John 15: 1-8
Who inspired you in your Christian faith? Who nurtured you in being a Christian? Whose fault is it that you are here?
When people are asked questions like that, the answer is very rarely clergy, but usually ordinary people like all of you. Over the years, many people in this village have told they were inspired by the late Pam Chandler.
I want to suggest to you that God has chosen to work through ordinary people to invite others into a relationship with him. It has been said that Churches don’t need sophisticated resources to grow; they need high quality relationships.
Our readings this morning talk about the importance of relationships – our relationship with God and with others, and good relationships enable growth – our spiritual growth and the growth of the kingdom of God.
Today we heard a really good Bible story about that: Philip and the Ethiopian Enoch. Philip was a layperson. He wasn’t a famous preacher like Peter, who went and preached a grand sermon and three thousand people were converted in one day. He wasn’t like the famous missionary, like the Apostle Paul, who went with the Gospel of Jesus from nation to nation throughout his world. Today is the story of Philip, a deacon appointed to look after the widows and poor, and how God’s Spirit came down on Philip and empowered him to talk to someone about Jesus Christ and his love for all people.
Philip was with other Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. They didn’t want to go out into the countryside, or out into other villages or out into other nations with the Gospel; these first Christians wanted to remain just in Jerusalem for their own safety.
But the inner voice of God said to Philip, “Get up and go, Philip. Get up and go to Samaria.” Now Samaritans and the Jewish people didn’t get on with each other. It’s a bit like telling Nigel Farage he’s got to spend his life being nice to Brussels. Not only did God call Philip to go to Samaria, but to Gaza and the Wilderness Road, so he was called out of a place of safety in more than one way.
And there Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch. God said to Philip, “Go and talk to that Ethiopian eunuch.”
Jewish scripture says eunuchs are not allowed to be part of the Kingdom of God. And while the Ethiopian was a man holding office as a eunuch, he would always be an outsider. But there was something about the Jewish faith which attracted him, so he made his way to Jerusalem to worship and on his return, with access to scriptures, was reading them. It wasn’t in the place of worship that he found God, but in the desert.
Philip listened to the voice of God and went over to the man in the chariot and asked him, “What are you reading?” The man said he was reading from the Jewish scripture, Isaiah 53, which said the lamb was to be led to the slaughter. Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “No.” “Let me explain.
We don’t have the details of this speech, just as we don’t know just how Jesus opened the scriptures to his friends on the Emmaus road. We aren’t told how he would have traced the people’s history, the ongoing relationship between God and people, the feelings of promise and sanctuary and provocation. But I suspect he told him his story which broke into the court official’s heart.
It has been said that storytellers are heart teachers. They unfold roads before us and behind us. They show us where the rough places are and where we might find good water. They accompany us as we walk through our own stories. Philip was following in the footsteps of Christ, and told the story of faith to one who longed to make it part of his road. The act of telling then became part of his journey, and ours too.
People I talk to often seem to be under the misapprehension that you have to be qualified to share the good news of the Gospel and that we have to have the right words, but all we need to do is share our story, our story of faith. What God means to us and how we have known his love in our lives. We and others are richer when we can tell the stories of our faith.
Philip told the story of faith to the stranger, and finally the man asked, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Can wealth, race, sexuality, gender, or understanding prevent me from being baptized? And so he was baptized into Jesus Christ by Philip, who from his childhood had been taught to be well prejudiced against gentiles and eunuchs.
The story of Philip is one of an ordinary man, who was abiding in God, and by abiding in God he not only listened to God, but had the courage to respond. In doing so, the kingdom grew and the word of God bore fruit. It grew in a way which was symbolic of the kingdom of God, inclusive to those often excluded. In fact the story of the book of the Acts of the Apostles is the story about the Holy Spirit and how, when people abide in God, the Holy Spirit guides them in their daily decisions to bear fruit.
The story of Philip is about a man who listened to the inner guiding voice of God inside of him. It wasn’t merely his conscience. It wasn’t an angel with wings; it wasn’t a voice that he could hear aloud; it wasn’t a dream or a nightmare. It was the inner guiding voice of God, the Spirit of Jesus.
Acts 8:26, says “an angel spoke to me” and in the verse 29 of the same chapter, it says, “the Spirit spoke to me.” The word angel, means messenger; a spiritual messenger. An angel, that inner guiding Spirit of Jesus inside of you, who is a messenger from God.
And so we, like Philip, should learn to listen to the inner guiding voice, as God talks with us about our lives and decisions. What we need to learn is to listen to the voice of God inside us as we approach our daily decisions. And the more time we spend reading our bibles, the more time we spend praying, the easier it will become for us to understand what God is saying to us, the more time we remain in the vine the easier it is to hear the voice of our loving heavenly Father.
The story of Philip is about a lay person who shared his faith with a stranger. Abiding in God not only helps us to hear God but it also helps us to have courage for God, which means not only sharing ourselves, our faith, and God’s love with those we are the same as, or get on with, but also with those who are different to us, the stranger and those who we may be culturally prejudice against.
We are called to get up and go to others and share our faith in Christ, what we know and have experienced with Jesus, one on one. We go not because we have been set a growth target by the United Reformed Church, but because we have something worth sharing and because God longs to be in a relationship with people.
We all need to be like Philip, sharing our story of faith with others, some of whom we may find in the wilderness and we will find this much easier if we remain rooted in God.
Let us become story tellers of our faith and pray that rooted in God it can bear fruit. May God make us like Philip.