Sunday Stretch: Vol. 34
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
Good morning Sunday Stretch readers,
It’s the last Sunday before Pentecost, and already the texts for today are filled with energy and excitement. Here in Minnesota, we have had a few days of rain, and finally the tree buds have burst into a cacophony of green. Green, green, everywhere you look in my neighborhood; offset by the blooming bright red, yellow, and pink tulips, and the white flowering crabapple trees.
Beauty so often seems fleeting, before our attention is drawn elsewhere: that car that blew past the stop sign; the angry, agitated email, a buzzing leaf blower (hopefully lots of municipalities are going to be outlawing the gas-powered runs, right?)
Still, I love spring in the city. I’ve watched the lake transform from ice back to water again, and again our neighborhood is overrun with high school kids, free on open lunch, heads down and backs weighed down by backpacks; wearing the baggy pants and tight t-shirts of the 90s again. Humanity and life are teeming together; you can smell the sweat and pollen in the air. The season is ripe for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s get to the texts.
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
The promise of this text, in verse 8, is incredible. Jesus’ followers, including us, are told that we must be witnesses: to the ends of the earth. I am reminded that being a witness, especially in a court of law, but also in the court of public opinion, often requires courage, bravery, and risk-taking. Witnesses have been killed for their testimony, or imprisoned themselves. Bearing witness is a sacred act - and Jesus promises here that the witness about him will not be confined to the land of Israel, but to the ends of the earth - when even to Judea and Samaria must have seemed daunting to the first disciples.
Questions to Ponder
Even with everything they’d seen Jesus do and say, the disciples were still caught up in thinking of Jesus as a national Savior who would “restore the kingdom to Israel.” How does this longing connect to current movements in American Christian Nationalism?
The women disciples are mentioned in this text, but their names are omitted. Do you think their names were listed originally? Why were their names lost over time, do you think?
The second Simon (not Peter) here is called a Zealot. The Greek word is ζηλωτής and in this context the BDAG lectionary tells us that it has a connotation of “ultranationalist” or “patriot.” How do you think Simon the Zealot felt about extending Jesus’ message outside the land of Israel?
Eph. 1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
I have to be honest that sometimes I get frustrated with the flowery language of the letter to the Ephesians.