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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Ready or Not

Acts 8:26-40



Are you prepared for the unexpected? Of course, we may say. Think about all the ways we prepare, and others help us prepare for an emergency.

· Fire drills at school

· Fire extinguishers

· Defensive driving courses and cars that warn us of dangers

· Spare tires and AAA road service

· Flight attendants on an airplane that point out the emergency exits, explain how to use the oxygen masks, and show us where the life jackets are

· Flashlights, candles, and generators for when the lights go out and we lose power


We look ahead and prepare for what might happen in various types of emergencies and for what to do after they happen (insurance for example).


Have you ever thought about being ready for a different kind of emergency…a God emergency?


God emergencies are just as unexpected as flat tires or house fires. God emergencies can also be life or death situations – eternal life or death. And yes, like other types of emergencies, they often interrupt life, even when we think our life is going well, because God has a different plan.


Today’s scripture from Acts tells of such a God emergency.


New Revised Standard Version

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 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. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

This is the story of two men. Two men living two different lives and living in two different places. Two men who, in the normal course of events would probably never meet. Yet God brought them together. At a specific time in history in a specific place in the desert of Palestine, the paths of these two men crossed. An unlikely and unexpected meeting. But a meeting ordained by God. A meeting that changed their lives forever.


Philip was a Greek Jew. Having been chosen as one of the seven to help serve in the Christian community in Jerusalem, he was part of the inner circle of church leadership. He was a man full of the Spirit and of wisdom. He was a committed follower of Christ. He studied the scriptures regularly and was adept at explaining their meaning. Philip was a man who knew what he believed and why he believed it.


The Ethiopian was a Gentile worshiper of God. As the minister of the treasury, he was part of the inner circle of leadership in the government of Ethiopia. He was an influential man with authority over many others. As we meet him, he is returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Ethiopian was not a Bible scholar, but he was a man searching for answers.


It was God’s plan that these two men should meet on this day in this place. Philip heard an angel of the Lord – the Holy Spirit – direct him to go and he went. Now Philip could have given lots of reasons why this wasn’t the best time for him to go. He was busy with a successful preaching and healing ministry in Samaria, and lots of people there were becoming followers of Christ. Why should he leave all these people who needed him to go to a desert road in the middle of nowhere? A road hardly ever used by travelers at that. Besides, the Spirit didn’t even tell him why he had to go. Couldn’t someone else, someone who wasn’t as busy go?


But Philip didn’t question the Spirit’s direction. He followed it. He dropped everything and went to this out-of-the-way place even though he didn’t know why he was being sent. Philip obeyed God and went to the desert road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza.


When he arrived, I imagine Philip might have been a bit surprised to find someone else on that desolate road. But there was the Ethiopian, riding along in his chariot reading. At the Spirit’s nudging, Philip ran up to the chariot. As he was running alongside – no one said that following the Spirit’s nudges would always be easy! – he heard the man reading aloud – a common practice in those days. Philip was probably surprised that this man, a foreigner who was obviously not a Jew, was reading from the prophet Isaiah. Recognizing that God had brought him to that place at that time, Philip took advantage of the opportunity to share his faith with this traveler.


The story goes on to tell us that Philip was invited into the chariot by this high-ranking government official from Ethiopia. Then, at the eunuch’s request, Philip started with the passage of scripture the man was reading and explained to him about Jesus Christ.


In response to what he had just heard, the Ethiopian asked Philip to baptize him. After the baptism, Philip is whisked away to another assignment having accomplished what God sent him to do. The Ethiopian, we are told, goes on his way rejoicing. They never saw each other again. Neither one knew how the experience affected the other.


Tradition tells us that the Ethiopian became a missionary in his own country, utilizing his position and influence to spread the gospel. From scripture, we learn that Philip continued to Caesarea, proclaiming the good news about Jesus to all the towns he passed through along the way. Through Philip’s ministry, the message of the gospel reached many more people than he ever thought was possible.


What a great story! It’s one of those feel-good Bible stories with a happy ending.


I’d probably like a God emergency like Philip’s. One where I was told exactly where I needed to go and with a purpose that popped up just as I arrived. One where I also knew exactly what to say.


I would imagine, though, that most of us would say our experiences of sharing our faith have little in common with Philip’s story. There are several reasons this might be true:

· We may be hesitant about offending someone

· We might be worried we will stammer or not say the words we want to say

· We are afraid


Philip was prepared for his God emergency. He had been serving the Lord in his ministry as a deacon. He had been studying the scriptures. He had been talking with those familiar to him about what he was learning. When the opportunity arose, Philip was able to tell the Ethiopian about Jesus.


Not many of us are ready to do what Philip did when God provided a chance to share his faith. But, from his encounter with the Ethiopian we can identify some things that teach us about sharing our faith.

· Be prepared – know what you believe and why; practice sharing your own experience about how Jesus has made a difference for you

· Listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudge – that feeling that you should do something

· Start with where the other person is at not where you think they should be

· Share your own experience of encountering Jesus

· Be yourself


You may be thinking that no matter how simple you make it sound, sharing my faith isn’t my cup of tea. I am fine with making a casserole for someone to show I care and am thinking about them, but actually talking about Jesus? Not me!


The thing is, talking about what we believe is what Jesus tells us to do. At the end of the gospel of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that they are to go and make disciples of all nations including to teach them everything he has taught them. We may not think that we are as competent or ready to do what Jesus commands as the disciples were. Remember, they were ordinary people. Not biblical scholars, accomplished orators, or experienced teachers. They were fishermen and a tax collector and others with regular jobs who Jesus had prepared for the ministry he gave them.


Jesus can prepare us, too. We can read the Bible, pray, read devotional guides, join a Bible study or lead one (I learn a lot by preparing to lead a Bible study), find a way to serve God in the church and/or community, and attend worship either in person or online. A combination of several of these increases your preparedness and helps you to grow in your faith. Talking with others about what you are learning and taking note of your personal faith experiences is also important.


Knowing when the Holy Spirit is nudging you can be a challenge, especially in the midst of the noise that continually surrounds us. Knowing when you are being nudged takes spending time with God doing some of the things I mentioned already as well as finding space away from the noise where you feel God’s presence.


Believing that the Holy Spirit can speak to you may be your biggest hurdle. Getting past the “I’ll believe it when I see it” mind set requires taking a risk. The next time you get that voice in your head or a thought that won’t leave your mind that says you ought to call or text or email a particular person, do it.


Sometimes, that nudge comes from an outside source. A few verses in the Bible that seem to have been written just for you. Or a person who says something that resonates with you. Words that connect with an idea that has been sitting in the back of your mind waiting to be drawn out.


Take a chance. Reach out to someone. Do that small act of kindness you know you should. Go to that desert road you wouldn’t choose to be on of your own accord. Each time you follow through on that little voice, your confidence grows, and the voice of the Holy Spirit gets louder.

Be observant and attentive to the other person. Not everyone God leads us to is as ready to hear about Jesus as the Ethiopian was. But they may be ready to hear about what God is doing in your life or to begin a friendship. Philip knew where to start because he saw what the man was doing – reading scripture.


As a church, we might need to rethink how we “do” church. Building on what we have learned this past year – gathering on Zoom, finding safe ways to interact with others, and adding a virtual congregation to our worship – has given us a head start on changing what we do and how we do it. Our current reality and our future as a community of faith are different than they were before the pandemic. We can build on what we have learned and, through the nudging of the Holy Spirit and God’s leading, we can do other things we haven’t tried before and become a new expression of faith in Christ in our community. Imagine the faith experiences we can share with others! I would love to hear your ideas!


Be ready for a God emergency. Be prepared. Practice listening to the Holy Spirit’s nudge. Take note of your own experiences with Jesus. Learn to be observant and attentive to the other person so you can meet them where they are. And know that all God wants is for you to be yourself.


Amen.

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