Acts: The Start of a Grand Adventure

mother's day

My Mother and Father, 1959

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

May 10, 2015

Acts 1:1-11

 

We’re setting off on a new tack this morning, as we work our way through the book of Acts.  The official title given to this book is The Acts of the Apostles, but it’s really about the acts of God through the Apostles.  Today, on the Sunday before Accession Day, the day in the church’s calendar in which we recall Jesus’ leaving the disciples behind, we’re looking at the opening of this book.  Unfortunately, the way Scripture is laid out, you miss the natural connection with the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  Both are written by Luke, addressed to same person, Theophilius (a name that literally means lover or beloved of God).  In the Gospel of Luke, we have the story of Jesus and in the book of Acts, we have the story of the church.  As we’re going to see, its one grand adventure, which is what church should be, a grand adventure directed by God.[1]  Let me tell you a story…

In early January, before school resumed for the winter term of my senior year in college, my brother and I drove my parents and my younger brother to the airport.  It took both of our cars for they each had two large suitcases and two carry-on.  Airlines were more lenient in those days and besides, they were moving to Japan and the rest of their stuff, which was traveling by ship, would take two or three months to arrive.

It was a morning of mixed emotions and because we were there much earlier than we needed to be, there was plenty of time for expressing such feelings.   Mom, especially, wasn’t quite sure what they were getting themselves into and was reluctant to go.  This might have been the hardest thing she ever did, leaving us behind.  My father and younger brother (who had just turned 12), were excited about the grand adventure upon which they were embarking.  After an hour of nervous goodbyes, the three of them walked out and boarded a Piedmont Airlines plane for the first leg of their journey.  My brother and I waited until the plane was in the air and then returned home, a little sad as our world was changing, but we got over it as we prepared for our next semester in college.

When we think of people heading off on a journey and the mixed emotions of excitement and sadness that goes with the departure, it is the one who is departing whom we expect will have the grand adventure.  And that was true for my parents, but not completely, for the four years they were in Japan, my brother and had many of our own adventures.  My mother was sad about leaving and afterwards would even say that she still had regrets because when she returned from Japan we were done with college and spread out geographically.  Things would never be the same… They never are. It would have been that way regardless of had they stayed home or moved overseas.  Sadly, she no longer remembers her adventures and is unable to talk on the phone.   So for her, I’ll wish all you moms (and those who have or have had mothers, a Happy Mother’s Day.

Now let’s go back in time, to learn about another group of folks sending off their best friend, the Lord Jesus.  Read Acts 1:1-11

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One of the most interesting southern revivalists during the 19th century was Sam Jones.  He’s from Cartersville, up in the hills of northeast Georgia.  “Golden Rule” Jones, as he was also called, was known for his humor.  One unique aspect of Jones’ revivals was “quittin’ meetings.”  The new converts would publicly confess their vices: cussing, drinking (Jones was a teetotaler), smoking, gossiping, running around, and so forth.  Once they confessed, they promised to quit. This was a 100 years before the “just say no” campaigns and I’m not sure they had any better track record back then than today, but that’s not my point.

At one of these meetings, “Golden Rule” Jones asked a convert what she planned to quit.  “I ain’t been doing nothing,” she said, “and I’m going to quit doing that too.”[2]   I expect there are many people in her category. She’s right, you know.  Disciples are created to “do.”  We’ve been created for mission and that’s what the books of Acts is about.  At his ascension, Jesus commissions the disciples with a task and all disciples that come later are given that same task.  We’re not here to worry about when the kingdom is going to be fulfilled or anything else, where here to be Jesus’ witnesses!  As I’ve said, we’re created for mission!

          Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re all going to be sent to the Sudan or to China or onto the foreign mission field.  Yes, there are those who are called to such places and one of the ways we fulfill our calling is to help support them.  But even those of us who never have such an opportunity to serve in an exotic place are called to do mission wherever we find ourselves.  You see, our mission is to be sent to and love those who do not know Jesus Christ.  This involves telling people about Jesus and caring for them.  We don’t have to go very far to find people in need of hearing a message of hope.  The mission field begins at our doorstep.

I’ve heard it said “the Christian faith is more about doing than about being.”  Doing is in a large part being a Christian.  Of course, our salvation does not depend upon our doing.  If it did, that would mean we would have to earn it and we’d all be in a heap of trouble.  It’s kind of hard for us mere mortals to impress God with our capabilities!

Our salvation is secured by Jesus and what he did for us.  Instead of working to achieve righteousness, we are righteousness because of him.  We do good because God, through Jesus Christ, has already done more than enough for us.  Out of gratitude and thanksgiving, we give back a portion of our blessings and this doesn’t just mean giving money when we pass the plates.  That’s important, but a disciple must also give hope to those who do not know Christ: that’s our mission!

In 1988, Nike came out with has become one of the most recognized corporate slogan in the world during a very successful marketing campaigns.  Do you remember the slogan that went with their swish logo?  It was….  “JUST DO IT!”   There are a number of books written about this slogan.  People have even credited it for helping them break addictions, encouraging them to move out of abusive relationships, to start businesses and, of course, to buy sneakers.[3]

JUST DO IT!  This brings us back to the disciples in our scripture reading who are just standing there looking up into the sky.  In a cloud, Jesus departs.  He’s no longer there to be seen, yet the disciples still gaze into the heavens.  Then, two men in white robes appear; we’re reminded of the men in dazzling clothes who met the women at Jesus’ empty tomb.[4]  Were they angels?  The text doesn’t really say.  But they bring a heavenly message, asking, “What are you doing looking up into the heavens?”  Of course, they know good and well what the disciples are doing.  Jesus has gone away and they are so stunned they keep looking for him.  This question, “what are you looking up there?” is a humorous reminder that the disciples have work to do as soon as they receive the Spirit.  Jesus left them with a big mission.  They need to get ready, yet they just stand and look into the sky…

Someday I feel like that.  I want to just lie on my back and look up at the sky.  But since I’m not an astronomer nor an air traffic controller, I don’t often have that luxury.

Next, the two men tell the disciples that Jesus, who was taken up in the clouds, will come again in the same way as they saw him go up…  If I had the power to rewrite scripture, I might leave this last thought out.  Unfortunately, too many people get hung up on the idea that Jesus will come again in the sky and miss the meaning of this encounter with these two men.  That first rhetorical question, “what are you looking at?” is a reminder that Jesus left them with a job to do and right before he left Jesus told them not to worry about when he’s to return.  Instead, until he does return, we’re to be his witnesses.  The disciples were to start where they were at, in Jerusalem, then moving into the seedy neighborhoods of Samaria and then on to the ends of the world.  What are you looking at could be interpreted as “Didn’t you understand what Jesus told you?  Get to it, JUST DO IT!”

Now let’s consider this: If our belief in Jesus Christ doesn’t lead us to act, aren’t we really just looking up in the sky?  Perhaps we need to incorporate Nike’s slogan into our lives…. JUST DO IT.  Of course, by itself the slogan is “empty and narcissistic,”[5] morally indifferent and hollow.  “Hearing these words, we are given no distinction between feeding the hungry and having an affair; between teaching Sunday school and robbing a bank.  But we know better because we’ve been created for more, we’ve been created for mission!

Tony Campolo tells about being a college professor and having students asking him to help them identify what God’s want them to do with their lives. He said that he can’t answer that question, but that there is a more important question: “What is Jesus calling us to do today?”  “This is the day the Lord has made.  What does God want me to do?  What does God want me to achieve today?”[6]

When those two men remind the disciples they have a job to do, the disciples don’t need to ask for directions.  They had been with Jesus for three years.  They had heard our Savior’s commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.[7]  They had learned from our Savior’s parables: “O Lord, when we did we see you hungry and offer food, thirsty and offer drink?” Jesus answered, “When you did it to the least of these…”[8]  And they had seen our Savior teach by example:  Going to Lazarus when it wasn’t safe for him to go near Jerusalem, talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, forgiving the woman caught in adultery, and calling the children to come to him.[9]

JUST DO IT, we’re told… but what are we to do?  Just reach out to someone hurting, just challenge a hateful comment, just confront destruction, just offer a word of encouragement, just share the gospel with someone seeking, just give out a cup of cold water, just seek to live more like Jesus.  Just do it!  Amen.

 

©2015

[1] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts, (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 66.

[2] Doug Adams, Humor in the American Pulpit from George Whitfield to Henry Ward Beecher (Austin, TX: The Sharing Company, 1975), 71.  Story of the “quittin meetings” from Leonard Sweet in Soul Cafe (April 1995).  See also Kathleen Minnix, Laughter in the Amen Corner: The Life of Evangelist Sam Jones (Athens, GA: Univ of GA Press, 1993).

[3] Sweet, Soul Cafe.  Donald Katz, Just Do It (New York: Random House, 1994).

[4] Luke 24:4

[5]Sweet, Soul Cafe, 2.

[6] Tony Compoloo, “Becoming What God Intended You to Be,” Thirty Good Minutes, Program 4715 (January 25, 2004).  See www.30goodminutes.org

[7] Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27-2

[8] Matthew 25:45

[9] John 11ff, John 4:4ff, John 8:3ff, Matthew 19:14


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