Monday, May 2, 2016

Acts 1:1-11 (Acts 1:1-14)

Acts 1:1-14 is the Narrative Lectionary passage in Year 1
Acts 1:1-11 or Acts 1:6-14 is the RCL passage for the Ascension/Easter 7.

Really edgy sermon idea:  Acts 1 shows a united church that loves and prays together, but does not do any outreach.  It is "First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem", a small, tight-knit group that sings and worships with joy, fills committee spots and avoids outreach at all possible costs.

For those note quite as bold:
Acts 1:1 may just summarize all of the book.  In fact, one word, sometimes missed by the translators, may summarize all of acts:  "began."  Luke says that his Gospel is "all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach."  Jesus' work is not complete; it must be continued by his disciples.  By the Spirit, they carry forth and do the greater things Jesus told us we would do if we believed in him.  Well, if 1:1 explains the whole book, 1:2 leaves us curious how this all works.  Luke says Jesus communicated things through the Holy Spirit.  Acts could just of easily been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  But how does the Holy Spirit work?  Acts wrestles with how the Holy Spirit worked to guide the early church in making decisions about the doings and teachings of Christ.

Key words:
Θεοφιλος  ("lover of God", 1:1)  Luke may have written this to a specific person name Theophilos.  Or he writes it to all of us who love God!

ηρχατο ("begin" aorist form of αρχω, in 1:1)  It is worth noting that Luke says that Jesus begins his doings and teachings.  The completion of Jesus ministry will be done through the disciples.  This one verb, may in fact, tell you everything you need to know about the book of Acts!

τε και ("and and" in verse 1).  BDAG suggests this combination means "connecting concepts, usually of the same kind."  Here it links the words ποειεν (doing) and διδασκειν (teaching).  A helpful reminder than the hands and head are connected in Luke's mind!

εξελεξατο ("choose" aorist form of εκλεγω, in 1:2; see also 1:24; 6:5 and 15:7;22;25)  Throughout the book of Acts, the disciples have to make choices.  The tricky thing is figuring out how the Holy Spirit will guide this process of choice.  In Acts 1:2 no indication is given for this.  In 1:24, lots are used; in 6:5, the Spirit works through community's approval of the leadership's suggestion concerning deacons; in chapter 15, the choice is made through collective debate.  The book of Acts is a powerful study in how decisions are made in the Spirit!

[gift]  This work appears in the NIV but not in the Greek in 1.4.  The word is promise:  Wait for the promise.

τω Ισραηλ ("to Isreal"; 1:6)  Jesus was teaching them about the Kingdom of God; they were concerned with the Kingdom which belongs to Israel.
 
μαρτυς ("to witness"; 1:8)  This word looks like "martyr"...because it means just that.  Jesus hear commands his disciples to be witnesses.   When Jesus used the word it had no implication of suffering.  However, the early Christians who were witnesses became "martyrs."  The definition of the word was changed by the heroic actions early Christians.  So, Jesus here is calling his disciples to be martyrs.  Ouch!

Samaria (1:8)  Jesus mission includes the "other side of the tracks."  This is a good way to think about the mission field:  your home town (Jerusalem and Judea), the "other" (Samaria") and the far away (the ends of the earth).

ομοθυμαδόν ("one mind" or "one passion" 1:14)  The people were united.  This is a beautiful scene of the early Christian community:  united in prayer and one might argue, doctrine.  The problem:  they did not do any outreach, but instead spent their time filling spots committees per historical expectations.  Unity does not mean preparation for mission!

Grammar/translation review:  Word order and Luke's grammatical mastery.
In Greek, word order is not essential for understanding the sentence; in English it is.  For example, "The boy hit the dog" and "The dog hit the boy" are two different ideas in English.  In Greek, the reader knows who did the action by the cases of the nouns, not their order in the sentence.  The nominative does the action; the accusative is the object of the action, regardless of which comes first.  This means that Greek (and to some extent Hebrew) can move words around for emphasis.  For example, Acts 1:2, is very convoluted if you just read the words:  until which day, after he taught the apostles whom he had chosen, he was ascended.  Permissible in English perhaps, but the sentence points out that good Greek can have words all over the place because the cases are governing their function, not word order.

In Acts 1:5 we have a very unusual split of some words:  εν πνευματι βαπτισθησεσθε αγιω 
Although the specific conjugation may be odd, (future passive 2nd person plural is fairly rare for verbs!), the words are pretty clear:  "In a spirit you will be baptized holy."  What is Luke doing?  Could holy be an adverb?  Unlikely. (Long grammar point: it would be in the accusative rather than dative).  Hmm... what to do?  Well, Luke earlier claims that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit.  (Let's use more clear Scripture to interpret less clear Scripture!)  So what could Luke possibly be doing here by putting Baptism in the middle of the Holy Spirit?  Well, duh, Luke is making the claim that the Holy Spirit and Baptism are bound up in each other!  To put it another way, Luke has stretched Greek language to show us that Baptism is in the Holy Spirit! 

This is something like, in my mind, when Handel has the tenor sing "The rough places plain," the word "rough" has small rapid changes; the note for "plain" is constant and smooth.

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