So, this past Sunday we heard from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is the book in our New Testament located just after the four gospels. Fun Fact: Acts was actually written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke; consequently, many scholars simply refer to them jointly, as Luke-Acts, since Acts is basically a sequel to the gospel. Just think of it as Luke 2: Same Spirit, More Moves. Luke’s major story arch across his two-volume work is how the Jewish Messiah became the rightful (and promised) God of the Gentiles. We heard a passage near the beginning, from chapter 2, where Peter describes, using a prophecy from the Hebrew prophet Joel, how God’s chosen family just got a major expansion from the Jewish people to… well, everyone ever. Peter is setting the stage for all the stories in Acts that will follow, describing how this small Jesus movement that started in the tiny nation of Judea (located in the rather unimportant backwaters of the Roman Empire) would soon spread across a continent. Here, God has declared a time that God will pour out the Spirit on all peoples, and buckle up, bible folks, because that time had come.
It’s a radical new vision, and it’s difficult for us modern people to wrap our heads around just what Peter is suggesting. Firstly, in the ancient world, there were lots and lots and lots of gods. (Monotheism is an anomaly in world history.) And all these gods were thought of as specific to their country or people. Thus, the Babylonian high gods would have ruled Babylon. The Assyrian gods would have reigned over Assyria, etc., etc. It wasn’t that your gods were the only ones that existed, it’s just that those were the ones you chose to worship for their benefits. What’s more, the larger and more powerful the nation, well, then, obviously, the larger and more powerful the god. Israel was a tiny nation, politically insignificant, battered back and forth by vast empires across the centuries. It’s likely that the larger world would have seen the god of Israel as weak and insignificant as well. So, for Peter to stand up and boldly proclaim that the god of the Jews -- that strange desert deity Yahweh who was already so odd for forbidding worship to any other gods -- was actually the God for all the world… it’s ridiculous. Laughable even. It’s an absurd claim. And yet…
People were healed. The dead were raised. The young people saw visions and the elders dreamed dreams. The Church was born. Persecuted. Struggled and lived. Grew and persecuted others. Repented, or didn’t. Then the cycle repeated. Today, when so many gods have been lost to history, people all over the globe worship the God of Israel. And still, the Spirit is moving. Still, God’s people prophecy. Our elders are guiding, and our young people are calling out. The arc of history may be long (longer even than the Book of Acts) but God is reconciling all creation to God’s self. And the family is open.