Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 26 | Acts 2
Acts 2 Reflections and Questions
By Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas
In Their Own Language. Even though it occurred more than 30 years ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was one of several seminary students on a delegation to El Salvador as part of a fact-finding mission. Several weeks earlier we had traveled to a refuge facility in Brownsville, Texas to interview persons who had fled war-torn Central America seeking sanctuary in the United States. Embroiled in a civil war, many people fled from the country seeking sanctuary in the United States. This was the story we were told at the refugee camp. However, several weeks later we were no longer on U.S. soil. Having heard the view of those in the refugee camp, an invitation was extended to travel to El Salvador to see for ourselves and hear voices on all sides of the conflict. And while there is much that I still remember more than 30 years later, there is one story that has remained with me. It was told by a young woman who, at one time had been arrested and imprisoned. She had not done anything wrong, and yet she was arrested as part of the government’s response to the country’s unrest. During her imprisonment she was repeatedly raped by prison guards and the child that she held in her arms (no more than 3-years old) was a by-product of one of these rapes.
However, as tragic as the events of her imprisonment were, and as worthy of this portion of her story is of being told, there was another part of this young woman’s story that is germane the reading in Acts 2. This young woman shared how one day airplanes were flying over her village of 212 people located a short distance from the capital of San Salvador. The people in her village were accustomed to hearing planes fly overhead on their way to carrying out bombing missions on rebel strongholds located further away from the city. But on this particular day the planes seemed ominously closer than usual. And then suddenly the first bomb exploded. For the next 12 hours her village was bombarded. Panicked, the people of her village began running. But they didn’t just run. Rather she told us that while these villagers were running they began reciting Psalm 23. In fact, she told us that this is what they did during the entire time they were being bombarded. She then shared with us that after the bombing ceased, they counted the villagers. When they finished counting all 212 villagers were accounted for. It was a miracle that they could only attribute to God’s divine protection.
However, it was when our interpreter placed this miracle within a broader historical context that I came to appreciate it even more. She talked about how El Salvador was largely a Catholic country where for many years Mass had been done in Latin. Salvadorians would attend faithfully each week but could not understand what was being said. However, a watershed moment occurred when the Second Vatican Council made the decision that the Bible would be written in the language of indigenous people; and that the language that would be used during Mass would be “in the people’s own languages” as well. For the first time it would enable indigenous people to study the Bible for themselves and hear the Word of God preached in their own language. It was a moment that would lead to them learning about God for themselves and equip them to employ their faith practically.
This is precisely what happened with those villagers who came to believe in the power of God for themselves when they were able to read and study the Bible in their own language. And it was this God on whom they called and to whom they prayed in their native language to protect them during a time of crisis. And God did. As a result of what God did, like the disciples in our text, these villagers were witnesses to “God’s mighty deeds of power.”
The Practical work of Pentecost. It is tempting to spiritualize Pentecost. However, when Peter responds to those who raised the question, “What does this mean?” by telling them that it was the fulfillment of what had been spoken previously by the prophet Joel, the substance of this prophesy points to what seems to be nothing short of a “resetting” and to some extent a “recalibrating” of the social order. It is a prophecy that casts a wide net regarding who God includes in the work that God is doing in the world: sons and daughters; young and old; male and female slaves. Furthermore, it points to this being part of the continuation of God’s work through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ – a work to which Israel’s beloved first king, David, attested.
Questions for consideration:
- How does the Holy Spirit function in Acts 2?
- Reflect on and journal about “God’s deeds of power” that you have experienced in your own life. Consider what these experiences mean to you. How have they shaped you? How often do you speak/witness about them to others?
- Is branding our church or denomination the same as giving witness to the power of God at work in our midst?
- Reflect on Peter’s willingness to stand in front of the crowd and defend the faith. Why do you think Peter stood in front of this crowd when it had only been a short time ago that he had done his best to disassociate himself from Jesus?
Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas is pastor of Ben Hill UMC in Atlanta.