The Gospel of Luke begins like this:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I, too, decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
The Book of Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke and begins like this:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.
Who is Theophilus? There are different theories as to who he might be, but we do not know who Theophilus was. But the name “Theophilus” can be translated as “Friend of God,” “Loved by God” or “God Lover”. How lovely is that? It seems clear that Luke is writing to a specific individual, and yet, in a broader, more inclusive sense, we could all be considered the “most excellent Theophilus”, Friend of God, God Lover, Loved by God.
We are embarking on a worship and sermon series from the Book of Acts of the Apostles – the movement and expansion of the good news of Jesus as well as the actions of the earliest followers of Jesus after they receive anointing of Holy Spirit during Jewish festival of Pentecost. They were not yet called Christians. That wouldn’t occur until half way through the Book of Acts. They were initially called Followers of The Way.
The Book of Acts is a call to action, demonstrating how the church can still respond with a bold witness for Jesus and with visible love for each other. It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” The early church in the time of Acts is growing rapidly. The Book of Acts is a story of a small group of people who set out to do what appeared humanly impossible – change their world while living an adventurous life of faith. The outside world has not changed. They continue to live under an oppressive Roman regime. The followers of Jesus are in physical danger, yet they are emboldened by the Holy Spirit.
The disciples of Jesus are also still faithful Jews. In Ch. 3, Peter and John arrive at the temple at the 9th hour or 3pm to observe a regular time of prayer with other devout Jews. Regular worship at the temple is part of their spiritual practice. They were in process of developing a new style of worship, and there is no division between Judaism and the followers of Jesus. The first disciples were faithful, practicing Jews. They received strength and encouragement to withstand the persecution by attending worship in the temple.
I learned a song in Sunday School as a kid that recites the story from ch. 3.
“Peter & John went to pray. They met a lame man on the way. He held out his palms and asked for some alms and this is what Peter did say: “Silver and Gold have I none, but such that I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ, of Nazareth, stand up and Walk.” He went walking and leaping and Praising God…
This is the power of putting scripture to music. It literally stays with you your WHOLE LIFE LONG. I haven’t sung that song in years….
At the temple gate called “Beautiful”, what is captivating to me about this story is that scripture tells us that
Peter and John looked intently at the man. They see him. That is the beginning of a Holy Encounter. To truly see someone. How often do people avoid eye contact in the face of suffering, even if they are moved by compassion to alleviate suffering by dropping a few coins in the bucket, without really seeing someone’s humanity? Not only do Peter & John look see the beautiful child of God within this paralyzed man at the Temple Gate called beautiful, they instruct him to: “Look at us.” Their eyes connect; their lives connect. The man is given a gift of being seen; but not only that. He is healed. Peter commanded the man to stand up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ. With help from Peter, he stood up, he leapt, and he didn’t stop leaping. Now that he is healed of his physical ailments, he can re-enter the community. Once he was outside begging at the Temple Gate called beautiful; now he is inside, dancing. He is restored, he belongs. Healed and whole
Some people may have responded to such a miracle with great dignity and composure. But this man cannot stop praising God and he hangs on to Peter and John! Acts tells us that all of the people who observe the miracle at the temple are stunned, completely amazed. A crowd gathered in an outer corridor of the temple called “Solomon’s Porch”. Peter sees the opportunity before him and begins to preach. “Why are you surprised? We aren’t magicians. This isn’t magic. This is the power of the resurrection right in front of your eyes. The spirit of Jesus is alive. The risen Christ has overcome the effects of violence and the pull of death. God heals, restores, and gives life. This is what we’ve been talking about. This is what Jesus was all about!” Join our movement, be a part of this good news. Join the people who are healed, who are leaping for joy?”
The elders, priests, Sadducees, scribes, and the high priest’s family were so outraged, they put Peter & John in prison. What could the temple leaders do? The crowd had seen the lame man healed – they could not deny the miracle happened. The people were in the courtyard praising God for the miracle. The religious leaders thought, “Let’s threaten them: We’ll let you go, but don’t ever preach or teach in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth again or else!” But Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” We can’t keep quiet!
Later in chapter 3 –
“After they prayed, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were of one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. Those who owned land or houses sold them, along with Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
This early movement of The Way was growing and flourishing. Acts 4 & 5 describe the transformation within the life of the community. Thousands of new converts who had joined The Way – united in one mind and mission for God’s Kindom – and early on they held all possessions in common so that no one had need. They recognized that the welfare of their neighbors was more compelling than their own financial security. Their sense of well-being was related to the wholistic economic & healthy well-being of the community.
This Story, the book of Acts is written to Theophilus – but we who gather as a community of faith are all God Lovers, Friends of God, and Beloved by God, as the name of Theophilus is translated, so how do we receive these chapters of the Book of Acts to the Apostles? Where do you find yourself in the story? I recount 5 spots.
- Peter and John went to pray – are you one who attends to a life of prayer, individually and communally? It is important that we take care to develop our own spiritual life in order to offer a spiritual life to others.
- Peter and John intently look at the lame man. Are you the one who truly sees people as a Beloved Child of God in the midst of their suffering and create a Holy Encounter?
- When the lame man experienced healing he responded in three ways – walking & leaping & Praising God. Are you the one who responds to God’s grace in your life with such a deep sense of gratitude that you cannot contain it? I will be curious when we finally come back for in-person worship how many people will be walking & leaping & Praising God in the aisles.
- Peter said, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” When are the times when you can’t keep silent? When are you so deeply filled with God’s spirit that you begin to speak the word of God boldly with justice for God’s people?
- The early followers of Jesus held all things in common – perhaps you are called to be generous with what God has given you, to steward your resources to help those in need – so all are fed, and healed. Peter and John could not give silver and gold because they had none. They could only give what they had. And so it is with us. You can only offer what you have.
Do you find yourself in one of these places in the story or do you find yourself in many? Or you are praying for God to lead you to develop you spiritually to take on one or more of these spiritual gifts. May these words compel us to look more people in the eye, spend time with them, listen to their stories, offer compassion. May these words compel us to use our resources to help bring more healing to the world. May these words compel us to a life of prayer and a life of speaking truth to power when we cannot remain silent. When lives are broken by sudden violence and death; when families fall apart because of poverty, addiction & trauma; when our religious and political structures seem polarized beyond repair; we who follow Jesus, have something holy and unique to offer our community.