CONFERENCE 2011 Bible Study 1

BIBLE STUDY 1 22 September 2011, Maseru  Lesotho
Rev Micheline Kamba

A CHURCH OF ALL AND FOR ALL: An Invitation to a round table  (Acts 3 v1-10)


Presiding Bishop, Methodist General Secretary, lay President, Bishops and leaders , delegates representing the Methodist people  at the conference, please receive my warm  greetings and gratitude in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters , people of God at this conference, before we start, I would like to express my gratitude  for the honour  and privilege  that your office has  thought of asking  me to lead  the Bible studies  at this conference. Believe me when , at first when my colleague  form the Central Committee in the WCC, the Presiding Bishop, Rev Ivan Abrahams  told me last May , when we were in Jamaica,  to expect this request; and the second  time  when I received  the actual invitation , I was troubled  and many questions wentb through my mind , such as ; Why have I been chosen to play a role at this conference?  What do I have that is special?  I looked at myself  as I am  and I could see nothing special . Instead I started  to see the qualities  I lack: I am not  form Southern Africa , not even  from the Methodist Church neither do I speak  fluent English ( English is my fourth language) and I know  many wonderful Southern African preachers and theologians who would have been a better choice. Why me? What do I have to offer?

Really I was worried until I went to see my Head of School, Rev Dr Simanga Kumalo, who has profoundly influenced  me with his bewitching insights into the spirit of the MCSA and who told me that the Methodist conference  delegates  would like to be inspired by view points   from a disability perspective, viewpoints that are  challenging  and related to  the conference theme : An Invitation to a Round Table. I was touched to hear this and when I read the address  he gave last year, Dr Kumalo explained “ the  roundtable’ , the table which is ‘ round  with no corners , no tail, no head, - in a  world in which we value titles, position, status, , the Jesus table holds  on people and values their experiences”

Reading these lines, I began to see the light and  was also inspired  by the PBs  address  for last year  especially a question he asked , “ Is the Methodist Church  of Southern Africa, a place of grace, an inclusive, nurturing community of healing and hope where ‘ the least of  these’ are counted?” Then I chose this theme for  Bible study , “ A Church of All and for All: An invitation to a Round Table” Acts 3v 1-10.

‘ A Church of All and for all’ is a document  published by  the World Council of Churches ( WCC)  in September 2003, under the auspices of the  the Ecumenical  Disability Advocates  Network ( EDAN) which is a project  of WCCC within the Unity , Mission , Evangelism and spirituality  Programme, established after the Harare Assembly in 1998. Its mission is to create  greater awareness  of  disability issues  in the church  and in all major parts of the world. The document states, “ It is estimated that 600 million  people  are person s with disabilities. Yet people, especially  persons with disabilities  still find themselves isolated. Now, In churches  there are walls of shame; walls  of prejudice ; walls of hatred; walls of competition ; walls of fear ; walls of  ignorance; walls of theological  prejudice  and cultural misunderstanding.

The church  is called  to be an inclusive  community , to tear down  the walls.  Hence, during our bible studies in the next two days this theme will challenge us. How can the church be a place of all and for all?  I believe  that the  conference themes  of the last  few years  have helped us to go  forward. I have heard that the ‘doors’ are already  opened; the round table  is already dressed. Now, how can you go and sit  at this round table? Are you going to speak the same language ( I mean will what we say be accessible to all)? In other words , will there be a common understanding ? are we going to eat  a suitable  food ( we can have diverse food but what fod would everybody be happy with)?  So, this is our field of interest and these aee focal points  of our bible studies.

I have been praying for this conference since I was given the task to prepare the message. I know that the MCSA is well known among the biggest  and well organised churches. My prayer is that  this conference  may add another dimension  to your decisions   and to the resolutions  that you will make . I wonder If somebody can say amen?

What is the text about?

The text of Acts 3v 1-10  is the first miraculous  story recorded  by Luke in the book of Acts.  It is connected to the preceding  text in Acts 2v 43 which states , “ many  wonders  and miraculous signs  were done by the apostles ‘ the heart of this story  is “ in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” v6. This means  that  the Lord  saves through Jesus Christ and this may be called Salvation. Salvation  is the principal theme of Acts . its narrative  is centrally concerned with the  realisation of Gods purpose to bring  salvation  in all its fullness  to all people.  God so loved the world that he gave his only   son into the world so that “ whoever believes in him shall not perish but have  eternal life” ( John 3v16)  this links  on ‘programme speech’ of Jesus, “ the Kingdom of God  come to earth, so that those who are poor , marginalised, prisoners and oppressed must be free and recovered  the light of joy” Luke 4v18-19

Jesus interacted with people with disabilities by healing them  and doing  miracles . Similarly, peter and John in this text healed the ‘crippled beggar’. In the name of Jesus the man was healed. In other words , the healing and miracles in the gospels and in the book of Acts show how the excluded are being integrated into society.

I believe that the re-reading of this text will reveal to us  how a church can also be a ‘disabled’ institution’ and the picture of the healing  of this  ‘ crippled  beggar’ will make  us understand  how to overcome  disability in the  church.

Who are the main characters in this text and their relationship

The story about the man called ‘crippled beggar’ , begins on a positive note  and gives clearly  information about John and Peter, their names and the prayers in the temple . However, as for the  man who has a physical  impairment, he remains  unnamed , he is identified only by the fact of his handicap.

When you lose your title, your position, your power, your ability due to sickness or accident, automatically you lose your name, people will refer to you by naming your failure, your status and your disability.

V2 portrays  the crippled beggar as a man of great infirmity; a useless man, the description of this man  being carried  by other unknown  ( unidentified) people emphasises  the hopeless state of this man.

The anonymity of people with disabilities in the gospel reveals the way in which people with disabilities  were ignored and stereotyped. To name a person signifies  identification and recognition  in their own home and their community or in society and large.

Why does the disabled man sit outside the temple?

According to the rules safeguarding the holiness of the temple , people  with disabilities were separated  and placed apart because they were impure and hence forbidden  to enter ( Leviticus 21, 18; Samuel 5v8) Scholars have interpreted a handicap or disability as punishment for sins, either committed by the persons with disabilities themselves or by their relatives in earlier generations. To support their interpretations  scholars refer to the Bible, namely  ( Lev 26v16; Deut 28v 22; John 9v2) therefore disability has long been understood as a sign  of the lack of God’s presence.

Another aspect may be that this man  , the beggar was not informed or educated as regards the importance of being inside the temple . the words  of v3 ‘ when he saw Peter and John… he asked them for money.” Indicates that this man was taught to beg  for money  so that he could  buy  food at the end of the day.  He could do nothing  except begging . He was  helpless from the moment he was born. He adopted  or he was made to adopt  the mindset that   he could not do anything or go anywhere without outside help and that all his life  he had to rely on someone.  For him,. Being at the temple  meant having the opportunity to beg.  This leads to an  understanding  of why this man did not ask  to be healed.  He certainly knew  about the apostles healing miracles but he did not ask to be healed – he asked for money instead . Temporary help ( money) was preferred over the  permanent help of healing. This indicates that people with disabilities  were deprived of education.

Different ways of healing

Healing and miracles in the new testament, especially in the book of Acts serve as signs from the holy spirit  to the apostolic company ( 2 Cor 12v12) in order to confirm the new message  which they were preaching ( Heb 2v3-4)  The good news of the gospel from this perspective as that “it creates inclusivity  in the communities by challenging oppressive and dehumanising systems and structures.

The re-reading of this text and this context, it would seem that healing is reparation  of what has been broken and healing of the wounds that prevent people from sitting at a round table. So, there is apparently more than one way of healing involved in this story.

Firstly, there is the emotional healing. v6 shows how the ‘crippled beggar’ was expecting to receive money from peter and John. Yet while Peter and John  might have money for him, peter had a greater gift which was much better than money.  He was  going to give him the ability to walk – “ in the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.”

Silver and Gold’ are only temporary help, everyone who receives it will soon be needy again. Whereas, ‘ in the name of Jesus Christ’ is  permanent help , whoever receives it will never need to ask again ( John 4v13)

The expression to ‘stand up and walk’ expresses the contrasts with the man’s life thus far. He had spent a lifetime sitting and being carried, signs  of his uselessness and his hopeless situation. But when peter and John  told him  to stand  and walk , this gave him a sense of hope and the strength  to restart his life to be independent and to be free. Hence for this man, before he could receive physical healing, his souls and mind had to be healed.

Thus we need visionaries like Peter and John, leaders who can recognise the potential, talents and gifts of people whatever their backgrounds, their class, gender and status to empower them. Secondly , there is the social healing which v8 refers to when saying that once the man cured he entered the temple. In other words, he joined other people, he joined his community in the temple.

The text informs us that the man was carried continuously, every moment but that during the prayers he was left outside alone. He was reduced to being a beggar, a poor man. He could have been begging for a long time because those who went  to the temple for worship  knew him and recognised him ( v10)  Scholars argue that , a person with a disability  was excluded from the society because of their physical condition. Disability had been seen as  a consequence of sin or of the disabled persons parents sin. Therefore, it was the rules to separate such people from others who were ‘pure’. Only after being healed, was the person invited into the community to pray in the temple.

Thirdly, there is the physical healing, referred to in the phrase ( v6-7): “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, “walk’ . Through the name of Jesus Christ the power did flow, the cripples feet and ankles were strengthened  and the man walked and leaped, living proof of the power of Jesus. The healing was instantaneous ( a miracle) without further treatment needed.

However, the healing in this passage was unexpected. The man had not asked to be healed, which indicates that he had no faith. Both Peter and John did not set out to heal him or to operate miracles. The healing happened ‘not by power or by might, but by Gods spirit and will.

Fourthly, the spiritual healing described in v8 highlights  that the first  thing this healed  man did was to enter the temple , approach the throne of God and give thanks. The text  seems to imply that this man might  have been taught  that he must sit outside the temple , not to pray but to access people for begging  for money. He might  also have been taught that he was ‘impure’  separated from God  and that only once  healed could he enter the temple. Thus , when he felt  straightened  in his legs and ankles, he  entered the temple , ‘ Walking  and jumping and praising God” ( v8b)

In today context, people with disabilities have felt hurt by events in the church or in crusades during healing prayers. As Theo Schmidts says, “We have a healing ministry and not a hurting ministry”. The use of a  wheelchair, white cane or walker during campaign to attract people to come  to a ‘healing’ service or  Healing crusades’ is a humiliation and a sign of disrespect for people with disabilities.

What is the aim of  being in church? What is the purpose of having a round table?  Isn’t it to worship God? One scholar explains the significance of Worship as lying in “ worth- ship’ . this means that people should value one another. In other words, if in church we do not take account of each other, there is no ‘worth- ship’.

Different ways of responding to people with disabilities

In this text, two different ways are described in which non- disabled people respond to people with disabilities. On the one hand v2 reveals that there were people who went into the temple, saw the disabled man sitting outside the beautiful Gate and gave him money, but without really taking account of him.

However, Peter and John stopped when the man called to them, begging for money. They took time to talk to the man who was considered  as a ‘sinner’ or ‘impure’ The author records that they talked to the ‘crippled beggar’ and took him by the right hand. The words and act are intertwined with no interval between them.

People with disabilities do not need pity or mercy but compassionate understanding and opportunities to develop  their self assurance, vocation possibilities and abilities.

The apostles approach presents  a challenge to those who claim  that they stand by vulnerable persons. Firstly, peter and John stopped and approached  this man, indicating that they knew  their mission  as followers of  Jesus, to be with those who are  unwell. Secondly, Peter and John took time to  talk with the man. Such a dialogue and interaction are evidently important indicators of how they looked upon the disabled man. Thirdly, they took him by the  hand , which is a sign of love, welcome, support, encouragement and integration.

CONCLUSION

The text of Acts 3 v1-10 is singled out for Bible study with as a theme “ A church  of all for all: An invitation to a round table”.  This is because the text reveals different ways of healing, emotional, social, physical and spiritual healing which are the fundamental elements for all people who sit at a round table.

Therefore,  “ A church of All and for All: An invitation to a round table” in this context implies:

    To value one another before God
    To approach those who seem weak and to support them
    To share the same food- opportunities, experiences, information and formation ( even if the food is diverse, it will be suitable for everybody)
    To speak the same language in the sense of having a common understanding
    To empower those who are ignorant of their potential, their gifts, for  liberation. Tomorrow we will have a bible study on Exodus 4 v1-10 we will see that even people who are leaders can have weakness that prevent them from working efficiently.

May our Lord bless these words. Amen.

Rev Micheline Kamba K
E-mail: micheline.kamba@gmail.com