History tells us about the people whose actions either improved life for humanity or caused more misery. In hindsight, it’s amazing to see the difference that one person can make.
Contrast the shadows of Cain or Abel, Saul or David, Rahab or Delilah, Timothy or Demas, Peter or Nero, King George or John Wesley, Hitler or Victor Frankl, Idi Amin or Nelson Mandela, Son of Sam or Ben Carson. My friends, make no mistake about it! The way we live our lives – individually and corporately – can and does make a difference in the course of human history. So let us turn our attention to the text for today:
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women; insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. (Acts 5:14-15)
The writer does not tell whether anyone was healed as a direct result of this, but Luke does indicate that people in Jerusalem had deep respect and trust for Peter. There was no evidence that Peter’s shadow could heal -- not at all. The healing was not in Peter’s shadow but in the Lord he represented and the faith he engendered. Apparently, many people believed that just by showing up, Peter could make a significant difference in the lives of the suffering.
Our world is filled with suffering people, people in desperate need of healing from despair, rejection, poverty, hate, and fear. They need healing from the need to be in control and from a world view identifying everyone as enemies rather than potential friends. Some people wake up hungry, go to sleep hungry, and then wake up hungry again. These suffering people need shadows that will bring food to their starving lands. Some people live in lands that have not had rest from war. They need the shadow of peace, flavored with justice.
The list is long of people needing shadows that bring deliverance, relief, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and wholeness. What kind of shadow does your church cast in your own community? If your church closed tomorrow, would the community miss your church? I’m not asking if you and your fellow members would miss your church. I’m asking if people outside the doors would miss your congregation’s influence.
If I asked people living within five miles of your church to point out its location, could they? If I asked people what they know about your church, how would they describe your shadow?
Will the world – your community – be a better place because your church exists? What if we, as church people, started living out our calling to be the salt of the earth? What if you decided this day that rather than arguing about who is right, you would join your enemies to discover God’s promises?
I encourage you to ask these questions at your board meetings, Sunday school classes, choir rehearsals, United Methodist Women and Men meetings, and youth events. Most of all, I want you to find out what the people outside your churches think about the shadows you cast.
James Edward Swanson Sr. is resident bishop of the Holston Annual Conference.