May 2021 CIA: What Happens Next
The April edition of our church newsletter, Concern in Action, can be read here and our letter from Pastor Shepherd is also posted below.
Throughout the Easter Season, I’ve been preaching a sermon series on the lectionary
texts from the Book of Acts called “What Happens Next.” The powers-that-be who composed the Revised Common Lectionary—the guide to which scripture readings are read each Sunday over a three-year cycle—chose during the Easter season to include passages from Acts as the “first reading” each week instead of the typical Old Testament selections. If I had to guess their motivation, it would be because Easter is a time for Christians to look forward, not backward.
In Acts 4:32-35, we see a description of the future of discipleship after the resurrection. Firstly, to be a follower of the Risen Christ is to be a part of a new kind of counter-cultural community. It’s worth remembering that the community of faith is distinctive because of the way it defies conventional wisdom about radical individualism and competition, promoting instead radical friendship, generosity, and cooperation. Theologian Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Do not expect to be honored in a world where your Master was crucified.”
Only in the light of the resurrection are we empowered to be as radical as Jesus was. But
too often we are resistant to such a change. That is why the apostle Peter proclaims that there is
no healing or transformation possible without repentance (Acts 3:12-20). “Repentance” refers
not just to letting go of the sins we often cling to (sometimes without even realizing it). It also
points to a wholesale transformation in our selves—and, by extension, in our life together as a community of faith—to embrace those whom God embraces, to cherish those whom God cherishes.
What happens next is the transgression of conventions, the crossing of barriers that have been thrown up to label who is “acceptable” or “worthy” of God’s love. In the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), we see what it means to proclaim the Gospel without pretense or prejudice. We hear in that story a call to radical inclusivity—to really mean what we say when we say “All are welcome” at Union. This means extending an invitation—a real invitation—to those in our lives with whom we want to share this good news.
This pattern continues in Acts 10:44-48, when the apostles are stunned to see the gifts of the Holy Spirit falling upon Gentiles, even before they are baptized! It is an important reminder that God loves us first; that in the life of faith, we are often playing catch up to what God is already doing.
I believe God is at work in our midst in this time of transition out of the pandemic. As we look to the future, let us seek to faithfully and prayerfully live together what happens next.
In Grace and Peace,