If you love golf, you probably know about a gem of a film, Seven Days in Utopia. You might not have connected it to the New Testament’s Book of Acts, but see what you think as you read. (Note: you won’t learn enough here to need a ‘spoiler alert’, so treat yourself to the film if you missed it.) .
The main character, played by the always-superb and crusty Robert Duvall, mentors a young golfer on a journey to recover both his golf mojo and his life. The wise Duvall tells the young man that “SFT” is the secret he needs to move forward for a killer golf game –and more importantly—a satisfying, productive life. What’s that, the younger golfer (and audience) wonder? “See His face; Feel His presence; Trust His love.” SFT.
The best stories are about journeys, whether it’s Homer’s Ulysses figuring out how to get home to his beloved Penelope, or The Divine Comedy, where Dante’s journey is the ultimate of the soul towards God.
Acts of the Apostles is about journeys as well, and the SFT line from the film could describe why these travels were so successful. Each figure is praying and listening to ‘see His face, feel His presence and trust His love’. We can take a lesson if some of our journeys are a little bumpy.
This bridge book between the Gospels and Paul’s letters was a way to introduce the new apostle to the world. If they read of Saul’s own march from Jewish persecutor to Christian apostle, perhaps the new converts would read his subsequent seven letters with understanding and appreciation!
One of the more obvious Acts’ journeys starts with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection as they move in increasingly larger concentric circles out from Jerusalem to share the Good News. Like our travels, these are so much more than physical ones. Luke, the book’s author, makes a point of tying geography and theology together as he tracks their progress of increasingly seeing how the entire world needs the healing message of Christ Jesus’ teachings, beyond the original borders of Jerusalem.
We witness these early followers traverse the spiritual distance from timidity to boldness, finding their voices after the Pentecost. Initially their odyssey is at the great Temple in Jerusalem, ground zero of Jewish orthodoxy.
Then we see the structure of Acts unfold as Philip (not the disciple but a new apostle) takes the Good News to the Samaritans, a significant step out of not only Jerusalem but also Pharisaical Judaism. Here Philip meets the Eunuch, where both men have been directed by angels to meet for a holy lesson in an Isaiah text. The Ethiopian’s life is forever changed as he journeys home a convert.
Acts especially chronicles the harrowing journeys of Paul as he travels the Roman Empire, the farthest concentric circle from the ground zero of Jerusalem. Seeking ever-newer ports to share the Gospel with Gentiles, he converts, admonishes, nurtures, reprimands, cajoles and everything in between in his three decades of healing, preaching and teaching.
This sets the stage for the final journey of the early Church that looks little like its Jewish beginnings in a short 70 years. By the end of the first century, massive changes of language, geography, culture, customs and even economic status changed the original fledging church into one that would, in a short two centuries, transform the Roman Empire itself.
Where are your journeys taking you – both the physical and the spiritual ones? Summer may be a time for travel, but every single day, as we study Acts, is a time for the voyages that transform us forever. Happy summer reading!