Rev. Megan L. Castellan
May 10, 2020
Easter 5, Year A
It’s the longstanding tradition of the church to read through the Book of Acts after Easter. We hit the high points, though not necessarily in order: the conversion of Saul, Peter’s preaching, Pentecost. The disciples converting lots of people. But generally speaking, we move so fast that it can seem like the Acts of the Apostles is just one triumph after another.
Instead, If you read the book—all of it, it’s much more of a mixed bag, like most everything in the Bible. The book isn’t even actually intended to be a standalone book—it’s meant to be Part 2 of the Gospel of Luke—picking up immediately where that gospel left off. Jesus told the disciples before he ascends from the Mount of Olives to spread the good news into all the world, beginning from Jerusalem—and this is how they do it.
Only—they don’t do so well. For each mass conversion experience, there are about two episodes of the disciples being thrown in jail, or run out of town. Peter will give a great sermon, and then the local authorities will get frustrated and lock him up. The disciples share all things in common…except for these two people, who lie to Peter about how much their land sold for, so they are struck down dead for their withholding. Paul is a great preacher…except for this one time where he went on so long that a man listening to him falls asleep, then falls out of a window and dies. Mixed bag.
And here again, in our reading for today, the church had been doing pretty well! In Jerusalem, growing so big that the leaders decided that they could establish a little bit of bureaucracy! Let’s appoint deacons, because we’re too big to do everything ourselves, and we need someone whose job it is to serve the widows and the poor. Nice sign of flourishing there—a division of labor!
But then, the city leadership turns on them, and, spurred on by Saul, the new deacons are stoned to death. Stephen is killed, and—we don’t see it, but the disciples as a whole are thrown out of Jerusalem. It really seems like the new baby church has failed.
Few things to remember here:
—the enmity of the authorities isn’t because they DON’T believe. It’s always because they are worried that the disciples bring too much change.
—this isn’t our church; it’s God’s church. The church has died many, many times, and each time, God resurrects it, because that’s what God does.
As we begin to look ahead to what our future may look like, we can feel like those disciples: OMG, everyone’s dead and we lost Jerusalem, our home, our heart. How can we worship without the Eucharist? How can we worship without singing together?
But we as people of faith have done this before. With God’s help we have figured it out. We grieve the loss of what we knew and what we loved—because that loss and grief are real.
And we also know that God is bringing us to something different and amazing. That even here in this wilderness, God is not going to abandon his church, and our work continues. When the early church was scattered out of Jerusalem, that’s when Saul became Paul. that’s when they discovered that the Gentiles had the Holy Spirit too. When the church left Jerusalem, even as they did it with tears and grief and lots of pain, they found a greater mission they could never have imagined, and we are the result.
God’s future for us is right outside our vision. It is taking shape all around us. It won’t look like where we’ve been. We are being called into a wide open space where God awaits.