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                                                                      Ac08-26f

Acts 8: 26-40

Wesley, Doncaster East

May 21, 2000

This we can believe:

“Christians are called to be Great Commission followers of Jesus, dedicated to his mission. That mission is to give witness – in word and deed – to the whole gospel in the whole world. In Terms of Matthew 28: 19-20, it means discipling, baptizing, and teaching all that Jesus commanded, to everyone, everywhere.[1]”

Or at least we can say we believe it. We don’t do much witnessing ourselves: that’s the job of the Church. We certainly do believe that’s what the Church is meant to be doing.

This we have difficulty believing:

“The global Christian movement is more vital and vigorous today than ever before in history, by almost any measure. This vitality is pronounced in the churches of [South America, Africa and Asia], but it is true also among many churches in the new missionary situation in North America[, Europe and Australia]. . . the most exciting chapter in church history is the chapter presently being written. Pope John Paul II, in his 1991 encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer), envisioned on the eve of the third millennium, ‘the dawning of a new missionary age,’ with God ‘preparing a great springtime for Christianity.[2]’”

We have difficulty believing this, because somewhere along the line we and others within the mainstream Churches of the western world have lost our enthusiasm and our nerve for sharing the good news story of Jesus – what he has done for us and for everyone else in this world, past, present and to come.

Let me share with you something of the story of the historian, Gerald Anderson, whom I have been quoting:

“In the small Methodist church where I grew up in. . . a picture used to hang behind the pulpit. You could always see the picture as the minister was preaching (It was a good visual alternative in case the sermon wasn’t helpful). It was William Holman Hunt’s famous painting The Light of the World, which shows Jesus by night carrying a lantern and knocking at the door of a house. The traditional interpretation of this picture is taken from Jesus’ own words, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ (Rev. 3:20, RSV). It’s a great evangelistic text (although I never recall a pastor in my church mentioning the picture or the text). Today, thinking missiologically, I  would interpret the painting somewhat differently: Christ is knocking on the door of the church and saying, ‘Come out! Come out and join me in reaching people who are struggling for meaning and survival in a world of sin and suffering and invite them to follow me.’[3]”

Anderson’s right. For too long, the highly personal nature of conversion has been overemphasized. That has allowed most of us in the church to think of mission as something “out there,” done by those with special skills in persuasion. We’ve effectively denied any need to leave behind our comfort zone within the fellowship inside the church, any need to get “out there” and share what we believe about Jesus. It’s as though Jesus and God’s love are not the best things that have ever happened to us, as though that love doesn’t drive us out to share love and joy with every single loveless person in the world.

D.T. Niles, the Sri Lankan Methodist preacher and author, described mission as “one hungry beggar telling another hungry beggar where to find food.” As those formerly loveless now filled with God’s love, we should be telling the loveless where to get the love that fills us with joy and hope.

That’s not easy for those of us who’ve forgotten how to share our story. It’s not easy when you feel others don’t want to hear your story.

I visited Azamagarrh, North India, in December 1961. There was an Australian Methodist station and Hospital. The town had a population of 100,000, but within fifty miles there were over five million people – of whom only 200 were Christian. I remember asking some of the Indian staff how they shared the gospel. I got the impression their sharing was done with such extreme caution as to be almost totally ineffective.

That Christmas I was aboard a train from Delhi to Allahabad with fellow students from my theological college. In our compartment was a Sikh. We were all very cautious. Sikhs are the ever-ready soldier race of India. Part of every Sikh’s apparel is a knife.

It was the Sikh who talked religion. “You Christians must be very happy. It’s Jesus’ birthday.”

Easter 1962 I was in Sri Lanka. I went to the Student Christian Movement conference in Badulla. One of our activities was to take gospels out and sell them.

Christians had formerly been high in the pecking order. With the coming of independence, Singhalese Buddhists assumed power. Christians found the collapse of their favoured status disconcerting. The young people at the Conference were, understandably, very cautious.

One group went diffidently to a Muslim household where only the women were home. They sold a gospel of Matthew and felt rather self-satisfied as they walked on down the street. Suddenly they heard running footsteps behind them. Their smugness vanished. They looked back. Two girls from the house ran up to them. “Can we have three more of the books about Jesus, please?”

It’s not as easy as we’d want it to be. It’s not as difficult as we fear it to be.

* * *

1. Share with your partner something of what you know about Jesus.

2. Now share something of what you believe about Jesus.

* * *

We know little enough of Philip the evangelist[4] whose remarkable meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch we heard earlier.

Don’t confuse him with the Philip in the list of the apostles in the first three Gospels[5]. We know little enough about Philip the apostle. What can put together something about him from John’s gospel[6].

Philip the evangelist was one of the seven chosen to distribute food to widows in the early Christian community[7]. He was among those who fled Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom[8]. He preached in Samaria[9], converting Simon the Sorcerer. He preached from Ashdod to Caesarea, and settled there with his four daughters[10].

Philip merely took advantage of the situation in which he found himself. It was neither contrived nor manipulated. The man he met wanted to know more. Philip shared the good news about Jesus.

We may find ourselves in similar circumstances. We can share – and we should.

We have the greatest news of all times to share. And it’s good: good for you, good for me; good for all the world; good for now and good forever. It is worth sharing. Amen.


----

[1] Gerald H. Anderson in Footprints of God: A Narrative Theology of Mission, eds Charles van Engen, Nancy Thomas and Robert Gallagher, MARC: Monrovia. 1999. p. ix.

[2] Ibid. p. ix.

[3] Ibid. p. ix-x.

[4] Acts 21:8.

[5] Mark 3:8; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13.

[6] John 1:43-49; 6:5-7;12:20-23; 14:8-9.

[7] Acts 6:5.

[8] 8:4-5.

[9] 8:5-13.

[10] 8:40; 21:8-9.

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