Preached April 21, 2013
Text: Acts 1:1-8
The Story, Ch. 28
We are back to The Story today…almost done! Just three chapters left…
We tend to read the Bible as if Easter is the end of the story…as if Jesus’ resurrection is the last really important part of Scripture, the “happily ever after” of the Bible, or at the very least, of the Gospels.
And it is…sort of. The resurrection is the event that shows us the end of the story and reassures us that there is a “happily ever after” coming. But the author of Luke and Acts – they are written by the same person, a two-volume set – the author insists that the resurrection is not the end. It is, in fact, the start of a new chapter in this story of God and God’s people – the same story that begins clear back in Genesis, culminates in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and now ripples outward across the world and through the ages.
In the opening verses of Acts, the disciples have figured out that the story isn’t over yet. They have figured out, even, that a new chapter is about to begin. But they don’t yet know the twists and turns the plot will take!
They think they know, though. Or at least, they think they know the general direction of the storyline. From the start, their hopes were that Jesus was the Messiah who would bring about political independence for Israel.
That had been their hope. But then they had lived through the roller coaster ride of recent events: the shock and confusion when one of their own – someone they thought they knew – betrayed Jesus; the terror and violence of the cross; the anger at the ones who would do such a thing to an innocent man; the fear that they themselves might be the next target.
Then there was the confusion when some reported that Jesus had been seen alive again – the disbelief at the idle tale that some seemed to share so irresponsibly.
Only – in time they came to know that those tales were actually true, and imagine the joy and relief that swept over them then! Oh, the elation they felt when it became clear that the enemy had not won!
And that is where we find the disciples today. They have ridden this roller coaster ride of emotions up and down and around the curves, and here in the first chapter of Acts, they are trying to make sense of the whirlwind ride they’ve been on.
One thing they know: Jesus was dead and is now alive again! And so their hopes of a Messiah have been renewed. Now, surely, Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel as they had hoped! (Acts 1:6)
And Jesus answers: “Whoa, not so fast.” “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7).
And he continues: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The disciples may not realize it, but Jesus has just given them “the rest of the story” – and they are the main characters!
The story doesn’t end with the resurrection, as we may assume, or even with the ascension of Jesus, when Jesus takes his place with the Father. The story continues with the disciples carrying the love and grace of God to their neighbors across the street, and across town, and clear around the world, all the way out to the ends of the earth! (And it doesn’t seem too far of a stretch to think that “ends of the earth” might mean in time as well as in space.)
In the book of Acts, Jesus passes the baton off to his disciples and tells them to run with abandon, to share the good news of God’s love. The story of God’s work in this world continues, in other words, with them – and, today, the story continues with us who are part of this thing called the Church.
We are the ones empowered them to share the story of God with others, and to be the Body of Christ for them.
But after the roller coaster ride of events this week – we aren’t quite ready to run with that baton, are we? We feel more like we are hiding behind closed doors with the disciples asking: “Is it time yet, Lord? Is it time for you to fix this messed up world we live in? Is it time yet for you to restore the Kingdom?
Jesus’ answer to his disciples extends to us too: it is not for us to know the time or the date. It is enough to know that God’s promises continue. That God promises to wipe away every tear (Revelations 21:4). Promises of restoration, of hope, of peace. Promises that people from all nations will gather together as God’s people without hatred or mistrust (Revelations 21:3, 24-26). We believe God’s promises.
We believe, but when weeks like this one come along, we begin to wonder if we misunderstood. Did we hear God wrong, somehow? Has God really defeated death? Did God’s goodness really win over the darkness of this world we live in? So we stare up into heaven, wondering where God seems to have disappeared to when we need him so badly down here.
Ah, but then the angels’ words call us back to earth: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11).
Like the disciples, it is our tendency to look back at what was (will you restore the kingdom?) or to look up toward some otherworldly place “over the rainbow” that we wish for but don’t really believe in.
But Jesus pushes the disciples – and us – to look forward, at the world we are handing our children and our grandchildren. We have work to do, empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread God’s love. We should be working, Jesus says, for peace in our own backyards (Jerusalem) – in our region (Judea & Samaria) and around the world. We are now the Body of Christ – the ones who preach good news, heal the sick, feed the hungry in Jesus’ name. We are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth!
We’ve been talking a lot about the future in recent weeks…our plans as a congregation to expand our ministry presence into the surrounding communities…
Some of you would like more information. We’ll give as much as we can – please come to a home group meeting! Or ask us questions along the way. But we might not be able to answer all the questions, because in some ways, we are in the “waiting” time like the disciples were, waiting for the promises of God in this time and place to be revealed. (Acts 1:4) We know something of what God is calling us to, but we’re also waiting for God to continue to open doors and lead us on…
But waiting doesn’t mean we aren’t working. In fact, as descendants of the church animated by the Holy Spirit, we are already living out the promise that Jesus gives, sharing God’s love in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8). It is worth remembering what we are about…
- In “Jerusalem” – Locally
- West Hills and Coraopolis Cooperative Food Pantries
- Coraopolis Community Development Foundation
- Celebrate Coraopolis
- Choices Pregnancy Center
- Network of Hope
- Coraopolis Youth Network
- AA & NA
- Car Check (May 11)
- Tot Lot clean up
- In “Judea & Samaria” – Regionally
- 8th Avenue Place
- Meals on Wheels
- To the ends of the earth – Globally
- 30 Hr Famine
- Imagine No Malaria
Always, but especially after a week like this one…we need to live as witnesses in our neighborhoods, our region, and throughout the world…because, as Theresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s…
Christ has no body now on earth but ours;
No hands but ours; No feet but ours;
Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.
Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now.
Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Ours is a call to go from gazing into the clouds wishing for God to whisk us away to some otherworldly place where pain and grief and fear are gone – to gazing at the needs of the world, and reaching out as the hands, feet and voice of Jesus to meet those needs. We are the Body of Christ for the world – the ones through God’s Story continues in this time and place.