Our apologies for the late posting of Sunday’s sermon. We have had some difficulty with the church website. At the present time we have a new domain name of standrewscobourg.ca. Please note the change from .org.
I hope this sermon finds you are the Right Place at the Right Time.
Text: Acts 8: 26-40
Right Place, Right Time
It’s one of the oldest clichés. I was at the right place, at the right time.
The inverse is another tried and true cliché, I was at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
In our passage this morning, Philip is in the right place, at the right time. Of course, he has help, an angel of God is right there whispering into his ear. Telling him where he needs to be. It almost feels like cheating!
Whereas Philip is directed to where he needs to be in order to meet the Ethiopian who is curious about God. Directed there by angels in order to provide testimony to a curious individual, we are often not so lucky.
Often we are at the wrong place, sometimes it is the right time, sometimes the wrong. I have never had an angel actively direct me to someone who was curious about God. I have come across such individuals, as I imagine you have as well.
The other side of things is, we are often thankful that an angel isn’t directing us to curious minds about God. If we are honest, most of us are unsure about what we would say. If someone read you the passage of scripture the Ethiopian read to Philip, Isaiah 53: 7-8, most of us would not be able to identify it as such, never mind accurately describe it.
We might surmise that the passage is about Jesus, but we wouldn’t be able to identify the scripture and verse. We might even do justice to the passage, perhaps coming close to what Philip says. Not that we would ever know, because in writing this passage Luke neglects to tell us what Philip told the Ethiopian about Jesus. Which, with all the detail that Luke writes with, seems unfair!
What is interesting to note about this passage is what Luke does seem to be saying about what Jesus did for us on the cross. It does not appear as though Luke is making a claim of substitutionary atonement, that is Luke is not saying that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. In the description we are given and the passage from Isaiah that is shared, that claim is never made. Instead, Luke is making a claim that the death of Jesus is depicted as Israel’s complicit in injustice. Which is in tune with the Prophets and their condemnation for the behaviour of Israel and Judah. A reminder that Israel needs to turn towards God and ask for forgiveness.
While this story seems like a simple conversion and baptism story, there is a lot of theology going on. This passage does tell us a lot about God and God’s character.
The passage tells us that God is interested in justice. The death of Jesus is a stain on humanity, one which God is interested in forgiving, indeed we are forgiven. But in explaining this passage to the Ethiopian I have to imagine that Philip talked about the need for forgiveness.
We are reminded that baptism is the entry way into community with God. Think back to the first baptism stories in the gospels. There is John, out in the wilderness preaching a very controversial message of repentance. Only when people repent are they baptised into new life. This echoes the message that Luke is making with this passage, that Israel bears some guilt in the death of Jesus. That all of humanity bears that guilt. The Ethiopian hears this message, understands it and seeks to be baptised into a community of believers.
This is a passage about inclusion. The Ethiopian is a Enuch, which in simplest terms means he was castrated. This means that under Jewish law he would never have been allowed into the temple. Yet, here is Philip being sent to find this man and to talk to him about Jesus. That this is a passage about inclusion speaks volumes to me in today’s world about how we welcome people and how we interact with people who we define as ‘other’ to ourselves.
The disciples, or apostles as they are now known have still been arguing about how they can best share the good news of Jesus. They are still having debates about who is in and who is out! Jews, gentiles, circumcised, uncircumcised. Then Philip gets sent out, finds the most unlikely of candidates for their new community of Jesus followers. And God’s Spirit says, I don’t care.
We are Presbyterians. Have you heard the joke about how many Presbyterians it takes to change a light bulb?
Well it’s a lot. First, we have to strike a committee to determine if the light bulb really needs to be changed or if we can live with the room a little dimmer.
Then if we do need to change the bulb, another committee is required to determine if we should use the same type of lightbulb as we did previously or if it would be in our best interest to try something new.
If we determine that the light bulb does indeed need changed, another committee is required to discuss if we should change all the light bulbs. After all, if one is burnt out the others are likely to follow.
As an aside, don’t you ever wonder that. When you install a handful of lights that all use the same circuit, but only one burns out and the others last another few months. I wonder about that too.
Assuming, we are only going to change the one bulb we then need to meet to discuss who will change the light bulb.
You get what I’m trying to say. As Presbyterians we are really good at not making decisions. Or deferring the decision to ensure we have made the best, most appropriate decision we can. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, except that God isn’t going to wait for us.
The Spirit stretches out and reaches all people. Then and now.
Friends, God will not wait for us. God will rush forth to the ends of the earth. This is a reminder that the kingdom of God is bursting at the seams, waiting, wanting to expand and reach into the hearts and minds of all people.
And you. All of you are always in the right place, at the right time when it comes to sharing God’s good news. Trust that God has equipped you. Trust that an angel has led you to that moment and that you will have the words. Amen.