Fixing our Attention

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

May 11, 2014

Acts 3:1-11

In this text, I noticed how much seeing took place. The unnamed lame man saw Peter and John about to go into the temple. They looked intently at him. They told him to look at them. He fixed his attention on them.

After he was healed, the crowd saw him and saw his healing. But they also stared at him, astonished. At which point Peter pointed out that they had never truly seen who Jesus was. They killed the Author of Life, sent by God, and let a murderer go free in his place.

We are like that. Some things are clear and come into focus easy. Others remain hazy. And some things we don’t see clearly at all.

Our unnamed man, lame from birth, saw Peter and John. Granted, he thought they were going to give him money. But Peter told him to really look at them. And the man fixed his attention on them.

He adjusted his vision and recognized them as people who were offering him more than money. They offered him healing, and a chance to live.

He could have missed it. He could have heard Peter say he didn’t have any silver or gold and then turned away, fixing his attention elsewhere, seeking a more lucrative temple patron.
But he saw life when it walked up to him.

Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man 1655 Nicolas Poussin

Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man 1655 Nicolas Poussin

The crowds in the temple, however, did not see life when they’d had the chance. They had seen and heard Jesus, but they didn’t see him clearly. And so they stood before Pilate, chanting “Crucify! Crucify!” Their attention fixed on what—worldly power? The idea they didn’t need healing?

Maybe their attention wasn’t fixed at all. Maybe they were just distracted by the cries of the mob. Maybe they were unfocused by fear of military reprisal. Vision totally broken.

Peter sees the crowd clearly, however, and he doesn’t give them any slack.

But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.

Not only did the crowd not see Jesus clearly when they had the chance, but they also missed the source of the man’s healing at the beautiful gate.

‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?’

We do that too. We don’t actually think we are faith healers, but it is easy to look around the church, see signs of growth and success, and pat ourselves on the back, as if by our own power or piety we were doing well.

Or, the pastor’s confession, as I made last week. I read the Book of Acts and feel so inadequate. Peter’s baptizing 3,000 people a day and healing people who can’t walk!!
Why do I even bother showing up?

But that is what happens when I fix my attention on the wrong thing. The success of the early church isn’t about Peter. The growth and new life on display in the Book of Acts isn’t because of Peter, or the other disciples, or the praise band they hired, or any of their own power or piety.
The Book of Acts is about the work of the Holy Spirit.

When I fix my attention on the Holy Spirit, and not on Peter or other successful preachers, I can talk myself down from the ledge of worrying about my own inadequacy and comparisons. Then I can get out of my own way and do what God has called me to do, attention fixed on the right thing.

What do you see?

When you look around, either at church or elsewhere in your life, what do you see?

Do you see beauty, and hope, and love, and people who love and care for you?

Or do you see only disappointment, loss, difficulty, brokenness?

One of the privileges of being your pastor is getting to hear your stories. And my faith is constantly strengthened through you. Often when you share stories of difficulty and trouble, you actually tell me about the love, the hope, the beauty you see. You fix your attention on that which will give you the strength to get through your struggles, and in fixing your attention on the life giving things around you, you find healing.

It is easy to fix our attention on the negative. Because it is all around us. So much pain in the world. And I’m not saying we should live in denial, pretending nothing is wrong.

Often, there is plenty wrong. Diagnosis or loss. War and trauma. Pain and brokenness are a part of life. We aren’t called to pretend otherwise.

But where are you going to fix your attention?

Fixing our attention, repairing our broken attention, is a spiritual discipline. It is being intentional about noticing where truth, beauty, and healing are. It is being intentional about looking for the work of the Spirit in our midst. It is about choosing a new way to view the world in which we live.

Looking at the few verses we have on this unnamed man, here’s what I notice about him.

He had plenty of reason to despair. Lame since birth, his options in his society were limited.

But I notice he wasn’t alone. He had people who would carry him, every single day, to the Temple, so he could beg for alms.

And they didn’t dump him just anywhere, but by the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. So he had a view where he could appreciate the beauty around him while he begged.

He also expected to receive something from them. So he was a person of hope. He lived in faith that he would be provided for, even in a broken world where his disability kept him from working.

Some days, the discipline of seeing beauty, and hope, and life is a difficult assignment. Fixing our attention on hope when so much is competing for our attention requires concentration.

To this we are witnesses, Peter tells the crowd, focusing their attention on Jesus of Nazareth.
Don’t be distracted by fear. Don’t lose focus because of the crowd. But each day, practice fixing your attention on life, on hope, on grace, on beauty.

We don’t always see clearly. We sometimes have difficulty focusing on what matters. Occasionally, like the crowd at Passover, standing before Pilate, we are completely blind to the truth, and we cry out for death, when life is standing right in front of us.

Where are you fixing your attention, how are you fixing it?

One of the gifts of community is the way you help each other fix your attention in the right direction—toward hope, toward beauty and love. I’m grateful for the times, when my attention was broken and you have helped me fix it, fixing my attention in the direction of life and joy.

May we continue to fix our attention on the healing strength of a God who could not be conquered by even death. There is much beauty to see in the world. Thankful for eyes, hearts, and minds with which to see it.

Amen

 

And here’s a video of a modern day “lame” man who fixed his attention and expected something.

http://www.ted.com/talks/hugh_herr_the_new_bionics_that_let_us_run_climb_and_dance#t-233803

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3 thoughts on “Fixing our Attention

    • I do love that hymn. So many hymns of that generation are such “personal piety” or “me and my Jesus”. This one is also personal, but triggers bigger connections for me.

      • I would like to have sung it sometime that wasn’t a funeral — I associate it (like “Just as I am / Without one plea”) with funerals.

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