ACTS 1:6-9

MAY 22, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            Trudy and I have a gas fireplace in our living room, and the fireplace has a pilot light that burns all the time, except when the wind comes up and blows out the light and then it’s a hassle getting it lit was again, and since Trudy is much more mechanically inclined than I, she relights the pilot. I do, however, cheer her on, but at a safe distance lest the gas ignites into a ball of flames.  I’m supportive like that.

            Now, let me connect the dots between our gas fireplace and today’s topic.  As far as I can tell, there seems to be three basis types of relationships people have with Christ.  First, there are those whose pilot light is off.  By that I mean, they have yet to embrace the light of Christ.  The pilot light was never lit, or it was lit for a while, but blew out.  They are indifferent when it comes to Christ, maybe even hostile to the gospel.  Then there is a second category of relationships with Christ – those who have the pilot light on, but little else.  They embrace Christ, believe in Christ, but they lack the power and joy and peace of Christ.  They are Christians, but deep down they say to themselves, “There’s got to be something more.”  Finally, there is the third category of a relationships with Jesus Christ. People in his category have the fireplace cranked up, they exude heat and power and warm up those around them. These people have experienced that something more, something deeper, stronger, more powerful than the rest of us.  And what have they experienced?  They have experienced the very secret of the Book of Acts.  What is the secret of the Book of Acts?  Well, come closer.  Lean toward me.  Let me tell you the secret.  The secret of the Book of Acts is the power of the Holy Spirit. 

            Turn with me to our passage for today. After some introductory remarks as to why he wrote this book, Luke begins to tell the story of the Holy Spirit, and note the question on the mind of Jesus’ disciples. Luke writes,


            So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?


             The story begins with the disciples telling Jesus what was on their minds.  After all the disciples have experienced with Jesus, after all they’ve heard him say about the universal implications of the Gospel, they are primarily concerned with their own self interest – “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  They want Israel back on top, they want worldly power, and in a real sense Jesus has deeply disappointed the disciples at this point.  He has not restored a political kingdom to Israel and that’s what they wanted.  They wanted their nation and its destiny fulfilled.

            And you know what?  I respect Luke for keeping this exchange in his book.  I respect him for not glorifying the disciples, and showing them the way they really were.  This is what was on their minds.  They still have so much to learn.  Even after the resurrection they do not fully comprehend what Christ is doing in the world.

            He does offer them power, however, just not the type of power they expected or even wanted at the moment. Note Jesus’ answer to their question.


            It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you …


            If nothing else, the Book of Acts is a book of about power.  The disciples are concerned about power.  They ask, “When are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?" They say, "Don’t get us wrong, Jesus. The resurrection was really cool.  You really took us by surprise there, but when are you going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?”  They don’t like the way power is now.  They have been under Roman power and their sick of it. They would like to be on top. And we are concerned about power.  If we are on top we want to stay there.  If we are at the bottom we want to get there. 

            In the Gospels the Son of Man offered his life.  In the Book of Acts, the Son of Man offers his power through the Holy Spirit and throughout this book, we’ll see ordinary people filled with incredible power. If we are looking for power, if we need the energizing presence of Christ, then the Book of Acts is for us. This book will show us what power is, how to get it, and what to do with it.

            And by the way, this book is not about super heroes. Sure, Paul and Peter seem larger than life in this book, but they were not super heroes. Two weekends ago Trudy and I went to see Captain America: Civil War. We have to go to these movies in order to converse with our four grandsons. I’m not sure if our granddaughter, Scarlett, will be into Super Heroes, like our grandsons are into super heroes. Maybe she will be.  Maybe she will love Supergirl or Wonder Woman, or the Black Widow, time will tell, but our grandsons really love super heroes, so we go to these movies, but that is not what we will find in the Book of Acts. In the Book of Acts, we will not find super heroes. Instead we will find normal people like you and me who do extraordinary things because they have tapped into the power of the Holy Spirit.

            What kind of extraordinary things, you may ask? Well over the next six weeks we will look at different manifestations of this promised power, and I’m calling this new, six week sermon series, “Power Points” and we will begin by looking at the power to tell the story of Jesus. Let’s read the rest of Jesus’ response to the disciples question.  He says,


            But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem (if we put that in our context that would be Bellevue), in all Judea (That’s the larger province. Think of is as Sarpy County) and Samaria, (That’s a semi-Jewish state, that is out-state Nebraska) and to the ends of the earth. (That’s into the Gentile world). When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.


            Note one of the things this power will do. It will empower us to tell Jesus’ story wherever we go. Trudy gave me a calendar for Christmas.  It’s a daily travel calendar called “1000 Places to See Before You Die” and each day has a picture and description of that place. Then for the weekends, they have what they call a “global intelligence” quiz. Last weekend the question was “The relics of which saint are found at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain?" It was multiple choice. The choices were The Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. James or St. Jude. Dare to venture a guess? It was St. James. He made it all the way to northern Spain.  He travelled the Camino de Santiago to get there and spiritual pilgrims retrace his steps every year.

            That’s a long way from Jerusalem where Jesus made this promise to James but it happened.  And it happened in power. They witnessed to Christ and in so doing the Gospel of Jesus Christ broke down barrier after barrier - racial barriers, national barriers, cultural barriers – and the story of Jesus Christ found people where they were. 

            Speaking of barriers, do you remember Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall?”  Frost lived in New England and he had a rock wall at the back of his property.  It separated his property from his neighbor’s, and every spring Frost found a big hole in the wall.  So every year, he and his neighbor would rebuild the wall.  Frost took rocks from his side, and his neighbor took rocks from his side, and they would rebuild the wall together.  As Frost said in his poem, “Like my neighbor says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”

            So to stay good neighbors, they have to keep the wall up.  Anyway, as a result of the hole, Robert Frost wrote one of his greatest poems, “Mending Wall,” and here’s the opening line from the poem:


            Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.


            That is to say, there is something that wants it down.  The rest of the poem reflects on the something there is that doesn’t love a wall.  Frost wonders, “What is it?” and the thinks about all the things it could be that doesn’t like a wall – hunters, maybe?  Elves?  He doesn’t know, but he becomes intrigued by it, that there is something there is that doesn’t love a wall that wants it down. 

            When we read the Book of Acts, we come up against that something there is that doesn’t love a wall.  It is the Gospel of Christ and it breaks through every wall: racial walls, national walls, emotional walls, relational walls, and that’s what happened when the disciples shared their faith in Jesus Christ. And it still happens today. It happens by people trusting that power and simply telling their faith story.

            I’ll close with a story. During the totalitarian regime of Josef Stalin, it was illegal to speak even a word against the government of the Soviet Union. Political dissidents, artists, and “undesirables” were routinely seized and sent away to forced-labor camps called “gulags.” More than a million individuals never returned. One of them was a doctor named Boris Kornfeld.

            Sentenced to years of “re-education” in the brutal gulag system, Kornfeld kept to himself. He watched his back. He took no risks. Then something happened that he never expected: He began to trust in God. His heart was flooded with hope.

            He didn’t tell anyone why, but he began to serve others.  He even used his surgical skills to save the life of one of the hated guards.  That act of compassion, he knew, would eventually bring trouble.  Indeed, one of the vilest prisoners threatened him with death for helping the enemy, but Kornfeld realized he was no longer afraid.

            Later that day he performed life-saving stomach surgery on a young man with a sad face. He stayed up all night, sitting beside his patient, who was hovering between life and death.  Suddenly he felt led to break his silence.  He talked for hours to the young man about the joy of meeting this God of mercy and grace.  He described how God’s love had driven the fear from his heart, and how he had even felt buoyed by meaning in the midst of the gulag’s misery.

            The young patient, gripping the doctor’s hand, listened intently as he drifted in and out of consciousness. After dawn, when Kornfeld left his patient, he was murdered by the prisoner who had threatened him.

            He had shared his story just once. He gave witness to the power of Christ in his life just once to this sad-faced patient.

            His audience of one, the sad-faced prisoner, lived on.  His name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Seized by the words he had heard from his doctor, Solzhenitsyn ultimately abandoned his loyalty to Marxism. Kornfeld’s faith became his own.

            Anchored by his trust in God, he won the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature and became one of the most heralded voices for freedom in the 20th century.

            It’s tempting to think that telling our own faith story can’t possibly make a dent in this broken world, but that's a lie. As Jesus promised, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the very ends of the earth.”  Amen.