Acts 2: 42-46
Based on Acts 2. 42-46
If you could take into your hands a kind of magical telescope … a telescope that would enable you to look back into time, across two millennia, to the first century of the Common Era, to focus in on the city of Jerusalem, to peer into the early church, into the life, the ways, the customs & controversies, the activities, of the earliest followers of Jesus, this is what you would see:
The followers of Jesus devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they met together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
It is a kind of still-life, a snapshot, a freeze-frame, a moment in time captured in words.
But there is so much more. The biblical book, the Acts of the Apostles, tells story after story, adventure after adventure, about the first Christians; about how they struggle to pick up where Jesus left off; about how they recover from his death, regroup, organize themselves and fan out into the world.
The Book of Acts serves as that magical telescope, enabling us to zoom in on, to bring into clear focus, the story of Lydia, the first European convert to Christianity; the story of an Ethiopian eunuch – a high official to queen Candace – who falls for Jesus, body and soul, and begs on the spot for Christian baptism. We are able to see into Peter’s dream on the roof top; observe the conversion of Cornelius and his household; glimpse a jail-breaking, lock-picking angel; witness as the healing powers of Jesus are transferred to the apostles; overhear Peter’s first sermons and Paul’s disputations.
The Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book in the New Testament, is a story of endless adventure, of thrilling quest and daring expedition as the followers of Jesus, full to the brim with joy and confidence, trod the stage of the world, telling any who will listen about Jesus of Nazareth who came back from the dead.
Along the way they undergo shipwreck, imprisonment, the martyrdom of Stephen, and Paul’s conversion. They gather funds to relieve famine victims in Jerusalem and they found a slew of churches. Not least, the author of the Acts of the Apostles tells honestly of controversies and disputes as these first Christians – abroad upon the wide earth – maneuver matters of culture and religion, of ethnicity and custom, of class and caste, of language and local lore, a host of matters that Jesus never touched on.
To read the pages of the Acts of the Apostles is to watch as a nascent Christianity rethinks itself in new and ever-widening contexts. It is to watch as Christianity evolves from a small, local, parochial movement into a global, spiritual undertaking. It is to follow Paul and Peter, Timothy and Barnabas as they each carry the precious cargo of the Gospel, one human being to another, from Jerusalem to Troas, to Corinth; from Antioch and Iconium, to Ephesus, Miletus and Caesarea; from Athens and Philippi to Thessalonica, Malta and Rome.
The Acts of the Apostles roughly covers the first thirty years after the death of Jesus, roughly the year 30 of the Common Era to the year 60. It is simply unparalleled in its record of the activities and adventure of the earliest Christians. Apart from this fifth book in the New Testament there is scant record of the expansion of Christianity until Eusebius (bishop of Caesarea) starts to write a full two-and-a-half centuries later.
The Acts of the Apostles is a thrilling, action-packed, fast-moving story. I recommend it to you for your summer, beach-reading list. The stories of ship-wreck, navigation and port-hopping should fire your imaginations as you sit on the beach, the sand between your toes, the cool ocean surging and ebbing.
While the author of the Acts of the Apostles is unknown, tradition calls him Luke and there is scholarly consensus that the author of the Acts of the Apostles also authored the Gospel According to Luke and, therefore, that Luke-Acts, represent volumes I and II of his great work.
I am here this morning to ask you, to invite and summon you, to beckon and bid you consider becoming like Luke: a story teller, a recorder of Christianity, not ancient Christianity, but of Christianity today, as you know it; specifically as you experience it and live it here and now, at Old South Church in Boston.
In May of 2019 – less than a year from today – we kick-off our 350th Anniversary celebration: three-and-a-half centuries of being Old South Church in Boston, of carrying the precious cargo of the Gospel, generation to generation, to this city and beyond. Three and a half centuries of ferrying the exquisite story of God’s love down through the centuries, through tumult and progress; through the making of a new nation, through bloody wars, economic crises and struggles for civil and human rights, ferrying it, protecting it, giving witness to it through storms and illness, and at times of great national decision.
The Tell the Story Task Force of our 350th Anniversary Committee is unveiling this week, our invitation to all of you to contribute to our open-source undertaking, entitled:
Theological, Historical & Whimsical of
Old South Church in Boston,
Marking the occasion of our 350th Anniversary
By the Ministers & Members
We expect some entries will be longish, some of medium length and some quite brief.
For example, on the brief side, the index lists an entry with this title: Swarming. What could “swarming” possibly mean? The great Puritan Divine, Cotton Mather, authored a grand tome, Magnalia Christi Americana (roughly, translated: The Glorious Works of Christ in America), with the subtitle: The Ecclesiastical History of New England from Its First Planting in 1620, until the Year of Our Lord 1698. Deep inside Cotton Mather’s Magnalia, he tells the story of the founding of this church, Old South Church, the third church in Boston. Here is what he writes: “For in the month of May, 1669, a third church came swarming out of the first Church, which afterwards made one of the most considerable congregations in the colony.”
Other entries include: architecture, great personages, confirmation, communion, carved animals, dragons and dragoons, ghosts and hypnotwisters, blessing back packs and Marathon scarves, Jazz Worship and the Willard Clock, docents and deacons, social media and our outdoor gardens,
candle-lighting and the Prayer Box, providing sanctuary, partnering with GBIO, Boston Warm,
City Mission, founding the YMCA in America.
What might you want to write about? Your experience in a small group? Your attendance at a church retreat or a mission trip? Your participation with this church in the AIDS Walk or the Pride Parade?
What record of this church’s witness to the Gospel might you want to record for posterity? It could be a large and sweeping entry or something small and precise. It can be serious or whimsical, historical or anecdotal. We want it all!
Maybe someday, future Christians, a 100 years or a 1000 years from today, will pick up Old South Church’s CONCISE ENCYCLOPEDIA: Theological, Historical & Whimsical, and read your entry. It may feel to them as if they are taking into their own hands a kind of magical telescope … a telescope that enables them to look back into time, across a distant century, or across a vast millennium to the early years of the to the 21st century of the Common Era, to focus in on the city of Boston, to peer into an old church at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets, to see into the life, the ways, the customs and controversies, the activities, of these followers of Jesus.
What do you want them to know? What should they see and learn? What have you to say to our descendants about the adventure of faith in which we are, even now engaged?