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Oct 30, 2016

Going to the Poor

Passage: Acts 9:32-43

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: How the Spirit’s Church Acts

Category: The Book of Acts

Keywords: aeneas, dorcas, justice, peter, poor, poverty, tabitha, love the poor


Last time we heard the Spirit’s call to go to the spiritually deserted. This surprised us. Philip was doing important work. He was busy serving. His work wasn’t done. But the Lord God seeks the last, least, little, and lost. So the Spirit takes Philip to the lonely desert road for the one person needing salvation that day. In Acts 9, Paul has just been saved by grace. A powerful, high ranking man like that surely needs the attention of the apostles. But no, Peter and John don’t go to Paul. They are sent by the Spirit to the poor. We should stop and take notice. We see the poor all around us. But rarely ‘go’ to those in material need. Do you know any who are homeless, or poor, by name? This is how the Spirit’s church acts: the church goes to the poor with the mercy and kindness of Christ and his salvation. We’ll confess our callousness to the poor, and renew our love for our neighbor in need.


I don’t know where I heard the story,

but it goes like this:

Dad took his son to a ballgame.

During the game the son said he was hungry

and asked if he could have some nachos and cheese. Dad gave his son the money and said go get them.

As the son enjoyed his nachos,

dad asked if he could have one.

The son replied, “But I don’t have very many left . . .” J


After you laugh a little,

and before you judge the boy too quickly,

apply this story to your own life and attitudes about what you have and what you want

and how much you share

and your generosity towards those without.


All we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father. Right? That’s basic to our understanding of who God is

and who we are:

we are the sheep of his pasture.

He cares for us.

We live by grace alone.

Give us this day our daily bread, we pray.

All these verses and more remind us

that everything we’ve received

from daily bread to eternal life

comes from the providential hand of the Lord God

who upholds us and supplies our needs.

We are like the boy hungry,

dad giving us the money to buy the nachos.


And all we have is to be used in a stewardly manner. That too is basic

to our understanding of faith and life.

We aren’t entitled to it; we are entrusted with it. That doesn’t mean we are to be cheap.

We are to be generous givers, not selfish but selfless. Just imagine what America might be like

if Christians used what they had

as if it belonged to God!

But far too often we live and act like the boy:

I don’t have very much left . . .


Peter’s story at the end of Acts 9

is amazing for its insight and challenge

into how we are to live as a neighbor

and disciple of Jesus with what we have.

We learned in chapter 8

that Christians scattered

because they began to be persecuted.

They lost their jobs, their homes,

they were on the run.

They didn’t lose their faith.

They became a blessing wherever they went

because of the gospel.

At a time when they didn’t have as much.

With livelihood threatened.

With temptations to make safety,

security and well-being their number one concerns.

Now they are in a time of peace,

but they don’t use that time

to make a secure and abundant life for themselves.

The first church was no suburban church

with two cars in the driveway,

vacations at the beach,

and well-stocked freezers.

All the things that we may think

make for the good life,

and all the things that become

our true American Idols,

aren’t even cause for concern or mention in Peter’s post-Pentecost life living for Jesus:

from success to significance through sacrifice.


Peter is traveling about, going here and there,

in contact with all kinds of people.

But look who he notices.

For whom does Peter stop to meet?

You’d think Peter would try to influence

some important people.

Maybe they could keep the authorities away,

make things a little safer for himself

and his Christian friends.

Doesn’t hurt to have friends in high places.

But we don’t read that Peter took time

for the powerful.

So maybe he would seek out some rich folks.

That might help ease the troubles

of those who had lost so much.

But we don’t read that Peter took time

to seek out the wealthy.

Given how there is this window of peace,

maybe Peter would just stay put.

Circle the wagons.

Find a safe place to have safe worship services, huddle and cuddle together and say to the world

‘come and see’ rather than the church

‘go and be.’


But of course Peter does none of these things

that we may judge ourselves for doing.

Instead, Peter brings healing mercy to Aeneas,

and then in the power of Christ Jesus,

raising Tabitha.

Neither of these are connected

to the powerful or the wealthy,

instead, they are connected to the poor.

So to me this is an amazing understanding.

That we are to love those who are poor

with the love of Jesus.


Aeneas has been paralyzed and bedridden

for 8 years, says Luke, the writer.

We can do the math.

What if you were unable to work

or find a job for 8 years?

Aeneas was not a rich man.

Anything he would have had

would have been used up a long time ago.

But Peter goes to him of all people.


Tabitha gave her time and talent

to those who were poor:

she was always doing good and helping the poor,

says Luke.

Not just family and friends either.

For she was known by her given name

but also her Greek name.

Which means she was known on the streets

and around the town,

her help given across racial and ethnic divides.

Peter travels to the next town,

another 10-12 miles on foot,

in order to see what can be done

for those who depended on her.

In the power and mercy of Christ,

raising her meant life for so many more.


The concern to love those who are poor

is accented so that we don’t miss it.

How does the Spirit’s church act?

She learns to love those who are poor.


Do you need to hear that like I need to hear that?

It is so easy to be overwhelmed by poverty issues

and it is so easy to become calloused

towards those who are poor

just because we see so much of it

and so much of it lasts and lasts – we can’t fix it.

Every time I drive across the intersection

here at Butterfield and Meyers

I see either that one man or that one woman

asking for money.

If you happen to work or go down to the Loop

or on Michigan Avenue,

you lose count of the number of people

who approach you for a handout.

When we get people to the door here at church asking for money,

I know that if I give anything,

the next day I’ll have two or three more

come to the door.

Half the phones calls on my landline are for charities. It seems the other half are political now,

and don’t you wish just once

the candidates would talk about these kinds of issues instead of acting like immature school kids

calling each other names?


All these experiences are doing something to us

and it’s not good.

It is the Word of God in Scripture

that challenges my opinions, prejudices and habits.

I don’t read here or anywhere else in the Bible

that I can be judgmental or callous

towards those who are poor,

or that I can excuse my feelings

because of how others appear to live.

Besides a story like this one,

on almost every page of Scripture,

there is a command or call to learn

to love those who are poor:

"If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother." Deuteronomy 15:7


"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11


"He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses." Proverbs 28:27


"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."  1 John 3:17-18


And I could go on.

Just let a few of those words sink into your heart

and then shine them on your attitudes and habits.

It used to be a virtue to love the poor.

It still is,

but not one that gets talked about very much.

One fruit of the Spirit is ‘goodness.’

The word is better known and translated

as ‘generosity’:

that is, the way we bring goodness to others.

The Spirit’s church goes to the poor,

let’s commit to learning such love.



Because God is merciful.

Our Father is merciful to us.

We are made in God’s image:

as God so loves the poor

we must mirror that same love.

All those verses I just read

commanding us to care for the poor?

There’s twice as many that talk of God’s care:

"Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord.

“I will protect them from those who malign them."   — Psalm 12:5

My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them."

  — Psalm 35:10

Our greatest poverty was filled

in the sacrifice of God’s Son for the sin of the world.

Such grace means all of life

is to be lived in gratitude for the Son.


Jesus himself lived out the same love:

In Luke 4 Jesus quotes Isaiah in testifying to what his presence is all about:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”


Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.   — Luke 6:20

There Jesus is saying

you disciples love the ones I love,

care for those I care for.

Look for me in times of such trouble and need.


Transforming our love to be like Christ’s love begins in prayer and scriptural meditation

to get this living word in our hearts.

To change our desires toward such generous care.

The Spirit has to change us.

The Spirit is out to change us.

Do not resist the Holy Spirit of God

when it comes to caring for those in need.


Then I’m struck by something in this Bible story

that you don’t always see.


Two weeks ago we read another story

from Peter’s life.

He and the apostle John healed a lame man.

We’re meant to bring mercy and kindness

into our world.

We’re never told that lame man’s name.

Last week we learned from the story of

the Ethiopian eunuch

and how we are called to get going

to where others live and share life with them.

But in that story the principle character isn’t named.


This passage names names.

Aeneas and Tabitha or Dorcas.

Those associated with the poor

have their names highlighted.

The love of God leads us to see persons in need

not as problems or projects but as people.

To strive to see in each person the image of God,

no matter how marred or hidden that image is.

And because of that to treat each person

as you wish to be treated,

to give honor and respect and the help you can.

The simple question for us is to ask ourselves:

how many poor people do we know by name?

how many poor people know me by name?

What will I do to change that answer?

One major way we will go to the poor

with the love of Jesus is

by getting to know those who are poor by name.


It is interesting that Tabitha or Dorcas’ name

means ‘gazelle.’

The gazelle is mentioned most in the Bible

in the Song of Solomon,

the Bible’s book about true love.

And when Peter prays for the power of God

to bring Dorcas back,

he uses virtually the same words Jesus used.

When Jesus healed the little girl who had died,

Mark 5:41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).

Here Peter says, Tabitha, get up.


Peter knows he can’t do this, but Jesus can.

That’s our mercy and grace in such love too.

Jesus can.

So I will . . .

Kent Annan writes about helping those

who are in need and says,

“Instead of guilting ourselves by asking

‘What would Jesus do?’

a better guide for loving our neighbors

might be John the Baptist’s question,

‘How do we prepare the way

for someone else’s agency?’”


Peter didn’t attempt to answer

the loss of Tabitha with doing his own thing

for those in need,

he went right to the power of Jesus

to support what was being done.

Those folks in need didn’t need a Peter,

they needed a Tabitha!

So a big part of our action involves

our church fellowship

and our support of such benevolence.

What we can’t manage by ourselves

we can do better at together.

Kids: what do we have here on the communion table?

Cans, right!

Our elders and deacons met yesterday to talk about

being sent out with the gospel

into our neighborhoods.

We recognized and confessed that often this subject

leads us to focus on what we can’t do.

Instead, let’s focus on what we CAN do.

What ‘CANS’ do you have?

Tabitha can do this . . .

Peter can do that . . .

You can . . .

We can together . . .


Pay attention to the needs the deacons

put before us and eagerly respond.

I think we could do more

to support local food bank ministries,

the deacons can lead us in this.

Our churches are working together in programs like Bridge Communities and Pads and LOVE Inc.

But remember the church is not a building

but the people.

So for this to work it means people,

you and I, working together to serve.


All this isn’t done in place of Jesus

but in his name,

and he will give the increase.



it is easy to fall into the trap of letting

the candidates dictate the conversations.

You and I should be insisting on justice issues.

Trump & Hillary don’t need us to defend them,

we should be defending those in need:

proclaiming the Kingdom of God –

even with our vote!


And so begin to think about

what is required of you as a steward:

Q & A 111

  1. What does God require of you

in the commandments?

  1. That I do whatever I can

for my neighbor’s good,

that I treat others

as I would like them to treat me,

and that I work faithfully

so that I may share with those in need.


How can I open my heart to this?

Listen to Job from long ago when he talks about his striving to live rightly when he says, "Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?" Job 30:2

So the next time I see someone in need

may my heart be open to this first reaction.

After all, in such need I am to see my Savior who said,

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."             Matthew 25:35


Still, I know the task is monumental.

What can little old me do?

Mother Teresa was asked that once

by a reporter who said,

how do you keep at it knowing what you do

is only a drop in the bucket.

She said, it’s not a drop in a bucket;

it’s a drop in the ocean!

Still . . .

An old African proverb reminds us of reality:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending a night in a closed room

with a mosquito.



the Spirit’s church acts to bring mercy and kindness to the poor.

There are things we are already doing together

and individually to address

the needs around us.

Will you join in such love,

that’s how we should act.

How about you talk about this

while you collect for World Hunger

in your Peter Fish?

Or around the dinner table as you plan next week?

Or in your small group as you talk about

your faith in action?

Or in Sunday School about loving your neighbors?