Sermon, Easter 5B, Sunday May 6, 2012 St Petri
Go with what you know
Philip and the Ethiopian
26 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.
I was lucky enough to attend “Aladdin” at Faith Lutheran College on Wednesday night. Great show! So good to see young people showing us who they really are and how gifted they are.
Of course a show like Aladdin doesn’t just happen. It takes so much effort from so many. It also takes a director to bring the whole thing together – all the cast and crew, the orchestra……making all the people work together to accomplish the goal of creating a quality experience for the audience. The Director is the key in bringing it all together. Seeing Aladdin made me view this interesting event as told by St Luke today with new eyes. This little event is part of a much bigger show skilfully portrayed by Luke. It is an account of an interesting meeting between a searching royal accountant and a fast moving disciple!
Before we remember the event, we need to be clear on what St Luke obviously wants us to understand about this: The Holy Spirit is the Director of this mission. The Spirit of the Risen Jesus is the Director of this show called “Missio Dei” – “The Mission of God”. He 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…..”
The Holy Spirit, the Director of our show called the “Missio Dei” (The Mission of God”) begins the encounter and ends it in his timing and place.
It all begins with the Spirit telling Phillip to “Go”. He 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 listeners, the royal accountant for Queen Candice of Ethiopia is reading the bible!
Understanding one? 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 two: God is already at work long before we turn up.
These two understanding clearly given by Luke make quite a difference to my life’s goal and our direction as a community of the Spirit. See, somehow we tend to believe that God is not at work in people’s lives until we turn up and do/say something. It seems that we actually believe that the “success” of encounters with people that we have at school, at sport, at home, in our family and among our friendship group is totally dependent on our right words, or our bible understanding or our obedience to God or our openness to the Spirit or our right moral witness…..
All these things are part of our calling to “Go” but it is not all dependent on us. The Spirit of God is way ahead of us, working in ways we don’t need to know about. He just is working because he just is on a mission – the “Missio Dei”. He is the director of the show and the power of the Word he’s given to humanity.
EG. 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 among blokes my age and young people I have worked with. It would be easy to assume that they have lived in a “no-God zone” all their lives. They swear, they drink, they have relationship troubles, they are in pain, they are lonely, they are all show at times – but they have a searching and longing and even at times some experience of God in their life.
The reality that God is already at work directing his Word to all kinds of people in all kinds of places, as is on show where in this event in Acts, tells me that being a missional church and being a disciple with Jesus on his Mission to seek and love the lost 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.
Friends, we much put aside a view that I have heard a lot at St Petri and in the Barossa since I arrived. “If we don’t do mission we won’t have a church”. If we don’t get the young people back in church, we are all going to die”. “If we don’t change things, there will not be a St Petri….” you get my drift? There is a time for these kinds of things to be aauid. They are a reality check and they joly into thinking about our mission, but there are other things to say now too.
I can’t see Phillip, or Luke or Paul or John or any of the other biblical disciples and evangelists being too concerned with this kind of fear driven thinking at all. I can’t see it here with Phillip, can you?
All I see from Phillip is “Going”. All I see in Phillip is “knowing” – he knows the word and he knows Jesus. He just shares what he knows, not what he doesn’t know.
Our motivation for being a missional community is not fear and guilt of what we don’t or cannot do. Our motivation for being a missional community is the Holy Spirit’s gift of going and knowing. He says, “Go” in his word and in our worship life as we receive that blessing and sending at the end of our worship and he lets us know of Jesus in the word we hear and share together and alone. So we go and we know.
With our calling to share Jesus love and hope with everyone by going and sharing our knowing, the message here from the Spirit is that do what do and be who we are not knowing where the road ends, the conversations ends or the results come.
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. Nor do we have to.
We follow the Spirit’s prompting – not knowing where it will lead or take us or the person involved. Phillip just “started out….” That’s how we approach our task as the Spirit’s ambassadors of reconciliation and hope among our acquaintances and family. We just “start out” on the Spirit’s directions. We go. We listen. We watch: We go with what we know, without worrying about what will happen, what the results are and what the future will be.
Our lives in God are always about trust. We trust him as we go to our day at school, our day at work, our day at church, our day at netball, footy and everywhere else we go. We go with what we know, and we know him and his forgiveness and hope.
As we go with what we know, then the Spirit will do a “Phillip” on us for sure. There will be an African man in a chariot with royal robes on and Isaiah the prophet in hand at netball this week!
There do come those moments when a thought on God is shared, a question about church, faith, religion, forgiveness, etc… Come in a conversation. Take that as the Directors prompt to step up into the carriage and listen to that person. This is what Phillip did very well it seems. When the moment came, he simple asked a question of the searcher.
“Do you understand your searching? Do you get what you have been hearing from God?”
“Not quite”, comes the response to an honest question. “How can I understand what has been happening, what I have experienced, what I am hearing unless someone guides me?”
What a great invitation to share what you know. Not always the case, so when this good ones comes, we Go, pronto!
“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]
Here’s what I might do in the carriage…
This old prophet is telling of something he knew would have to happen but never saw it with his own eyes. But many did. Jesus of Nazareth was like an innocent Lamb to the slaughter……..
He went to his underserved death without protesting or trying to justify himself, even though he could have easily escaped the pain and death.
He says he did this for his enemies – us – you….
Everyone is incomplete, rebellious against their Creator God, broken, in need of forgiveness and love from God.
Jesus’ life was taken but he came back to life – There is no one else like him, way truth and life…
You could learn more and understand him more at St Petri. There is this amazing gift of God called baptism……..
In doing this I would be going and knowing – Going with what I know, so far.
And here is the trust factor. My going and with what I already know will be enough. That’s where we trust this Word from the Spirit about Phillip. 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)
The Spirit seeks our committment to simple “make a start” and then promises (and then only – not before!) “theach us what to say” – in the moment and not before.
Friends, we are a community of the Spirit and he is the Director. He “gathers, calls, enlightens and makes holy, the church day by day (Luther’s Small Catechism, 23rd Article of the Apostle’s Creed). The Spirit is already at work in your non-church friends. He is at work with your acquaintances, friends and family hurt by the church, alienated from another person, unsure of their life’s direction, grieving, angry, alone….. The Spirit was in the carriage long before he gets Phillip to jump into the conversation.
But The Spirit chose to use Phillip’s going and knowing to get this searcher into the community of the baptised – the holy people of God in the world – in mission to bring in more. He chooses to use our words and actions and directs the conversations. We need to simply “Go with what we already know and join the Spirit in his show – Missio Dei. The Mission of God.
Better be ready this week. You might need to jump into the carriage too…