Note - Beginning this week and running throughout the rest of the year, we will be reading a chapter per week from the Acts of the Apostles. I will continue to read primarily from the Common English Bible (CEB) translation and The MESSAGE (MSG) paraphrase. I will also continue to refer to the Interpretation commentary, about which I am excited because the volume on Acts was written by Methodism's own, Will Willimon.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus' parting words for the eleven disciples (for they had not yet replaced Judas) were:
"And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world." (Acts 1:8, MSG)
With these words, we are given a segue from the gospel story of Jesus to the continuation of the story of Jesus and God's saving work through his apostles. After all, as Petersen rightly stated in his introduction to Acts in The MESSAGE, "The story of Jesus doesn't end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him."
I believe that our task for reading Acts should be to understand how the story of Jesus continues in our lives, as believing, faithful communities whose mission is to make and grow disciples of Jesus Christ committed to making a difference in the world. The entire world, that is, since part of Acts' function is to show that God's promises for Israel were extended to all nations..."all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world." God's saving grace is available to all peoples.
That is, indeed, why John Wesley looked upon all the world as his parish. That is why our ministry must always extend beyond the walls of our churches, because all the world is our parish, too. Acts tells the story of everyday, ordinary people who Jesus called and equipped to be his witnesses. They model for us what faithful obedience to God's calling and participation in God's work in all the world, what love in action, looks like. We, too, are everyday, ordinary people Jesus wants to use for the very same, continued purpose. May it be so.