Acts 8:26-40; John 5:1-9
6th Sunday of Easter
St Barbara’s 22.05.2022
Rev Tulo Raistrick
A few years ago, when I was working for Tearfund, I had the privilege to visit Ethiopia and work with some of the churches there. The churches of Ethiopia are very special – they have a sense of timelessness about them. Their liturgy, their worship, their feasts and celebrations go back centuries, making the Church of England feel like a “new kid off the block” in comparison. Indeed, the church in Ethiopia is regarded as the oldest church in Africa, and it traces its beginnings back to the very story we heard read this morning.
This story gives us a wonderful example of how the gospel spread in the early days of the Christian movement, how the church grew into this worldwide family with about two and half billion followers today. Rafael was baptised in a church in Spain but he is also welcomed here into the church in England – another reminder that we are part of a global family. How did it happen?
Well, the church in Ethiopia starts with a “nudge”. I wonder if you have ever had that sense of being prompted to do something, of responding to an inner voice or feeling inside you. You may not be able to quite explain it, but you just know that you needed to maybe stop what you were doing and go do something else. Or that experience of quite out the blue being prompted maybe to call someone, and when they pick up the phone their response is “Oh, I’m so glad you called. I so needed to speak to you.”
That sense of being nudged or prompted to do something is often the work of God within us.
That certainly was the case for Philip in our story. He is in the middle of a very successful mission to Samaria, an area 20-30 miles north of Jerusalem. His ministry of preaching and healing is attracting large crowds and bringing great joy to that community. Everyone is really excited. And yet in the midst of this, he discerns God calling him elsewhere – to a deserted road in the Gaza wilderness, 20 miles south of Jerusalem. So he packs up his bags and walks the 50 mile journey with no idea what will await him. He just knows that it is what God wants him to do.
When he arrives, again he receives the Spirit’s prompt: “Go to the chariot over there and stay near it.” The result is a conversation that leads to the first non-Jew becoming a Christian, a man who will take the good news and spread it throughout his own country of Ethiopia. It is an extraordinary outcome, and one that Philip could have had no idea of when he first packed his bags and left Samaria.
I wonder whether God is calling you to do something? Are you sensing an inner and persistent nudge? Maybe its to consider doing something big – a change of job, a change of direction, a change of where you live. Maybe its something smaller, maybe to give a friend a call, or to make up with someone you have upset.
Just take a moment now – has God been calling you and speaking to you in any way? (PAUSE)
When Philip approaches the chariot, he discovers that the person in it is reading the Old Testament scriptures. This is a man who clearly is seeking truth. Despite not being a Jew he had travelled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship, a journey of many hundreds of miles. He has taught himself Hebrew so that he can read the Scriptures – not even most Jews did that, but instead relied on Aramaic paraphrases. He is an intelligent man, the chief finance officer for his country, responsible for the vast wealth of his queen.
And yet he is struggling to understand – he needs help. Philip is far less educated, far less influential, far less powerful than this Ethiopian man who even has someone to drive his chariot while he can sit and read – the first century equivalent of a chauffeur driven limousine. In contrast, poor old Philip has to walk everywhere. And yet it is Philip, full of faith in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, that can explain everything to him.
Time and time again, the disciples showed, and church history has shown, that to understand Scripture does not depend on intelligence or academic knowledge – it primarily relies on faith and the guidance of the Spirit. It is open to us all. That’s why we have given Rafa a book of Bible stories today – the truths of Scripture are there for the youngest as well as the oldest of us.
Scripture opened the eyes of the Ethiopian. It can open our eyes too. I wonder – how do you find ways to read the Scriptures. None of us find it easy, but neither do any of us need to be experts to be able to do so. It may be just taking the readings we have on a Sunday and reflecting on them throughout the week. Why not print them out and leave them beside the kettle? It may be by joining with others in reading and thinking about what the Bible says. We have a number of welcoming home groups – why not talk to me about joining one? It may be by reading a psalm each day, at the beginning or end of the day, or taking time to read a gospel. And there are many good apps and bible study notes available if you like to have a structure and some guidance. As we read the Scriptures, maybe we will be changed like the Ethiopian was. Have a think – how can you engage more with the Scriptures over the coming month.
I love how the Ethiopian responds to the good news about Jesus. He gets baptised straight away. He clearly thinks, “If this is true, then there can be no half-measures.” The good news requires total commitment. Maybe you are someone who has never been baptised but know that now is the time to commit yourself fully to Christ. Or may be this is a time you want to re-commit, through confirmation or through renewing afresh your commitment to God. Talk to me or someone about that afterwards if that is you.
He commits. He also rejoices. Luke tells us he went on his way rejoicing. The good news of Christ should bring forth from us great joy and thanksgiving too. Christ has died for us and risen from the dead. He has brought us into an eternal relationship with God. We can know his presence. We can be guided by his Spirit. What an incredible joy. Are we living lives of joy, of thankfulness?
He commits; he rejoices; and he tells others. This man on returning home almost certainly started the first Ethiopian church, a church that has been thriving for 2,000 years! Like Philip, like this Ethiopian man, we too, led by the Spirit, are to share the good news with others. I wonder who may you encounter on your journey today? How is God’s Spirit already preparing the way? And how will you share the good news of Christ with them?
And so three questions to finish with:
- How is God prompting you by his Spirit in your life today?
- How are you going to engage with reading the Scriptures this month?
- And in what ways are you going to commit to, rejoice in or share with others his good news?