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This mini-series of Reconciliation & Transformation is part of ‘fishing the world’ to turn our church outward to engage in social transformation. We shared personal stories of racism and reconciliation. Then I taught God’s Greater Story in which our personal stories find meaning – God’s Seven Act Drama of Reconciliation & Transformation:
Act One: CREATION – God’s Garden of Delight
Act Two: HUMANITY – The Rebellious Fall
Act Three: RESTART – Noah, Babel and The Nations
Act Four: ISRAEL – God’s Instrument of Reconciliation
Act Seven: THE END – Shalom!
Act Five: JESUS – God’s Reconciler
Act Six: HOLY SPIRIT – Through The Church
The weird numbering is theologically important: from Israel (4), the failed instrument of reconciliation, to her prophetic hope of the The End as seen in Isaiah, and then in John’s Revelation when all things are made new (7). But THAT future END broke into our world 2000 years ago in Jesus, dissecting history (5). Act 5 is the gift of God’s Son (Jn 3:16) who accomplishes reconciliation in his own body on the cross, where all barriers and walls of division were destroyed, the principalities and powers defeated, and Jews and Gentiles reconciled into “one new humanity” (see Eph 2:14-18 & Col 2:15).
Act 6 is the gift of God’s Spirit who comes at Pentecost to effect (apply and make real) Jesus’ work of reconciliation & transformation. Act 6 goes all the way through to Christ’s Second Coming – The End of God’s drama, The Beginning of the Eternal Ages. Do you realise that we’re playing our particular part LIVE in Act 6, on the world’s stage right now as witness to world to bring the drama to The End (Act 7)? See the diagram
Act 6: HOLY SPIRIT in & through the Reconciled & Reconciling Church
Luke wrote a two-part book: his biography (“Gospel”) of Jesus as the mission of God’s Kingdom of Reconciliation (Act 5); then his story of Jesus’ followers, the Early Church (Act 6). The “Acts of the Apostles” are the acts of the Holy Spirit in and through the reconciled and reconciling Church in its Kingdom mission to the ends of the earth.
It opens with the Spirit, “Promise of the Father”, that will empower Jesus’ followers to witness to him across geographic barriers: in Jerusalem, into Judea (Jews), into Samaria (‘half-breeds’), and to the ends of the earth (the nations, see Acts 1:4-8). So, when the Spirit came at Pentecost (2:1f), the disciples were filled with power to ‘speak in other tongues’ – the 15 langauges of the Jewish diaspora – to reconcile them into God’s one new humanity in Christ’s Body. Pentecost reversed Babel: God used tongues to judge and divide humanity, now they’re used to gather and reconcile the scattered nations, to the ends of the earth. I.e. the Reconciling Spirit crosses the culture/ language barriers and dividing walls.
More than that: Peter stood up and said, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons & daughters will prophesy, your young people will see visions, your elderly will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men & women… they will prophesy” (2:17-18). Here the Spirit crosses gender, generational, and socio-economic barriers, making one new humanity, God’s reconciled Church!
A serious test came in Act 6:1f when a dispute arose among the Jewish widows in the Jerusalem Church. The Greek speakers complained of being left out in the distribution of daily food in favour of the Hebraic speakers. The tension, along cultural lines, was NOT resolved by dividing into two language-based congregations (as often happens). They remained united across language and culture, and resolved the issue by making practical arrangements: The seven trustworthy men chosen to distribute the food fairly were Greek names (possibly one Hebrew), i.e. to be seen to secure the marginalised group!
The Gospel of Reconciliation spread from Jerusalem to Judea (8:1, through persecution!) and across the geographic, racial and cultural barrier into Samaria – affirmed by the apostles in baptism (8:4f). Then God wanted the gospel to cross into the Gentile world via a Roman Centurion (Cornelius, 10:1f). It’s remarkable how God had to prepare Peter to get him over his Jewish prejudice about the “unclean” Gentiles. God sent an angel, gave a vision repeated three times, and the Spirit said, “don’t hesitate to go for I have done this.” Read the story. Peter was uncomfortable, but God surprised him and the Jewish believers who came with him (sitting outside the house!)
Years later Paul had to rebuke Peter “to his face” for his religious-racial hypocrisy when he withdrew from eating with Gentile believers in Antioch when Jewish believers arrived (Gal 2:11-21). Prejudice runs deep! But it merely takes is a particular incident to press our buttons and out pops unresolved prejudice, causing pain for the victim… thus must be confronted!
Luke then gives us the picture of the first truly multi-cultural-language-class Church, in Antioch, as seen in the leader-team of teachers and prophets (11:19f, esp. 13:1f). THIS diverse reconciled church became the mission-base for church planting “to the ends of the earth” (chp 13 to the end). The seed of this reconciled and reconciling Church of ‘unity in diversity’ was THE seed that birthed local churches as a radical witness to Jesus in their local contexts, Christ’s one new humanity in the Spirit’s power.
We can summarise the above with Paul in 2 Cor 5:17-20, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! God has done it, who reconciled us to himself in Christ, and giving us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ. He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (and thus to yourself, to others and creation – spiritual reconciliation to God means psychological reconciliation with oneself, and social reconciliation with others, and ecological reconciliation).