April 14, 2013

April 14, 2013

April 14, 2013 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Title: “The Acts Church & the NPoG”
Texts: Acts 6:1 – Acts 8:3

1) Introductory comments: main ideas in the book of Acts, talking about what it means for us to be the “NPoG”…New People of God.

Today we enter into the 5th & final chapter of the GodStory…for about 30 weeks, we’ve been moving through the “big arc” of the GodStory, attempting to get a big picture of how God has moved through history, through God’s people…
Chapter 1 & 2 – Creation & fall {this gets done in the first few pages of the Bible!}
Chapter 3 – Israel
Chapter 4 – Jesus
And now, Chapter 5….the NPoG – – the New People of God. But what’s so new about the new people of God? Can’t we just be satisfied with Jesus risen from the dead and say “Yay! He won! He has conquered sin & death! – – and they all lived happily ever after.”
Well….not so neat, tidy & sanitized says our God.
I have a purpose and destiny for you. . .
Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
“God wants the victory of Jesus to spread to all the nations of the world….God is gathering a people from all around the world and forming them into his church” (aka: the NPoG!).
He also adds: “The mission of [the church] is to proclaim and live out the liberating message of the good news of Christ’s kingdom.”
And then Peterson poses a question: “Will we be a part of God’s mission of re-creation – – of restoring the world around us – – and making the world (including ourselves) NEW ? ?

One essential way that we become “new” is to be formed by God’s living word. . .

That’s why you often hear us talking about us being a people who “dwell in the world of the text.”
So we do this this morning – – the New People of God are first written of in the “Acts of the Apostles” – – a continuation of the Gospel of Luke that tells how the apostles & disciples of Christ “live the story of Jesus into the next generation.”
Stephen is one of the first deacons of the church…kind of a “ministry lay-leader”…and it turns out he’s also to be the first martyr of the church.
And he gets killed for preaching a sermon… [aka: prophetic speech]
It’s interesting to note that this is the longest sermon in the NT…and really it’s Stephen’s version of the GodStory… and so it seems fitting for us to hear it in its entirety as we finish out our GodStory-37-week journey in the next several weeks.

As we hear this long reading about the early church this morning…follow along with the scripture handout that’s in your bulletins…. Have a pen in hand if you want….
And keep in mind questions like:
– What captures my attention in this story? What’s interesting/intriguing?
– What “snags” do I hit in this story? What troubles me? What confuses me? What gets in the way of me hearing God’s voice, God’s word for me?
– What does this text say about the GodStory? What does it say about the God of the GodStory?
– What does this text say about the church [NPoG] ? Is it a neat and tidy church or is it a messy, complicated church?

2) Reading the text

3) Reflecting on the text: Ryan asks the congregation for feedback or questions based on the questions he posed in part 1.

4) Living out of the GodStory: Ryan will remind us of the “practice” of reading our Bibles in such a way that we ENCOUNTER the living God in this living Text, we allow this living word to TRANSFORM us and then we join God in God’s good work of RESTORATION.
How then, do we live OUT of the GodStory this week?
What is God’s word to us as the church, for such a time as this?
What is the “so what” for us as the NPoG? What should we being doing? What should we expect to happen to us/for us as we do the work of God in the world?

At this point I’ll again invite some comments from the congregation, but also share a personal reflection:

Ie: one bible commentator’s question that stuck with me this week was this:
In the wake of this scripture story. . . “What is worth living and dying for?”
Stephen had, what I might call, a heart of gold and the face of an angel.” Wow…what a model of ministry for me, for us, to follow. And when we have that type of posture/countenance in God’s light, then we can be the kind of “church” that is “full of God’s grace and power…and performing great wonders and signs among the people” (see Acts 6:8).
But how do we “achieve” this posture and countenance? We don’t do this in our own strength. There are some key exhortations here:
– Don’t be stiff-necked! (Acts 7:51).
– Uncircumcise your hearts & ears! (7:51)
– Receive (don’t resist!) the Holy Spirit (7:51)
– Do not persecute, do not betray, do not murder (7:52)
– Do not pride yourselves in being receivers of the Law, but then disobey it (7:53)
Isn’t it chilling to note that the first martyr of the early church was murdered by the religious leaders and respected synagogue officials of the day? Luke is not recollecting upon this story to get the outsiders and the misfits to get their act together…he is writing this for us! The church…in 60 CE and almost 2000 years later – – we who are beckoned by the Spirit of Jesus to have hearts to comprehend… and ears to hear [open the eyes of our hearts Lord!].
Can we shake off the shackles of our religious rules and blinders?
Will we have hearts/ears that see & hear that which we ought to live and die for?

      • We as ministry staff have also been reflecting on this text this week….at this time, I’d like to invite other ministry staff to share how they are sensing the call of God for us as the church…to live OUT of this story that we dwell with today * * *

And then invite any final words or “revelation”’ from the congregation.

Ry’s final word is this:
The last word is a word of Grace…look at the last words of Stephen.
Stones are raining down upon Stephen’s body…in the religious rulebook for people being stoned for speaking against the temple…the rule was to drop a stone from a distance twice the height of a person. Thus stones are falling upon Stephen’s head, heart, torso, arms and legs…and what are his last words? He echoes the heart of Jesus: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
The last word is a word of GRACE. . .

In this season of Easter, God help us…
May we, as Easter People, with the heavenly hosts that include Stephen and all the saints, be transformed by your living Word…. transform us by these miracles that speak of death turning into life…empower us to be a people who are known for being “full of God’s grace and power…displaying great wonders and signs amongst the people.” Amen.