when humans first walked on the moon, when the soaking rains fell at last to end the great drought of the 1930s, when President Kennedy was assassinated, and after the tragic events of 9/11, and other similar situations, people have crowded into places of worship.
By some estimates, on the Sunday following the terror attacks on 9/11 roughly half of the adult population in the United States attended a religious service. But the attendance dropped off starting that November, according to Barna Research, a polling firm that specializes in religious data, religious activity quickly returned to just about what it was before the attacks.
When something gets our attention, we seek faith, but if we don’t have or develop the Faith that makes us Strong, we can miss the peace and healing only Jesus can give, and sometimes go back to thinking we have it handled on our own and are stronger because we do. We can think we have the Faith that makes us Strong. We can ask for prayer, listen to a message or song on the radio and it makes us feel better. But it can be more like having faith that a chair will hold us up.
That faith is really based on what we can understand. I have faith I can sit in this chair and I won’t fall to the floor, but really I am trusting my understanding of physics, math, engineering, and experience which teaches me what to look for in a chair that will hold my weight. It isn’t really faith at all.
The scriptures this morning help us understand what “Faith that makes us Strong, in Jesus Name” looks like.
Faith that makes us strong allows us to raise questions, to challenge our perceptions, until we can discern what understanding the Spirit is opening up to us. The Risen Lord in in their midst and yet the Disciples can’t grasp how that can be. They want to believe, yet are amazed by the possibility that what they see is real. When they can’t believe their eyes, Jesus gives them more. He asks for food, and eats it. Ghosts can’t eat. And in eating, Jesus gives them what they need within what they can understand, and then reveals all of scripture to them. In their doubts, was the path to Faith that could claim God’s plan as revealed through Jesus.
Faith that makes us strong calls us to move into the future, even when it moves us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to go places and meet and work with people with whom we are sure we have nothing in common. Jesus reminds the disciples of the part they have in sharing what they have witnessed with others. Not just with the people they know, not just with the people just like them, but all nations.
Faith that makes us strong requires us to bear witness of the grace extended to us and to all through Jesus, with everyone with whom we come in contact.
Faith that makes us strong fortifies us to never lose hope, to not box ourselves in with specific, limiting expectations. The man who now stands strong before those gathered at the Temple was lame from birth. He was at the temple every day to ask for help from those going in. He had to find someone to carry him there, he had to be persistent, he had to reach out for help, or he would have become invisible. Peter and John don’t give him the money he thinks he needs, they give him attention, they give him the healing power of Jesus, they give him more than he could ever have imagined, they give him a new life.
Faith that makes us strong includes our praising God, not just with our walking, but with our jumping with joy in witness of healing in our lives.
Faith that makes us strong requires community. The Disciples were together as Jesus responded to their doubts and revealed scripture to them. They shared experience helping them as they began to live out their ministry of witness.
The lame man had community to get him to the temple, to provide him with resources over the years, to witness his hope met with more than he could have ever considered asking for. He had both Peter and John give him their attention. Peter and John supported and encouraged one another.
Faith that makes us strong keeps us challenging ourselves to be aware of the areas of our lives where we need to make adjustments to be better aligned with the witness and mission God calls us to.
It allows us to come to understand the power we have through the name of Jesus and the healing we can experience in the midst of any brokenness we may experience. To see how faithfulness can traverse centuries.
The crowd surrounding Peter and John grew after news spread that they had healed this crippled beggar who the community knew well. He was a constant presence at the temple’s Beautiful Gate.
His dramatic and unexpected healing likely had the Social Media of the day working overtime.
Some probably came out of curiosity, others seeking healing for themselves, others possibly trying to figure out how to obtain the power to heal for themselves.
I suspect they came to check it out in much the same way as those looking for – the magic lotion that will keep us young, the right formula for prayer that will cure all diseases plaguing humankind, the right set of actions to bring us financial stability, the right leader to fix the world’s problems – do today.
Offered to them that day was not a magic potion or incantation. What was offered was a message of Faith, guidance on how Faith makes us strong.
Peter is clear it is faith in the name of Jesus, that this man was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as was visible to all.
Upfront Peter and John model Faith for those at the temple and for us.
Faith is about God. The source of healing is God. Peter and John’s faith in God, in the power Jesus promised them, lead them to know they could offer more to the beggar than a few coins. They could offer healing. They could speak the name of Jesus, share the news of his life, death and resurrection with confidence.
For the beggar that meant physical healing which restored him to community, saved him from a lifetime of sitting and begging from people, saved him for a life of jumping about and praising God for Life-changing deliverance.. For others in the crowd it meant connecting with God in life-giving ways.
Faith in the name of Jesus is not a magic spell or a password to get into heaven. Ending our prayers in the name of Jesus does not insure the answers will be what we expect.
Faith in the name of Jesus recognizes and claims the power for the ongoing healing of every sort of human brokenness, here and now. It is the ultimate power which is greater than anything we face, even physical death. It is recognizing and claiming that the greater power of God is still at work in the world over which Jesus has been enthroned as Lord.
Just as that power was available to Peter and John, it is available to all who have faith that makes us strong in the name of Jesus. It is power that comes as we take on the ministry and acts of Jesus.
We have the power to bring healing to each other, to those with whom God gives us an opportunity to connect, and to those for whom we pray.
We have the power to stand strong even when there are those who think they have the power seek to silence the message of love and peace we are called to share.
Brokenness is not the rule for those who follow Jesus. Healing is the norm in life with God. We can have faith that makes us strong, can experience it and share it with the power we receive in the name of Jesus. We just need to claim it and live it.