Thursday, May 8, 2014

Prayer and Human Misery

Last Sunday we ended up with a picture of a vital community doing some radical things as a people living together. Their four-fold way of being - the apostles teaching, breaking bread, fellowship, and prayers - is first more radical than we may first think. But second, if we are not careful, it could lull us into complacency. Being community together in this four-fold manner feels comfortable; why go anywhere else, and certainly not out into the cruel, cold world.

But this isn't the way of Jesus, and certainly not the way in which he called them to live. Acts 1:8 says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

I think Luke realizes the draw, the temptation for the community to stay in a safe place, which is why he follows the account of life within the new body of believers with a story about their dramatic confrontation with the world in which it lives. One commentator puts it this way, "Yesterday's church was fond of singing the old hymn, 'Sweet Hour of Prayer, Sweet Hour of Prayer, that draws me from a world of care.' Luke goes to great lengths to show that the church's gathering ... was in no way a detour around the misery of the world" (Willimon, Interpretation, p. 43).

In our story (Acts 3:1-10), Peter and John were on the way to pray at the Temple. A beggar asked only for money, certain, no doubt, that physical healing for one lame from birth was impossible. But a little money would help, to buy food, to pay for shelter, to help him get from here to tomorrow.  There was no reason to ask for anything beyond that.  It was impossible.

In those days, unlike now, the church, in the person of Peter and John, had no money. But it did have Jesus, the resurrected Lord, and this it gave. “Stand up and walk,” said Peter, and the man did, just as Jesus himself had impossibly risen and walked a few days before. And the crowd was amazed.

Interesting to think about: The path toward significant prayer is a way that goes through, not around, human misery.

Some questions to ponder:

1. Peter and John did not give the beggar what they asked for because they could not; but they gave what they had, which was more than enough.  Is this a paradigm?

2. What connection can you make between the fact that Peter and John were on the way to pray and confronting the human misery of the world in the form of this lame beggar?