By Laura Stephens-Reed
The book of Acts represents a significant shift in the trajectory of scripture.
For Christians, the Bible to this point has been about God setting up the world for humans’ delight and care, God’s attempts to build a relationship with humankind, and humankind’s self-absorption and short attention span. God, seeing how all of this is (not) working out, goes big, giving us a visual, tangible representation of God’s love. We know how this gesture pans out: this love-with-skin-on is killed because the message he embodies is too disruptive to those in power.
So now we find ourselves mourning and waiting in Acts. The bottoms of Jesus’ sandals have disappeared into the clouds. The promised Holy Spirit will come at some time TBA. So for now the disciples hang tight and form a nominating committee to replace Judas. And then…and then. The Spirit whooshes through, the general public hears Jesus’ followers talking in languages they’ve never studied, and the masses convert, unbothered by a few salty naysayers. Do the disciples still miss Jesus – his close listening, his love of food, his wisdom? Of course. But they are also confronted by an opportunity they cannot ignore.
There is so much about Acts that resonates as we’re emerging from COVID. We look backward to The Before with nostalgia, remembering with innocence when we didn’t have to worry so much about online community or public health precautions and knowing that time is gone forever. And we can look ahead with purpose, given new insight and abilities and boldness to follow the Spirit’s exhale. There is no faithful choice but to go forward.
Of course, Acts shows us that it won’t always be obvious what we should do.
There will be some logistical issues to figure out, like how do we offer high-quality online and in-person worship without making all our pastor’s hair fall out from stress? There will be inclusion questions to address, such as whom did we add to our community this past year that we’ve never met – and might not ever meet? There will be partnership possibilities to pursue, along the lines of whom we might work alongside that we’ve never before considered. There will be theological discussions to have about the identity and role of the church in a world that has never better understood how globally-connected it is.
But if Acts teaches us nothing else, it highlights the adventure of accepting this opportunity and then holding on for dear life. It shows us just how present and powerful God’s Spirit is. And it opens us to twists and turns in the name of discipleship, giving us hope in our ability to surprise even ourselves. Thanks be to God.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.