There was a request that I post the sermon I have now presented at two congregations at this point.
Psalm 4:1-8 and Acts 3:1-10.
Our text this morning explores a great moment of John and Peter’s beginning experiences without Jesus in person. Imagine with me the scenario played out here, after all these two young men have now undergone; the capturing of their love and savior, his tortuous murder, his shocking resurrection and the existential ascension into heaven. Then there’s the rest of the story, with the great gathering in the upper room; the falling of Pentecost. I’ll be honest, even at my young age, it exhausts me simply reading their journey. So our story starts with just a simple walk up to the temple for prayer, but in my perspective and I hope this can be a shared one; the knowledge of where these men have now come from, paints this walk to be a very beautiful image loaded with confidence, fear, love, and an anticipation for what may come ahead.
My experience, coming to New Orleans began as a great step up faith in choosing not to stay in my life back home in Tucson Arizona, taking a Young Adult Volunteer position working for the Community Food Bank; a familiar non-profit I had worked with since my childhood. I would have my family, great friends, side jobs, my wonderful church community, and the great desert mountains only a bike ride away. This step of faith was not only leaving this desert safe-space, but committing to a year of service in a city I knew very little about; New Orleans. A large factor that drew my attraction and discernment to choosing New Orleans was the potential job placement of running the JW Johnson Garden. Since the J.W. Johnson school relocated several years back, the garden had gone under major neglect. The goal was to bring it back to life and attempt to support its relationship with the local neighborhood.
Skipping ahead seven months to this Easter Sunday, after fall and winter season had ended, many transformative experiences with volunteers from across the country to local students and neighbors; I’m cleaning up in the garden getting ready for a party next door. Family gatherings were beginning, late morning services had concluded and everyone and their grandmas’ were out in the streets. Just as John and Peter on an average walk headed to the Temple, this seemed to be a typical Easter Sunday in a New Orleans neighborhood; barbecues, car stereos bumpin’, boiler buckets heating up, and the youth excitement running on every corner. I later find myself right where I needed to be; hanging out at a birthday party in the neighborhood I came here to be a part of. Aware that it was because of the amazing past of which I had now grown through in the past several years let alone seven months, that allowed this day to be a true celebration and achievement.
There’s one last member in John and Peter’s story; the strategic lame man who perhaps was making a statement of irony by resting beside the Beautiful gate. This gentlemen is described to have made a very familiar presence at this gate. And let us not forget that this strategy of begging is nothing new or anything old. I see this commonly used outside the front door of the corner store across the street from the garden, where many kids, young teens, and adults ask for money or assistance. This crippled man was exactly where he needed to be.
So here we are; the lame man begging at the gate, John and Peter on their walk, and me in pigeon town at this Easter Sunday celebration; each with our own position of anticipation.
As for Peter and John their conflict begins when the beggar perhaps irrelevantly makes a jester request for money. It forever remains a climactic scene for me; Peter and John’s pockets are empty, but in a faith I know all too commonly living a year of volunteer service, they still request for his attention.
The lame man, by the text seems to be perhaps be caught off guard with actual attention drawn on him, only to be told they actually don’t have any money. Although the moment is brief before things really get shaken up, it represents for me the uncomfortable shock drawn out of a man that is not quite use to seeing the eyes of an upper class member.
As for back in Pigeon Town things were lining up, the crabs had just been dumped out the boiler, and replaced by crawfish. My one wish all year was to be invited to a true New Orleans house party, which now could be checked off the list. The young boys were getting haircuts on the upstairs porch as I sat enjoying the music and casual conversations.
My shock and surprise was drawn from the opposite direction, by what I now refer to as the soundtrack of evil itself; gun shots. The irony of the gun is that so commonly the weight of the sound is light, although it lingers inside the echo. But however light or loud the sound, it delivers a stain throughout the streets of New Orleans.
As the children were taken inside the house, me and several adults walked cautiously to the end of the street, and as I turned down Monroe, my heart in the throat afraid to see the very scenario too commonly described in the City; Times Picayune reports, “An 18-year-old man killed in a double shooting Sunday (April 5) in the 8700 block of Green Street in New Orleans has been identified as Khallid Mohammed. Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse said Mohammed died of a gunshot wound. Police said Sunday they were called to investigate a "man down" around 2:30 p.m. near Green and Monroe streets. The victim had been shot multiple times and was pronounced dead on the scene.”
With the police at the sight, I found myself, as with others, walking back to the house. There was shock, there was frustration, and there was anger brewing inside me. But the most troubling part, was the lack of shock I witnessed from others I saw, as if in fact that there is a way to anticipate this situation.
For Peter and John, they reacted in the very way their Rabbi taught them; transcending money, they healed the man from his lame state. Although the text delivered this miracle through a simple couple of sentences, I think we all can imagine this with a little more weight added to it. For the previously lame man, his life is now changed forever.
Please bear with me. as I for one admit the parallels of each of these stories come from opposite directions, but this is where I challenge our faith as Christians who are handed too very different outcomes. Our reading this morning from the Psalmist finishes with a hopeful ending. “I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.”
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.”
Where is peace found, in such atrocities? And how can anyone feel safe at night amongst senseless violence? What peace can come to the family of Khallid Muhammad, to his friends and the community of Pigeon Town? I don't have the answer to these questions, and I fear the reality is this most likely will not be the last time they are asked.
In the closing bit of our biblical story, I find myself wondering. Does the lame man return to the gate of Beautiful? And in a setting perhaps outside of the ordinary customs, I like to envision a sign or memorial would be placed on the gate, “Here no longer lies a lame man, for there is hope; he has found healing!”
I returned this week to the garden after a trip back home, and the first past by glance of the street corner was from a block away. I didn’t seem to see anything there. But not too my surprise, as I later that day approached the corner of green and Monroe street, I witnessed hope itself; a telephone poll covered with stuffed bears, pillow hearts, plastic flower, and catholic candles at the foot of the poll. I plan on donating flowers from each harvest we get this summer. This is the only healing I can invasion; that of which can come from the love and support of a resilient community. My prayer for this neighborhood reads as such “Here stands hope; we anticipate to stick together, fighting for another tomorrow!”