2015-05-03 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #34 of 36: Persecution and Growth
“What is To Prevent Me…?”
You want me to go to Gaza?
Perhaps it was the exhaustion…after Stephen’s death the religious authorities had pushed Philip and the “followers of the way” north towards the region of Samaria …there were reports that a madman, a Pharisee named Saul, was wreaking havoc, entering house after house in Jerusalem, dragging men and women to prison!
And now there was no time for rest or refuge in Samaria, because the Holy Spirit was doing more amazing “Jesus-shaped” work! Philip and his faith-filled friends proclaimed the good news of the kingdom to the villages of Samaria – – he was healing the sick, rebuking demons from those possessed by evil spirits and curing the paralyzed and restoring the lame.
Jesus’ last words before his ascension into heaven, echoed in Philip’s mind:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Judea and Samaria…check.
Ends of the earth….uhhhhhhhh.
Imagine a haggard, unshaven, bleary-eyed Philip….trying to argue with an angel of the Lord….
Gaza it is…that wilderness, coastal road that meanders along the mediterranean coast…ends up in Ethiopia….ends of the earth…that might just be it!
The angels words were clear… “Get up and go!”
And Philip sensing that this was no time to talk back to an angel…started yet another mysterious journey, trusting that God would provide as he had provided time after time over the past wild and tumultuous months…
On the third day of his wilderness-roadtrip Philip comes upon a royal entourage.
At the centre of the group is a brightly coloured chariot, draped in fine linens, pulled by a team of oxen.
Philip is an obvious outsider to this group…the servants are well dressed and well cared for and Philip hasn’t showered for days and is definitely not in proper attire for a royal encounter…
But his curiousity makes him draw close to the chariot and he begins to run near the entourage… he can see inside the chariot that this dark-skinned man must be a part of the Ethiopian’s queen upper court…he’s dressed to the “nines” and has significant “bling” on his fingers and ‘round his neck.
Huffing and puffing now, Philip senses the presence of the Holy Spirit…speaking audibly to him… “Go!…to the chariot…join it!”
Join it? But…how? Philip shrugs and again follows the Lord’s commands…
Philip runs closer to the window of the Ethiopian’s chariot, he can see that the man is reading from a leather scroll…he must have been worshipping at the synagogue? For he recites aloud what sounds like the words of the prophets…
Yes, it’s the last part of Isaiah’s scroll…Philip blurts out:
“Do you understand what you’re reading?”
He’s backs off, a bit embarrassed, hoping the Royal one won’t be annoyed…
And to Philip’s surprise, the Ethiopian replies:
“How can I, unless someone guides me?”
And then, sounding much like Charles Dicken’s ghost of Christmas Present, the Ethiopian invites Philip INTO the chariot! “Come in, come in! And know me better man!”
Philip enters the rear quarter of the chariot, wipes his dirt-covered, sweaty brow and listens on…
The Ethiopian reads…
Like a sheep he was led to slaughter…In his humilitation, justice was denied him…who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth…”
Tell me…Philip…is this about the prophet himself or about someone else?
And Philip, full of the Spirit and with wisdom, begins to “echo the story” for the Ethiopian…
As he opens his mouth and begins to speak…2 things leap into the forefront of his mind…
1. This Ethiopian man is…a eunuch! Castrated so that he might be a trustworthy, no-foolin’-around, neutered man in the queen’s court…yes, he’s well educated, well dressed and well known, but he’s paid a hefty price to get into the places where he’s found success…
2. And because of his emasculation, he too, is an outsider to the jewish religion. It’s obvious that he’s a devout follower of God, but just like the Samaritans who were known as ½ breed nobodies, he too, is a 2nd class citizen when it came to being on the “inside loop” of the Jewish faith.
And thus, Philip has “radically welcoming good news” to proclaim to the Ethiopian!
YOU ARE IN!! ALL the Way with ALL the blessings! There’s no 2nd class citizens in the KOG…
The sheep who was led to slaughter isn’t Isaiah…it’s Jesus!
Jesus is the one who was gentle as a sheep and innocent as a lamb.
Jesus is the one who was unjustly humiliated and slaughtered…and yet he didn’t utter a fighting word to save himself.
And what to say of Jesus’ generation and time? Now that Jesus has risen he’s not bound by time or death…Jesus lives…and Jesus’ kingdom is Now!
And you…dear Ethiopian outsider…there are no longer rules or boundaries that can keep you from belonging to the family of God…for Jesus’ life is everywhere…and any of us can live the Jesus life for ourselves or let the life of Jesus live in us!
It’s Christ in you! The mystery and presence of God!
And nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord!
And then Philip shared some of Jesus’ final words…
Right before Jesus ascended into the heavens, he told us:
“Go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The eunuch said, [All nations? Baptizing?] “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
The old, rule-following Philip would have had 50 reasons to prevent him…but the post-pentecost Philip simply smiled at the Eunuch and echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Here am I…”
Philip and the eunuch went down into the water…and when they came up out of the water, the spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
* * * * * * * *
Easter people of FBC….how then shall we live!?!
This has recently become one of my favourite new testament stories… so dramatic, so wild, so wonderful, so bewildering…gushing with good news!
And in the light of our 30+ weeks of storying through the word of God, it brings to life, in very practical ways, how we can live lives that “echo the story” of God…
I’d like to suggest that there are 2 directions for our echoes today… and it depends how today’s story interacts with your present life story…
And the 2 directions start off with a question… “What is to prevent me from…?” or “What is to prevent us from…?”
If we find our story overlapping with the eunuch today, fill in the blank…
– What is to prevent me from being baptized? Shed the hang ups, shed the excuses, go for it! [not educated enough, not holy enough?]
– What is to prevent me from…participating at the Lord’s table…shed the rule-keeping, Jesus wants you here…you are welcome…nothing separates you from the love of God…neither heighth, nor depths, nor things present, nor things to come…
– What is to prevent me from belonging to this faith community? Is it my doubts, my insecurities, my social status, my sexual identity, my race…in Christ there is neither male or female, jew or greek, slave or free; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
If we find our story overlapping with Philip today, fill in the blank…
– What is to prevent me from…listening to the Spirit’s prodding! There’s a 1000 excuses for not listening to the nudgings of the Spirit right? I’m too….tired, busy, important…and yet, the Spirit’s on the loose! Jesus goes ahead of us! And his exhortations to us are like they were to Philip: GO! Join….Invite…ask questions. [Trust the HS who prepares the way…]
– What is to prevent me from…changing the rules because our storying God is doing a new thing. Like good faithful devoted Jews like Philip, many of us Christians find ourselves devoted to all the good rules, sometimes for all the wrong reasons. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way… [some very well-meaning Christians say] If we change the rules, we’ll let the wrong people in! I am more afraid, that if we don’t change the rules, we’ll keep the right people out…
BUT…don’t get too worked up about this…The Spirit has always led the way…colouring right up to the lines and then for no apparent reason, squirting right over them! To include eunuchs, christ-haters, and gentiles.
– What is to prevent us…from allowing the Holy Spirit to blow our minds, to re-configure our religious rule books, so that we might allow all walks of people to “hear the good news and go on their way rejoicing.”