Sermon, Easter 5B
Sunday April 29, 2018, St Petri
Acts 8:26-4026 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”[b] 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”[c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
My son, Dan and wife, Leanne, are both in the orchestra for the Faith Lutheran College musical, Cats. It will be a great show!
Of course, a show like Cats doesn’t just happen. It takes so much effort from so many – all the cast and crew, the orchestra … But it needs a Director too – the one who makes all the people work together to accomplish the goal of creating a something beautiful. The Director is the key in bringing it all together.
Just like Cats, this event on the road south from Jerusalem is part of an orchestrated movement of God, skilfully woven together by the4 Holy Spirit and told by Luke.
The Holy Spirit is the Director of this ‘show’. It is called “Missio Dei” – “The Mission of God”. The Spirit of Jesus risen is the master tactician who directs this “chance” encounter between a searcher and a disciple.
It is obvious……
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, Go …”
“The Spirit told Philip, Go …”
“Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture…told him Jesus” (This is not Phillip’s Word, but the Spirit’s Word)
“The Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away …”
It all begins with the Spirit telling Phillip to “Go”. Phillip responds and goes. He goes south on the Gaza Road from Jerusalem and what does he find but a dark African man in royal clothes and carriage.
If that is not surprising enough for Phillip or us or his original listeners, the royal accountant for Queen Candice of Ethiopia is reading the bible!
Understanding No 1:
The Spirit begins and ends our life’s mission – God’s mission to “Go” to whom he sends us with the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness and love.
Understanding No 2:
God is already at work long before we turn up.
These two understandings clearly given by Luke make quite a difference to our life’s goal and our direction as a community of the Spirit.
Somehow, we tend to believe that WE determine our life’s mission and contribution. That is the age-old problem we have inherited from our first parents that still clings to us as forgiven and Sprit-filled people.
We also seem to easily believe that God is NOT at work in people’s lives until we turn up and do/say something.
Believing that we are responsible for our life’s calling and contribution and believing that nothing much happens until we do something FOR God, go together and they are wrong beliefs.
Luke is telling us that our life in God’s mission is not a solo, it is a band, an orchestra. And it is like Cats – the show has only one Director who is on to the mission and able to pull it all together daily. Want proof?
How often have you thought that a person you know of would have no understanding or connection to God or the Church or faith, only to find out in one of these “chance” conversations that this person understands quite a bit about these things, or has a spiritual side you never would have picked?
I find this all the time as I work with all kinds of people.
It would be easy to assume that non-church people have lived in a “no-God zone” all their lives. They seem besotted with the trappings of our culture, they seem captured by material or business or intellectual concerns. They might even swear and drink too much. They have relationship troubles, they are in pain, they are lonely, they are ‘all show’ at times, and yet, they have a searching and longing and even at times some experience of God in their life.
Being a being a disciple with Jesus on his Mission to seek and love all of us is actually a calling to join God in what he is already doing – not a crushing guilt trip and pressure cooker calling to have to make it all up in our own strength or out of fear of failure.
Our mission is not a demand by God on us but a gift of God to us. Our mission is not dependent on our solo efforts but on God’s solo grace and power.
All I see in God’s mission orchestrated by his Spirit here in the Gaza road and in the rest of the beginning of the church in Acts, is GOING.
All I see in Phillip is “going with what he knows” – he knows the word and he knows Jesus. He just shares what he knows, not what he doesn’t know. He is not asked to share what he does no know. He asked to share what he does know and learn as he goes.
I don’t see Phillip even waiting around long enough to check the score on his work! As the Spirit takes him away to another encounter way up further north in Azotus and Caesarea, he does not seem to have much idea of what will happen tomorrow, let alone in a week’s time. Neither do we. We do not have to.
We just ‘GO” or “start out”
That’s how we approach our task to share the gospel here – we start out every day. Like a traveller on a long journey with an uncertain shape and destination, we just pack up the cart, water the horses, pull on the boots and hat and start out.
Actually, this is how we Christians approach all of life isn’t it? We just start out every day – well, unwell, free, fearful, under threat of at peace. We just start out with Jesus every day trusting that he has our day, our death, our sin, our weakness and our life in hand.
Faith is trusting the Director of the show to make sense of it all, use of it all and something of us in it all.
We can be sure of one thing though: as we go with what we know and willingness to share it, the Spirit will do a “Phillip” on us. There will be an African man in a chariot with royal robes on and Isaiah the prophet in hand at school or work or footy or netball this week!
And here is the trust factor. Will we play our part trusting the Director of the Show for the quality of the overall show?
Thank Jesus today because I hear here in this carriage on the Gaza road that God says my going with what I already know will be enough – in all my failure, weakness and lack of understanding, he will be enough. He wants me in that carriage with all of me, not just the ‘good’ me.
When the questions come, the comments are made in jest or in barbed wire words or genuine searching, we speak what we have already heard, not what we don’t know.
When the day has not gone well, you have failed at something again, found yourself in the same old dark place or angry place again, or when you just cannot make heads or tails of what is happened and why it has happened and find yourself at ‘dead stop’, the call remains., “Go”. “Go with what you know of me”.
This is because the Spirit of the risen Jesus is already in the carriage before I get there and calls me to engage in the conversation. If the Spirit directs us he will give us enough for the encounter. The Spirit will take my words and make them count.
As Jesus promises to his mission team “…. do not worry about what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at the time what you should say” (Luke 12:11b-12)
Yes, God is already at work long before we turn up, but he calls you to turn up as you are and with what you know and leave the rest to his directing.
Better be ready this week. You might need to jump into the carriage and trust him for the words and the ways to be his witness in his mission…
Read the text very slowly and intentionally in a quiet place. Do this out loud. If possible, stand up as you read…
Note the characters and their words to each other and Luke’s narration over the top of it all. What questions does this text raise for you? Note them….
What inspires you or makes your imagination kick into gear?
Instruction: What does this account show be about who God is and how he works in people’s lives? Jot some things down….
Confession: What does this account lead me to confess in terms of my struggle with sin? Do that….
Thanksgiving: What does this account lead me to give thanks for? Do that…..
Supplication: What does this text lead me to ask God for and pray for others about? Do that…..