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Praying for One Another
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 6, 2015
By Rev. Denise Walton
Lesson scripture: Acts 4:23-31
As we reflect on Acts 4:23-31, the primary themes are the Holy Spirit, chronic resistance, and community of believers praying for courage. The book of Acts, a continuation of Luke, describes Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and community of believers post-resurrection with the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. Luke describes in great detail the chronic resistance of religious leadership that was constant in the life and death of Jesus (Chapters 20-24). This same resistance continues in the book of Acts. Once afraid, the disciples have now received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). They are spreading the good news about Jesus in sermons (Acts 2) and miracles (Acts 3).
The miracle of the lame man being healed at the gate called Beautiful along with the disciples preaching the resurrection of Christ escalates the resistance and tension for Peter and John. The two disciples are threatened, beaten, chained and thrown in prison (Acts 4:3). While we can physically restrain a person, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within us can’t be chained.
Praying for Boldness
Peter and John are released and go back into their community to tell the story. Here we find a surprising response from the community of believers, as they turn to God in a united prayer. A closer look reveals the community calling on the past, present and future hope of God eternal.
First, it is important to note the prayer in verse 26 was spoken directly from Psalm 2:1-2, a royal psalm, focused on the reign of the Messiah. The prayer, taken from the Old Testament, helps us see that the disciples connect the resistance of the resurrected Christ, chronic resistance of religious leaders, and even the current tension as resistance to God’s will foretold by the ancestors. The Bible tells a repeated story of God’s people rejecting commands that are against God’s will such as Jewish midwives in Exodus 1 and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in Daniel 3.
There is an eternal plan from God that includes human responsibility and human resistance. “Whenever believers are seeking to impact their culture, whenever the gospel is preached in power, wherever the church is growing and making inroads, there will always be fierce opposition.” (Adapted from Life Application New Testament Commentary, Tyndale House, 2001, pg. 485)
Second, the prayer of the believers did not focus on individual needs, judgment or vengeance but prayed in unison for the boldness to continue the work began in word and deed.
“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Finally, the text provides a clear indication that God heard the prayers as God responds with a physical manifestation of God’s power and the people being filled with the Holy Spirit.
In the book, “Christian Doctrine,” Shirley C. Guthrie provides a reflection on the impact the Holy Spirit has on individual and communal life. “The Holy Spirit brings new creaturely life that is stronger than sickness and even death itself; gives new beginnings to people whose lives seem to be at a dead end, brings new wisdom and guidance from God; calls, holds together, and sends out a new reconciled and reconciling community called the church; works in the world to create a whole new humanity and a whole new creation.”
Guthrie further states, “When the Spirit breaks in, old ways of thinking and living are left behind and new ways of thinking and living begin to take over. Old boring, oppressive and dead social structures and institutions are transformed into exciting new, liberating ones. It may not happen all at once, but when the Holy Spirit comes there is the dawn of a new day, hope for a new and different future, and courage and strength to move toward it.”
Resistance is a normal part of our shared existence as we seek to live out God’s will for our lives. How might we learn to lean on the power of the Holy Spirit and prayerfully seek the courage to continue God’s will in the face of never-ending resistance?
Creator Spirit…come from on high.
Rich in thy sevenfold energy;
Make us eternal truth receive,
And practice all that we believe (John Dryden, 1693)
(Taken from “The Holy Spirit and The Preaching of the Gospel, “ The Living Pulpit, Holy Spirit, 1996)
Reflect on this text as if you were the disciples. What do your actions say about the relationship between God and humanity? What do your actions say about the relationship between human beings? What do your actions say about the power of prayer?
Reflect on this text as if you were a part of the resistance in the story. What do your actions say about the relationship between God and humanity? What do your actions say about the relationship between human beings? What do your actions say about the power of prayer?
Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.