Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you […] God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you.’ Acts 2:14, 36-38
Brothers and sisters, one of the side-affects of the pandemic has been the increasing feeling of powerlessness by almost everyone. Previously, we had times of feeling in control of life, it felt as if humankind was tackling the problems of the world, and if we persevered there is nothing we could not conqueror. The virus has undermined this feeling, and whilst this may have longer term positive affects in the way we live - especially in the way we treat one another and our planet - it has also left us all feeling powerless. How can we make a difference, stuck as we are at home, and who or what will inspire us, strengthen us, and make us ready for life on the other side of lockdown?
Along with Church world-wide, in our Sunday readings we now turn our attention to the Acts of the Apostles. In our study of the Gospel of John, we have travelled with the apostle John at the side of Jesus. We have seen Jesus’ miracles, we have seen His way of living, and we have seen Him die and rise again. We have stood with the disciples as Christ came to them in the upper room, and we have heard Thomas’ questions and His declaration ‘My Lord and my God!’. Now the lectionary - the readings set for each Sunday - takes us on a journey out into the world. If you’ve never read the Acts of the Apostles for yourself now would be a wonderful time to have a go. It’s a remarkable story of how the Church began to grow from a few frightened souls, to having the faith proclaimed all around the world. One of the marks that the Gospel is true is surely this phenomenal growth. The Roman Empire, the superpower of its day, was sent against the Church. The disciples were mostly unschooled and fearful peasants, and yet within 300 years, the Roman Emperor himself would bow the knee to Jesus. All this starts in the Book of Acts. But before anyone can go anywhere, they need divine Help. And so just before today’s reading, the Risen and Ascended Christ sends such Help - in the form of God the Holy Spirit - into the hearts of those who believe. The Holy Spirit strengthens the believers, gives them insight into what Christ has taught them, and enables them to perform miraculous signs themselves in support of their testimony. And with this divine Help, the disciples begin their task. Christ has not come just for the people of Israel - though they are the first to hear the Good News - no, Christ has come for the whole world. Christ wants to free each and every person from their self-focussed way of life, and bring them into His family, the Church.
How will God do this amazing work? Who will He use? And where will He start? The answers to these questions are as simple as they are astonishing. How will God reach the world? God the One who spoke the world into being, will reach the world through the power of the spoken word, through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, used by the Holy Spirit, to reach into people’s hearts. Who will He use? He will use ordinary powerless men and women, who’s only qualification is that they love Our Lord, and they want other people to know Him too. And where will He start? He will start with the people - the neighbours and friends - of those first transformed disciples. God will start with Israel, before going out to the nations. This preaching will be biblical as it reflects and teaches on the promises of the Old Testament coming true in Christ. This preaching will be apostolic as it takes the eye-witness testimony of the the first disciples as to what they saw and heard in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And this preaching will powerfully ‘cut to the heart’ those who hear it, for it will heal and restore them, but only after showing them their own sinful hearts. This preaching began with the apostles, but soon was being taken out by many others, and continues to this day guarded by the bishops and priests of the Church, but extended and made possible to all those who believe. This preaching ought to be clear, simple, and relevant to its hearers, but most importantly faithful to the revelation given to the Church. At St George’s, this is primarily my responsibility, and to do it well and faithfully I need your prayers. But why not begin by hearing one of the first preachers of the Gospel, why not read the sermon of the Chief Apostle, St Peter, as recorded in Acts 2:14-41? And as you read Peter’s sermon let that launch you off into the Book of Acts, inspire your prayers and your praise, and help you to be ready for our return to church, whenever that is. Christ has promised to work powerfully through His Church - that is powerfully through powerless people - and if we find ourselves feeling that we can not make any difference, then we are in exactly the right place for God to begin afresh His work of reaching His world. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)