St Michael’s 28th May 2017
Reading – Acts 4:1-3, 18-31
This week all of us have been shocked by the terrible events in Manchester. We have, of course, experienced many terrorist attacks over the years. But the choice of target and the age profile of the victims have been particularly hard to bear. If anyone doubted before the existence of evil in this world, surely the events of Monday evening have dispelled this myth.
Yet since the attack we have also seen the very best of human nature: the taxi drivers offering free lifts home, the dedication of doctors and nurses, the professionalism of our police and emergency services, and above all a community intent on showing that hate will not defeat love. And as people have come together, so the cry has gone out: “Pray for Manchester.”
But how exactly do we pray for Manchester? What words can we use? How do we relate to God at a time such as this? This morning let me say right at the outset I am not going to give easy answers. All I am going to do is offer some clues which may help us as we seek to pray for this beautiful but broken world, and the many young people whose lives have been changed forever this week.
Now at first glance our reading from Acts has very little connection with what happened in Manchester. There is no terrorist outrage; the victims are not young; the events happened many, many years ago. Yet scratch a little beneath the surface and it is possible to make connections.
Last week John preached on how Peter and John went up to the temple and healed a man crippled from birth. It was a wonderful miracle and proof of God’s love and power. The man was understandably ecstatic. The crowds flocked to hear Peter and John explain what was going on, and there could be no denying that here was good news that everyone wanted to hear…
…well, almost everyone. The religious authorities, however, saw the name of Jesus only as a threat. They could not see the goodness in what Peter and John had been doing, but rather seized them and threw them into jail. Perhaps there are faint echoes here of the way ISIS can only see what is good and beautiful and true as something evil to be contained or destroyed.
So Peter and John are brought to trial. On this occasion they are released without punishment because the religious authorities are afraid of the people’s reaction. But Peter and John know that these threats are not simply empty words, and subsequent events only bear out their fears. In chapter 5 all twelve apostles are thrown in prison and the following day they are flogged. In chapters 6 to 8 we read of the arrest and trial of Stephen who is then stoned to death as the first martyr of the Christian faith. From this point on, the church faces persecution and opposition, as indeed it continues to do so right up to this very day.
How, then, do Peter and John respond to their threats? Well, the first thing to notice is that they immediately return to their fellow believers. Verse 23: On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. Now on one level this was a risky move as it would have exposed the whole church to potential danger. They easily could be accused of having troublemakers in their midst. Yet Peter and John knew that the response to any threat or danger was not to hide, but to find support and strength from their fellow believers.