Sunday, 22 April 2018

Peter's Bravery and an Open Church

Acts 4:5-12

The previous day a man lame from birth was being carried to the Temple where he daily lay at the Beautiful gate to beg for alms. Peter and John were asked for gifts along with everyone else but instead of giving him money Peter said “I have no silver or gold but what I give you, I give you in the name of Jesus Christ.” “Stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up. And immediately his feet and ankles were made strong - jumping up he stood and began to walk and he entered the temple walking and leaping and praising God.”

The Temple police came and arrested Peter and John and put them in custody until the next day.

Now I have been in a custody suite - as a visitor I hasten to add not as a customer - and even in our modern times and our enlightened country they are uncomfortable places: bare, made of steel, institutionally coloured, barred, unfriendly, worrisome, threatening, destabilising, and once there you do not know what will happen next.  The term custody suite is a misnomer with its sense of comfort, of facilities, of sofas - not at all - the depersonalisation starts here, you are a number in a system that will grind its weary way with you - thankfully in our country more rationally than in many others we might think of where we know the conditions are more violent. Believe me they are still intimidating though and it is in this context that Peter and John with a sleepless night in the cells behind them are arraigned.

And arraigned in front of whom - none other than Caiaphas and Annas and other members of the of the high priestly families who controlled the temple. Peter and John know already how powerful and ruthless this group are for they have seen them act with Jesus, these same authorities had been instrumental in Jesus’ crucifixion they have no limits to the sanctions they might impose in the name of the temple law and of bolstering their place - beating, scourging with rods, unlimited imprisonment. These are people not to take lightly not people to irritate  - they made the prisoners stand in their midst not I imagine a gentle invitation “Will the prisoners please stand?” but physical threatening and probably chained.

We know things about Peter, that he denied Jesus three times, that he sank into the ocean when Jesus asked him to walk towards him, that he was reluctant to have his feet washed, that he was impetuous but now in an aggressive legal setting far from his experience as a fisherman and surrounded by his enemies we witness a forthright declaration of faith. He has certainty that the power that cures the lame man came from Jesus Christ and nowhere else. Notice there is no temptation to accrue any credit to himself or John and this is not humility or shyness but bravery. We see a Peter who is brave.

Jesus said, and we read this in Luke’s Gospel, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

And surely the Holy Spirit was with Peter and Luke tells us that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, but still, you know, even if you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit you need to be  brave.

It is unlikely that we will face a situation where we need choose between proclaiming our faith and  being imprisoned or worse although many have been and many still are challenged in this way but nonetheless we sometimes have to take risks we have to give things up or make ourselves vulnerable to change how we are to proclaim the things we believe.

As you know just outside those windows is a the Icknield Way, probably in use since at least the Iron Age one of the four key highways of medieval Britain, running from Norfolk to Wiltshire and today it is used by many ramblers and walkers both local and from afar. Our church stands on this route and so during the summer weekends we plan to open our doors and to encourage people to visit us, to spend a moment of prayer within and to discover our church. As well as walkers this will I know be welcomed by the very many visitors to the graveyard. The PCC have agreed that we should experiment this year and to help with that I am asking for volunteers to sit in the church for a few hours on a Saturday and for two hours on a Sunday.

I have placed a sheet at the back of church with times and spaces for you to sign up. I would appreciate your help with this and once the volunteers are known we can meet to discuss the details. And of course there will be sheets for July and August to follow.

Bishop Alan a few years ago gave a Presidential address to Synod outlining the signs of a welcoming, flourishing engaged  church and one of those was that their doors should be open - and I agree with him and think that we are ideally placed geographically, emotionally and spiritually to do just that.


No comments:

Post a Comment