2014 is the year in which we are marking the 125th anniversary of our congregation. We will observe this milestone of God’s grace in connection with our annual Harvest-Mission Festival on Sunday, September 28, 2014. It seems appropriate in this anniversary year to take in our hands the story of the Christian Church when it was young.
The Acts of the Apostles, often called simply the book of Acts, serves as a sequel to the four Gospels.
Specifically, it is a follow-up to the Gospel of Luke who wrote both the Gospel that bears his name and also Acts.
Acts covers the history of the early Church – from the ascension of Christ into heaven and then through the preaching of Peter and the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul.
The Acts of the Apostles, however, touches on mere snapshots of what the apostles and their associates must have done throughout the ancient world. Ancient tradition says Thomas got as far as India. The ancient Church said that Andrew carried the good news to Russia, Greece and Asia Minor. Who knows how far they all made it?
Acts is more accurately about what Jesus continued to do after He ascended into heaven – sending the Holy Spirit to work faith through the gospel in word and sacraments. This is why, in the very first verse of Acts, Luke refers back to his Gospel account saying, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…”
It is easy for any congregation, and any church body, to lose its first love. The congregation at Ephesus was once chided by Jesus: “Yet I have this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
God said something similar to His ancient people on the pages of Jeremiah which we just completed: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the desert.”
Jesus too told us how things would be in these last days: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
As separate souls, as a congregation, as a synod, it is possible to mindlessly go through the motions, to “do” a lot of the same things we have always done – but without the fire in the engine that once drove these things. That fire is God the Holy Spirit as He comes to us in the word, the water and the blood.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,” Jesus said to His apostles as He was parted from them. Then, and only then, can we truly be His witnesses at home and around the world.
It is an old, yet ever new journey upon which we embark as we open again the book of Acts. Let us sweep aside the cobwebs of centuries. Let us return to a time when the Church was young. Let us hear the good news as though it were truly new every morning, as though we were hearing it for the very first time. Let us reclaim our first love!