Acts 8:26-40; John 15:1-8
5th Sunday of Easter
St Barbara’s 29.04.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
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.”
Just this week I was reading an article byTom Wright, the one-time Bishop of Durham, describing such a time: (Acts for Everyone – tom Wright pg 131-2)
I wonder if you can identify with that, that extraordinary sense of responding to the prompting of God?
Certainly Philip, in our story from the book of Acts, could have done. 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, like Tom Wright’s nudge just to go to evensong that evening – maybe to give a friend a call, or to make up with someone you have upset.
Just take a moment now – is God calling you and speaking to you in any way?
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 – this Ethiopian man has someone to drive his chariot while he can sit and read – the first century equivalent of a chauffeur driven limousine – while poor 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.
Scripture opened the eyes of the Ethiopian. It can open our eyes too. Do take the time to read and reflect on Scripture as part of your daily routine. I know many of you have enjoyed the series of daily reflections, and we’ll be starting a new series in June. But there are many other ways too. Some of you I know have taken up the encouragement to read the book of Acts during this Easter season. You may want to come along to a home group. Or use a website such as pray-as-you-go which provides a daily guided reflection on Scripture. Or you may find it helpful to simply re-read the readings we have in church, and if you want to catch-up on the sermon again, that is always on our church website on the Tuesday morning after the Sunday. Do take the opportunities to read and be changed by the Scriptures.
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. I love that. 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. It is believed that this man returned home to start the 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?
There is so much more that could be said about this wonderful story – and we may well pick up on the theme of God’s welcome of all, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, outsider and insider, next week – but for now, let us focus on these three things:
How is God prompting you by his Spirit in your life today?
How are you going to engage with reading the Scriptures?
And how are you going to respond to his good news?