Thursday, May 13, 2010

the book of acts

We will be focusing this summer on the Book of Acts. Written by Luke, and a continuation of the third gospel, the Acts of the Apostles is a reporting of the story of the earliest followers of Jesus. As Eugene Peterson writes, “it is Luke’s task to prevent us from becoming mere spectators of Jesus, fans of the Message.” Alone among the gospel writers, Luke carries the story of Jesus forward into the lives of those who became servants and witnesses; over time, the gospel is taken “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1. 8), and we become a part of the story, through the movement of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith and shared experiences of baptism and communion.

The sermons in the Sunday worship of
Providence United Methodist Church over the summer months will be taken from the Book of Acts, and this will actually commence the next two weeks, with the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1. 1-8) and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2. 1-21). Along the way we will discover the surprising freshness of all that God is up to in our lives; we will wrestle with the public character of the gospel, and the relationship of Christianity with Judaism; we will think about controversial issues (what is core about the faith, and what is negotiable?); we will examine a dream that literally changed Peter’s life, and an experience that converted a hostile outsider to an inspired leader (Paul). We will reflect on the global mission of Christianity, and at the same time we will focus on the change that occurs in the heart of a singular person who embraces the good news of Jesus. The music in our summer worship will focus on the Holy Spirit, the Church and its mission, and will include Taize chants.

In addition, we will offer Bible Studies each week during the summer,at various times from morning until evening. One will be held at 11:00 am on Mondays and will be followed by a catered meal (with childcare provided). Our goal is to make a spiritual practice----immersing ourselves in a foundational book of the bible, one that is most relevant to our lives as disciples---accessible to as many as possible. We will also provide a guide for study that will help those who cannot be present due to travel schedules. And lastly, we will be engaged in this study with several other local churches in our area about sharing this study in other settings, and at other times of the week. In this way we will share our faith with men and women from diverse ethnic traditions….and this was precisely the amazing outcome of the Book of Acts itself!

In preparing for this summer I have been working with three commentaries. The first is (Bishop) Will Willimon's Interpretation volume. He told me once that it was a "Resident Alien's" reading of Acts; it is accessible and, I think, superb. The second is Jaroslav Pelikan's edition in the Brazos series. Pelikan was a master teacher of history at Yale, and an authority on the history of Christianity in particular. By the end of his life he had converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy, and his reflections are often framed by Nicene Christianity and the creed in particular. Historians do not often write biblical commentaries----a reality he acknowledges---but it is appropriate that a church historian writes a commentary on Acts, the earliest church history, and Pelikan's is wonderful. The third work I have consulted is very different, a collaborative venture between Anthony (Tony) Robinson and Robert Wall. Robinson is a wonderful mentor to pastors, having served for some time at Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle, and Wall wrote the Acts commentary for the New Interpreter's Bible. In these three works one senses how the reader shapes the reflection: Willimon senses how odd, confusing and eruptive the movement of the spirit is; Pelikan carefully unearths the development of Christian doctrine and practice; and Robinson and Wall discover stories and practices that speak alike to Pentecostals and Mainline Christians, Evangelicals and Catholics.

I invite you to read through the Book of Acts with us this summer. And since today is Ascension of the Lord (Acts 1. 1-11), I conclude with a comment of Willimon's in a Christian Century article (5. 19. 82):

"In the ordinary dreariness of our lives, it's a comfort to know that the one who became so much like us has gone up to take charge with the One who made us. God has gone up....To those first disciples who feared he was leaving, he gave assurance that he was going not away but up."


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