Together We Grow
Annual Theme • Sermon • Submitted
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One year ago I presented a theme for us to live: Together We Thrive. It was based on the call story of the disciples from Luke and how they worked together to bring in the massive catch of fish that day as well as understanding that Jesus didn’t walk this earth alone but surrounded himself with 12 people to help him do the work and ministry of God. It was a team effort and Jesus needed all of them to help accomplish his mission on earth. I then gave us the mission of building ourselves up through ministry, because it does take all of us to thrive as a congregation. In this last year we have resumed hospitality which included some great fellowship events during the summer. We changed the seating for a time so that we could face each other. We have started new ministries and renewed old ones. There has been a lot more and I talk a lot about it in my annual report so be sure to check out that riveting read. We’re continuing to do even more this year because this is something we need to continue to work on even if our ‘theme’ shifts to something new.
This year I want us to expand our focus from thriving as our own community in this boat we call Bethlehem, to growing externally. And just like it took all the fisherman on both boats to haul in that catch of fish, it will take all of us to reach out into the community to share the love of God as found in Christ Jesus. After all, that is our calling as follower of Christ.
The Great Commission found in Matthew’s gospel is our call to go out into all the world to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them everything we had heard and seen. We have likely all heard the Great Commission and know what it is asking, but often times it is hard to move from knowing what it says to doing what it says. At the same time that is exactly what we need to do to grow: we need to reach out to our neighbors both those around this church and in our own communities that we live. So how do we do it? That is a great question and while I am no expert and do not have all the answers I felt inspired for us to look at a story in the Bible. That story is our Acts reading that I added for us today.
I honestly believe that this story from Acts is an incredible guide for us. It honestly takes us step by step on how to engage with people about our faith. So let’s take a look at the story and see the steps that Philip takes. Step 1: Listen for God. Philip listens to what God is calling him to do. As one of Jesus’ original disciples and having received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Philip is attentive to or plugged into the voice and calling of God in his life. This particular time it is the voice of an angel speaking to him. The angel simply gives him a road and a direction on that road to travel. To me, that sounds a bit vague, but Philip trusts God and it literally says, ‘so he did’. He did it. Not only did he listen to God but also acted on it even if the details were a bit fuzzy.
As Philip is on the road he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch and now the Holy Spirit nudges him and tells him to go and approach the chariot and stay near it. Now either the chariot was travelling really slowly on the road or Philip has been prepping for the Mesa Marathon next weekend, because I don’t know that I could keep pace with a chariot but our text tells us that Philip ran up to the carriage. Setting his physical fitness aside, Philip once again listens and responds to what God is directing him to do.
Step 2: Engagement. Philip engages with the Ethiopian after noticing that he is reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip doesn’t start out by telling him all about Isaiah and how it points to Jesus, instead he simply asks him if he knows and understands what he happens to be reading. Through engagement, Philip is showing that he is interested in the person he has encountered and is expressing interest in what he is doing at that time which happens to be reading from scripture. Now we might not find a lot of people reading scripture as we encounter people, but I bet you will encounter people that have at least some sense or knowledge about it, and they may be curious to know more. Not too dissimilar from the woman I mentioned a few weeks ago who wanted to learn about baptism. The mom and I talked about all kinds of stuff before she asked about my faith. She then asked questions which I then used as permission to share my faith with her. Which then leads us to step 3:
Step 3 Sharing. The Ethiopian sees through Philip’s engagement with him that he knows something about what he is reading and invites him to sit in the chariot with him and share what the scripture means. And this is the point where I feel better because Philip finally gets a break from running and even though scripture doesn’t tell us, I really hope that the Ethiopian gave him a wine skin or a pouch of water to drink before they continued their conversation. The conversation centers around Isaiah 53:7-8 which is one of several servant songs that talk of a servant who will come and suffer on behalf of others. Which is the heart of the question that the Ethiopian has. The part he doesn’t understand and wants clarification on is who is Isaiah talking about. Not only has Philip been invited in to share but now he gets a specific question so that he can share his faith with this man. Which is a key component of sharing our faith; waiting for permission to share with someone. This allows for the person to be open and welcoming of what we have to say because they invited you in for the conversation to happen. Philip then uses this passage that they were talking about as a starting point to talk more about the good news and his faith in Jesus Christ.
Now we get to step 4: Inviting. Now that Philip has shared his faith the Ethiopian expresses interest in being a part of that faith. He does so by requesting to be baptized in a pool of water along the road. Now I’m not suggesting that all of this will happen in a single chariot ride today, perhaps it can, but what I do think is happening is that the Ethiopian is open to learning more about faith in Jesus and clearly Philip has shared that baptism is a part of that journey of faith. So the Ethiopian again expresses interest and Philip now invites him to be a participant in the family of God. Now it doesn’t explicitly say it, but when he asks Philip what would prevent him from being baptized right here and right now after having had only a single conversation with him about this passage and the good news about Jesus, it is obvious that Philip’s answer is nothing. Which I believe is a key part of inviting people to engage with their faith and that of a faith community. What I mean is that we should not create obstacles but opportunities for someone to fully engage in exploring their faith with us.
This year I want us to live into these practices, these steps, so that we can find ways to both individually and as a community reach out and share our faith in healthy ways, so that the good news that the Ethiopian experienced and the rejoicing that he expressed in his new faith, is the same experience that people see when they come to an event here at the church or when they randomly meet you at the grocery store, coffee shop, or wherever the Spirit happens to place you, just as it did to Philip. There are some incredible opportunities for us already in the works, and I am sure that together we can come up with even more ways to to listen to God’s call, to engage the community, to share our stories, and to invite in an open and loving way. Through our work together, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can and will live out our calling as people of God…because together we grow. Amen.