I suspect that the beggar who sat daily by the Beautiful Gate knew he would be disappointed when he asked Peter and John for alms. Neither of them looked very prosperous. In fact, Peter drove the fact of their poverty pointedly home when he looked the beggar in the eye and said, “Look at us. Look at us! Silver and gold have we none; but I can give you what we do have. By the power of Jesus of Nazareth, rise!” Peter reached down and took this man by his right hand, and through Peter the spiritual power and energy of God flowed into that man, strengthening his feet and ankles, so that he could rise, leaping up and walking instantly and entering the temple with Peter and John, praising God. That man’s pockets were just as empty as they had been before. But he had received something far more valuable, the transforming presence of the living God, liberation from his infirmity, and a gift of spiritual silver and gold from two men who had compassion upon him.
My friends, I fear we read this passage and others like it with a bit of wistfulness. We read it wishing that we exercised such closeness and openness to God that spiritual power like Peter’s could flow through us into someone else’s life, so we could lift them up and transform them and liberate them from oppressive circumstances and give them hope. I think of a conversation between the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas and the Pope. The Pope was examining a table laden with riches and said, “Well, Thomas, no longer can the church say, ‘Silver and gold have we none.’ Thomas instantly replied, “Yes, your Eminence; and no longer can the church say to the afflicted, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk.’ ” Throughout the Bible, people of faith bring transformation, liberation, freedom and redemption to the afflicted. Throughout the Bible, people of faith exert a miraculous impact upon needy lives. But is that placing before us a false, fairy-tale ambition? Do we possess that kind of miraculous power in our own lives? We don’t seem to. Can we exert that same kind of transforming energy upon those around us? It doesn’t seem possible. Can we bring spiritual silver and gold into other people’s lives in such a way that we redeem and elevate and transform them? We think we must answer that question negatively, but I challenge you this morning, let us not lose confidence in the power that we have received from God. We have indeed been given by our God spiritual silver and gold. We do indeed have the power to uplift and transform and redeem. We can indeed have a miraculous impact upon other people’s lives – if only we live with the appropriate servant attitude.
As I watched the young men play basketball yesterday in our youth basketball league, I was reminded of the career of a young man called “Quickie,” so called because that is how he operated when he stole cars. Quickie liked stealing old Cadillacs because those were the easiest cars to hotwire, though he was only a seventh-grader who could barely see above the steering wheel. But he would wrap his fist in a t-shirt, smash through the car window, hop in, hot wire the Cadillac and drive the vehicle away to a man who would strip the car down and sell it for parts. It was not a pretty way to live, but when you and your three siblings and your mom are living in the back of an old truck, you will do almost anything to survive. Quickie must have stolen forty cars, and never had to jump out – but one time – and that one time changed his life.
He had just fired the ignition on a stolen Cadillac when he heard police sirens nearby, and as he was checking the rear-view mirror to see how close they were, he t-boned an old woman’s car as she was backing out of her driveway. Since he had messed up the Caddy, he hopped out and took off running, hearing the sirens near.
Quickie was not called Quickie for nothing, so he soon sped away and lost the cops. But something about the way the old woman had looked at him when he sped away caused him to circle back and check on her.
He found the old woman inspecting the wreck, and she assured him that she was okay. About that time, a police car rounded the corner. “Go get on my porch,” the lady told him. Though Quickie’s every instinct was to run, there was something about her voice that told him he better trust her. She told the police that the kid who had hit her car had fled the scene. “What about that kid on your porch,” the policeman asked, “what’s he doing?” “Oh,” she said, “he’s my grandson.” The police looked at her skeptically, but they drove away. The old woman took Quickie into the house and sat him down and said, “Why in the world are you wasting your life this way? You could do so much more with what you have been given.” Then she let him go. He stole a couple of more cars, served as a drug runner for a dealer a few more times, but the seed of spiritual silver and gold that old woman had planted inside him began to take root. Soon thereafter, he convinced his mother to send him off to live with his grandmother, where he became a Christian and an active member of his grandmother’s church — and began to take an interest in sports. He earned a scholarship to Alcorn State and gained a degree in accounting. Then wonder of wonders, he was the 213th pick in an NFL draft, taken by the Green Bay Packers. If you don’t believe that spiritual silver and gold can turn a life around, understand that the boy known as Quickie grew up to be Donald Driver, who went on to become an All-Pro wide receiver.
After he retired, Donald Driver established the Donald Driver Foundation to help needy children like Quickie. He has used that foundation to plant seeds of spiritual and gold in the hearts of impoverished young lives. And as long as she lived, the woman Donald Driver called, “Grandma Johnson” received a yearly visit from Donald Driver who would thank her again for planting spiritual silver and gold in his life. Our impact upon others all depends upon the kind of attitude with which we live.
Some years ago a Charlotte Observer columnist published an open letter to his seventh-grade PE teacher, wherever he might be. It seems that during the Christmas season of 1979, this columnist, then a middle-school boy, and his family, lost their house and all their possessions in a fire. This writer wrote with poignancy about waking up on Christmas Day in a house with no electricity, no running water, no heat – and no hope. He remembered walking by his mother’s bedroom and seeing her curled up in the fetal position, her face to the wall, devastated, listless, devoid of energy, devoid of the ability to give her children any encouragement, knowing that she couldn’t give her children anything that Christmas morning. The writer recalled standing there, looking at his devastated mother, wanting somehow to tell her that it would be okay, wanting somehow to reach out to her, but not knowing how, lost in the muteness of youth. Suddenly, in walked Mr. Williamson, his seventh-grade PE teacher, bearing an arm load of gifts, the first load of an entire car full of gifts, a bounty gathered for them by a local Baptist church. Mr. Williamson and his cohorts brought them food, brought them clothes, brought them toys – and brought them hope. Twenty-two years later, that little boy, now a noted journalist, could write an open letter saying, “Mr. Williamson, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, thank you. Thank you for the gift of hope.” He had brought that destitute family spiritual silver and gold!
In this season of the year, when the weather tends to be dark and cold, and the lovely holidays are over, and all of us have a vague sense of despair, it is very easy to concentrate upon the things that we don’t have. But in truth, we have come out of the Christmas season laden with spiritual gifts – hope, peace, joy and love. How can we open these gifts in such a way that we can bestow spiritual power upon other lives? That is what we are meant to do, distribute gifts of spiritual silver and gold to those in need.
The church universal celebrates this morning the journey of the so-called magi, those court astrologers who were scanning the skies for a celestial sign of a Messiah — and who did not have Bethlehem on their map. They have been rightly criticized for being slow to ask directions, and when they did stop for guidance, they asked precisely the wrong person. But they were attentive to a celestial sign that escaped the notice of everyone else, and they followed that sign all the way to a Bethlehem cradle – a place certainly not on their map, but a place whose significance they were able to recognize. There the magi beheld the little Christ and saw him for who he truly was. They alone saw what others could not see, that in this baby God had given the world an extraordinary gift. Sure, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that were beautiful but impractical, completely unsuitable for small children. But their real gift was the “present of presence.” Their presence ratified the true royal status of the Christ. And by their present of presence these men brought gifts of spiritual silver and gold, ratifying Christ’s role as the Savior who would put all the world on the redemptive map. We rightly celebrate these magi, for they were visionaries who brought together concepts no one else could link together: cradle and king; manger and Messiah, stable and Savior.
We call this day “Epiphany,” from the Greek word, epiphainein, “to make clear or manifest.” The so-called wise men saw clearly what no one else could perceive. On this Epiphany Sunday, when God’s truth is made manifest before our eyes, may our eyes be open to the depth of our giftedness. May we see with clarity the bounty of our spiritual silver and gold. May we know that God has made us rich, rich in power, rich in love, rich in compassion, rich in energy, rich in vision, rich in courage, rich in grace, rich in hope and peace. And let us find a life to touch, find a life to transform, find a heart to change, find a direction to reverse from darkness to light. Find someone whose life cries out for love and give them spiritual silver and gold. Let us realize the depth of our spiritual giftedness and let us not hoard it to ourselves but let us spend it—spend it in the world!
Spend it in the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God. May indeed this day be an Epiphany Sunday in which things become clear to us as to how richly we are blessed in Jesus Christ.