Acts 2: 1-3 “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”
When the first followers of Jesus gathered together one day, it turned into a surprise party with the Holy Spirit as the guest of honour. It was shocking, it was perplexing, and it was joyful. It changed the way they lived out their faith and began a new chapter in the history of Christianity. All the surprising, amazing, unexpected events that occurred in the early church, which are described in the book of Acts, would never had happened without the day of Pentecost, the day the church was born. Since that day, God has continued to come into our lives in new and surprising ways!
*Due to a technical issue, there is no recorded worship service available this week.*
An Ironic Escape
Acts 16: 25-26 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.”
Hard-won freedom is a term we use to mean freedom gained after a great effort. We can apply it to the end of a conflict, letting go of something that is holding us back, or an escape from some kind of imprisonment. Freedom is a value we uphold as important and necessary in this world and we strive to ensure everyone is free.
In the Bible, the book of Acts describes an interesting story of a slave girl, two disciples, a jailer, and an earthquake. In an unexpected twist, everyone we assume to be free is not, and everyone we assume to be enslaved, has been freed. We learn that freedom can be both physical and spiritual, and that God offers freedom through Jesus, the Risen Lord. As we continue to explore the surprising acts of God, we consider what freedom means to us.
Acts 16:14 “A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”
Have you ever taken a well-planned out trip, but then found yourself on an unexpected detour? Maybe it made your trip even better! Trips, jobs, relationships, pandemics… life can take us on many different kinds of unexpected, but possibly amazing detours.
In the early Christian church, disciples travelled far and wide to share the good news of the gospel. The apostle Paul had a vison to travel to Macedonia, so he took a detour where he met a group of women who listened to his teachings. One woman, named Lydia, opened her heart to believe and became a follower of Jesus. Her life took an unexpected and amazing detour as she began a new journey of faith. Who knows what kind of detour life will take us, when we too follow Jesus?
Acts 11: 15-17 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning…If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
Most cultures and countries have foods and specialty dishes that are unique to them. In Canada, we can count poutine, maple syrup, and a Tim Hortons’ double double as special. There are also traditional meals eaten at holidays like a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Christmas or an outdoor BBQ on July 1st. Food has a way of making us feel like we belong, and a shared meal has a way of bringing people together, even people who are very different from each other.
In the early church, one of the differences between people was what they ate. So, God called the disciples to re-think what they believed they could or could not eat. By being open to an unexpected menu, followers of Jesus from different backgrounds and cultural beliefs found common ground in their faith and worship of God. They came to understand that all people were welcome at God’s Table, just as we are today.
Psalm 100:3 “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
Little children love to imitate what they see parents, siblings, or other children do. They learn by following the example of others and we have to demonstrate to them good and healthy ways of living. The answer to “Where did they learn that?” can usually been found by looking at ourselves. It has been said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and it’s true that we act like those we admire and respect.
Christians believe we are created in the image of God and can therefore act in the ways of God, sharing grace and love and mercy. In the early church, the first followers of Jesus lived by the example he had set for them. Jesus’ disciples followed in his footsteps to heal, pray, teach, and care for others. We too are called to be Christ-like, to show the same compassion, share the same good news, and imitate the same love as Jesus.
Acts 9: 17 “He laid his hands-on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes we might say that nothing surprises us anymore. There are many strange and unbelievable things that happen in politics, entertainment, and on social media that we might become immune to surprises. Yet, there is always room for acts of kindness, changes of heart, and new opportunities to surprise and amaze us.
In the Bible, there was a man named Saul, who was persecuting the early Christian church and who really seemed beyond redemption, until God surprised him. God spoke to Saul and caused him to lose his sight until he went to a follower of Jesus who prayed over him and healed him. In a dramatic change of heart, the man became Paul, a believer in the gospel of Jesus, a faithful disciple, and the author of several books in the Bible. Over next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the surprising Acts of God.
John 20: 31 “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
The study of history is really the study of the stories of our past. We can approach those stories with the five classic ‘W’ questions: who, what, where, when, and why. For Christians, the Bible is like a library of books that attempt to answer those questions in relation to God and faith. We become eyewitnesses to the events of God’s people that have been remembered and recorded, including the resurrection of Jesus.
The Bible tells us that the accounts of the Easter story are important because they lead to belief which leads to life. And not just any life, but life in Jesus’ name. So, what does that kind of life look like? We can read some of the verbs or action words in the stories of Jesus found in the Bible to determine what life in Jesus Christ is all about. Seeing, healing, forgiving, eating, following, praying, believing. These may seem like ordinary, everyday actions, but when done with belief in Jesus, we come to life in his name.
“Blessed are you who are growing, you who burst with new life. You who are learning to abide in the vine, and who taste the sweetness of God’s loving-kindness. The God who was there all along—planting, waiting, watering, pruning, delighting.” (From Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie)
Spring is a season of faith. Every year, we have faith that the dormant earth will bring forth new life. Every year, we have faith that the seemingly dead seeds we plant, will grow. Every year, Christians around the world celebrate with faith, the story of Easter. After his death on the cross, the faith of Jesus’ followers was tested, and it seemed all hope was gone. It may have felt like they had just begun a long dark winter, but then, the impossible and unbelievable happened, Jesus lived. Just like a seed that sprouts from the cold earth, Jesus rose from death to life.
On the first Easter morning, God created a new reality by overthrowing death and sin. When Jesus was resurrected, God declared, once and for all, that life is more powerful and love more enduring than death. To believe in God’s new reality, we need faith enough to turn our certainties upside down, embrace new possibilities, and say with conviction “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed”.
“Blessed are we, opening our hands in readiness to risk intimacy, to receive the gift of friendship and give it in return.” (From Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie)
We’ve heard it said that no one is an island, meaning human beings are interconnected and dependent on each other. We are meant to be in families, in friendships, and in communities. We are meant to rely on and support one another. We are meant to come together in the joys and challenges of life.
In the week before his death, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’. The people lined the road, waving palm branches and praising God for what they had seen Jesus do. The stories of Jesus are always about people, people looking for justice, hope, connection, and love. Jesus modeled a life that brought people together and showed them that individual and community life was so much better when they supported and cared for each other.