Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
What makes for a powerful encounter with God? Our scripture readings today are chock full of them. Power filled life-altering encounters with God. Do you long to experience that kind of power? Or does that seem silly? Does that seem like the sort fantasy not worthy of serious, intelligent people. I’ll confess, I find myself mixed with awe and wonder, as well as doubt and a fear of disappointment. And I wonder what this does when and if I approach God in prayer. Job and Bartimaeus experienced the power God in dramatic ways and their stories are preserved for people of faith to make their own. What can we make of them?
Most people have the general idea of the parable of Job from Hebrew Wisdom literature. God enters into a little wager with Satan who thinks people only worship God when they have nice things, so Job gets caught in the crosshairs and God allows Satan to slowly strip away all comfort and joy from Job. But, Job doesn’t give up, God wins, and replaces everything that Job lost and more. It sounds nice when you tell the story quickly and skip to the end. But it robs us of the place where our lived experience tends to dwell, in that place where things are unfinished, painful, and confusing.
When I’m working on a sermon, I usually keep a couple of questions in my mind. One is, where’s the good news? If I can’t answer that, then none of my listeners will be able to either. The other is, can I sum this whole sermon up in one sentence? If it takes me a whole paragraph to explain my sermon, then it’s not focused, it’s too complicated, or too long.
Using that same principle, I’m wondering this morning how I would sum up the entire Acts of the Apostles into one sentence. How would I do that? There is a lot going on in Acts, but in a sense there is only one thing going on. Luke tells us at the end of his gospel, and he repeats it at the beginning of Acts. You are my witnesses Jesus says to the assembled disciples in the Upper Room on that first Easter, and again just before his Ascension. You will be my witnesses.[2
If that is Acts in one sentence, what about my other question? Where is the good news? We hear it repeatedly throughout Acts, and we hear it again today. The good news of Acts is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. That is the whole point of Acts, and it is certainly the whole point of the Council of Jerusalem which determined that it was good to the Holy Spirit and to [the Apostles and elders] to impose on [the Gentiles] no further burden than [certain] essentials. Had the decision been otherwise, in those days shortly after Pentecost, the tiny Christian community would have remained a small Jewish sect, probably being absorbed and finally disappearing into the dominant Jewish mainstream within a generation, and we would not be here. But this decision to impose no further burden than [certain] essentials breathed life into the Jesus movement in its earliest days.
As followers of Jesus, that remains our purpose, indeed it is the purpose of the Church, and the vocation of all the baptized: to be Christ’s witnesses. Part of our job as witnesses, is simply to state what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life, and what we know to be true. After that, we need to back off, get out of the way, and impose no further burden than [these certain] essentials. In that way we allow the Spirit to do its work in bringing people into an encounter with the living Lord, rather than our personal and singular concept of God.
That, it seems to me, is the good news of Acts, and while we have been invited to join in the work of introducing people to an encounter with the living God, it is our real privilege and great joy to step back and watch God at work, in the lives of those whom we serve.
Lectionary Year and Proper: Friday in the Fifth Week of Easter, Year 1
 Luke 24: 48
 Acts 1: 8
 Acts 15: 28
 1 John 1: 1