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The Lame Will Leap Like a Deer (Acts 3:1-10)

Here is the story I read in the sermon:

With the warm embrace of the afternoon sun upon his shoulders and the rhythmic, yet distant, chant of the worshippers from the courts above spilling through the gates, Asher found himself swept into the sweet world of childhood and the comfort of his mother’s arms. The murmur of the worshippers transformed into her soothing song, the sun’s embrace her arms. She was gently rocking him as she sang and prayed. As he stared up at her, entranced by her voice; she turned her gaze upon him. He immediately felt her tears upon his face as she smiled and wiped them away with her gentle touch. “Remember this my son, ” she spoke in hushed tones, “Never give up hope!”

“Hey you,” returned him to reality. His friends, frequently the first to exit through the beautiful southern gates of the temple complex after the hour of prayer, found him gently rocking himself as he sat there awaiting their return. He smiled at them and shuffled himself onto the crude stretcher they used to transport him to and fro day after day. As they fell into step he rehearsed the scene of his dreams. His mother had come to his rescue, severely scolding his tormentors, and had gathered him up in her arms and whisked him away to the safety of home.

He had never seen the courts of the temple or witnessed with the worshippers the rehearsal of Israel’s great Shema. Yet he could not ponder the words without hearing his mother’s voice, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one…”

His condition, he was painfully aware, was born deeply by his mother, yet she had never made him feel any less than his siblings. Her piercing eyes seemed to know his thoughts, her touch always penetrated beyond the surface. “One day my son, the Messiah will come…” and then from her lips the sacred text she had sowed upon his heart from infancy, “Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”[1]

Asher wiped tears from his eyes as his thoughts immediately took him to her bedside. Frail and fading fast he had taken her in his arms and was praying. When he looked down his tears spilled upon her face. They both smiled knowingly as he gently wiped them with his hand. That was the last time their eyes had met. A few more days and she was gone.

“Aren’t you talkative this afternoon,” his friends teased as they sat him down in the shade. “Thought you might want this,” Jacob said with a smile as he tossed the small leather bag onto his lap. Asher smiled gratefully in return and pronounced blessings from the Lord upon his faithful friends as they departed. He turned to the bag and counted; the worshippers were generous today.

It had been more than a decade since he gently kissed his mother goodbye. He reflected on the long years of darkness that had overwhelmed him as a consequence and shuddered. He blushed inwardly in shame, pondering how he had all but abandoned the faith his mother had so carefully nourished in him. With her passing his faith had shriveled and was close to withering away altogether. He was sure it would have ceased to exist had not news from the north of a Nazarene revived it. Water had gushed forth in his wilderness.

He remembered the moment. Two Pharisees had passed him by deeply engaged in conversation as they tossed him a few coins. “Blasphemer!” one had exclaimed as the other related how one Jesus of Nazareth had spoken words of forgiveness to a paralytic in Galilee. “They dug a hole in the roof and set him down before him as he was speaking to the crowd. And these were the first words out of his mouth!” As the pair were moving out of ear shot Asher heard the words, “Then he said to him, ‘Take up your mat and go home!’ and he did!” Asher’s heart had nearly leapt out of his chest.

Faith never seemed more real to him than it had that day. It was as if the skies had parted overhead and God himself had poured out water upon his thirsty soul. As the months passed Asher heard more of the same from the daily throng of worshippers who flowed by. A leper was cleansed, a multitude fed; one day a boy and his father had walked past him celebrating, with every step, how the Nazarene had redeemed the boy from a life of demonic torment.

Then just when hope seemed like it couldn’t shine brighter came the day when a strange darkness had swept over the land. Jesus of Nazareth had finally arrived in the holy city and the whole place was buzzing with excitement. The usual Passover crowd was alive with rumors; some celebrating the astounding miracles he had performed and the wonderful words that fell from his lips, others spoke darkly in hushed tones, convinced by the scribes and elders that he must be an imposter. Things had taken a dramatic turn for the worse when the Nazarene had orchestrated a dramatic scene in the temple courts themselves, overthrowing tables and raging at the authorities. Asher’s heart nearly fell through his stomach when rumors circulated that he had been arrested and taken to the Roman governor Pilate on charges of sedition.

Jesus had been led outside the western walls of the city and there the dream had died. Between two criminals the Romans crucified him, placing the charge over his head. “This is the King of the Jews.” And then the strange darkness. Asher remembered it well for it had reminded him of the darkness that had penetrated his soul after his mother had passed. Then the cry from the Nazarene as he breathed his last, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit!” Even as the light of the sun returned there remained an ominous darkness in Asher’s heart. The hope that the Nazarene had revived and fanned into flame was now all but extinguished. His thoughts returned to his final embrace of his mother and the tears flowed once more. But then as if intruding upon his reflection he heard her voice once more, “Remember this my son, never give up hope!” Asher smiled and shook his head, astounded at his mother’s faith.

Three days later the rumors about Jesus of Nazareth began to circulate once more. His followers were claiming that his tomb was empty; the women had reported words from an angel, “He has risen!” Asher had no place to catalogue these claims in his mind but his heart welcomed them eagerly. He found himself wondering, pondering, dreaming, hoping.

As Passover faded and Pentecost drew near his friends and his routine returned. Daily at the hour of prayer they placed him at the Beautiful southern gate and disappeared into the stairway leading up to the temple courts above. Daily as the crowds flowed in and out he heard the rumors that persisted; rumors that resonated with his mother’s words somewhere deep within.

Early on the day of Pentecost the persistence of the rumors reached a roar when a sound of a rushing wind was reported to have filled the whole temple area. Not a hair was stirred among the gathered crowds but the sound overwhelmed the entire place. As the bewildered people gathered the Nazarene’s followers took their cue and announced unashamedly that the sound of the mighty rushing wind was evidence that this Jesus who had been crucified was now alive and seated at the right hand of God on the throne of David, and declared him to be both Lord and Messiah. The sound of the wind was testimony, they declared, that the Nazarene had poured out the promised Holy Spirit upon his people. When Asher was placed at his station midafternoon the whole place was overflowing with excitement; 3000 individuals had been convicted by the message that this Jesus was indeed the Messiah and were baptized in his name. Oh how Asher longed to have been there to witness the event.

Three days later as his friends settled into their stride, bearing Asher to his station at the gate, he found himself once more adrift in thought, and his mother’s words came back to him, “The lame will leap for joy…” Placed there Asher automatically began his mundane routine, asking the steady flow of worshippers who passed by for alms. Without making eye contact he spoke to the first two men who passed by, “Alms please, I can’t walk.” The two stopped at his words, turned to him and said, “Look at us!” Their eyes met and for a moment the whole world stood still. He had never met the Nazarene but these eyes were all that he imagined his would be…

One of them spoke, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you!” Beaming with confidence he took Asher’s hand, and immediately Asher felt something beneath him. “In the name of Jesus the Nazarene, walk!” With the words a pulse of heat flowed through his long dead feet and ankles and with a start he stood up. Briefly stunned he looked down in disbelief and then for the first time stepped forward. Two steps turned into a leap. With tears streaming down his face he whirled and spun around to the delight of the one who had taken him by the hand. For the first time in his life he found himself jostling with the crowds. Giddy with excitement, he entered the gates and emerged into the temple courts above.

The sight of the temple compelled him to his knees in a prayer of gratitude, and then instantly he jumped up again leaping and dancing and praising God. When, finally, gasping for breath he collapsed in exhaustion, tears of joy overwhelmed him yet the words of the prophet threatened to set his tongue ablaze if he did not let them out. Leaping to his feet he cried out to the assembled crowd, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert!”

“My brothers and sisters, remember this,” he declared, “and never give up hope! He is risen!”

[1] Isaiah 35:6

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