Act with Acceptance

Acts 8:26-39

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37] [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both 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 suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Luke 6:27-31, 37

                27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

          37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Opening prayer: God of infinite patience and wisdom, we come to you with so many things claiming our time, our energy, our resources and our attention. We are easily drawn away from you by the enticements of the world for wealth, ease, and comfort. Yet you have blessed us in many ways. We remember that we are blessed to be a blessing. Open our eyes to see how we can use what we have to bless others. Thank you for your generosity toward us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen

  1. One of the central questions that we are addressing in this series of Acts is—- what would our future be? —- Even in the end of the second Chapter of Acts – the dazzled disciples who had just experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit asked a similar question – what shall we do?
  2. These are very good questions for us to be asking, however it is even better to be able to see and understand just who we are as Pleasant Grove UMC, and what we are to the community and to ourselves.
  3. So, if you look at the title of the sermon series — it’s different — We are the church — let’s Acts Like It!
  4. Today we are continuing a sermon series from the book of Acts. It will run up to the beginning of Lent which starts March 1, 2020.
  5. Given the uncertainty of the future that surrounds the United Methodist Church, I feel that each of us will be able to gather an understanding of just who we are as Christians and how our actions can really help to influence the community in which we live.
  6. As I work on this series, I am finding that Acts is one of the most exciting books in the New Testament.
    1. It is also aptly named because Acts is preeminently the book of action.
    1. It is the story of how the Christian faith moved from a tiny beginning in Jerusalem with a handful of people gathered in an upper room to the most important city in the world (Rome) in just 30 years.
    1. As we walk through Acts, we will discover how a little band of Jewish believers in Jesus changed the course of world history.
  7. Two weeks ago, the focus of my message was the coming of the Holy Spirit and its impact on the disciples who were gathered in the upper room. Last week the theme was generosity — when the apostles shared their possessions and lives in community.
  8. Today the theme is acceptance—- the results that came about by the movement of the Spirit especially as the very early church began to expand beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem.
  9. I plan to look at both of the primary Scriptural passage that were just read by Margarete as we develop the theme of acceptance to see how it applies to us. 
  10. I have sometimes thought of Acts as “Easter continued.”
    1. If you thought that the resurrection miracle ended with Jesus leaving the empty tomb, think again.
    1. The life-giving miracles continue as the Gospel goes all the ways to the ends of the earth in fulfillment of Jesus’s opening commission in Acts 1:8 (CEB): “Rather, 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 end of the earth.”
  11. You might think that it would be enough for the crucified Jesus to rise from the dead and return to his disheartened disciples, to show himself to them and confirm their faith in him as God’s Son.
  12. If we thought that was the extent of the resurrection miracle, we would be very short-sighted.
    1. Jesus not only defeats death and escapes the confines of the tomb; Jesus immediately moves into the whole world.
  13. Furthermore, the risen Christ enlists and commissions his disciples to move into the whole world in his name. Now nothing can hold back the relentless onward and outward movement of the Holy Spirit.
  14. This is a great characterization of the Acts of the Apostles—an account of the constant advance of the Holy Spirit into the whole world.
    1. As we have noted, Acts begins with the promise that we will be witnesses from Judea, out into Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.
  15. In the first seven chapters of Acts, the narrative concerns the first days of the church in Jerusalem.
    1. The early church has some conflict with Jews speaking both Greek and Aramaic. Two groups of Jews with language and cultural differences. Sound familiar – church conflict in the first several years of the ancient church. Amazing!
    1. A compromise is reached, and the church moves on which is what we are betting on today as we face the issues with the current United Methodist Church
  16. Or perhaps we ought to more accurately say that the Holy Spirit moves on.
    1. Nothing is able to hold back the Holy Spirit’s mission into the world.
    1. Stephen and Philip, who were chosen by the Apostles to be Deacons (leaders who would help with the organization and the operation of the church – having specific jobs: Philip and Steven – were evangelists — men of deep faith who shared the word of God with strangers follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit out beyond Jerusalem and Judea into the wider Roman world.
    1. Stephen’s episode (Acts 6:8–7:60) focuses on the conflict within Judaism in Jerusalem and ends with his death. What the world did to Jesus, it does to the followers of Jesus.
    1. Stephen is martyred under the direction of Saul (next week)
    1.  Stephen not only dies, but he dies like Jesus, forgiving those who have killed him.
  17. This week’s reading from Acts tells of Philip being led by the Spirit to an unlikely place—the desert at noon. There Philip will encounter an Ethiopian, a man from “the end of the earth.”
  18. The story is set in motion by an angel who tells Philip to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
    1. Philip had a short time before he caused some trouble among the saints in Jerusalem in converting many Samaritans (cf. Acts 8:9-25). Remember how the Samaritans were shunned by the Jews?
    1. Also, some Jews were troubled by the church offering baptism even to Samaritans, now the Spirit moves even further from the church’s Jerusalem center, all the way out to an Ethiopian eunuch.
  19. The Ethiopian eunuch is a black man of Africa.
    1. The Ethiopian eunuch encountered by Philip hints at a fascinating question. “I do not understand what I am reading. I need help.”
    1. This man, de-gendered, robbed of his masculinity and sexuality, is searching the Scriptures.
    1. Philip encounters him reading the Book of Isaiah, which contains a promise that ALL people who please God and keep his covenant will receive a place in his home, a monument, and an everlasting name.
  20. God offers the eunuch something greater than mere recognition of his “identity.” Instead of being encouraged to simply suck it up until the next age, he is promised something greater than marriage, sexual fulfillment, and family. He is promised a new life in Christ  — the old is replaced with the new.
  21. The eunuch is a well-to-do, prominent person, a minister of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia. While he is not a Jew, he stands on the edges of Judaism.
    1. Somehow, he has obtained an Isaiah scroll. He reads, but he cannot understand what he is reading.
    1. The scroll contains the testimony that, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he didn’t open his mouth.”
  22. Ethiopia was considered to be an exotic, far-away place at the horn of Africa having great riches. The Ethiopian is a high-placed official in the queen’s court.
    1. While the Ethiopian has a sacred scroll, he doesn’t know the significance of what he is reading. Philip must interpret for him. The sheep led to the slaughter is Jesus.
  23. Then the key question is asked —“What would keep me from being baptized?” asks the Ethiopian. Baptism is a sign and commitment to accept Jesus the Christ as one’s Savior and Lord
    1. There’s plenty to hold him back: he is not a Jew; he is an Ethiopian, a eunuch, all the way from the end of the earth.
  24. In Philips way of thinking, the Ethiopian man is prevented from baptism. He is not a Jew. He has had no instruction in the faith. He is African and a different  nationality. And, He is a eunuch! A bunch of reasons that he should not be baptized. — his race – his nationality – his altered gender.
  25. Yet apparently there’s nothing about Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit to hold the Ethiopian back from baptism.
    1. A miraculous spring bubbles forth in the middle of the desert.
    1. Philip baptizes the Ethiopian—­a new family, a new nation is being constructed here by the expansive work of the Holy Spirit, and nothing keeps anyone out.
  26. The Ethiopian goes his way with joy, and the church, under the movement of the Holy Spirit, learns something about the expansive work of God. He now knows the truth about God. He is included—in spite of his African race and his distorted sexuality – is included! A powerful witness to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
  27. Is there any more wonderful word than included? Is there any more painful word than excluded.
  28. Jesus told a number of parables about festive banquets and parties in which some are included, and some are excluded. Sometimes, in these parables of embrace and exclusion, the people who presume themselves to be in the “in crowd” end up excluded. And those whom we tend to think of as “outsiders” or the excluded end up included.
    1. “Can I come, too?” asks the little child when the parents gather their things to go out for the evening.
    1. “What about me? Am I included in the plans?” we anxiously ask.
    1.  “Sorry, sir. You are not on the list. I can’t let you in unless your name is on the list. This is the official list. Sorry.”
  29. In the first days of the church, the first Christians had to learn that a primary implication of the Gospel is: you are included. Philip is directed by an angel to get up (same basic word that is used for “resurrection”). Get up and go out in the middle of the desert.
  30. And Philip, even though he may have grave reservations about the propriety of baptizing a non-Jewish Ethiopian eunuch, baptizes the Ethiopian. Watch carefully: the Gospel has just leapt over another human boundary.
    1. Implication: the Holy Spirit loves to leap over any barrier or boundary we put up in order that the good news of Jesus Christ (“you are included”) may come to everybody in every corner of the earth.
  31. Oh yes, one more implication: if we are to keep up with the Holy Spirit—if we are to worship Jesus as Lamb of God—then we’ve got to go, get out of our comfort zones, and follow the Holy Spirit in God’s boundary-­breaking mission into the world.
  32. I doubt that many of us here put restrictions on the love of God in Christ Jesus. I doubt that anybody here thinks that Jesus’s love is limited to people who look like and talk like us.
  33. And yet, sad to say, the way we live, the way we act out our discipleship, is as if we think that Jesus died and rose just for us and nobody else.
  34. As followers of the Lamb, we’re lucky enough to do our part in God’s mission, but God keeps the reins of mission in God’s hands, and mission is never instituted or instigated by us.
  35. As we explore the Acts of the Apostles, we will see the Holy Spirit moving into the world by enlisting people like Philip, people like us, to interpret, to talk, and to give the good news: you are included.
  36. In some way or another the Holy Spirit gets the message to each of us — you are included. The church’s reaching out in word and deed, begins in the heart of God, in God’s relentless determination to have a people, a new family drawn from the ends of the earth with the joyful good news, “Hey! You’re included.”
  37. Closing prayer: God of us all, your Gospel of grace knows no limits. You do not show favoritism. We are equal even though you mad each one of us differently. Even the people we look down upon are precious in your sight. Give us eyes to see them as you see them. Give us hearts to accept them as you do. Empower us to erase the lines we’ve drawn and tear down the walls we’ve built that separates us one from the other. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen