Weekly Reading: Acts 1-2
Small Group Discussion Questions
- What did you see the Holy Spirit doing in Acts 1-2?
- How did the Christian community respond?
- What two baptisms does Jesus identify in Acts 1:5, and what is the significance of each?
- Do you see any parallels between how Jesus began His ministry and how the church began its ministry?
- In following Christ and carrying out God’s mission in the world, why do you think community matters?
- According to Acts 1-2, what do you see as the primary function of the church?
Sermon: “The Church Is Born”
ACTS, Part One
Text: Acts 1:4–8 (CEB)
4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” 7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
One word should frame our reading of Acts over the next eight weeks – Resurrection.
We begin our journey, in a sense, in Act Two of a great drama. Luke writes Act One as a gospel, a story of one man, Jesus. He writes Act Two not as a history of the early church as we might be tempted to assess, but as an explosive sequel in which the church picks up where the Messiah leaves off and the gospel begins to transform the world. Bishop Will Willimon suggests it could even be considered a kind of sermon, “Jesus: Greatest Hits,” stories of the resurrection recurring over and over in the life of His followers, “Jesus Continues,” or perhaps best, “Easter Continues.” This, brothers and sisters, is our story. It’s the story of disciples of Christ trying to figure out how to live, what to do, and ways in which to engage God’s mission once Christ is risen and a witness is needed in the world. It is the gospel proclaimed, as Willimon puts it, “in such a way that the hearers, the church is given encouragement and guidance in another age.”
Some of you have already gotten Craig Keener’s Bible study on Acts we will be using. You don’t have to have the book, but it’s a great resource. He titles this week, “The Power of Pentecost,” and he makes the following statement: “Our problem today is not that we lack access to God’s power. It is that we often neglect to plug our spiritual appliances into the power source by faith.”
At the end of Luke’s gospel, Christ appears to His disciples, proves His bodily (not just spiritual) resurrection, and illuminates this new reality by teaching them the scriptures. Then, He leaves them with explicit instructions – “do not leave Jerusalem until I send you what the Father has promised.” So, Christ has conquered death and hell, the disciples have witnessed it, and God has won a cosmic victory. Yet, somehow the disciples don’t have all they need! Interesting. And this is where the gospel of Luke leaves us. We find the same scene at the beginning of Acts, the disciples obediently waiting in Jerusalem. Why? Because Pentecost shows us that it is not only useless, it is foolish to embark on the mission of God in the world without the Holy Spirit. We can think we know Jesus. We can have what we think are the right beliefs. We can even want to serve God. But if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, we are simply not equipped to do God’s work in the world. It’s like the distinction I’ve heard between being “in the world for God” versus “in God for the world.” The Holy Spirit is the One who allows us to be in God for the world. He is the power source of God. He connects us to God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.
Speaking of Jesus, did you ever wonder why God needed a body? We celebrate Jesus being born at Christmas, the little Child of Bethlehem born in a moment in human history in a manger of all places. For the first time, God has a human body. Wow. Then, we remember the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: God in the flesh is killed. He dies and is buried. But then, as we celebrated last Sunday and are still celebrating, He is risen! And after Jesus was raised from the dead and God had conquered sin, hell, and death, Luke 24:43 tells us that He ate a fish. I love that part! Why did He eat a fish?! Because this is a physical world and we are physical beings. Spiritual resurrection would not be enough. The risen Christ has a body. But then He leaves the earth to be with the Father and return again one Day. What about the meantime? This is why it is necessary for the Church to be born. Because God still needs a Body in this world. Until Christ returns that is where you and I come in. Pentecost in Acts 2 is the birth of the Church. The Holy Spirit comes in with a violent rushing wind and what appear to be tongues of fire, and the disciples are flooded and filled with the Holy Spirit of God. And from that moment to now, we are the Body of Christ on earth. Mortal bodies were raised to new life in Christ filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The Church is the Body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit for the purposes of God in the world.
Practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit is our way of “plugging in” to the power of God. Again, we don’t lack access to the power. We must plug in. We have a fancy term for ways of plugging in called “means of grace.” Think of “means of grace” as sails you raise in order to catch the wind. The wind is there. You’re on the water. But it’s up to us to raise the sails to catch the wind and let it propel us toward God’s destination. If you feel like you’re sculling around in circles, perhaps it’s a sign that you need to engage the means of grace more in your life. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we are not to idle around waiting for God to make us experience grace. Rather, we are to engage in the means of grace, because it’s always available to us. Prayer, Scripture, fasting, worship, small groups, and Communion – these are means of grace.
What an appropriate morning to begin our series on Acts. Today we gather for worship, Scripture, and prayer. We are launching small groups. And we center our worship this day on Communion. We are also baptizing and confirming the baptisms of our confirmands today in the 11:00 service. How fitting. Peter says in his sermon, Acts 2:38-39, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away – as many as the Lord our God invites.” Baptism is about God’s grace and belonging to the Church. Confirmation is about personal faith and response to God’s grace, receiving the Holy Spirit, and full membership into the church. And then, Communion is a regular experience of grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the unity of the Church to come together and go forth in mission. All of this is part of our worship today.
The other means of grace we are celebrating today, of course, is small groups. This is a new venture in discipleship and Christian community.
Again, Acts 2:42-47 tells us…
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
No matter how many were added to the Church, the emphasis was always on community and mission. The Church was to carry out the mission of God, but it was always a community. The larger we get, the smaller we must feel. That’s why today we are launching small groups. Christian community is a means of grace.
Acts gives us a glorious picture of the Church in community…on mission…filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s going to be a powerful eight weeks.
Let us begin by sharing together the meal of the Church, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This meal is a reminder of the physical body and blood that were broken and poured out for us. It is also a means of grace. In a moment we will pray for the Holy Spirit to come in presence and power upon these ordinary things to make them extraordinary and fill us once again with His presence. Finally it is a reminder that we are the Body of Christ. We eat and drink physical elements as a physical reminder that we are God’s physical presence upon this earth. Let the eating and drinking of this meal overwhelm you with thanksgiving and also be a challenge to go forth and witness what you have experienced. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
 Bishop Will Willimon. “Preaching and Teaching Through Acts.” Pensacola District Day Apart, April 1, 2013. Alabama West Florida Conference, UMC. First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, Pensacola, Florida.