Good morning! We have observed the swift expansion of Christianity throughout the book of Acts, especially in the ministry to Gentiles conducted by the apostle Paul. Today in Acts 21-23, we start the final narrative of this book, concerning Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem and from there westward, ending in Rome.
Good morning! Today’s passage (Acts 19-20) reads like chapters from a travelogue, describing Paul’s travels in Asia and Jerusalem, then preparing to go on his way to Rome. I confess that I find nothing deeply stimulating in these stories, but take note of several things. First, observe that Paul contends with other populist movements such as that baptizing “into John’s baptism” (presumably John the Baptist). Christianity not only has to define itself against a hostile Jewish elite and polytheist Greek culture, but other purity movements as well. Second, this Christian movement, growing swiftly, continues to arouse resistance such as that which gathers in the theater of Ephesus in a riot. Paul wisely accepts the suggestion that he stay away for the good of everyone, and the riot melts away after a stern address by the unnamed but brave town clerk.
Good morning! Today in Acts 17-18 we read about Paul’s second trip through the Mediterranean, this time with Silas and Timothy. He visits some of the sites of his prior trip, checking in on congregations he had planted, but also striking out in new territory.
Good morning! Remember a few days ago when the disciples, overwhelmed by the number of Jews and Gentiles to take care of, established a system of deacons? That episode yielded insights into the parallels in how churches then and now respond to concerns, and how their fixes establish precedent for years (sometimes centuries) to come. We have a similar window into ancient church drama today in Acts 15-16, where we see how the disciples respond to the question of whether Gentiles need to follow the same behavioral covenant as Jews.
Good morning! With today’s passage (Acts 13-14), we start another major part of Acts—the journey stories of Saul/Paul and Barnabas. The mixed reviews that these apostles get from their audiences show the diversity among Jews and Gentiles. It would be too simple to say that Jews rejected the Jesus tradition and Gentiles embraced it. Rather, some believed and some disbelieved in each community, continuing the productive tension among Christ-followers that is the hallmark of these early Christian decades.
Good morning! In yesterday’s reading, I focused on how outsiders kept finding their way inside the community of Christ followers. There’s no greater example of this than how Gentiles came to be equal partners with (and later far outnumbering) Jews in the community of Jesus-followers. That story is told in today’s passage (Acts 10-12), along with a narrative of miraculous salvation from imprisonment.
Good morning! I have a lot of favorite passages in the Bible, but the stories in today’s reading (Acts 8-9) contain a number of truly remarkable accounts. I’m inclined to say less and give you more time to just engage the stories, but there’s one theme here that keeps jumping out at me: how outsiders repeatedly find their way into the community of Christ-followers.
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8
This is a hard Sunday to be a preacher—a number of my colleagues have asked for prayers as our sermons come together. This is a hard Sunday to be a churchgoer as well, to be someone who cares enough about healthy, hopeful community to show up today, even when the state of politics is on everyone’s mind (including the preacher’s). Some of us are crushed by the election results, and fear the worst of what President Trump’s America could mean for children, refugees, immigrants, people of color, queer folk, the sick, the poor, and the planet. Others of us are relieved by the surprising developments of Tuesday night, so fed up with Washington gridlock that we have longed for someone to show up and throw the rascals out. Most of us are praying for our leaders and the country, hoping for unity where there is such division. Then some of us just came to see a child get baptized! With the great uncertainty in the nation, our time is not so different from another time, “In the year that King Uzziah died….”
Good morning! Today in Acts 6-7, we see two symptoms of the explosive growth in Jerusalem of Christ-believers, along with the responses to them. First, the burden of providing food for thousands of new converts yields a new system of people authorized to lead such service. Second, successful preaching draws the negative attention of those who oppose this movement, leading to fatal conflict. Both these actions bear witness to the clarity and effectiveness of the early church in following Jesus’ example.
Good morning! Today with Acts 3-5, we see the increasing power and reach of the Spirit’s energy in the first disciples. However, we also run into the sharpening resistance to prophetic preaching and healing which comes from the religious authorities. We start to see even here what will lead to schism between Christ-followers and Jews only a few decades later.