Sermon 5 Easter Yr B

5 Easter Yr B, 10/05/2009

Acts 8:26-40

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch”

 

Pastor Harry is a retired minister who is working as an associate pastor. He had to take an early retirement due to several health difficulties. Yet that hasn’t stopped him as one whose heart is bigger than life. He is a very gentle and consistent servant of Christ.

Pastor Harry tells of the story of Mike, a neighbour of his for many years. Mike was born into a home that never discussed items like faith, God and salvation. He was brought up in a very humanistic mindset. He could do anything on his own power without the help of anyone. In fact, the business he owned he made happen. He and Pastor Harry would always visit and discuss topics. Pastor Harry knew that if he was ever to witness to this man it had to be at the right time and in the right place.

Pastor Harry’s second love in life is wood-working. He can make anything from a prayer box for the church to a complete bedroom furniture set. He invited Mike to a woodworking group that met at Pastor Harry’s every Monday evening. About seven men gathered for wood-working, refreshments and a short time of devotions. Pastor Harry invited Mike and reluctantly Mike came. He came for seven weeks in a row and didn’t say much when it came to the time of devotions. He just sat and listened. Finally, after the 10th week Mike asked Pastor Harry if he would stick around and talk with him. He replied that it would be fine. Mike stayed and asked question upon question about this faith of Pastor Harry’s and this Lord that the pastor testified about. It was then that Pastor Harry shared the good news of God’s love in Christ. That night Mike became part of the Christian faith and now is involved in his local church.1

The story reminds us that we can make a difference; Christ can place us, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in a path of someone who may be open to the Christian faith. We, like Pastor Harry in the story, can be missionaries for Christ and bear witness by sharing our faith and the Gospel message with those whom God places in our pathway of life.

In today’s first lesson from Acts chapter eight we learn of how God gives Philip a nudge by speaking to him through, an angel and then the Holy Spirit—telling what to do in order to serve Christ and the Gospel. The story brings into focus one of Luke’s favourite themes. According to Luke and Acts, the followers of Jesus were to go out and spread the Gospel and the new Christian faith from Jerusalem and Judea, out to the Gentile world, to the ends of the earth. Philip, as a faithful disciple and missionary of Jesus, does exactly that in today’s story.

I find this story of Philip quite an interesting one and also instructive in terms of Philip’s faithfulness. Prior to our first lesson, Philip had been engaged in a successful preaching and healing tour in the city of Samaria. We learn that crowds were quite impressed with Philip’s preaching and works of healing. With such success in his ministry, you’d think that Philip might want to stay on in Samaria.

However, God has other plans. Philip is told by an angel: “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) Now why would Philip want to leave the comforts and successes in the city of Samaria to travel in the wilderness? What was he to do there? Nobody lives out there. Notice in our story too that the angel is not identified by name, nor described by Luke. All there is for Philip to go on is a simple command. “Get up and go…” Now, I wonder, if you and I were Philip, would we believe or listen to this angel? Wouldn’t we want to continue with the satisfying ministry among the crowds of Samaria? Why would we want to go into nowhere-land, a desolate wilderness with next to no people? Furthermore, our life could be in danger there, that’s where the criminal element hangs out—they could rob us, beat us up, and leave us die alone out in the desert heat. Yet, the amazing thing is that Philip listens and obeys the angel’s command. He doesn’t seem to doubt or argue with the angel. Nor does he run away in the opposite direction, like old Jonah did. No. Rather, he listens and believes and acts upon his beliefs. Luke says: “So he got up and went.” Was he disappointed because he couldn’t stay on at Samaria? We don’t know. Did he inwardly wrestle with and doubt the angel’s command? We don’t know that either. All Luke says is: “So he got up and went.” Now that is an act of faith on Philip’s part. Faith that can inspire us to listen to, believe, and do the right thing—even when that “right thing” is difficult for us and less attractive than what we might be doing right now.

As the story continues, Luke describes a Gentile man, a foreigner of considerable status. Luke tells us this fellow was “an Ethiopian.” He goes on to speak of his sexual, social and political status, saying that he was a “eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury.” In ancient times, eunuchs may have been regarded as trustworthy servants of royal courts, not posing as sexually threatening to the king’s harem. The words “the Candace,” are a title of the Ethiopian queen. As “court official” and “in charge of (the queen’s) entire treasury,” this chap likely had plenty of political and financial smarts—a minister of both external affairs and finance. He was a trustworthy advisor to the queen.

Luke then states the purpose of the Ethiopian eunuch’s visit to Jerusalem, and tells us what his reading material was while travelling in his chariot back to his homeland. “He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.” In other words, he was a Gentile who had a deep, spiritual desire to worship the One True God—elsewhere in Acts, Luke calls such Gentiles “God-fearers.” The “God-fearers” believed in the One True God, but did not necessarily keep the Torah dietary laws or the Jewish requirement of male circumcision. For the Ethiopian eunuch to travel so far a distance to worship God is a clue that he was very serious about his devotion to God.

The fact that he was reading from the prophet Isaiah tells us that this chap was quite literate: perhaps he was fluent in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages, in addition to his own mother tongue. God’s prevenient grace had been at work in the Ethiopian eunuch—sending him to Jerusalem, placing the prophet Isaiah’s work in his hands, giving him a hunger and thirst for biblical truth, and a deep desire to draw into closer communion with God. Long before we humans realise it, God’s prevenient grace is at work to lead us to him.

Enter into the story once again Philip. Now, we’re told, it is the Holy Spirit speaking to Philip and giving him the following command: “Go over to this chariot and join it.” Once again Philip listens and acts in faith. Upon hearing the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah out loud, Philip asks him a question that opens the door for him to witness to this Gentile. The question may have been placed on Philip’s lips by the Holy Spirit: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian eunuch gives Philip an honest answer, along with an open door invitation, saying: “How can I, unless someone guides me.” Luke says he actually invited Philip to come and sit beside him and teach him. Perhaps the Ethiopian had been waiting to speak with someone like Philip for a long time. What we do know is that he had an open heart and mind for God’s Word. The time was ripe for sowing the seed of God’s Good News in his heart and mind. Such opportunities are a God-given grace event—they are what we would call Kairos moments, teaching moments, right times to bear faithful witness. Philip is here a wonderful role model evangelist and missionary for us to learn from. He unpacks the passage from Isaiah 53:7-8, interpreting the passage as a reference to Jesus, and then goes on to preach to the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus. Philip’s faithfulness here is a fulfillment of Christ’s command to go and preach the Good News. The message Philip preaches touches the heart and mind of the Ethiopian eunuch and he is baptized by Philip into the Christian faith. Indeed, tradition has it that this newly baptized disciple of Jesus went home to Ethiopia and preached the Gospel to his people.

Does this missionary and evangelistic story inspire you? If so, then maybe you could go out and share the story with some non-Christian that you might know. May Philip’s example of witnessing inspire us to go and tell the Gospel story.

 

1 Cited from: Emphasis Vol. 24, No. 1, May-June 1994 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 13.

 

 

Advertisements

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: