The Book of Acts: A Stretching Exercise

The Book of Acts: A Stretching Exercise

Grace and Peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being. Welcome to the Book of Acts.

On the Sabbath day, we went outside the gate by the river.”

Acts 16:6-15

I never used to be very interested in the Book of Acts. It didn’t hold much appeal for me. I thought I was beyond all of that. When I was a teenager, it didn’t have lots of red letters in it like the gospels did. Those quotes of Jesus that I could throw at people to prove my point and prove them wrong – because that was the point of quoting Jesus, after all – to prove other people wrong.

When I was in seminary and after, Acts didn’t have the soaring rhetoric and deep theology of Paul’s letters., this great sense of the cosmic Christ that Paul talks about. His amazing description of the grace of God in Romans and Galatians, to name a couple.

The bumbling apostles

No, Acts just seemed to me to be a story about the apostles trying to figure out what to do with this person Jesus and the experience they had of him. And they weren’t all that good at it. I mean, at times, they seemed to get it right. But a lot of the time they seemed to be bumbling and stumbling their way along, arguing amongst themselves about who is in and who is out. And sometimes they needed a vision, or a slap upside the head to straighten them out. There seemed to be so many Homer Simpson moments – many “D’oh” moments. Like last week when Peter went to the house of some Gentiles and ate with them and the Holy Spirit filled the room. And Peter has this great quote, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave us, WHO WAS I TO HINDER GOD?” 

“D’OH!!!”

No, I never used to be very interested in the Book of Acts. It didn’t hold much appeal for me. I thought I was beyond all of that.

But lately, I’ve kind of enjoyed reading the Book of Acts. Maybe because as I get older, I can relate to the bumbling and stumbling they are doing. Maybe because I find myself being stretched more than ever in my understanding of who this person Jesus is, and who the Christ is for. And sometimes I need to be slapped upside the head because in way too many ways in my life I HAVE HINDERED GOD! (to quote from Peter last week).

Asking the right questions

Look, it’s not that I don’t think Jesus is the answer – I just wonder if I have been asking the wrong questions.

Like when I ask, “How do I get Jesus?” instead of asking, “Where can I meet Jesus in the other?”

Or, “How do I hold onto Jesus?” instead of, “How do I share in this Christ Mystery with others?”

Or finally, “What would Jesus do?” instead of, “What is Jesus doing and saying to me – through the poor, the forsaken, and the dispossessed in our land and on our borders?”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that at many times in my life, I have felt like Christ belongs to me rather than I belong to Christ.

Bro. Jim Hanson

And so our passage today from the Book of Acts brings challenge and comfort, laughter and painful self-awareness.

A little history and geography to set the scene: Paul is on the eastern side of the Aegean Sea – present-day Turkey – considered the western edge of Asia.

“Paul, you’re going the wrong way!”

And Paul wants to continue going into Asia, but the Spirit of Jesus does not allow him. Paul, it seems, was headed in the wrong direction.

Paul then has a vision of a MAN, pleading with him to “come to Macedonia and help us.” So Paul goes across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia – to Europe.

They spend a few days in a city and then, on the Sabbath, they go outside the city gate and down to the river.

And there they meet WOMEN, and one WOMAN in particular. Her name is Lydia. She appears to be a non-Jew, but one who worships God. She is a successful businesswoman who apparently is the head of her household, and we all know how Paul feels about women being the head of a household.

So let me summarize all this for you.

Paul is headed in the wrong direction, until a man in a vision says, “Come help me, and sends Paul in the right direction, and he ends up sharing the Christ with a non-Jewish, successful businesswoman, who is the head of her household.

Just keep this passage in mind when you read the last part of some of Paul’s letters.

D’oh!

As Homer Simpson might say, “D’OH!”

And all of this takes place outside the city gate by a river, outside polite and organized society, outside the structures and systems that we hold so dear.

Perhaps that is the only place it can take place – outside our city gates, outside our borders and boundaries, outside of everything we hold so dear.

Like Peter last week, Paul is getting stretched this week. The boundaries he has placed on God are being stretched.

How about you? Has God ever stretched your faith, your belief systems? I certainly hope so!

And so, if you’ve ever felt stretched in your faith journey, “Welcome to the Book of Acts!”

Where Peter, Paul – and who knows, maybe Mary too! – are constantly being stretched as they try to hammer out the love between their brothers and their sisters… all over the lands.

Outside our comfort zone

All of this takes place outside the city gate by a river, outside polite and organized society, outside the structures and systems that we hold so dear.

Perhaps that is the only place it can take place – outside our city gates, outside our borders and boundaries, outside of everything we hold so dear.

This is where the river runs. This is where life is fed and watered. It is not in the sacred structures and beliefs of society. It is not inside our tribal walls. It is often times on the other side of where we want to go,  where we would prefer to be.

Paul has to be led to the other side of where he wants to be (Asia), to meet a person of a different faith, who holds a place in business and family life that he is not comfortable with, because he assumes she is of the subordinate gender.

And “SHE PREVAILS” on them at the end of this passage.

SHE PREVAILS!!!

A WOMAN PREVAILS OVER PAUL!!!

Are you getting this???

NO, that’s not right…

IS IT GETTING YOU???

A stretching exercise

Do you feel yourself being stretched? Do you find yourself laughing at Paul? And yourself as well? Don’t you see the absurd smallness of our social and religious belief systems?

Are you slapping your forehead and saying “D’OH!”

Welcome to the Book of Acts!!!

Just think, if these are the people the Divine Mystery is using to spread the message of love and grace to all, there just might be hope for me and you.

And even if you’re not good at spreading the message, then go and meet someone outside your city gates, outside your comfort zone, and maybe they might prevail upon you with Christ’s love and grace.

It isn’t just a one-way street you know.

The Christ is present in – and present to – the bumblers and stumblers of the world.

Are you hindering God?

And even if you are ‘hindering God,’ God’s got a few work-arounds when it comes to you and me. And it usually involves those we least expect – the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned. The woman, the businesswoman, the woman who heads the house in this week’s passage… and the profane people eating profane food in last week’s passage. And so…

If we’re going to hinder bringing the Christ to them, the Divine Mystery will use them to bring the Christ to us.

Who knows where the Christ will send us and who knows in whom we will meet the Christ.

It doesn’t just stretch the imagination, it stretches one’s life.

Because you see, one way or another… the Mystery, like Lydia, is going to…

PREVAIL ON US!!!

Welcome to the Book of Acts

You know, I never used to be very interested in the Book of Acts. It didn’t hold much appeal for me. I thought I was beyond all of that.

When I was a teenager, it didn’t have lots of red letters in it like the gospels did.

When I was in seminary, and after, Acts didn’t have the soaring rhetoric or deep theology of Paul’s letters.

No, I never used to be very interested in the Book of Acts. It didn’t hold much appeal for me. I thought I was beyond all of that.

D’OH!!!  

Amen.

Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.

Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.

0 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.