Transforming Acts: Spirit-Centered Faith (Bruce Epperly)

Having laid the context for his journey through Acts, Bruce Epperly takes up the first chapter of this seminal book of the New Testament.  This is a chapter in which a commission and a promise is given to the followers of Jesus.  The commission is to get busy with the work of God and the promise is a provision of God's Spirit.  Both, however, must wait for just a moment.  I invite you to reflect on Bruce's words and the message of Acts 1:1-26 and offer your thoughts. 


Transforming Acts: Spirit-Centered Faith
Acts 1:1-26
Bruce Epperly

Acts of the Apostles is an invitation to spirit-centered faith. When many people think of God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit, their minds go to tongues of fire, mystical experiences, and other-worldly encounters. They see the Spirit as a supernatural intrusion on normal causal relationships, only occasionally occurring in human life. In contrast, I believe that the primary locus of the Holy Spirit is everyday life – manifest in making decisions, going to work, serving the community, caring for family and friends, and working for justice. As the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 8, God’s Spirit moves through all creation, human and non-human, and speaks in our hearts in “sighs too deep for words.” The holistic spirituality of Acts seamlessly blends the mystical and the ordinary, and reminds us that God is revealed in every moment of life. All moments are potential theophanies, where God can illuminate the most ordinary moments of life. The Spirit bursts forth through the unconscious in dreams and hunches and through the trans-rational mind in mystical visions and inspired words. In fact, these phenomena are manifestations of one and the same movement.

As Chapter One begins, the first followers of Jesus bid him “good bye.” Somehow, Jesus needs to get off stage for the work of the church to begin and what better way than the Ascension. The Ascension is, however, not about cosmic geography – about Jesus ascending into heaven – but about the interplay of absence and presence in the spiritual life. Jesus must be absent in order to be fully present: an over-functioning God who makes all our decisions and eliminates risk also eliminates adventure, surprise, and novelty. In contrast to Rick Warren’s over-functioning God who decides all the important events of our lives, divine subtlety gives us room to respond and innovate as God’s partners in healing the earth. God does not compete with us, but wants us to be creative and adventurous. Jesus wants us to do greater things than he did. (John 14:12) Our lives are not planned by God, but influenced and inspired in ways that encourage adventure and creativity. (See Bruce Epperly, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living.)

Chapter One presents three questions that are still relevant in our spiritual lives today: the timetable of cosmic fulfillment, the focus of spirituality, and spiritual decision-making. Over two thousand years after the Ascension of Jesus, many Christians still await the Second

Coming – they hope to rise to the heavens while others are left behind to suffer global tribulation. Some even invent elaborate timetables, predicting the exact time of Jesus’ return. Thus far, all such prognostication has proven inaccurate and possibly devastating to the mission of Jesus. To such Christian fortunetellers, Jesus says “it is not for you to know.” God’s power is with you and it is alive and well on this planet, moving with vitality right now. You don’t need to die or experience an otherworldly rapture to experience God’s transforming presence.

For Acts, the focus of spirituality is this-worldly in orientation. The angel tells the disciples: “Don’t look to the heavens to find fulfillment.” Your work is here: this is the place of healing and salvation. Our witness and mission are in this world, not in a heavenly place. If we are faithful as God’s partners in healing the earth in this lifetime, we can trust God’s fidelity at the moment of deaths. In the spirit of John’s Gospel, eternal life is a present reality: we are just unaware of it. Our faithful responses to God awaken us to everlasting life in the midst of daily living.

Finally, Acts concludes with a curious decision-making process. After the eleven remaining disciples pray for guidance to discern the twelfth apostle, they cast lots in order to make a decision. At first glance, such activities seem to be leaving the decision to chance rather than rationality; but the process was undergirded by prayer. The apostles trust that God moves in synchronous events and that random acts such as throwing dice or turning to a Bible passage by “accident” can reveal divine wisdom. Surely this is at the heart of the ancient Chinese spiritual practice of divination through the use of the I Ching: while throwing the I Ching is no substitute for serious reflection, the process of opening to intuitive wisdom gives us another perspective on our decision-making. Holistic decision-making includes analysis and intellectual reflection and problem solving processes, but it also involves listening for divine inspiration, trusting intuition and hunches, openness to the divine, and prayerful contemplation. Jung noted the importance of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, as revealing a deeper wisdom moving through everyday life, and when we are open to God’s leading, “coincidences” happen with more regularity.

Acts, Chapter One, invites us to frame our lives in prayer. Earth is where the action is: our day to day actions, political involvement, and long-range planning gain power and insight when they are seen in light of God’s moment to moment and ambient inspiration.

Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry , written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy.  His most recent book is From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church, written with Daryl Hollinger.


micky said…
Humm.. got to know your opinion on commission and a promise is given to the followers of Jesus...
Looking for more updates on it..

Health Link Exchnage
Brian said…
Thank you for including the casting of lots. I think you are right in comparing that to the I Ching and Jung's synchronicity.

I also appreciate your words of caution that such is not a replacement for critical thinking, but a multi-pronged approach to decision making.

Like the apostles in chapter one, we too live in the Spirit. We too can discern God all around us. (The process approach really makes discussion of the Holy Spirit credible for our time.)
Colby Cheese said…
THE WAY is to:

* live the sacred life – here and now – of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, divine retribution, sacrifice for any purpose, sectarianism, creeds or censorship – and who has never behaved as a narcissistic Greco-Roman pagan deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred reality, the divine mystery – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and unlimited – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God: to be unrelenting and unlimited; makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; to be the constant inviting presence of God; and to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to: be free and independent; think; be curious; be intelligent and wise; value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge; be creative; grow and mature; live long healthy satisfying lives; live non-violently without vengeance; be generous; be hospitable; do no harm; heal and rehabilitate and restore; reconcile and include all and all participate; be good stewards of all resources; live here and now as one family; live in loving relationship with god; be transformed through resurrection; be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not a forsaking of seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my current existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is:
- God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love and always has been;
- God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us without exception and without qualification;
- seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;
- seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;
- serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;
- be generous and hospitable to all;
- live non-violently without vengeance and with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers;
- be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do -
Whatever we are -
Wherever we are –
- can never separate us from the love and grace and
- the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

excerpt from REFORMATION II
by Doug Sloan
appearing Sunday, October 31, 2010
John said…

I especially loved your statement:

"The holistic spirituality of Acts seamlessly blends the mystical and the ordinary, and reminds us that God is revealed in every moment of life. All moments are potential theophanies, where God can illuminate the most ordinary moments of life."

But I have to take issue with your statement:

"... divine subtlety gives us room to respond and innovate as God’s partners in healing the earth."

I have come to reject any creational paradigm which sees humans as in a state of 'fall' (in the sense that we are no longer what we we once were). The notion that humanity is with God as 'partners in healing the earth' suggests to me that the earth was formerly whole and has been damaged and wounded and God is seeking to aid us in a journey back to healing and wholeness.

I am coming to see the history of creation as one of struggle, with successes and failures along the way, and that which does not kill us makes us stronger. I see the incorporation of death and dying (together with all the variant ways that death and dying come about) into the design of earthly biology as evidence that God from the very beginning anticipated our struggles, our success and our failures. I sense that God in His transcendent and unknowable wisdom deemed our struggles to be of value to the whole enterprise of creation or that such struggle was simply not avoidable in the design of human physical and spiritual growth and maturity.

I agree there is much healing to be done, but healing of the individual and of our communities. I simply cannot accept the notion that in our work towards healing we are seeking some sort spiritual restoration.

For me the notion of the Garden of Eden is analogous to the womb - a place of sanctuary, protection, and birth. Once born, we undertake serious growth.

Just some random thoughts.

David said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said…

Life is so complicated. Even, especially when we thing we are closing in on some understanding, God pushes us back, and says, who do you think you are?


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