While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
In the 1980’s I was given the responsibility of coordinating the translation of the New Testament into ‘Mend Angal’, the language of the Mendi people of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The Regional Synod had heard a plea for ‘God’s Word in our own language’, and a local minister, the Rev’d Wasun Koka, was set aside to do the primary translation. We worked under the guidance of the Papua New Guinea Bible Society. Where to start? Wasun had been the first of his people to come to Christian faith, in 1960. This was a first generation church. He wanted to start with Acts. “We know the Gospel stories quite well”, he said. “What we now need to know is how a brand new church responds to the Gospel, and lives it out”.
Omolpi Kuling was a young mother involved in teaching literacy. She turned up one day with chapters of Acts that she had translated by the light of a hurricane lamp in her village home. She joined our translation team. I recall the thrills, the laughter and the mind-stretching effort that Wasun, Omolpi and I shared through those years of translation; with others too. And the heartache to return from leave in the UK to hear that the completed text had got lost on its way to publication. Omolpi typed the whole thing again. This time it was OK.
As I write this reflection I have with me that first edition of the Book of Acts, published in 1990.
In today’s passage Peter is giving the theology behind the miracle of the lame man walking and praising God. It centres on Jesus, and the hearers’ response to Jesus, as does his sermon in Acts 2. I think of the faith of the Mendi people, who understand themselves to have been given power through new life in Jesus Christ. Power ‘to walk and leap and praise God’ (v.9). I think of their ongoing struggle to live out their faith through turbulent times. I am, like the people in the temple, ‘utterly astonished’ (v.11) at the energy and transformation that is released by faith in Christ’s name.
You and I are not part of a first generation church, with all the freshness, wonder and challenge that that brings. Even if you, reader, are a first generation Christian in terms of your own family history, you are aware of the hundreds of years of history of the Church in this country. Yet we too have, thank God, myriad opportunities to place our faith in Jesus Christ, to turn to God for cleansing, refreshment and renewal, and to interpret for our place and our day what being a disciple means.
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; God of the Mendi people, and our God; God who glorified your servant Jesus, raising him from the dead; in your loving mercy refresh and restore our faith in his name, today. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Gwen Collins is a retired minister and member of Avenue St Andrews URC in Southampton.