(Acts 1: 1-11)
John Wesley, born in 1703 and passing in 1791, was an Anglican priest in England who, along with his brother Charles, founded our Methodist denomination. It’s not what he ever planned to do, if just happened. He was loyal to the Church of England and wanted so much for the church to be the church of the people, and leaving the church was the furthest thing from his mind, until he had his “ah-ha” moment. He was born into the church as his father was also an Anglican priest, and his mother oversaw a strict religious education and upbringing. He had the book smarts and the theological training, but what was happening on the streets was tugging at him, keeping him awake at night. It seemed so inconsistent with the gospel and he struggled to reconcile his misgivings. On May 24, 1738, when he was 35 years old, he reluctantly went to a meeting of the Moravians at a home on Aldersgate Street to hear a study on the Epistle to the Romans. As he listened to the speaker reading Martin Luther’s description of the change that God works in man’s heart, he underwent a conversion experience where he “felt his heart strangely warmed.” In Wesley’s words he said; While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. It lit him on fire, and he made it his mission in life to tell people about his experience and to invite them to share his beliefs. Unfortunately, or fortunately for us, the Church of England didn’t embrace his zeal as, to them, it was kind of out there. A little too touchy-feely. Wesley, you see, was into social justice and he ardently believed that social holiness was the soul of the church, and the true heart of the gospel. Loving your neighbor as yourself and making sure your neighbor experienced that love. He was moved by the Holy Spirit to be our first, and certainly not the last, Methodist action figure.
And, that transition from believer to “action” figure is where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for today. The Book of Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke written somewhere between 63 and 70 A.D. It serves as a transition from Jesus’ ministry to that of his disciples going out into the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Those preaching the gospel, though ordinary people like you and me, with human frailties and limitations, were about to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to take the Good News all over the world.
Luke starts out his letter to Theophilus by referring to what he had previously written about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Luke says that; After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Luke is telling us that the disciples were credible eyewitnesses to all that happened to Jesus Christ before, during and after the crucifixion. Luke says, that while staying with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. This, Jesus said, is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. The Holy Spirit was being sent so God would be with and within his followers after Christ returned to heaven. This spirit would comfort them, guide them to know his truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power.
Being baptized by the Spirit marks the beginning of the Christian experience. Like John Wesley, we can grow up in the church, go to Sunday School, be workers and leaders in the church, and be theologically knowledgeable, but we really don’t get it until we get it from the Spirit. We cannot belong to Christ without his Spirit; we cannot be united to Christ without his Spirit; we cannot be adopted as his children without his Spirit; and we cannot be in the body of Christ except by baptism in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power of our new lives. The Spirit begins a life-long process of change making us more like Christ. For the vast majority of us, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a transformative process beginning when we receive Christ by faith and begin our immediate personal relationship with God. And, during this relationship the Holy Spirit works in us to help us become like Christ. And, as the Spirit goes to work on us, we become united in the Christian Community in Christ so the Holy Spirit can be experienced by all as He works through all of us for the benefit of all.
Luke continues by telling us that when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? You see, the disciples were ready for a change in the status quo. They wanted the Romans out and for Jesus to set himself up as the new king of Israel. Jesus replied; It is not for you to know the time periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But 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 ends of the earth. Jesus’ response was that God sets the timetable for all events; worldwide, national, and personal. If you think God is moving too slowly, you just have to be patient and trust that God knows best. God’s presence and power dwell in believers in the person of the Holy Spirit. This power we receive includes courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability, and the authority to do God’s work and will.
Acts 1: 8 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. I quoted it when I told my Sunday School class in Tyler, Texas that Teresa and I were moving to the Olympic Peninsula. I told them it wasn’t quite the end of the earth, but you could see if from my front porch. Little did we know what God had planned for us. Anyway, Jesus had instructed his disciples to witness to people of all nations about him, but that they were to wait first for the Holy Spirit. God has important work for us to do in his service, but we must do it by the power of the Holy Spirit, not ours. We often like to get on with the job, even if it means running ahead of God. But waiting is sometimes part of God’s plan. It’s only after prayer and meditating upon God’s word that we should tackle the task, relying upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you know, that Ah-Ha moment when the Spirit makes it all clear to you.
We should take our cue from what happened after Jesus told his disciples about their worldwide mission engagement. We’re told that all of a sudden Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While they’re standing there looking skyward two angels in white robes appeared and said; Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. It’s kind of like they were saying; “What are you doing standing around gawking at the sky? You’ve got work to do before Jesus comes back, so you better get after it.”
God’s gospel has not reached its final destination. There are people out there, people in your family, your workplace, your school, or in your community who haven’t heard the Good News about Jesus Christ. This church, your church, is not God’s waiting room. We’re not sitting here waiting to die or for Jesus to come back and get us. We’ve got work to do and we have to make sure we’re contributing in some way to the ever-widening circle of God’s loving message so that others will be able to share in God’s great blessings.
We don’t need to narrow our focus to just what’s right outside the front door of the church but to beyond, out into our boundless mission field. We need to be like John Wesley who, when his heart was strangely warmed, when he had his Ah-Ha moment, and really took up his cross devoting himself to this kingdom assignment and look upon all the world as our parish.
Please pray with me.
Almighty God, in a time of great need you raised up your servants John and Charles Wesley, and by your Spirit inspired them to kindle a flame of sacred love which leaped and ran, an inextinguishable blaze. Grant that all those whose hearts have been warmed at these altar fires, be continually refreshed by your grace, may be so devoted that in this our time of great need, your will may fully and effectively be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.