2017-05-07 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
“Strange, New Creation”
“Jesus has been raised by God…raised by God Indeed!”
As the preacher Anna Carter says, “If dead things don’t stay dead in God’s economy, then what else in the world could happen…or not happen!?”
Well, for the early church, God was doing some strange, zany, wacky things.
These might be unusual stories for traditional, liturgical Baptists like us.
God is not only doing a new thing…but God is doing downright zany, wacky, strange and wondrous things.
That’s the mindset we need to be in as we live into today’s story…this isn’t ho-hum…this is wild and crazy! Now not every day in the Christian life is like this…but sometimes, God moves in mysterious, whacky, ways…
Philip starts off as a pretty normal church member, like you and me…back in Acts chapter 6, when the early church is doing its soup kitchen work, trying to serve the poor, the outcast, the widows, the original 12 hit a point where they need help…they can’t do all this justice ministry work + proclaim good news, so they get a board of deacons and Philip is one of the original 7…full of the Spirit and just a good guy who wants to be a blessing.
But apparently Philip makes good soup but he’s also got a gift for proclaiming the word…and while Saul is approving the killing of early Christians and ravaging the early church, pushing them outside of Jerusalem, Philip is called into service to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the city of Samaria.
And Samaria responds in droves…and Philip is living the way and in the power of Jesus…rebuking unclean spirits, releasing the demon-possessed and healing the paralyzed and the lame. Wha – Whoa!
Acts 8:8 “So there was great joy in that city.”
And we’re not sure what God is up to…maybe he wants to keep Philip humble, or perhaps God wants Philip to pull back a bit…give him that rural, simple life experience…so in today’s story, Philip is not the lead character…it’s the angel (messenger) of the Lord who leads the way…and s/he gives Philip his marching orders…
“Get up! Go!”
At noon, in the blaze of the baking sun…to a wilderness, deserted road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. A 4-hour journey in the heat of the day…
And then seemingly out of the blue…or sun-baked horizon, Philip hears and sees a chariot with 4 beautifully clad horses pulling it and an entourage of Ethiopians standing on the edges of the cart.
Again, Philip hears the angel prodding… “Get up! Go!”
And Philip starts to jog alongside the chariot, peering inside to a see a tall, lean, beautiful Ethiopian man who he guesses is a part of the queen’s court because he’s dressed to the nines and he look sooooo fine!
And as the Ethiopian reads the jewish scriptures it also becomes apparent that this man is royalty…he talks like a royal and probably is well-trusted in the house of Kandace the Queen.
The Ethiopian is reading the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter…justice was denied him…his life is taken away from the earth.”
Huffing & puffing, Philip asks:
“Do you understand what you are reading?
Ethiopian: “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
“About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to the Ethiopian the “GOOD NEWS ABOUT JESUS.”
For 20 minutes, he shares his own story about learning of and following Jesus and how recently in the wake of Jesus’ death and miraculous resurrection the clan of disciples has been sharing the good news of a Saviour who promises to always be with us… we are not alone!
Jesus told us that all that was written in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms would be fulfilled…that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day… and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to ALL nations…and as we are going, we’ve been told to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Baptize?” exclaims the Ethiopian as he looks ahead into the distance.
“Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
–Philip and the Eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
When they came up out of the water [Baptists love that]
The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more,
And went on his way rejoicing.
* * * * * * *
Now is that not a crazy, strange, whacky story?
And at the end of today’s wild and crazy story, the craziest thing happens…1st Century “back to the future” time travel!
In v. 40, note that Philip gets whisked (beamed) away to Azotus, which is supposedly 20 km away from the gaza road.
It’s like one of us baptizing a new believer in our baptistery and then getting transported in an instant to Edmonton International airport!
But there’s got to be more to this story than just zany circumstances & the potential for time travel, right?
Where is the place for us to live out of today’s story…what is the invitation here from the heart of Jesus, in this 2017 season of resurrection?
Well…perhaps you find yourself closest to the role of the Ethiopian, though I suspect that’s a little less likely because of our context…a room full of “church-going” people…but nonetheless, the good news is that there’s a place for EVERYONE in God’s strange, new, post-resurrection world. Jesus is blowing the doors off of religiousity, and who’s in and who’s out-ity…for the Ethiopian, the prophetic words of Isaiah 56 we’re coming true right before his very eyes/ears:
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name…
That’s the heart of Jesus! Naming us as God’s beloved daughters & sons, even though we’re prone to think that we are outside of God’s grace.
>>> And the good news for the rest of us…church council members, deacons, pastors, priesthood of all believer baptists (or whatever Christian family you might adhere to) is this…
The angel of the Lord is still on the move…preparing the way and inviting us to get up and go! And when we find ourselves in a strange, weird and wonderful encounter, we might also get prompted by the spirit to proclaim the “good news about Jesus.”
SO…reflection question: “What’s so good about the good news?”
Pause…and form in your mind your “GNAJ 17” message.
Is it really good news?
Because this Easter Season, I hope we’re full of good news.
My clue: it needs to put on display the heart of Jesus.
Generous. Hospitable. Welcoming. Loving.
And as we continue to live and proclaim good news…let’s be open to wonder…and surprise about who shows up at our door from week to week…
And if our boundary-breaking God is on the move, colouring outside the lines in the name of Jesus…and when people ask “What will prevent me…?”
I hope we can say what Philip said.
Because nothing can prevent what the Spirit is doing when the Living God is on the loose!
Another prophetic promise from Isaiah goes like so:
“Behold…I am doing a new thing…now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I AM…making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Is. 43:19)
Oh living Christ, confound us, surprise us, and continue your strange and wonderful work among us.