Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
How many times I have preached on this text the wrong way round – in such a way that it must have left congregations feeling rubbish that their church life is nothing like that in Acts, no communal sharing, no dramatic miracles, not even a healing of a cold! This can’t be what God wants us to feel. But maybe there is a real challenge to us today in this reading. Do we risk our life in the body of Christ, its power, and its health by attempting things without the power of the Holy Spirit?
As we read through Acts, it is a testimony of Christians being discipled by the Holy Spirit – indeed it is “Walking the Way,” but – more like hop, skip and jumping the Way, or as one man did, “walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8). That was the disciples healing one man, but in today’s reading they are healing many. They begin their church life spending time together, but soon are sharing their possessions as the mission needs. They speak of Jesus to anyone who will listen, but it isn’t long before they are witnessing to those in authority, and persecution begins, until by Chapter 8 we read of a scattered Church. They needed to be prepared for that – and through the power of the Holy Spirit, miracles and wonders were happening – summed up in the reading, that “yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord” and when people brought “the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, they were all cured”.
This is not a church boasting of the wonderful things it is doing, but one humbled by the immense task of the mission before them, ever-increasing persecution and the eventual breaking up of their fellowship to the four corners of the world. Notice that people were bringing loved ones from the towns of Judaea – already, ready or not, we are taken into phase two of God’s mission, firstly Jerusalem, but then Judaea! Keep up! Keep following! Soon, it would be the strange folk of Samaria, and then the Pagan world itself! They could not have survived in their own strength, let alone been effective witnesses for Jesus. The miracles and wonders were great to convince the crowds, but I am sure they also built up the confidence of the believers themselves. The lesson for our discipleship I hear, is simply to know more and more how much God has given us in Jesus Christ, and how totally dependent we are on the Holy Spirit to empower us with the same love that raised Jesus from the dead, for our discipleship today.
Holy Spirit: When God’s Mission is just too awesome, give to us just one person to share the good news. When God’s Mission loses its excitement, give to us the unexpected answer to prayer. When God’s Mission is overwhelmed by problems, give to us renewal of Faith in Jesus. When God’s Healing is no longer believed, give to us reassurance of answered prayer. When God’s Healing seems impossible, give to us vision to see the Healing in every day of our life. When God’s Healing does not come, give to us Faith to believe the Healing in Eternity. Amen
The Rev’d Kevin Watson is Moderator of General Assembly