Sunday, May 6, 2012

Easter 5 Acts 8:26-40

Easter 5                                                                                                           May 6th, 2012
Acts 8:26-40

Introduction:  An angel of the Lord appears to you, and says, “Get up and go to the Starbucks in Yuba City.  There is a man there who needs to hear the Word of God.”  And you are thinking maybe you’d rather not. 
But here is Philip, who got up and went gladly.  The Lord of the Church had an important job for him—he was to be a spiritual tour guide.  I won’t often bring up a Greek word, but in this case I can’t help myself.  ὁδηγέω—This is what the Ethiopian needed, someone to “show him the way” through the Scriptures.  He needed a tour guide to take him through the Bible, pointing out the interesting things, and explaining what it means.  Philip was to be a tour guide to the treasures of God’s Word, and he was glad to do it.
Most of you know the young man among us who is famous for saying, “What’s the difference?”  Here we are, reluctant to speak about Jesus; but Philip was very eager to walk along a desert road for many miles to meet this Ethiopian man.  What’s the difference?  Was Philip just a better person than we are?  No.  But he did have a better connection to Christ.  That kind of selfless eagerness to serve God can only come from Christ.  As Jesus said in the Gospel, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”  In this story, we see how Jesus makes a difference in his people.  Philip’s eagerness to serve is the kind of fruit that can only come from our connection to Christ.
You have not been told to go to a Starbucks in Yuba City.  And you might think that you aren’t going to need to guide anyone through God’s Word, because you are paying your pastor to do that.  You are not going to get off the hook that easily.  The Holy Spirit sets opportunities before all of us, sitting there right in our way as we go about our normal daily lives.  All of us are tour guides to the treasure of God’s Word.  Therefore…
1.     Learn from Philip, as an example.  2. Be filled with Christ, so that you will…

“Be Guides to the Easter Gospel.”
1.   Now see what a tour guide to the Easter Gospel should do.  One of the Lord’s angels spoke to Philip, telling him to leave this thriving ministry in Samaria, and go south on the road that leads through the desert from Jerusalem to Gaza.   Philip got up and went.  And there along the way he saw a man, a black man, an Ethiopian.  He was dressed in very nice clothes, because he kept the treasury for the Queen of Ethiopia. 
At first, this doesn’t seem like much of a mission opportunity.  Will this rich man from a foreign country listen to poor little Philip?  But the Holy Spirit gave Philip no opportunity to chicken out.  He told Philip, “Go, stay by that chariot.”  Philip ran up beside it, and then he saw the easy opportunity right in front of him. The Ethiopian was reading the Bible—in fact, the book of Isaiah, the book that talks about Jesus more than any other Old Testament book.  It’s been called the “Romans” of the Old Testament.  What an opportunity!  It was an absolute “gimme.” 
Philip asked the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  And the Ethiopian said, “How could I, since I have no one to teach me”—and that’s the word I was talking about before.  The Ethiopian needed someone to guide him in understanding the Bible. He needed someone to point out the treasures and tell him what it all means.   His question shows that he was frustrated, and hungry for someone to explain it to him.  What a golden opportunity!
Philip began with that very passage of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit used Philip’s words about Jesus to create faith in that Ethiopian man’s heart.  We see his faith, because when he saw a bit of water by the side of the road, he wanted to be baptized. 
Now my first thought when I read this is, “Why doesn’t God make it that easy for us?  Why doesn’t he tell us where to go, and who to talk to?”
But actually, he has given us easy opportunities.  Right in front of all of you, there are easy, no-brainer opportunities to lead people to Jesus.  Maybe you have seen them.  Maybe not.  Maybe you have been ignoring them because you haven’t been willing to take those opportunities.  There is a mission field full of people walking and driving past our church every day, but are we willing to do what it takes to overcome the cultural barrier?  They see us as white church.  I’ve heard that our neighbors have been saying that for over a decade.  Now how do you see them?  Are they people who will never listen to the Gospel?  Or do you see our neighbors as people who desperately need to hear the Word of God?  God took Philip away from his thriving church in Samaria and brought him out into the desert to speak to a black man from the heathen country of Ethiopia.  Sometimes the easy opportunity means that we have to cross difficult cultural barriers, and we might have to work hard to do it. 
Most of you have an easy, no-brainer opportunity right in your own homes.  Your children need you to be their “guide” to help them understand God’s treasures in the Bible.  Maybe they are grown up already, but God’s command to honor parents has no age limit.  Along with that, God’s responsibility for parents has no age limit either.  But maybe you don’t feel like you’re up to the task of being a tour guide to God’s treasures.   Maybe you think you are more of an Ethiopian than a Philip.  Do you feel like you need to have a guide to help you understand the Bible, so that you can teach your children?  Good!  Get into a Bible Class.  We have lots of opportunities, both here at church and on the Internet.  I know it’s a lot of work, but you don’t get a free pass because it’s hard.  God has made you guides for your families.  Especially you men—God has made you guides for your wives and children.  Step up to the plate.  Educate yourselves.
The easy opportunity isn’t going to be easy for you.  It’s easy, because it’s easy to find.  God puts these people right in front of us.
There are also the people you work with or go to school with.  When you are young, you feel tension because the people at school and work are not like you.  They don’t share our faith.  You feel guilty because you are too afraid to tell them.  You feel bad because you don’t know what to say.  When you get old, that guilty feeling goes away.  You get good at making excuses for yourself.  God does not give you a free pass because you have made your conscience be quiet.  God has made you guides for the people you know. 
Sometimes I think about how much fun it would be to work as a guide—maybe a fishing guide on the Sacramento River, or a ranger who gives guided hikes in Yosemite.  All of you would love to show people the things you are passionate about.  All of you can talk all day about the things you love.  Why is it so hard for us to talk about God?  Why are we so lazy at being tour guides for God’s treasures in the Bible?  Do I dare say that our sinful hearts have taken away our passion for God’s Word?
2.  Be filled with Christ, so that you will be ready and motivated.
Like tour guides who are losing our passion, we need to go back to God’s treasures and see for ourselves again what great things God has given us.  There is no better place to start than where Philip began, with this passage from Isaiah 53:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.”
Jesus went silently to his death.  He was arrested, falsely accused, horribly flogged, condemned, and crucified, and he endured all of that without putting up a fight.  He was like a sheep that doesn’t know that it’s going to be slaughtered.  The Ethiopian must have asked why, and Philip could have showed him verse 5, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”  He was put to death for our laziness, and our indifference toward God’s Word.  And what good will this do for us?  God tells us in verse 11 that by his suffering Jesus would justify many.  In spite of your sins, because Jesus died, God tells you that you will not be punished.  He “justifies” you.  And so that you will not be ashamed when you go to heaven, God tells you that he will not remember your sins anymore.  In verse 12 we learn that Jesus carried our sins; he took our sins away from us, and died as if he were the one who did those things.
Now how do you know this is true?  That’s easy.  He is alive again!  If the Son of God can rise from the dead, then he can give you all these other things that he has promised.  This is the treasure of the Easter Gospel—because Jesus is risen from the dead, we have everything that God has promised about him.
You are tour guides to this Easter Gospel.  God has put people into your life, and you get to show them the way to this treasure. What could be more worthy of your passion? 
Now before your sinful nature tells you that it’s too much work, remember how hard Jesus worked to bring you this treasure.  Not only has he suffered greatly to win it for you, he also has asked other Christians to work hard to spread the word until if finally got to you.  This has not been easy work.  It was not easy for Philip to leave behind a thriving ministry and speak to just one person, and an Ethiopian at that, a man from an entirely different culture.
I don’t think any of us here today are Jewish either.  But God loved you so much that he asked those early Christians like Philip and Paul to leave their homes and lives so that they could preach the Easter Gospel in foreign countries.   The Gospel would spread from Israel to Rome, and from Rome to Europe, and then from Europe to America.  It was hard work all the way.  It all started when God sent the early Christians to do the inconvenient work of preaching to the Romans, who ruled over them, who would burn Jerusalem and persecute Christians.  Now that was a cultural barrier!  That was not an easy job!
God loved you enough to give you a pastor who guides you through God’s treasures.  But I would not even be a Christian if God had not asked Christians to do hard mission work.  My ancestors were the fierce, barbaric German tribes.  They worshiped the Oak tree of Thor.  But when they attacked and conquered the Roman Empire, they became “easy” mission opportunities.  God moved the Christian missionaries to preach to the Germans who had attacked them.  Those barbaric Germans were people who needed to hear the Gospel—and that is one of the reasons why I am a Christian.
There are a few of you who have some African blood.  Perhaps you first heard the Gospel from someone who was not from your culture.  Philip was not the only Christian whom God called to cross the cultural barrier and bring Christ to a black man.  In the history of the African race, many black people heard the word of Christ during their time as slaves.  God loved black people so much that he moved Christians to cross that horrible barrier of slavery, and show them the treasure of the Gospel.
Now is it too much work for you to take the easy opportunities, the opportunities God puts right in front of you?

Conclusion:  Marvel at the treasure God has given you in his Word.  Look past the barriers and see people who need you to be their guide.  They are people who will rejoice in God’s grace given to them in Word and Sacrament also.  Be instructed so that you will know what this treasure is worth.  Then God wants you to teach others.  Show them the way of understanding the Scriptures. You have the example of Philip, and the motivation of Christ.  Be guides to the Easter Gospel. Amen.