No Longer At Beautiful – 08.01.2021
When I was in high school one of my favorite TV shows was a medical drama called House, starring Hugh Laurie – he was a cranky, rude but brilliant doctor. And in the third season there was an episode about a boy who was severely autistic. For those who don’t know, autism comes on a spectrum, and it can range from very high functioning all the way over to severe cases where they can even struggle with basic communication. And in this particular episode, the little boy had a fairly severe case, and he often struggled to communicate. And at one point, Doctor House and one of his assistants, Doctor Cameron were talking, and Cameron said that she felt pity for the parents. Because it is so difficult to raise a child with so many challenges. She says, “Is it so wrong for them to want to have a normal child? It’s normal to want to be normal.” And House responds, “Spoken like a true circle queen. See, skinny, socially-privileged white people get to draw this neat little circle. And everyone inside the circle is “normal”. Anyone outside the circle should be beaten, broken, and reset so that they can be brought into the circle. Failing that, they should be institutionalized. Or worse – pitied.” House goes on to talk about how the boy’s autism gives him a completely different human experience, free from a lot of social constructs. He says, “I don’t pity this kid – I envy him.”
I probably haven’t watched that show in over a decade, and yet that concept of a “circle queen” has always stuck with me. So often we create this picture of what “normal” is, and what “healing” looks like. We measure ourselves against imaginary standards, and lately I’ve been realizing that those standards don’t look anything like what God is measuring. Even if we FIT inside the circle, and we’re totally “normal” – too often that’s not the circle God is drawing. Today we are continuing our journey through the book of Acts, and we stumble into a bit of a story at the Beautiful Gate.
[read v.1-3]. So we’re at the temple, 3o’clock prayer service, and there’s a beggar set up by the door. This gate is known as the beautiful gate, and it says he was lame from birth – which means he’s been doing this begging thing for a long time. This is a society with zero social safety nets. In this world, crippled people beg or die – because they can’t work. So he sets up shop outside the gate, as he has his entire life, and he’s hoping for a little cash money from these new guys. Now I want you to picture a beggar in your mind. If we don’t have any money, or if we have money and we are not going to give them anything – how do we treat beggars? [point where the beggar is, avoid looking at that spot]. We avoid eye contact! We can’t look at them, right? Because if we look at them, they might come over and ask us for stuff and get some of their beggar germs on us. They might make us feel guilty. (oh don’t act like that thought shocks you, we’ve all thought like that. shame on us). Like, when you see them on the corner, and you’re in your car at a red light. And they start walking between the cars. *grumble* oh man, I suddenly have a pressing need to adjust the radio, sorry I didn’t see you there—and then drive away. If we’re not going to help them, we don’t look at them. But watch what happens in verse 4. [read v.4]. They’re looking at him! They’re breaking protocol! And then they say, “look at me.” Unprecedented. [read. v5]. What else could he expect? He’s a cripple! Lame from birth, the best thing he could ever expect is money. There is no possibility of a better life, there is no hope for healing, just throw me a couple bucks and move on.
Peter and John stop, they look at him intently, [read v.6-8]. I love that. I’ll give you what I have. All I’ve got is faith in Jesus. Then he takes the man by the hand and helps him up. Even in healing, helps him up. The man jumps up, and then what does it say? Walked, leaped, and praised God. He’s working legs he’s never worked before. I mean, hallelujah! Praise God, right? This is an incredible miracle – for this man to be walking around. And that leads him to praise God. [read v.9-11]. Don’t I know that guy from somewhere? That’s the guy I don’t look at, because it’ll make me feel guilty. That’s the guy that can’t walk. I’ve seen him hanging out at the temple gate for years. He’s always stuck at the beautiful gate, but now he’s not there anymore. He is no longer at beautiful. Well I’ve gotta see this – so they all go out and gather around Peter and John, where the healed man is holding tightly to those guys. And it’s funny – I know it’s a grown man, but when I read the phrase “holding tightly” – in my mind I picture a small child, clinging to dad or mom’s legs. It’s an incredible miracle, but then verse 12…
[Read v.12a]. Peter sees all the people gathering around to see the man who is no longer at beautiful, the man who is healed who can walk and leap and praise God. And he realizes that this is his chance to tell all these people about Jesus. See one of the biggest things I want you to grab from this chapter is that this incredible story of healing is not the point. Healing is not the point, healing is the pivot – the pivot to the real point. Peter starts, [read v.12b-13a]. This is so important. The healing is not the point – Jesus is. A connection to the son of God, Jesus Christ – the savior of the world is more valuable than any healing this world could possibly offer. This man has never walked before, this is an absolute life changing experience to have his legs healed, and yet it is nothing compared to knowing Jesus. If there are two doors and one of them has Jesus behind it, there is nothing in the universe that makes door number two worth it. A connection with the healing, forgiving love of Jesus, a knowledge of his grace is the highest, greatest good we could ever have access to.
Let me say that again – the greatest good news that I could ever give you is that Jesus saves. It’s not miraculous healing, it’s not winning the lottery, fame or fortune. The greatest good news is that the son of God who rose from the dead offers you salvation. There’s a story of a lady named Fanny Crosby, a very famous hymn writer, she wrote Blessed Assurance, among many others. She was born back in the 1800’s and she lost her sight when she was just a couple weeks old. And one time somebody commented, “it’s a shame that someone with so much talent, lost their sight,” And Fanny replied, “If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God, if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things around me.” At another point she said, “If I had my way, I would have been born blind – for when I get to heaven, the first face I would ever see, would be that of my savior.” And I guess I’m incredibly convicted by that woman’s faith. It’s the difference between, “well, I kinda sorta like Jesus as a buddy, if our schedules lined up I’d probably be okay with hanging out” and “Jesus is my precious Lord and savior and if I have him and nothing else – I have everything.” Challenge yourself with these words: If you would not give up everything this world has to offer for Jesus, you may not understand just how precious Jesus truly is.
Look, I get it. If I wasn’t religious or whatever this sermon would sort of freak me out. (being a LITTLE intense about that Jesus guy). Even, a few years ago, when I started ministry, I would have NEVER preached like that. Just all Jesus, nothing but Jesus, Jesus is vital… But as I watch empty institutions float through our culture, changing no lives, I see a desert. American culture is just one big, parched desert. I see people dying of thirst and the truth of the living water is RIGHT there. Let’s be honest – I would much rather get up here and be a motivational speaker and only tell you happy things that make you feel good. Or a comedian (I think I’d make a GREAT comedian, I love telling jokes). But I’m not. I’m here telling you about Jesus Christ, because when everything else in this world let’s you down – he is the only thing that can save you. He is the only thing that matters. The greatest good news is that Jesus saves. The son of God, who rose from the dead is offering you salvation.
So the application today, the challenge I want you to take with you this week – it’s actually really difficult. I want you to dream bigger. The crippled beggar at the beautiful gate, he looks at the disciples and figures they’ll give him a couple bucks. The highest expectation he had was money. He never dreamed of healing. And he couldn’t even fathom salvation. You see, sometimes if you’re going to dream a bigger dream – sometimes you have to draw a different circle than the expectations of the world. The world loves to hand people categories. To say, “fit inside this circle” – beggars sit by the gate and beg for money, that’s what you do. But if you want to leave the beautiful gate behind, if you want to journey down the path and into an unknown future with Jesus – sometimes you have to focus on something so much better than anything this world has to offer. CS Lewis, in his book “The Weight of Glory” once said, ““It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Dream bigger dreams. Dream God-sized dreams. Jesus is inviting you into a life that is better than anything this world can offer you. God invites us to redraw the lines, to revisit what we believe is possible, to build a better circle.
When I was in college, I had a close friend named Steph. Steph had a roommate, Danielle. I never knew Danielle well, we existed in different circles – friends of friends. But over the years as college friends drift all over the world, you keep tabs on social media. And my friend Danielle, a little over a year ago, she shared a story that I wanted to bring to you this morning. I’ll put the link for the full story on the screen – I’m going to cut it down a bit for today. Her husband is Matt and they already have a little boy named Louis. She writes,
Matt, Louis, and I were on vacation on the coast of Main when we first found out we were pregnant with our little girl. After two separate miscarriages and a subsequent year of trying Matt and I were relieved to finally learn that we would be adding another little one to our family the coming spring…At my 37 week appointment, the doctor measured me and became a bit concerned about our daughter’s size and scheduled me for an ultrasound that day. It was determined that the baby’s size was fine, but that she was actually breech. We were scheduled for a version later that week to flip her. Unfortunately, the version failed and put me into early active labor. Later that evening, after trying to stop the labor, it was determined that I would need a c-section. I was rolled into the OR and within minutes I heard our daughter’s cries. I joined in, crying, “She’s here!” Our Sammie girl had arrived. One of the nurses brought her around to my head so we could see her for a few seconds. I remember thinking, “hmm, she doesn’t look like I thought she would.” But I remember having that same thought when I first saw our son, too.” The nurse took her away to check all the baby things and Matt continued to talk to me as I was very nervous about what they were doing on the other side of the curtain… After a few more minutes the nurse checking her out brought her around to me so Sammie could do skin to skin. I saw her face for more than a few seconds and at this point I was certain. I looked at the nurse and asked, “Does she have Down syndrome?” The nurse looked panicked and the entire room got quiet. [The doctor spoke up]“It looks like she might have some markers for Down syndrome. We called the pediatrician on call so she can check her out.”
The next morning was when all the emotions really hit Matt and I. The day started with the pediatrician coming in to talk to us about her diagnosis. And in hindsight she was one of the greatest blessings throughout our time at the hospital. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I do clearly remember her saying, “You need to mourn the child you thought you were going to have.” That was exactly what I needed to hear and that’s when the floodgates opened.” … We were receiving nearly constant texts from family and friends who were lifting us all up in prayer and giving us the encouragement we needed, reminding us of the gift we had been given. I don’t know that we have ever felt so loved and I honestly don’t know if we will ever feel that amount of love again in this lifetime. Matt and I couldn’t stop saying “people are loving us so well.” Before leaving, the pediatrician who was such a gift to us in this time came in and asked if she could pray for Sammie. She placed her hand on Sammie and prayed, and Matt and I cried. This was one of the sweetest moments in our lives that I don’t think we will ever forget. We headed home and began adjusting to a life with our Sammie girl. Researching. Scheduling appointments. Navigating all that was new. Later that week, as I was jotting down one of several of Sammie’s upcoming doctor appointments in our calendar, I cam across a photo we took in Maine. I stopped in my tracks. The picture was taken the day we found out we were pregnant with Sammie. I’d seen this picture hundreds of times, but not since Sammie’s birth. It turns out that we had just received a book for Louis titled “We’ll Pain the Octopus Red.” The book celebrates the relationship between two siblings – one of which has Down syndrome. And here we are in this photo – the exact day we found out about Sammie – flying a red octopus in the sky. Celebrating her existence.”
My friend Danielle and her husband Matt found themselves the unexpected parents of a down syndrome baby. And since that moment I have never seen so much joy in a social media page. That is a happy baby girl. The circle the world draws doesn’t work when you’re looking at the blessings God gives. Since her birth, they have created a non-profit organization called Rising Kites. If you want to see more you can check it out at RisingKites.org. Their mission is to provide hospitals and birthing centers with resources specifically for parents who receive a down syndrome diagnosis. Sammie’s birth is every bit as much worth celebrating as any other birth of a baby – but you can’t see that if you’re stuck at the beautiful gate, and the expectations the world gives you. We have to leave the beautiful gate behind, let God redraw the lines, and realize that the healing was never the point. Jesus is the whole point. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you dream bigger than the circle queens of this world. Dream God-sized dreams. Amen.