"Of all the books of the Bible, this is perhaps the most evocative of an adventure tale. Really, who doesn’t like chase scenes and picnics on a rooftop with lunch catered by God and miraculous prison-breaks?"
The Acts of the Apostles
Luke knew that Jesus' story doesn’t end with his death or even with his resurrection. The word wouldn’t have gotten out, followers wouldn’t have followed, Christianity wouldn’t have happened if the duh-sciples of the gospels hadn’t leaned into their call, hadn’t learned to be the disciples Jesus knew that they could be. So, Luke wrote his second volume. Here are 5 teaching points to keep in mind as you read this text:
1. Adventures of the Holy Spirit
Round two of Luke’s masterwork wends its way from Jerusalem (see especially Lukek 24:47, 52 & Acts 1:4) to Rome (Acts 28 when Paul actually arrives there) with lots of side trips and a relatively large cast of characters and escapades on the way. Peter and Paul are the lead actors, with Barnabas in the chief supporting role. The Holy Spirit, already mentioned in Luke’s gospel more often than in the other gospels, shows up regularly in Acts as a kind of behind-the-scenes actor/director. Of all the books of the Bible, this is perhaps the most evocative of an adventure tale. Really, who doesn’t like chase scenes and picnics on a rooftop with lunch catered by God and miraculous prison-breaks?
Of all the themes and motifs encountered in the book, arguably the most important is discipleship. Rabbis, earlier than and contemporaneous with Jesus, invited folks to “follow” them. To become a disciple meant not only knowing the tradition and how to challenge and transform it; the mentor rabbi had to be convinced that a student had what it took to do what the rabbi did. In Acts, discipleship works. Peter and Paul and company preach and teach and heal and resuscitate, just as Jesus had done (see for instance 3:7; 5:15; 9:34, 40, etc.).
3. The Importance of History
The history of the world is important to Luke. It was in the gospel (recall that Linus opens the Peanuts Christmas pageant quoting Luke), and so it continues to be important in Acts. There are a number of speeches in the book to remind listeners of how Jewish history started, its various trajectories, bringing the thousands of years up to date. The purpose is linkage: remind listeners whence they’ve come and that the Jesus story is in continuity with that flow. This is not simply tradition, but much more important: it’s traditioning. Note Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, especially 2.29-36 and Stephen’s l o n g speech at 7.2-54.
4. Vast Geography
So is geography. Luke’s world is more expansive than his fellow evangelists, so his stage is wider and encompasses much of the known Mediterranean world of his time. Just as Jesus had instructed at the end of the gospel and at Acts 1.8, the book moves from Jerusalem to Samaria to ends of the earth and even Rome itself.
5. The Inclusive Community
In line with a larger sense of history and geography is the shift from exclusivity to inclusivity. Everybody is welcome, including eunuchs (8.26-40) and Romans (10.1-48).
Community, nascent and small though it be, is paramount. Community = everyone caring for everyone else, everyone sharing what they have, everyone coming together for worship and fellowship (2.42-47; 4.34-37; 5.1-11; 6.1., etc.). We are charged at baptism with continuing this inclusive community, in the words of our Baptismal Covenant.
Victoria Garvey has a passion for learning, teaching, and the Church. She has taught at nearly every level from 2nd graders through graduate school. Recently the bishop’s Associate for Lifelong Christian Formation in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, she also serves as a faculty member for the Forma certificate programs. Vicki continues to speak around the country, facilitate workshops, and lead retreats.