(a devotion based on Acts 4:23-33)
“The family that prays together stays together.” Have you ever heard that saying? Do you think it’s true? I do. I mean, there are statistics and surveys and studies that show how church-going, Christian couples are happier and have lower divorce rates, better-behaved kids, and all that jazz. The family that prays together stays together ― it’s true. But why is it true? It’s not true because of some vague psychological closeness that may (or may not) last in this world, because “shared religious experience” is so important to human relations. It’s true because of a real, objective, spiritual closeness that we have with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we are all close to Jesus, then we, almost by default, are also close to each other in love and faith.
The apostles in Jerusalem had a problem. They were being persecuted by the chief priests, the elders ― the very people who were supposed to be God’s witnesses and ministers on this earth. Peter and John had just spent a night in jail and received a “stern talking-to” from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high-court, and now they were back with the other believers. They had a problem, so they prayed. They prayed to the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and he listened to them and granted their request, almost word-for-word.
Why was their prayer answered? It wasn’t answered because of the good deeds and piety of the apostles. It wasn’t answered because it was such a pretty prayer. It was because their prayer was in accord with God’s will, which is what we mean when we conclude our prayers with “in Jesus’ name.”
It’s not so much that we pray, it’s to whom we pray. It’s not how we pray, it’s the God who hears our prayer. And it’s not our faith ― it’s the object of that faith, the powerful Word of God that testifies to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He answers our prayers in his own time and in his own fashion, according to his perfect holy will. We trust God’s character and his promises.
And so we pray together as a family of believers. And because we pray together, under the blanket of protection and forgiveness that God provides for us in Christ, we will stay together ― now, perhaps, but even more importantly in eternity. We will stay together under Christ our Good Shepherd, who promised in Sunday’s Gospel reading that he will find the other sheep, who are not of his sheep-pen, and bring them into the fold where there will be one flock, one Shepherd.
The Church is God’s family. We are the bride of Christ, his family. In an even closer metaphor, we are the body of Christ and he is our head. Is it any surprise that those early Christians were “one in heart and mind?”
Well, to be blunt, it should be. When I look inside myself, I see that I am far from being “one in heart and mind” with anybody, much less everybody. When I look around, I see fraction and faction, divisions and divisiveness. We are all believers ― why aren’t we one in heart and mind? The answer, of course, is sin ― our sins against one another, against our brothers and sisters. Our sinful selfishness and pride. That oh-so-American virtue of self-sufficiency (as if anyone could actually make it on their own). Our dubious quest for ‘privacy.’ We look around and see the results of sin and its destructive effects in our lives and in our hearts.
But look to the cross and the empty tomb. The glorious fact is that we are one in heart and mind, not just with each other, not just with those who are “walking together” with us in the WELS, but with every Christian who has ever lived. One in heart and mind with Peter and John, with these Christians in Acts. One in heart and mind with Jesus himself, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2, “we have the mind of Christ.”
Our text tells us that the believers were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” And so are we. We were filled, individually and personally, with the Holy Spirit at our baptism. We are filled collectively with the Holy Spirit as we gather together around Word and Sacrament, which is how the Spirit promises to work and where Jesus Christ promises to be.
The Christians in Jerusalem were one in heart and mind. They were so united that they shared everything, and didn’t consider anything to be their own. That doesn’t mean that socialism is the answer for the world’s problems, or that it is the only God-pleasing economic system for Christians to live by. What it means is what it says ― the disciples shared everything they had out of love. Especially look at what the very next verse says ― the most important thing they had in common: the testimony of the resurrection, which they shared boldly. That is certainly a treasure worth sharing.
The apostles prayed together, to Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior and the Lord and Savior of the Church. And they stayed together ― under God’s protection and blessing, one in heart and mind, sharing what they had, boldly proclaiming Christ and his resurrection in the face of people who opposed that teaching.
We, too, who pray together in the holy house of God will stay together as well. Not necessarily here on earth. Certainly not because of the fine words of our prayers, the beautiful music of the piano, or the ancient songs of the Church which we join. Definitely not because of our sincere hearts, our upright and blameless lives, or our whole-hearted walking together here in this sinful world.
No. We have the Holy Spirit’s testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The testimony that our sins are forgiven and that eternal life is ours from God as a gift by grace alone. We receive that gift in the faith God creates and strengthens in our hearts, and we cling to the Word of God with its gracious promises of eternal life for the certainly of our salvation. That’s where our sure and certain hope is founded, that we, the family of God, who pray together will stay together.
“With great power, continue to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and may much grace be upon you all.” Amen.