Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Waiting . . . before doing and dancing . . .

     My mind, I suppose, has been a bit much on dancing this week.  It began when I was at Cornelia’s house visiting with her and her husband.  It was a chance for me to get to know them and for them to express some areas of ministry in which they felt interested and gifted.  Anyway, at one point, Cornelia surprised me with some poetic observations.  My knowledge of Cornelia to that point had been limited to church and to Bible Study.  She is a thorough student of the Bible and serves sometimes in class as the “cross-referencer.”  So I was stunned and impressed by our discussion.  I told her that she reminded me of John Damascus and his discussions of the perichoresis, or holy dance of the Holy Trinity.

     My thoughts about dances continued during the week as I talked with Karen and Hannah.  Hannah had her recital yesterday, which means she had rehearsal earlier this week.  Some of you have already commented on her outfit and on her choice of snack afterwards from Facebook, as well as commiserate with me that I could not be there to watch her.  For her part, Hannah thinks the recital went well.  They did not do enough twirling to suit her.  Many of you all have met Hannah and have learned she loves to twirl in her skirts.  Not twirling in her outfit yesterday was, in her mind, a waste of a great costume.

     You might wonder why I am thinking of dance and costumes in light of our readings today.  I see the nods.  The idea of a dance and a costume seem far from our assigned readings.  But the ideas are not that far off from the subject matter at hand.  This week we are in a week of transition.  On Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus.  Although we remind ourselves week in and week out of His death, Resurrection, and Ascension, not many of us make it to church to celebrate His Ascension.  Ascension Day is important to us because it serves as that reminder that He has taken our human nature into the divine Godhead.  True, it is our resurrected nature, but that in no way diminishes the significance.

     Next week, of course, is the Feast of Pentecost.  Next week, we remind ourselves that we have been gifted with whatever we need to accomplish His calls on us.  As Claire said it beautifully, some of us have been called away and some called to stay, some called to lead and some called to work, and each part of a whole whose picture we may not see nor understand until we stand in the presence of His unfiltered glory.  But His calls on us are always to glorify Him in our service and to reflect our relationship with Him in our ministries and lives.

     This week, though, we stand in a bit of transition.  Jesus has ascended to the Father.  As He ascended, our Lord instructed His disciples and Apostles to wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit.  And so they waited.

     I imagine it was a difficult time to wait.  Human nature being what it is, I can only imagine the building excitement and energy at every report of encounters with Jesus.  The seeming utter defeat of almost a couple months back probably passed through various stages of disbelief, hopelessness, and confusion to wonder and awe, hope, and certainty.    Can you imagine?  All of us present struggle at various times in our walk with God.  I have not heard all your stories in these first few months, but I know the stories.  We understand we are not worthy of grace and we struggle with the idea of not receiving something we do not deserve.  And when those crises of faith hit, those events which cause us to question whether there is a God, whether we really matter to Him, whether He really loves us, whether there really is an invitation with our name on it to His Wedding Feat, we naturally doubt.  No doubt some of you think that if He just appeared to you like He did Peter or Paul or whichever disciple or Apostle is your favorite, your crises would no longer be crises of faith.  It is hard.  He knows it.  That’s why six weeks ago He told the Apostles and disciples that those who believe and have not seen are blessed!

     But imagine if He appeared to you.  How would you live?  Once you were convinced it was not a hallucination, how would Jesus’ appearance affect you?  Could you see yourself preaching as Peter does today?  Would your prayers become more fervent and more determined?  Would you be more likely to share whatever you have with whoever was in need?  Would you give thanks to God without ceasing?  Sounds like you might fit in well to the early Church, huh?  But before the early Church got to that fruit, it had to pass through this Sunday in its life together.  Can you imagine the feeling?  Why are we waiting?  What is it He is promising us?  I can well imagine it was a period of pins and needles.

     My guess is that they tempered their enthusiasm with the command of the One who had been raised from the dead.  It would be hard, I think, to argue with a command from Jesus the Messiah.  It would be like us ignoring the red letter statements in some of our Bibles.  Why are some of you laughing?

     For us, it provides an opportunity to reflect upon God’s promises to us, and that’s where the dancing and John’s perichoresis comes in.  We remember this Sunday, even as we look anxiously and expectantly toward next week’s Feast of Pentecost, in light of God’s promises.  Jesus has ascended to the Father to prepare a place for us.  Meanwhile, those of us who are left to work on this earth are promised that we will receive all that need to accomplish His will.  Not some.  Not most.  We will receive all that we need to accomplish His will.  So, what do we need?

     Our Vestry will be wrapping up this evening its own exploration of Time & Talents.  Last week, we named the gifts we saw in others.  This week, after prayerful discernment, we will claim some of those perceived gifts for our work at Advent.  All of that, of course, is in preparation for the congregation doing the same this fall.  Who are we?  What are we called to be doing?  As a parish?  As small groups?  As individuals?  How do we even know we have a gift?  This transition week speaks to those questions.

     Have you considered what is going on in Heaven, even as we sit here?  If God created the cosmos in six days, why did He screw up and hire contractors for our mansions in heaven?  Tell me you never wondered that.  Why is it taking so long?  We live in a part of the country that may accept the idea of Jesus with a hardhat constructing billions of mansions in heaven.  But does it ever strike anybody as an odd understanding?  It did John Damascus.

     John described the Trinity as a holy dance, a divine waltz, if you will.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were engaged in this relationship that resembled a beautiful dance.  As observers of that dance on earth, we are limited by our perspective.  All three might be engaged in the dance at the same time, but our position caused us to see only the dancer who appeared closest to us.  Sometimes the Son seems to blot out our perception of the Holy Spirit and the Father.  At other times, we more clearly see the Holy Spirit.  Still at other times, we see the Father.  Maybe, as our angles and perceptions change over the years, we see the Son and the Father, or the Father and the Spirit, or the Son and the Spirit.  But given our finite natures and the glory of this magnificent dance, we simply cannot perceive it in its infinite glory and complexity.  We take its existence on faith and our encounters with the three dancers.  The glory of this dance, according to John, was such that we would be awed by its patterns and joy and amazing music.  Then something glorious happened!

     John, using this metaphor, taught that the purpose of the work and person of the Son, was to carve out a space for us in this amazing dance.  Think of that for just a second.  Metaphors about God tend to fall apart eventually, but think of the apt comparison of this one.  We began in a garden with unfettered access to the Lord.  We rejected the teaching of Psalm 1 and sinned, thereby losing that unfettered access.  To bridge that chasm created by sin, the Lord sent His Son, who died for our sins and was raised as a promise and a pledge to us.  Now we are in that time when the Son re-ascended to that magnificent dance, this time taking our human nature into the dance as well.  It is a beautiful image, is it not?  And it reminds us of where we are this week in the life of the Church.  Jesus has accomplished His work that you and I and all who claim Him Lord might enter into this glorious dance of the Trinity!  But there is still work for us to do on earth . . .

     I remember when I was a youth, one of my mom’s friends tried to teach me how to dance.  Donna was insistent that I go to dances and not stand against the wall staring at girls.  She had these books for disco and feet patterns—I see some nods, you all used them too.  And she would make me practice.  I remember my first dance.  I was nowhere prepared for what I faced.  I still had no rhythm.  My friends at Simms were more into break dancing than disco.  And boys and girls in those days at that age were not big about spending time close to each other.  Cooties were still a big word in our vocabulary.  You are laughing, but I tell it with a point.  How many of us fear that we are going to be discoing when we should be waltzing?  How many of us are afraid we will be twerking, when He expects line dancing?

     When it comes to talents and accomplishing His plans, how many of us protest?  I could never do that?  I simply would not know where to begin?  If God wants someone to do that, He better get someone better equipped than me?  If God wants me to consider that, He’d better use the burning bush or the Damascus Road to convince me?  Ever have that kind of argument with a friend, with a fellow member, with a pastor, with God?  Of course you have.  We all do.  This week in the life of the Church, though, encourages us to take a step back, to reflect upon God’s promises, in preparation of the gifts we might be given in fulfillment of next week’s story.  Put in the language of the Holy Dance of John, you and I are taking a moment to catch the beat, to see the pattern, to limber up, and finally to begin to enter that amazing, glorious dance and relationship.  You have heard it said that God loves you?  John reminded the early Church that He wanted nothing more than to dance with you!  He has carved out a space in that majestic dance and holds out His hand, that you and I and all other might join Him in that mystical, beautiful, joyful dance of eternity!  Nothing, not even our own death will prevent us from that dance for all eternity, if we accept His outstretched hand!

     Best of all, He knows our needs!  He knows which one of us have no rhythm.  He knows which ones of us are wont to step on our partners’ feet.  He knows which ones of us are worried our attire will not work with the dance.  So He has promised to teach us this dance, to give us all that we need, that we might begin to take our part in that glorious waltz, captivating and encouraging others to join Him and us as we dance eternity away.  Yes, we call those gifts by non-musical names, but that is because the dance is just a metaphor.  Really, what we are called to join is a relationship that is full of perfect love. 

     That dance, for us, begins on earth in fulfillment of that feast we celebrate next week.  Whatever shortcomings, whatever lacks we had in preparation for His call upon our lives, our Lord has promised to meet.  If we discern His call upon us rightly and if we discern a need to accomplish that call correctly, we know, we know with absolute certainty that someone among us, or about to be among us, will be equipped to see that call fulfilled.  It is an incredible promise.  And it flies in the face of all that we are taught in the world about how to succeed.  We are supposed to wait and trust?  Should we not be practicing or developing skills?  When we or others identify them in us, we certainly should.  But we must remember that the one who offers salvation is the one who promises to equip us.  He can no more fail to equip us than He can fail to save us, if we call upon Him.

     We spoke last week of the relationship between grace and joy.  This week, we look a bit closer.  We have been invited to a dance of mystical beauty, to a Wedding Feast of incredible bounty, and to a life that has no ending!  We should be a happy people, a celebrating people, a joyful people, a dancing people.  It is in that kind of relationship with our Lord, forged through the work of the Son on the Cross and empty tomb, that we are made able to face the trials of this world and herald His kingdom that is to come!  Make no mistake, we face incredible trials.  We face privation, broken relationships, death of selves and loved ones, disease, and any number of other events in life which seek to convince us that God does not love us, that He does not care for us, that He is “above” us.  In truth, this time of transition reminds us that we are called to live our lives in a time of transition.  We are invited, we are longingly sought, we are loved infinitely by God.  And it is He who sends us into the world to testify to His grace, who equips us to accomplish those missions He has given us, and who makes sure that, when the time comes and we see Him face to face, we will know Him and His love for us and take our place in that holy dance that never ends.

     Brothers and sisters, much is made of people who march to a different drum, who glide through the world as if they are hearing music the rest of us cannot have.  That, my friends, is who He intends us to be.  That, my friends, is the real call on us.  We are not of this world; we are His.  Maybe in this time of reflection we can all take a moment and reflect how our lives might better reflect the joy, the hope, and the mystical dance a bit better.  And pray to Him who desires nothing more than for us to be glorified in Him, that He equip us for incredible, transforming work in His name in the world around us.




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Three lessons on Haiti -- A reflection by Advent youth . . . led by Claire G!

Clearly, we all had experiences we’ll never forget in Grand Goave. We met some of the most amazing and humbling people, and everyone there was always so eager to say Bonjour or Bonsoi to all of us. Haiti was an amazing experience, but what was even more amazing was watching all of the girls I went with use their gifts and talents and sometimes discover abilities and passions they never knew they had in them. Some of us might have even found our callings while we were there.

Haiti was my first mission trip out of the country, and even out of my little corner of the United States, and it was perhaps one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had or will ever have. We came to Haiti to help its inhabitants, but ultimately the people of Haiti taught us a much more important series of lessons that I have tried to keep on my mind and in my heart as a part of my time in Haiti.

Lesson one: The gift of knowing God is the best gift you can give a person. 

If you don't know much about the country of Haiti or its economic standing, especially after the earthquake of 2010, I'll give you a brief history lesson that we were taught upon arriving. When Christopher Columbus discovered Haiti and the Dominican in December 1492, he nicknamed it the Pearl of the Antilles, and his reason behind such a nickname was clear. However, since then, Haiti has used up nearly all the resources it has, and it has since been declared a fifth world country, meaning that Haiti is not expected to ever be able to rise out of its economic turmoil. Most of the men and women we worked with had next to nothing, and nothing at all to give, and yet they were the most giving people I have ever met. The two-bedroom house we built that week was for a young man we met named Alain and his six siblings and his mother and father, and each day Alain was on the job site helping amateurs like us complete all the work that needed to be done, but more so, they taught us about God. All the people of Haiti really have to give is their knowledge and love of God, but they give it so freely. From the moment we stepped foot on the job site, they were teaching us everything they'd learned in church. They recounted Bible stories and asked us why we loved Jesus all week, and really made us reflect on our lives throughout our time spent with them.

Throughout the week I kept thinking of my favorite verse, one I learned in school once: John 13:35 says "By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another." I hope that our group left more behind in Haiti than the supplies we brought in extra suitcases and the home we helped build. I hope we showed this place and its people the love of God, because that is what sticks with people, and that is how God is truly revealed through us as his servants.


Lesson two: Allow God to park your heart somewhere. 

Chris, our group’s leader for the week, told us this before we left Haiti, and it has stuck with me ever since: God parks everyone’s heart somewhere. Of course, to assume that going somewhere like Haiti to serve is the only way to take a big risk for God would give this message an ineluctable flaw. It is necessary, as Chris told us, to recognize that God does not call everyone to Haiti, nor does he call everyone away at all. Because sometimes, the riskier thing to do for God is to stay exactly where you are and keep doing what you’re doing for the time being. Sometimes God calls us to go, and sometimes he calls us to simply allow our feet to sink in a while and stick with our current involvements.


Ecclesiastes 11:6 says “Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow—perhaps it all will.”

I’m learning that sometimes it’s actually more God-honoring to stay. Deal with an uncomfortable family situation, help people in need in our own community. Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a need in Haiti, where we spent our summer, or any other place. For many people, this is a calling. We were blessed enough to be called to Haiti this summer and, speaking for myself,  had I not gone, I would not have grown so much in my faith and learned so much about my passions as I know now.

However, a problem arises when we are made to feel lesser for opening our eyes to how God might be wanting to use us right where we are, embracing the uncomfortable in our midst. Maybe God wants to use you as a change-agent at work or in the church, as the glue in your neighborhood, as the light in your social circles and family.

So, if God is telling you to drop everything for the big risks, don’t ignore it. Our trip to Grand Goave, Haiti taught me more in a week than I have learned in all my math classes and history classes over the years combined. It is, however, to say that your passions and your calling, though perhaps not as glorified as some of these major “risks for God” is no lesser in stature. Read scripture, pray, and learn where God wants you to be. 

Lesson three: Don't let yourself conform to culture. 

Haiti showed us a culture and a lifestyle that I have never known before, and in leaving Haiti, we were reminded that there would be temptation to forget all the little life lessons that we learned that summer as we slipped back into our regular routine and the culture that we’re blessed enough to know in our world. We were read the verse Romans 12:2, which says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will." We were shocked when we heard this verse that this could have been written in Jesus's time, because it is so fitting for right now. Haiti taught us so much and made us better people, and I also believe that for many of us, it opened our eyes to the direction God is pointing us in for the rest of our lives.

I don't yet know whether that place that God has parked my heart is in a place like Haiti or Nashville or somewhere entirely different, but I do know that the Lord has placed in me and all of these girls a passion for serving others. Haiti, for us, has a face now. A face of love and compassion of the men who worked alongside us and of the sweet children to whom we taught Bible lessons, and a face of the sense of community we shared with everyone there. I think it’s safe to say that God has parked a little piece of each of us in Haiti.
Claire G

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Who is your hero? Whom have you told? . . .

     As you call can well imagine, a lot of my work this week was spent discussing where people are in relationship to their transformation into a sheep dog.  It really hit home yesterday at the end of the Mens’ Prayer breakfast.  By the way, let me take this opportunity to invite all you younger men to that event, and the Mens’ Dinners.  We alternate months, so the June meeting will be a dinner.  It is open to any males who enjoy spending time with other guys.  We eat, we drink, we talk about how we can support the mission of the parish, and anything else that comes up.  In any event, as the meeting was ending, Jerry asked if there was anything for the good of the order.  I told the men I had a suggestion.  I told them that, unless they had been living on Pluto these last few weeks, there was a new movie they had heard about called the Avengers: Age of Ultron now out.  I told them to think about taking their grandkids or great-grandkids, assuming age appropriateness, to see the movie.  Believe it or not, their looks mirrored your own right now.  They were wearing that “He’s finally snapped.  The paint fumes and living away from his family have finally driven him over the edge” look on their face as many of you now do.  So I explained the madness to my method.

     I do not know if you pay attention to the finances of movies, but hero movies have been doing rather well the past few years.  They have been doing so well that DC and Marvel are taking their decades-old fight for market share in the world of comic books to the world of movies.  Luckily, for many of the movies, the writing has been nearly as good as the CGI.  The result is that a whole new generation of teenagers are being introduced to the Dark Knight, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, the Hulk, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman.  Shortly, DC will be re-introducing us to the Justice League.  Those of who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons cannot help but feel a little excited, can we?  Some in the entertainment wonder at the popularity.  Are Superheroes retro and cool?  How far can we push this renaissance of heroes?  Can we poke a little fun at it, like with Guardians of the Galaxy?  Can a man the size of an ant really have super powers that matter?

     The truth is, of course, the world of today is not unlike the world of many of you when you were teenagers.  I know a lot of the characters were birthed out of the ethos of WW2.  During the war, people went without so that we could beat the Axis powers.  After the war, we had to get back to work to rebuild our economy and our society.  In America, we had it a bit easier.  Europe had to rebuild buildings and repair psyches.  In such chaos, the need for a hero makes sense.  We want to know there is someone fighting for us, more so when we are the underdog!  We have this need for idol.  Those heroes in the DC and Marvel universes gave many of us hope, dreams, and maybe even a little daring in ourselves.

     It makes sense that the teens of today are seeking heroes.  War and terrorism have become so common that many adults are blasé about their impact.  Have you ever considered that there are teens getting their driver’s licenses among us who have never known this country not to be at war?  Think about that for a second.  While you are at it, consider the effects of school shootings.  Many in here dreaded going to school, but that was because we weren’t prepared for a test or a quiz, or maybe because we played outside rather than doing our homework.  Now, teens can get their hands on automatic or semi-automatic weapons.  Heck, who are we kidding, they can get homemade bomb designs off the internet.

     Speaking of the internet, remember when bullying ended at school?  Teens today never get a break.  Your hearts would break if you saw what youths are writing about others or having written about them in social media.  It’s never ending.  It is a constant barrage.  And none of us would have ever thought of the bully taking our lunch money as the “golden age of bullying,” would we?

     When speaking about teens and the internet, of course, we have to acknowledge how sex has changed.  In my travels to schools and universities for human trafficking awareness, I get to hear and see the terrible consequence of pornography on our youth.  “It’s just hooking up.  No one is getting hurt.”  Those protests always come before the big “but.”  Relationships, and the room for emotional development that come with them, are not encouraged in this new revolution.  Neither is, to a great degree, personal preference.  As a society, we will be dealing with the consequences of the hook-up culture in the future, much as we are beginning to have to face the effects of the “no fault divorce culture” today.

     Looking at your faces, I can see you now understand why the next generation has fallen in love with heroes again.  And that’s why my suggestion to the men yesterday.  Some of those men know more about the characters in these movies than the youths could ever imagine.  One grandpa even took a moment to champion Captain America to me.  “We should really only like the Captain because he is a Christian.  The rest are not.”

     I told the men, though, that the heroes could be an easy touchstone for the next generation.  How cool would it be to go by an ice cream shop or Starbucks and overhear a grandpa and granddaughter arguing over who would win in a fight between Hulk and Superman?  Who is richer between Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark?  Better still, the movie and the accompanying of heroes could allow those grandpas to begin to share their faith and not sound like a “Jesus freak” in their own ears.  “You know, I used to wish I could meet Aquaman, but then I met this guy Jesus . . . “  I know, nobody ever wanted to meet Aquaman.  But you get the point.  Besides, as I told the men who protested because movies are expensive or loud, those are easy crosses for many of us to bear, especially when it comes to proclaiming to the generation newly born the saving deeds He has done in the world and in their lives.

     Who here does not want to spend eternity with their family?  Seriously?  Is your fight with your family so important you would like it if they were condemned to Hell for all eternity?  Are your relationships so distant that you really cannot love them and want what is best for them?  Here is the scary part: If you are not telling them about Jesus and why He is important to you, who is?  Are you willing to take that risk with your own flesh and blood?  Besides, what is the real downside?  At best you get to share with your own flesh and blood the love you have for Jesus?  At worst, you’re the cool adult who made their teenage grandchild go see the Avengers?

     You may wonder why I am launching into the application first.  Normally, I talk about the passage and then what it means or should mean for us today.  Today, I wanted you to understand how important the lesson from Acts is.  I wanted this not to be a theoretical person to whom you might be speaking, but your own flesh and blood.  My thought was, if we get comfortable speaking to loved ones about Jesus, it will make speaking to those outside our families that much easier.  But how much easier is it to understand God’s love of everyone when we begin to consider our love of the next generation?

     I know evangelism has taken on a whole new meaning today.  It is a shame.  It comes from a Greek word that simply means “Good Message.”  In fact, the root of the word, angelos, from where we get angel, means messenger.  Those of us present who are recovering from some other denominational practices might well wonder where the good message is in some of the efforts to share the Gospel.  “Repent or die” and “God hates . . . “ you fill in the blank with whichever sin are the messages that get the most attention.  It is a shame, really.  We are heralds of the greatest news ever told, and we reduce our message to a soundbite for the masses.  While good preaching can bring conversion, it is the one on one relationship, I think, where many of us who stumble our way into this denomination excel in sharing the good news of Christ Jesus.  Yes, great preaching can cause thousands to repent and follow Christ, but far more often we see one on one encounters responsible for the spread of the Gospel.  Why?  Because people get to see how we live, hear what informs our thoughts, see us hope in the face of struggle, show compassion when it is called, and however else you want to describe living Kingdom of God values in this world.  How you face death, how you face disease, how you face blessing, how you  face privation – these are the best testimonies ever shared with others, and they are often best shared in small circles of friends, if not one on one.

     Look back in your passage from Acts.  What do we see?  It is a crazy scene, is it not?  A eunuch from Ethiopia has travelled from there to Jerusalem, presumably for the Passover.  Now, there is travelling and there is travelling.  This Eunuch got to ride in a chariot, the ancient version of the Rolls Royce, rather than walk.  Since he is the Treasurer of the kingdom, it is probably a safe assumption on our parts that he had some guards with him to protect him from bandits on this “wilderness road.”  You may not even know what makes this scene so crazy.  Can Eunuchs worship in the Temple in Jerusalem?  Great guess, MC!  Why?  She is right in that eunuchs were forbidden from worshiping God in His Temple.  Eunuchs were cut off, literally, from the congregation.  So why would he be travelling to Jerusalem knowing he could never enter?  Even stranger, why would he be reading from the scroll of Isaiah?  The passage from which we hear Phillip teaching today comes from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.  A few chapters later, however, finds Isaiah promising the Eunuch that God will give the Eunuch an everlasting heritage.  If one cannot have children, how can one have an everlasting name?  The branch of the family tree ends with the eunuch.  Maybe now the scene makes a bit more sense.  The eunuch has gone to Jerusalem to worship God and give thanks for the Passover.  He has been reminded that he is cut off from the people of God, physically kept from worshipping within the Temple.  Now he is headed home.  We can well imagine the need he might have to be reminded of God’s promises.  I am sure the pilgrimage started out well and happened as expected, but it had to be a tough reminder that he could not join in the worship in the Temple.  He may be a faithful believer, but he is still excluded.  He has returned to a place in God’s Word where he finds comfort, and that is where we meet him.

     Now, up walks this Jewish fisherman.  Is there an odder couple in Scripture?  There is an Ethiopian Eunuch who oversees the finances of the kingdom and Jewish fisherman.  Wouldn’t you have loved to see the guards’ faces?  If the Jew is truly faithful, shouldn’t he be repulsed by the eunuch?  Plus. There’s the whole socio-economic strata that pervaded the Roman empire to consider, never mind any racial component.  This scene is set to end poorly.  But what happens?  Phillip goes to the chariot as instructed.  He hears the eunuch reading from Isaiah.  Phillip asks the eunuch if He understands what he is reading?  The eunuch wishes someone would explain it to him.  Phillip obliges and tells the eunuch of the good news of Jesus Christ.  The eunuch is baptized.  As a result of that conversation, the so-called Coptic Christians come into being, all from a simple conversation.

     I want those of you who argued with me last week and during this week that you cannot be used by God to reach others in His name to pay attention to this closely.  Were there a lot of barriers to a successful sharing of the Gospel in this setting?  Then why does it work?  Why do the characters involved ignore race, social status, education, background, location, and whatever else?  Because the Lord they are seeking transcends all those differences.  The commonality they shared, the love of the Lord, makes the differences seem insignificant by comparison.  When we are speaking to others of the love of God, we need to remember that.  God is seeking everyone.  No exceptions.  Like Hawkeye says in the movie, whatever we were, whatever we did does not matter.  Once grafted into His Vine, we are part of His story, His Kingdom, His family.  With that adoption comes great responsibility, and primary among those responsibilities is the willingness to share with others the saving work He has done in our lives.  Look at how simple the solution is to the obstacles facing God.

     Phillips had to be obedient.  When God said “take that road,” Phillip took the road.  When God said “Speak to the guy in the chariot,” Phillip approached the chariot.  No doubt he was as surprised at what he heard as you are this morning or the men were when their new priest said “Take your grandkids to see the Avengers.”  Though he likely thought of every reason not to approach the chariot or to take the wilderness road, Phillip did as God instructed, trusting that God wanted to glorify Himself in Phillip’s life.

     The second key ingredient, and maybe the most important, what magic words or phrase did Phillip use to reach the Eunuch?  What secret formula did Phillip follow?  Put differently, Who prepared the Ethiopian Eunuch’s heart to be open to the good news?  God, and God alone!  Brothers and sisters, there is no magic formula, no secret catchphrases to make others believe.  It is called witnessing for a reason.  We tell of what we have come to know and to believe.  Some of what we learn comes through good preach preaching and good study, but much of what we know about God comes from our interaction with Him over the years.  Tell your story.  Your story is different from story is different from Phillip’s is different from the eunuch’s.  But tell your story.  God wants to be glorified in you, so share your story with confidence.  With boldness!  With Awe and Wonder!  And in your voice!  People know when we are parroting.  People know when we are mouthing words we do not believe.  Tell those whom you encounter about Jesus in your own voice and in your own words.  In the end, that is all you can do.  Only God can prepare the heart to receive His Gospel.  You and I cannot.  It took a question from the Ethiopian to begin the conversation.  No doubt he was as surprised that Phillip could answer as Phillip was that he asked the question, but look at the result!  Thanks to the prepared heart of the eunuch and the obedient heart of Phillip, the Coptic church was birthed!  It may have seemed insignificant to both at the time, but its impact is still felt nearly 2000 years later!

     The last thing we can do when speaking of the saving work God has done in our lives is to press for an answer.  We Christians have taken lessons from the worst salesmen and salesladies in the world.  Ever been on the phone or in a conversation where the person selling never asks you if you want to buy?  You want to buy but they go on and on and on.  So often, we talk and talk and talk about Jesus, but we never ask the other person if they want to follow Jesus, too.  Just as Phillip was intentional, so must we be.  We must ask those to whom we are speaking if they want to follow Jesus or know Jesus better.  Over time, some will.  But, like the Ethiopian’s comment this morning, how can they if no one will share the good news of God in Christ?  How can someone find their way to that wonderful wedding feast if no one invites them?  And just because we do not like their answer at first is no reason to cut off the relationship we have with them.  But we must continue to tell His story and continue to invite others to His Feast. 

     Brothers and sisters, I mentioned the movie and my discussion with the men at the beginning of this morning’s sermon.  I get that there is a cultural fear of evangelism around here.  I understand that.  As I mentioned earlier, some of us gathered in this parish are recovering from their experience of well-meaning, if bludgeoning, evangelists.  I started with grandpa and grandsons, though, to show you just how necessary such witnessing is and how close it hit to home.  This weekend will see this country spend some $200 million looking for a super hero.  For all that money, for all that investment of time, they will be reminded that humans can make muck of the best intentions.  You and I gather to remind ourselves that we have a true hero, a hero that even the biggest fans of the comic strips and movie franchises can love.  You see, these enhanced humans, these super heroes are men and women like ourselves.  They know their own fears and failures; they sense their own unworth and their ultimate failure, and it frightens them.  In the first movie, in his drink with the villain Loki, Tony Stark summarizes the best the Avengers can do and the idea behind the group’s name.  “We may not be able to save the world, but we damn well will avenge it.”  Why not share the name and love of the God and Man, Jesus, who saved the world and has no need to avenge it with those whom you love?  The man upon whom all the failures, all the sins, all the hurts and pains fell on the Cross.  The God and man, who for His obedience, was raised as a foreshadowing, a hint of the upcoming joy at the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to humanity.  That is the calling Jesus placed on each of us; that is the fruit of the joy and love that ought to be inside our own hearts, bursting forth like the next generation of arc reactors from all our hearts and minds!