The Sunday Sermon: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2020
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
Where is the Spirit Leading You?
The weeks since Pentecost Sunday have been, appropriately enough, Spirit led. We discovered last week that we, like those having this Christ experience for the first time in the first century, have “something to live for” in, and through, the Way that began in life after Jesus.
Pray with me …
The entire book of the Acts of the Apostles describes revolutionary changes in the ways that a growing crowd of first-century Jews began to view their covenant with their God. For the past two Sundays we’ve been exploring some passages in Acts that are post-Pentecost but pre-Paul. Paul’s conversion, his “road to Damascus experience” happens in chapter nine, so very soon, but still not yet. Because this morning, we are in chapter eight of Acts. One more expedition this morning into the Jewish-Christian community before Paul started preaching Christ, and him crucified.
We’ve revisited Peter’s first sermon and Stephen’s last. Peter “cut his listeners to the heart” with the words he spoke. Stephen was stoned for his. With that first recorded death the persecution of this new cult began in earnest. That persecution forced the early believers, the followers of this new movement, to flee Jerusalem, to get away, and they scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. This was surely not part of Saul’s or the other persecutor’s plan, but (as we noted last week) it is a primary message of Luke’s. The scattering serves to spread the word of the gospel and introduce the mission of the church to the wider world.
So, this morning, we find ourselves in the wider world, beyond Jerusalem and house-churches and Jewish councils, on a wilderness road that leads out of Jerusalem and beyond Judea and Samaria. Listen for the Word of God …
Read Acts 8:26-31 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The Samaritan mission under the leadership of Philip that began in verse 4 of chapter eight, marks the first step in the spreading of the word beyond the bounds of traditional Judaism. That first step was received with joy and thanksgiving. Read the whole of chapter eight later today. It is with the Samaritan mission, left in the good hands of Peter and John, that the “witness” to Jesus as Christ reverses course and heads south.
Philip is our apostle “du jour” this morning. A quick note, though: This is not the Philip Jesus called. This Philip, we learn in chapter six, is one of the seven Greek-speaking Jewish Christians appointed by the Twelve to tend to the needs of others, especially widows, in the Greek-speaking portion of the Christian community.
Now, in Luke’s world “an Ethiopian” meant anyone with dark skin from the largely unknown lands below Egypt. And the lands below Egypt, like those lands beyond western, eastern, and northern known boundaries, represented “the ends of the earth” to early first century Jews. The goal of this early “gospel preaching,” to be the instrument of the restoration of all people under God’s reign,” is being realized in our hearing.
I suppose the most interesting character in our reading this morning is this newest convert. He is someone wealthy enough to be riding in a chariot, educated enough to read Greek, devout enough to study the prophet Isaiah, and humble enough to know that he cannot understand what he is reading without help. He is also hospitable enough to invite Philip to join him in his chariot.
Philip, of course, is the character in our reading that we’re supposed to identify with and emulate. We, too, are supposed to “know our scripture” and “know the God of our scripture” well enough to get into conversation with anyone who feels the embrace of God but doesn’t understand the potential of that “embrace.”
But there’s a third character in this story that caught my attention right from the start and that I suggest offers us our most provocative call this morning. (Anyone? This third character in our reading?) The Holy Spirit, or the “angel of the Lord,” as described in our reading. That which turned Philip around to face the “ends of the earth” and prodded him to “go over to this chariot” and meet this foreigner.
So, here’s the question for this day. It’s been the question for the last three weeks (and for the ones before those since Easter, actually!), but here it is spoken out loud for the first time: If you – like Peter or Stephen before him or, this morning, like Philip – if you were to surrender control of your own “travel plans”, where might the Spirit of God lead you? “Where it will,” Jesus taught us. Scary stuff …
In being open to the Spirit, preachers like Philip found themselves in the oddest situations with the most surprising sorts of people. What about us? When was the last time we found ourselves in an unusual situation with surprising people? Many of us have found ourselves part of the rallies happening in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Louisville and surrounds. More of us have been part of the clean-up efforts of those abusing the rallies to be destructive. And even more of us are in conversations – face-to-face, online, on social media, or through our reading – with ourselves and others about our white privilege, rage, and fragility. Our lives are more full now of those “unusual situations and surprising people” than ever before. Are you meeting God in this “unfamiliar” and are you sharing the love of Christ with these surprising strangers? And if not – when not – why not?
Has it been fear? Perhaps you have some concern about being rude, of intruding on someone’s private space? Or maybe you are concerned that you’ll say the wrong thing?
I’ll respond to all three of those excuses: Our gospel message from beginning to end says, “Do not be afraid.” So don’t be. Our experience of the Holy Spirit is highly personal, but it is not private. So share. And if you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing then … don’t use words. Just offer your life to others in such a way that they might find deeper life in the love you share with them, a love empowered by your God and by those in our community that you are so intimately in relationship with.
I’m not big on certainties. They too often get us into trouble, but there are a few things we can be certain of in our lives of faith. And one of them is that through this Spirit-thing, we are constantly being called to worlds bigger than our own. We’ve read and watched as the Spirit of God, the promise of Christ, has empowered followers to reach out to new people and to set out for new lands. We’ve seen the worst it can do and the best it has done. It’s past time for us to follow. Surrender control of your own travel plans this week – the world is still allowing it in ways we’ve never experienced before and there are many who still need to meet you. Let the Spirit lead you to new people and new places. I want to hear where you’ve been and who you’ve met in the weeks ahead.
For two weeks now, two Sundays, we’ve left the sermon proclamation open-ended with no “amen.” This morning we close the Word proclaimed with our familiar seal once again. May we, like those who first followed this “life after Jesus,” have the courage and the openness to follow the Spirit. May God take our lives, too, and use them ever, only, all for Love.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / June 21, 2020