Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – A time for pondering and a time for acting

I know a secret. This week is the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. It is a minor big deal in the life of the church. Not quite Pentecost, but right up there – as it were. The time after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension is the interval of time when Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples. Some of the gospels chronicle that time, and others quickly move to Jesus being taken up to heaven.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:6 – 9)

I have spoken/written on numerous occasions about the expectations of the disciples concerning Jesus’ return. That they way they lived and the way the early church was set up was based on this expectation. And how the early church changed to accommodate the “wait time” for Jesus’ return. I have also talked about what we, as authentic Christians, ought to do while we wait.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Do you, beloved reader, gaze up into the sky wondering when Jesus will return in the same way as he went into heaven? No, I don’t think you do. Because we as a called people of the Lord have learned that our mission and calling is here amongst humanity. That Jesus’ Spirit and Presence is here in ways we only understand in part. Prayer is good – prayer is essential! But prayer is not all there is to living out a Christian life. There is acting as Jesus acted. Caring as the Lord cares for us. Teaching and guiding as Jesus taught and guided his disciples. And, continuing to learn about the Lord and Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a busy time, this waiting for Jesus to return. Set aside some time to gaze into the sky, and communion with the Lord. Then return to the work you are called to. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wasting Time

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22 – 23)

Paul was a pretty sharp guy. The Athenians, being Greeks, were covering every possibility of gods (small “g”) and so as not to leave anyone/thing out and so as not to offend anyone, they had an altar set up for “anonymous.” Paul took advantage of this loophole and present the Lord God, the one all encompassing God. Kinda risky considering he may not have been sure exactly who the altar was meant for. But when you have the Lord God on your side, you can take chances like that.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “ (Verses 24 – 28)

If you know anything about the Greek gods, and the Roman gods which some Greek gods are modeled after, you might know that Paul is speaking pretty specifically against the attributes and needs of the Greek gods in worship.

“Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.” (Verse 29)

And it is not just the Greek gods that can be found under Paul’s critic. Other gods (again small “g”) of other nations had not much more representation and existence beyond having a statute or idol made of it. And some pretty unusual looking ones there were too!

“While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Verses 30 – 31)

A great deal hinges on this “fixed day” that the world will be judged. Paul makes the appeal to wait not, but repent now. Cast away belief and worship of the false gods, and embrace only the true God. Because . . . time may be running out. However, we know now that time was not running out, unless you count the day when each individual person might be judged because their life on this earth has ended. Between when Paul spoke these words and now – there has been a great span of time.

But, beloved reader, do not let my rough-shod critique of Paul lead you to believe that time is not slipping away, because it is! Just because there has been time, and time again, to turn from disbelief to belief do not think you can waste more time. What Paul does not say (at least not explicitly here) but I do say – days and nights chasing after false gods are hours and minutes wasted. The gold or silver or stone or image in art or image from the imagination of mortals.

These images can do nothing for you. Worship of them wastes your time and energy, and leads to nothing good or useful. These images will not last, and whatever good you think you get from them will not last. On that Paul and I agree. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wonders & Signs being performed

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42- 43)

“Wonders and signs” – I dearly wish I knew what the writer of Acts meant by that. I (or you) can look it up in the Greek, but that does not tell us what exactly is meant by it. Were they “wonders and signs” that “merely” confirmed faith in God – what I mean by that is words and acts of a vital faith. Or was it miraculous, out of ordinary human experience that even in our modern times would elicit awe? But is wondrous to our modern times is what follows in the writer of Acts description.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 44 – 47)

The early Christians were a vital and cohesive community. They lived and worked together in harmony and common cause. What one needed, another provided without hesitancy or thought for self – at least as it is described. And if that were true, that would be a “wonder & a sign” that something extraordinary was going on. It would be very attractive to those on the outside who were living in need and isolation. You have to understand, beloved reader, these were times when want and need were rampant, and very few people undertook for each other. Such radical community and care was rare and valuable.

The other thing to remember is that it did not last. Yes, perhaps for a healthy span of years, but eventually human willfulness eroded away the community. Thinking of self gradually became more of the norm than thinking of others. If you have doubts of this, read some of the letters that were written to the early Christian communities. The early church was a model of community and care, but that type of community without end. Certainly an example to succeeding generations but not easily replicated. For a time, a tiny slice of heaven but that eroded like fog on a warming day. The “heat” of the self-centered human heart can dissipate too easily the warming cloud of caring intent. So yes, it was a wonder and sign that the early Christians came together in such a community, and a hope that will true Christian intent we can replicate IF we keep Christ and our Lord God at the center of all our efforts. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – The First (but certainly not the last) Converts

The lectionary passage starts again with verse 14a from Acts chapter two, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them”. Peter, in fact, addressed them for some time.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (Verses 36 – 41)

I read something interesting the other day – someone was commenting about the dramatic change in the disciples/apostles after they had received the Holy Spirit. It is true that accepting Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can dramatically change a person. Sometimes this change is very immediate, and sometimes it happens over time but is no less dramatic. Do not think, beloved reader, if there was no drama in your conversion that it was not real and authentic.

I had a seminary professor who once said that for most people it is a dramatic and “turning the corner” or “turnaround experience”. It is as if there was life before . . . . and life afterwards – distinct change. I did not find it that way. Maybe some day I will share that story. But for now we are with Peter in Jerusalem and witnessing the first conversion of people after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three thousand is a pretty impressive number. But Peter and the apostles were pretty impressive people!

As the days, and Sundays, after Easter unfold may you carry with you the wonderful changes that the Holy Spirit has made in your life. Selah!

Day of Pentecost – The Account of the Actual Day (The Substituted Acts Passage)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.(Acts 2:1-4)

Did the disciples know, when they woke up that morning, that today would be the day? And that after this day nothing would be the same? While some of the gospels talk about this day, this recounting of the coming of the Spirit seems more complete and full. I think it is important to note that they were all together in one place. That is significant, that the Spirit did not come individually, and that everyone of them was there. This was a group experience, so that no one could or would be left out.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Verses 5-13)

Note, beloved reader, that Jews were of every nationality at the time – just a passing thing to be aware of. But it also provided a built in witness to the power of the Spirit, and the genuineness of the speaking of the different languages. It is a small foreshadowing that Jesus and God would be Lord over all nations and all peoples, not just to the Jerusalem Jews. It is also a foreshadowing of non-belief and refusal to believe.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “(Verses 14-21)

I think that portion of scripture should be titled “Peter comes into his own.” What a powerful testimony that bullish, impulsive Peter who denied Jesus three times takes the lead and explains what is happening – preaches a sermon right there!

We too, beloved reader, can come into our own. We can be touched and changed by the Spirit so that we might speak and preach, spreading the new of Jesus. We do not have to talk in tongues; in fact many devout Christians who have ministered and spread the news of God have never talked in tongues. The Spirit gives us the words to say, if we will but invite the Spirit in and listen.

This ends the Easter season for 2015. The Sundays that follow are what is called “Ordinary Time” the passing of Sundays until Advent comes again. To be sure there will be some special days, and scripture to help us observe those days. But for the most part there will be week days and Sundays that we live out our Christian lives. I will return at times to the theme of renewal and recommitment to the Christian life. May you find blessing in your ordinary daily walk with God. Selah!