Preached FCCW May 6, 2018
Your worship bulletin will tell you that the passage I just read comes from the Book of Acts. But if you had your Bible open you may have noticed that Acts is shorthand for the full title of the book, which is “The Acts of the Apostles.” This is not a book about random acts. It is about the very specific acts of a unique group of people; Jesus’ apostles. An apostle is someone who knows a truth and whose role it is to witness that truth to others.
In the last earthly conversation that his closest followers would have with him, they asked him if, now that he had been resurrected the time had come when he would restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory. As he almost always did, Jesus gives them a sideways answer to their question. He refuses to offer them a “when” with regards to the fulfilment of God’s plans. But he does give them a “what” and a “how” to their question.
The “what” in the next step of God’s action plan, much to their surprise, I’m sure, didn’t depend on Jesus at all. God would be relying on them. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” is what Jesus told them. Basically, Jesus was saying that he was counting on them to carry his message. And not just there where they were in Jerusalem, but beyond the borders of Israel and all the way to the ends of the earth. And if they questioned how in the world they were supposed to do that, Jesus gave them the answer to that question, too. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
They had his assurance that what seemed to them to be impossible to achieve on their own would in fact become possible because they would not be limited to their own capabilities. The Holy Spirit would provide them with whatever was required for them to accomplish the mission.
If they began to notice that this was starting to sound like Jesus was delivering a farewell speech, their suspicions were soon confirmed. Barely had his words had time to sink in when before their eyes, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. How much of that was a literal description of how Jesus departed from them, and how much was poetic language intended to convey more meaning than fact, is debatable. One thing, though was certain. Jesus was counting on them to continue his mission.
So they did what he said. They waited in Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost, when just as Jesus promised, they were anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses. The rest of the Book of Acts tells their story. How they prayed and preached; welcomed and healed; shared generously of their possessions and fearlessly of their faith. So that the way they lived and loved caused people to sit up and take notice. And probably they even surprised themselves at the ways the Spirit was moving among them.
By the conclusion of the Book of Acts, this Jesus Movement had, just as Jesus said it would, spread all the way from Jerusalem to the city of Rome. Which for them was, for all intents and purposes, the “ends of the earth.” But not for us. Because the work of witnessing to the world about the love of God in Jesus still begs to be told and lived all across our world today and in each generation.
Like all stories in the Bible, this one doesn’t end when you get to the last word on the last page of a book. As we are fond of saying in the UCC, never place a period where God has placed a comma. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is not a finished product, it is a work in progress.
Which is what we are.
You and I are apostles who Jesus calls and commissions to be his witnesses—his apostles — right where we are and to the ends of the earth. And if that sounds like a job you do not possess the right qualifications for… you’re absolutely correct. I know I am not qualified for it.
But Jesus never expects us to be qualified on the basis of our own credentials, which is why he promises us the power we need through the Holy Spirit. What he does expect is that we will act on witnessing to our faith. When we do that in the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, though he may no longer be physically with us, we are never alone. And even our seemingly modest actions will be “acts of apostles” in their own right.
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros