Acts Chapter 24

Acts 24:5-6
The plot against Paul continues in Acts 24, where he is charged by the high priest Anais and Tertullus, an attorney, of the following: 24.5 “We have in fact found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 24. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, and so we seized him.”

Paul eloquently defends himself to Felix, the governor, by saying that “they did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd” and they cannot prove the charges. Paul affirms that he worships the God of the ancestors, that he has a hope in God, and strives his best for a clear conscience toward God and ALL people. Paul states he was in the temple to bring alms, offer sacrifices and to complete the rite of purification, without any disturbance.

Felix makes no decision, holding Paul in custody for two years (hoping for a bribe!). Paul’s friends are allowed to take care of his needs, and Felix frequently sends for him for conversation.

What else did Paul do in the two years in custody in Caesarea? While it is widely held by scholars that the four Prison Epistles (Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians) were written during Paul’s later imprisonment in Rome, there is some scholarly dissent that one or more of them may his been during his time in Caesarea.

Thinking on this as we live through our current “imprisonment” and knowing that great hope can be found in Scripture, I again read the Prison Epistles, and found comfort in them. Philippians especially touched me – a joyful letter, extolling faith in Christ, hope, and faithful service in spite of trials and anxiety. 

One of my favorite New Testament passages is from Philippians:“8. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”I pray this passage brings comfort at this time. May God’s grace, peace, love and blessings be with you.         
                                                                                            Adele Sadiq, EfM, Year 4

Acts Chapter 1

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2)

Here we are, friends, Christ Church Parish, and indeed everyone on the planet has entered a new era. Not that pandemics are new to the planet; human history records many plagues and famines and natural disasters that altered life for us. Yet today in a profoundly interconnected world where our food, clothing and even our work comes from faraway places. I believe that the church in the next decade will become more localized, our worship more person-centered, and our dependence on the insights of the first Christians more crucial than ever.

I have asked those who meet together in Education for Ministry to reflect on the Acts of the Apostles. In St. Luke’s account of beginnings of the Early Church, I see patterns of life, faith, and care for others that we would do well to emulate. The first believers had no buildings, no clergy, and only the most basic understanding of the sacraments that we treasure. Their reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide their decisions and embolden their witness enabled them to transform from a few dozen Galilean followers of the Rabbi Jesus to an interconnected body of believers that stretched from Italy to Egypt, and embraced Roman, Greek, Syrian, Egyptian and Ethiopian cultures and ways.

During the two weeks from April 20 to May 2 you will receive a reflection from a member of the CCPKI family. They have been given a chapter to read, but I have asked them to find one moment in the chapter to reflect on. This is less about investigating everything in Acts and more about finding a single gem to treasure.

I am deeply grateful to the leaders and students of EfM. I know that their program is strenuous and the times we face are stressful. At the same time, I have heard about their gratitude for what they have learned and their desire to give back.

Please join me and the Christ Church Parish EfM group as we reflect on what God was, and is, and will be doing for our members and for the whole world.

Mark +

Acts Chapter 17

Acts 17: 23, 24, 29
23 “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 29 Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill.”

When Paul came to Areopagus to preach the good news about Jesus and his resurrection, he decided to walk around and view the area. He saw objects of worship and an altar with an inscription that appalled him. As he preached to the Jewish and Gentiles, he emphasized that God is the absolute Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth and does not live in man-made temples. Paul continued preaching and explained that God cannot be “an image” or an idol comprised of “gold or silver or stone” because they are of earthly materials from which idols are made”. (Powell) Have we become too attached to non-spiritual priorities in our life? Possibly.   Are we repeating biblical history in this century?

For me, maybe we need to listen more intently to scripture and to each other. Paul was an outstanding missionary who had the gift of preaching to the masses. Although it can be difficult to listen at times, all we can do is try each day.  Also, perhaps many of us are depriving ourselves of a loving relationship with God. During this pandemic and “staying in place,” let us consider reflecting on our faith and pray for spiritual guidance in our lives and for our church community.             
                                                             Juanita Dombkowski, EFM, Year 4

Acts Chapter 16

Acts 16: 31 “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

Paul traveled to Lystra where he met a young disciple by the name of Timothy, and he recruited him to present the guidelines that the Jerusalem apostles and leaders came up with.  As they traveled to Phrygia and then on through the region of Galatia, the Spirit had redirected their journey through Macedonia.  As their mission was redirected they knew for sure that God had called them to preach the good news to the Europeans.   Along their journey they attended a prayer meeting where they met Lydia, a believer in Christ. They also met a slave girl who was a psychic.  As a psychic she claimed that the men were working for the most high God and they were laying out the road of salvation for the people.  Paul was annoyed by her continued claims and commanded the spirit that possessed her to leave her body in the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, the owners of the slave girl were no longer making money on her predictions. So they roughed up the men and drug them into the market Square where they were beaten, arrested, jailed and judged by the crowd.  While in jail, Paul and Silas were in prayer and singing hymns to God. Then a mighty earthquake shook the earth and all the cell doors opened. The jailer thought all the prisoners had escaped and was going to take his own life, but Paul was there and saved the jailer’s life by letting him know that no one had escaped. The jailer was badly shaken and ran inside the jail by torchlight and collapsed in front of Paul and Silas’ cell.  He wanted to know how to be saved and to truly live.  They advised him to put his entire trust in Jesus and then he will live as he was meant to live, including everyone in his family.  In the morning, Paul and Silas were released from prison.       

                                                                                  Marlene Stutzman, EfM, Year 3

Acts Chapter 15

Acts 15: 28
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.”

In Acts, we follow the early beginnings of a Christian community. There were Jews like Jesus. There were Christian Jews.  Acts 15 is all about a third category: the gentiles. The controversy is over requiring gentiles to subscribe to Jewish ritual and law. Hebrew Christians held the Pharisaic view that converts must obey the dietary laws and undergo circumcision. The Bible says that some men came down from Judea to Antioch and started teaching the brethren that unless they were circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas try and dispute this position but agree to go to Jerusalem to visit with the Apostles and the elders to sort out this problem. When they get to Jerusalem, some Pharisees again said the gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.

When the Apostles and elders were gathered together, Peter speaks: “Brethren, you know that in the early days, God made choice among you, that by mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.” Acts 15: 7-9. Paul and Barnabas talk about all the wonderful things that God had done through them among the Gentiles. So in the end, a delegation is sent to Antioch with a letter. It’s a compromise position: no circumcision, but in order to avoid giving offense to the Jews in the community, don’t do certain things. Stay away from idols, abstain from fornication, and don’t eat meat with blood in it.

For me, this time of life feels a lot like the early church. On some level, due to the corona virus, things have gotten very simple. We feel much more connected to our neighbors through the commonality of a shared experience.  Only the necessary things matter. We have done without our church building. We have been unable to convene. Hurdles, much like the early church faced and found a way through. In spite of today’s hurdles, our faith is always seeking ways to express itself. Like Paul and Barnabas, we feel a need to get the Word out. Now the Holy Spirit is moving our church to reach out in new ways: ZOOM meetings, services posted on Facebook, eblasts via email and the like. What is God telling us about our church in the year 2020? It is still all about faith.               
                                                                                  Bluette Blinoff, EfM, year 3

Acts Chapter 14

Acts 14: 8-10 “In Lystra there was a crippled man who had been lame since birth and had never been able to walk. He sat there and listened to Paul’s word. Paul saw that he believed and could be healed, so he looked straight at him and said in a loud voice,”Stand up straight on your feet !” The man jumped up and started walking around.”

In about 47 AD in Iconium (present day Turkey) Paul and Barnabas were preaching for several months mostly in the Jewish synagogues. When some Jews and gentiles decided to stone them, they left and went to the city of Lystra (also in Turkey).

As a Nurse, my first reaction to the verses quoted above was unbelief. How could a man who hadn’t ever walked since birth suddenly stand up and start walking ? Clinically it sounds impossible! His legs would be too weak for him to walk; his leg muscles would be atrophied and probably contracted from lack of use. But there it is –“The man jumped up and started walking around”!

Why do I find this so hard to believe? Can’t God do anything? Doesn’t He/She in fact do miraculous things every day? I plant what look like dried dead seeds, and God brings out a beautiful green plant or a gorgeous colorful flower. Is that not a miracle?

Babies are born every day. They develop into unique human beings unlike any other person in the entire world. Is that not also a miracle? Why do I have so much trouble believing that God can do what seems impossible to my logical mind? 
“I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)  
                                                      Ann Sieracki, EfM Graduate & Mentor

Acts Chapter 13

Acts 13:15-22 
15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” 16 So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: “You Israelites,[b] and others who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For about forty years he put up with[c] them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20 for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21 Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 

I  gathered via zoom with three other friends to reflect on Acts 13. We asked God to help us focus on a small section of the chapter. As we collaborated, we honed in on the first part of Paul’s message in the synagogue at Antioch. We followed the practice of Lectio Divina: talking and listening to God and listening to each other. Our goal was to receive God’s help in connecting the words from Acts 13 with our daily life.

Here is my summary from our valuable time together: The people of God have journeyed through years, decades and centuries of disorientation, upheaval and disruption of their established ways of living. We have also journeyed through our own times of disorientation, upheaval and disruption from the trajectory we expected for our lives. God was with the people of God all the time, comforting, delivering, providing and allowing for natural consequences as they pursued life the way they wanted it. God is with us in these ways as well. 

As we all experience disorientation, upheaval and disruption of the way we thought life should be and would be, we determined that what matters most is being with God and knowing God is with us taking good care of us even when it doesn’t seem that way.

We asked God if there was anything He was inviting us to and it seemed to us that: 

  • God is inviting us to be continually open to learning who God is and how God is there for us.
  • God is inviting us to understand who God really is and what God is really like: God is not distant. God is close. God sees the big picture. God is not surprised by what is happening in our world today. God doesn’t expect us to “get this right.” God remains tender, compassionate and patient with us.

Our prayers: 

  • God give me a willingness to lay down any expectations that don’t align with your expectations.
  • God help me continue to look to you and notice any ways that I am not trusting you. 
  • God help me to be like David who is after your own heart and will carry out your wishes (vs. 22).

Lisa Dodge Pinkham

Christian Formation Coordinator, Christ Church Parish

Acts Chapter 11

Acts 11:9

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time,Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’”

Peter is recounting a vision he has had of a cloth descending with beasts, reptiles, and birds in answer to his worry about not following the Jewish purity rules about eating  It is a big  part of the taking in of the Gentiles to Jesus’s disciples’ group and making the Good News of the Gospels available to the whole world. Acts is filled with tremendous energy and miracles after Pentecost.

                                                               Sally Lewis, EfM Year 4

Acts Chapter 12

ACTS 12:12-16

“12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.  13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and told that Peter was standing at the gate.  15 They said to her, “You are mad.” But she insisted that it was so.  They said, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.”

Peter is in and out of jail again in this chapter.  But unlike in ACTS 4, he has escaped prison with the help of an “angel of the Lord.” 12: 6-11. In verses 12-16, we see a little much needed levity in the story.  In fact, I looked for some guidance in my reflection of ACTS 12, and Father Mark was quick to point  these verses out saying, “I want people to have some fun over Easter. I want them to enjoy their lamb and eat too many chocolates.”

So, a comedy of errors has occurred.  Peter, now a highly sought-after fugitive, returns to what is probably, the HQ of the Christian Movement.  Rhoda, a young servant girl, hears his voice, recognizes him, but is either too excited or too afraid to open the door for him. Instead, she runs to tell the others, who are, at that very moment praying.  Instead of running to the door themselves, they dismiss her; they call her crazy, but all the while, our fugitive Peter is left there, still knocking while looking over his shoulder for soldiers.  Finally, and only after hearing it themselves, do they open the door and finding Peter there. “And they were amazed.” 12:16

I identify with Rhoda.  I can remember as a child, sometimes being dismissed by adults only for them to later find out that what I was desperately trying to tell them had validity.  I identify with the disciples. How many times in my life have I had to be hit over the head with a Spiritual message before I’ve finally accepted it and acted on it- even while I was actively praying for it?

While I do see the humor here, I also see a clearer message.  Pay close attention to messages, even if they are delivered by someone that I don’t see as a “teacher,” or even as an “intellectual equal.”  We are strong together in the Holy Spirit when we humbly access it.  Second, if St. Peter is knocking at the door, even during social distancing orders, let him in, as long as he is wearing a mask and gloves!

                                                                                        Tara Lightner, EfM Year 1

Acts Chapter 10

ACTS 10:34 & 44

34 Peter began to speak: I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis.  Whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him no matter what race he belongs to. 

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message. 

In Acts 10, Peter expands the gospel beyond Jerusalem and Judea and into the ancient Greco-Roman world. Cornelius, a devout Gentile, while praying, has a vision of an angel telling him to send for Peter in Joppa.  He sends messengers and Peter, after his vision of the “large sheet coming down” containing all kinds of creatures, reptiles and birds, returns to Caesarea with Cornelius’ messengers.

To those gathered, Peter says (Acts 10.34), “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in any nation anyone who fears him does right and is acceptable to him.” He continues to praise the Lord and bear witness.

In visiting Cornelius in Caesarea all that he said and did. (Acts 10.44) “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”

GOD SHOWS NO PARTIALITY … a stunning sentence. In his forgiveness, in his love and in his infinite wisdom that brings us trials, sorrows, and reminders of the fragility of life ….God Shows No Partiality.  All humanity knows the good and the bad.

Are the believers who “were astounded that the Holy Spirit was poured out EVEN on the Gentiles” very different from those of us who come to love, understand and embrace the “other” – those from different cultures, religions, languages and customs? As the current worldwide situation so clearly illustrates, we are all in this together.  While some will try to separate us by blaming the “other” for a custom, a decision, a lack of responsiveness, or some other “theory” to account for the global pandemic, everyone  everywhere – experiencing the disease, losing loved ones, living in fear and losing hope, and praying for wisdom, relief and modern miracles to end this – is a child of God.  
God shows no partiality. Remember this when the pandemic is over. Pray for yourselves, your loved ones, our congregation, community, country and the world.

                                                                              Adele Sadiq, EfM Year 4

Acts Chapter 9

Acts 9:17-18

So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, The Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”

For me, this particular event speaks to me on a number of levels. It says to me that the Lord is the master weaver of the fabric of our lives and it is his plan that crafts us to His will. Where would Christianity be but for a man who was turned from the blindness of ignorance to become Paul the voice of change that was the Church in the fragility of its infancy? The change that created the new Church and perfect covenant with God.

This passage also reveals to me that none are beyond redemption and the possibility of becoming. That all can be transformed by losing the scales of ignorance that blind us to the truth. That no matter how grave our transgressions, there is hope and a life of brilliance that awaits us. That God always sees our value and will perfectly use us if we are only willing to see, to change, to become.

                                                                             Gail Renborg, EfM Year 2

Acts Chapter 8

Acts 8: 18-21

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money.  “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!  You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God.”

Simon, a former magician, has been baptized with water by Philip, an evangelist, and later receives the Holy Spirit through the apostles Peter and John.  Upon seeing the gift of the Spirit bestowed by the apostles, Simon also wants this gift and offers silver to obtain it.  But, through these verses and the ones following, we see that he is rebuffed and that they can see Simon’s true heart. Simon’s obvious surprise at this makes me think that even he didn’t realize his heart was unclean, that his offer of silver was more than inappropriate given that he was in the “chains of wickedness” (vs. 22).

Every morning, I begin with a prayer familiar to many, in which I ask God to “create in me a clean heart.”  But, could it really be that easy? Surely, God can create a clean heart in me and could also in Simon, we have only to look at the miracles Jesus performed to know that is true.  But for me, I’m not sure what I would learn from an instantaneous cleansing.  Most of the miracles I have seen in my life came with a little hard work and diligence in my prayers.  So, each morning I do begin that prayer, I read the psalms, and the readings for that day.  I study, through EfM, the books of the Old Testament, and other works of theology scholars and maybe that is how God will work this miracle of a clean heart in my life.  Each day, little by little I feel some of those deep unacknowledged unclean bits of my heart being swept away.

We don’t know what happened to Simon, we only know that he was sent away to repent and pray.  Perhaps that is what these verses are saying to me.  Go, repent and pray that God through the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit will create in me a clean heart. 

One thing I do know is that God’s love for me never changes, it is deep and steadfast.  But, the more I go away to repent and pray and do a little more housekeeping in my heart, I find that it is me who moves closer to God; me that falls a little more in love with Him.

                                                                            Lois Vanderbok, EfM year 1