Acts Sermon Series
27th May - 8th August
Over ten years ago, when we were living in the West Midlands and training for ministry, the nearest Baptist church to us proclaimed the following vision statement on their website: ‘Writing the 29th Chapter of Acts!’
The appeal of such a statement is understandable. It’s impossible not to feel stirred and excited when we read of the powerful way God worked through the first disciples of Jesus. There are stories here of healings in the name of Jesus, miraculous escapes from prison and many occasions when conversion and then baptism is the immediate response of those who hear the gospel message proclaimed. How we wish that we could see God work in the same way among us!
Acts begins with the 12 disciples looking into the sky, gazing at the clouds which have just hidden Jesus from their sight. However, the story soon moves on to the day of Pentecost and the remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who empowers the courageous witness of the miracle-working, boundary-breaking church.
It’s no surprise that many have suggested this book ought to be called the ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit’ in recognition of the source of the church’s life. One of the most striking aspects of the book is how the Spirit clearly supplies a boldness and energy for mission which lies behind the rapid growth of the church.
It is important to note, however, that there are growing pains experienced by this community of Jesus’ followers. The arrival of new believers from a Gentile back-ground is the cause of dissension and soon creates quandaries for the church’s leaders. How should structures change to ensure the fair distribution of food between those from a Jewish and Gentile background? What food should Gentile converts be allowed to eat? Behind each of these individual questions, a bigger and more important one looms: will the church choose to keep growing and taking risks or will limits be set on the new thing God is doing?
The American writer Rob Bell has described Acts as ‘the story of a thousand little everyday decisions these early Christians made to free the message from its cultural and religious trappings so that it would truly be good news for all who encountered it’ (Rob Bell, Jesus wants to save Christians, 2008, Zondervan, p.107). Later he comments, ‘Acts is the story of movement, motion, progress. It’s people being caught up in something that simply must expand, and stretch, and go. Because no one city, no one religion, no one perspective, no one worldview can contain it’ (pp.112–113).
This is the story we’ll reflect on from, Pentecost Sunday in May through to August, as we continue to consider what it means to be a church which worships, welcomes and blesses. As we see how these practices were lived out in the joys but also the complications of life in the early church, I pray we will be inspired to consider what it means for us to stretch, expand and go, in Selsdon, in 2021.