Peter’s Power and Light Let’s pray….Rev Stuart Buisch
It’s Passover, the time of year that Jews celebrate the deliverance from a ruler who abused people. Herod, the current ruler had one disciple killed and put Peter in prison during the holiday with the idea to charge him after Passover.
The church prayed. Luke says they offered earnest prayer for him. We know that they gathered in a family home for John Mark who would later travel with Paul and Barnabas. This was a home of involved Christians. They also happened to have a servant. This suggests that they were well off enough to afford one. We do not know what they were praying. Were they hoping that Peter would be confident, comforted, encouraged? We don’t know but we do know that he went to sleep. So, were their prayers answered? As they continued to pray an experience, unlike many, happened to Peter. With four squads of four soldiers each guarding him on threat of their life if anything happened to him, an angel got in to his cell, his chains fell off, he got dressed and sandals on his feet and, thinking this was all a dream or vision he followed past each squad of guards and finally out the front gate that opened on its own.
That is the account in Acts, that Luke clarifies as being after careful study. We do know that Peter did not get caught by Herod, that he continued to lead the church and presumably he got out of Herod’s sight once Herod put the cross hairs on him.
Returning to the prayer, Rhoda, the servant heard a knocking at the gate in the middle of the night and went but was so overjoyed to see Peter that she went back inside. Interestingly, the church gathered for prayer thought she was seeing a vision just like Peter thought about the angel. I can’t help wondering if we see visions today but we don’t give them enough credence to believe anything that we could believe from them. It is also clear that the praying that was going on had certain limits. Those gathered apparently didn’t believe God had scope beyond their understanding. In our praying we need to be careful not to limit God. We will also probably never know what they were praying for and how much that impacted God to the answer that was given. We do know that Peter got out. Luke tells us the guards were all killed for losing their prisoner – a common event for soldiers in the Roman era who failed. The light easily gets lost in this story. Where God is, there is light, no matter how dark the situation. But according to Luke, by extension to Peter when he told his story, the light didn’t waken him. That should be troubling that God’s light is around and we are not alerted by it. What is God trying to light up in your world but you are unaware of the new light and its meaning? What does it mean to miss the light of God that is around us?
Herod finishes this chapter off with an interesting indictment on human power. Having snuffed out 16 lives as if they were flies. As if annoyed by their incompetence he moved off to Ceasarea. He had a grudge with the people there and they needed food that he could provide. He got dressed up and failed to recognize that he was not it -not the most important. Luke tells us that since he didn’t deny being a god, God struck him and he was eaten by worms and died.
So what does this text mean for us? First, I think we must be aware that in the reality of God and things divine the line between a vision that seems impossible and the kind of things possible if you believe is not so clear. It is quite possible that the church’s prayers were answered inasmuch as Peter was so asleep that the angel’s light didn’t waken him and the nudging did. But that is one kind of prayer. Is it enough for parents in 2020 to pray that their children will be safe all day until they are together again. What happens to your faith if you are only praying for safety and the child is killed – accident, gun shot, overdose etc. Is that faith useless?
Rhoda is told she is out of her mind when she announces to the prayer meeting – no doubt interrupting some really good prayers- that Peter is at the gate. It is amazing to me before the pandemic and certainly now during the pandemic how much is known in so many fields. But maybe it is time for us to get out of our minds and into our hearts. Maybe we need to check with God regarding the nature of our prayers. What we should call prayer, what we should pray like. Even if the prayer meeting at Mary’s house was repeating the Lord’s prayer surely there was some absence of belief because God’s kingdom came on earth as it does in heaven and they could only mock Rhoda.
Then they were astonished. When did you last pray and then become astonished at what God answered? Is there room for you to be astonished or must things stay in your lines? Must things be rational, reasonable, affordable, comfortable? In the time of this story Palestine was ruled by non-Jews, Jerusalem’s day to day was de facto ruled by Jewish leaders who had a great deal of real power. The lives of Christians were at risk on two fronts. Today we have a pandemic, racial tensions, natural and unnatural disasters and while I hear a pile of complaining I seldom hear those who say they are praying about that. Now I don’t believe that there is no praying going on. I also understand that it may not be popular to talk about prayer, indeed it could be even arrogantly pious. But I still wonder if we prayed – even wrong prayers – could there be such a thing? – that maybe we too could be astonished not at what we prayed but at what happens around us.
Luke goes on to say God’s word increased. Is that because lives were changed or because Christianity was the happening thing? Was it a good story or a good reality? A good story can give a warm feeling or even new ideas, new ethical goals but faith can transform a situation if God is in it.
This passage ends with a look into the next generation of Christian leaders. The prayer meeting was at Mary’s house – the mother of John who is also called Mark. Some attribute the first gospel Mark to this young man. As we continue in Acts we will see that like all of us he has some ups and some downs but Saul and Barnabas took Mark with them. When did you last take a younger person – for some of you that includes anyone under 60- along with you in the work of God that you do? The church needs the next generation, Amen.
Creator of the universe, you see the damage everywhere – work your healing… Pain bearing Savior, help each soul to sense your loving presence through us and without us…. Breathe of God, blow through our fear, our weak certainty and let us be astonished..