"We are all like Scheherazade's husband, in that we want to know what happens next." -E. M. Forster
Here in the middle of the summer we have gotten very used to our movie theaters filling their screens with franchise films and sequels. From a business standpoint this makes some sense; people prove time and again that they are eager to pay for a ticket to find out "what comes next" to characters from stories they already know. From a consumer standpoint there's a pretty common sense reason why these movies are well attended and sell tickets: we become enamored and invested in the story, the characters, and the conceit of the films. It offers us the chance to find something new in a familiar place. This summer fourteen of the summer releases are sequels and three are "reboots" (essentially remaking a beloved movie not continuing the story)-that's almost 20% of all the movies in the summer season...and A LOT of returns to familiar territory.
The Book of Acts is rather unique in the Bible in that it is a bona fide sequel. It's Luke II: The Apostles Step Up (or maybe Luke II: Apostler!). We know that because the Book opens with the author (presumably Luke) coming back to Theopolis and saying, "In my former book..." (Acts 1:1). Then he sets out to do what all sequels do: he recounts the end of the Gospel of Luke, the Ascension; he sends the main characters on a new adventure; and he introduces us to someone who wasn't in the first story, Matthias. Yes, other books of the Bible come in ones and twos (Samuel, Chronicles, the Corinthians), but these are more in the vein of a book split into parts-think The Lord of the Rings, not The Avengers-or a letter in response to a letter.
So far, so good. We can expect new adventures with familiar characters. But the Acts of the Apostles is not a movie or merely a "book". Instead, it is-in keeping with our Hollywood motif-a new origin story. Acts takes us into the lives, the sermons, and, most importantly, the actions of a small group of people. These people would take their Great Commission very seriously and demonstrate to us, even today, that Margaret Mead's observation is accurate, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
What the 20th Century anthropologist didn't take into account is that these twelve people (thirteen if you add in Paul who shows up halfway through the book....many, many more if you add in the secondary characters) are real-life superheroes. Not struck by lightning, bitten by spiders, or exposed to gamma rays, but filled with the Holy Spirit. The adventures they have, as we read in Acts, will change our world forevermore.
That origin story I mentioned, it's the birth of the Church. It's the story of how we came to be Christians and why we gather to hear Pastor Nathan every Sunday. It's a story that we are actually a part of. Talk about an amazing, "and then what happened?" Hollywood couldn't make this story up, but God made it happen.
It would be so much easier if our choices in life were between one good thing and another. It's good to sit at the feet of the Lord and listen. It's good to cook him a nice, big dinner. To choose between the two is hard. Mary did it. And so did Martha. And in the end, all Jesus said was that Mary had chosen the better part, to love the Lord her God, with all her heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.
Some of you may feel a little bit like Scrooge or the Grinch when you hear about Christmas in July. If you know me, then you know that I am all about it! I love Christmas so much I'm down to decorate and celebrate anytime! My type-A mind has figured out we're halfway to Christmas and oh, we have ten more paychecks before the big day. I hope it doesn't stress you out as stores roll out their Christmas in July sales. We tend to associate Christmas with a fluffy man in a red suit, some magical reindeer and lots and lots of presents. My question is, why do we limit Christmas to just December? We truly don't know when Jesus was born. Shouldn't we celebrate Him all year long? Shouldn't we always have that special feeling we get around Christmas and Jesus' coming?
The Israelites stood on the verge of entering the Promised Land. They made the long journey from Egypt to the land God had promised to them and their ancestors. God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt where abuse and inhumanity were regular occurrences. Though the journey out of slavery was treacherous and uncertain, they had none other than God on their side. Though they at times were ready to turn back because the journey had proven difficult, God remained steadfast and faithful to the people. And now they stood poised to enter the land flowing with milk and honey.