Fifth Sunday in Easter
April 29, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Two weeks ago week we left the disciples hearing Jesus encouraging words. They were the witnesses to his life, death, and resurrection and that they were to proclaim the repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. He instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised power from on high.
Last week we went back to his active ministry the disciples and others were given a foretaste of the breadth of his mission. Jesus taught them ultimately his mission was for both Jews and Gentiles (everybody else). He said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” We also heard in Acts 4 the faithful proclamation of the arrested Peter and John before the high priest and other elders and scribes, when on the previous day they healed a man, taught crowds about Jesus and about 5,000 men who heard them believed. In modern sports parlance the disciples appear to be part of a dream team that cannot help but bring home the gold.
But things have changed by the time we arrive at this morning’s first lesson. It has been awhile since Jesus ascended to heaven. It has been awhile since the disciples received the power from on high. It has been awhile since the apostles were arrested again for teaching the people about Jesus at the temple portico and the full Jewish council decided to heed the advice of the great Rabbi Gamaliel to release them. For this teacher said if what they are doing is of God “it will flourish, if not, it will fade.”
Things are very different. The Christian deacon Stephen has been stoned. Paul has the religious leadership’s permission to arrest and imprison followers of the Way. The followers of Jesus are in disarray. “All except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.”
Still there is Jesus’ charge to proclaim. What is a Christian to do? Look to Peter who Jesus said he would build his church? Look to John, the disciple Jesus loved? God provides a different answer. While Peter and John and most of the apostles hold the fort and encourage the believers in Jerusalem, God sends Philip.
Up to this point we do not know much about Philip. The few glimpses we have before Acts show him to be a solid disciple. He was one of the first to be attracted to Jesus. Early in Jesus ministry he sought out his friend Nathanael telling him, “We have found the one Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, Son Joseph from Nazareth. He is the disciple Greek speaking Jews initially approach to see if they can meet Jesus that last week in Jerusalem.
Now Phillip moves out. He goes to Samaria and did more than encourage the relocated Christians. He went to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the word about Jesus to the Samaritans. At the Lord’s instruction this Apostle speaks to a man from another land. The man is of a different race, physical condition, and a different social class than Philip.
An angel tells him to go toward Gaza and later tells him to approach a man by a chariot. Using a chariot shows he is someone of importance. Philip goes and does. In this encounter Philip provides a model of evangelism for us.
As he approaches he takes time to notice what the man is doing and what is state of being is. Phillip proceeds from what he sees and hears. “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man is not put off by Philip’s manner and inquiry. “How can I, unless someone guides me?” He invites Philip to join him. After reading Isaiah 53:35 Philip lets the Ethiopian, eunuch, royal treasurer take the learning initiative. He politely asks the apostle, who is the subject in the passage. Now Philip teaches by answering the question and sharing about Jesus.
The man has taken in Jesus and seeing water asks what is there to prevent Philip baptizing him. Philip is aware of the situation. This man is returning to his homeland. When the driver heeds the command to stop the chariot, Philip dismounts with official and baptizes him.
The Lord keeps moving Philip. He is swept almost directly east of Jerusalem to the coastal city of Azotus, near the border of Judea and Gaza. The court official returns home with his new faith. The Ethiopian Coptic Church traces its start to this man.
What a story for us today. In a short time we have moved from ‘do your own thing’ forty years ago to ‘be very careful of offending the hyper sensitive’ of the last twenty years. Neither is especially helpful to a message of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God and humans. We live in a fear and agenda driven world. Yet there are people like the Ethiopian who are searching for more than what is. The world knows Jesus provides a needed alternative to an examined present in any age. It is the main reason much effort is spent to confine Christ to one’s Sunday and private prayer time. As many from Eastern Europe figured out, “If the system is so intent about silencing words about Jesus, there must be something to him.” More important the world needs Jesus Christ, mutual repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
For proclaiming that word it is good to have rocks like Peter, beloved of the Lord like John, and powerfully converted like Paul. Today’s lesson tells us there is a place for steady witnesses like the less recognized Philip. Even though Paul was scattering believers, this was an opportunity for Philip.
We have our faith story and we meet people with similar experiences who want to know how it helps us. At times the Holy Spirit leads us to take note. Years ago I was walking down a hall at an activity center and saw a man out of place, sitting and looking down. An inner voice said stop. I stopped, lowered myself and asked how he was doing. He shared about the rough days he’d been having. I conversed and cared. Like Philip, it was notice, listen, and respond. Our Samaritans may be the un-churched and our Ethiopians may be the new neighbors. We can pray: ‘Lord, like Philip make us witnesses who are readily available to those who need us. Amen.’