Monday, May 11, 2009

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Acts 8:26-40
Unless Someone Guides Me
Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There are few things that make a pastor’s day more than these words: “Pastor, I was reading the Bible and I had a question.” Those are occasions I pray for. It is part of my responsibility as your pastor to regularly choose which Sunday lesson to preach on or which Bible Study to do on Sunday or midweek. It is a special joy when you and I can discover what the Word says about a topic or concern close to you.
I recently read a book called, “Theology is for proclamation.” The book bearing that title was confusing, but the title is great. After all, all the books in the world make no difference if the truth they contain isn’t communicated and understood. How can we, as Lutheran Christians, best use our pure teaching? We can guide others by telling them the good news about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit provided just such an opportunity for Philip in Acts chapter eight.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. 27And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." 30So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."
34And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus. 36And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
37 38And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

“Do you understand what you are reading?” As a pastor, parent, either mother or father, grandparent, godparent, or teacher of day school, Sunday School or Confirmation, we not only get to ask the question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” but we also get to present the Scriptures to young people in a meaningful way. It’s not likely that children will pick up religion on their own, much less the only true one, Christianity. No sinner blinded by the world even cares about a relationship with God. God has chosen a way for people to be brought into a relationship with Him: people sharing His Word, used by His Holy Spirit to create, nurture, and sustain faith.
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, but how many lie around unread in these United States? Sometimes the problem is that a well-intentioned person decides to read the whole Bible beginning with Genesis and gets discouraged in Leviticus or Numbers, and never reaches the New Testament. Sometimes the problem is “graduation syndrome,” where a young person decides that they’ve learned everything in confirmation, and since they know it all, and mom’s happy, they’re done with Church. How can we as a Christian community best guide such people?
Encourage a person who wants to read through the Bible to start with the New Testament, especially John, Acts, and Romans, then pick up familiar “Sunday School accounts” from Genesis, Exodus, and have a good foundation with which to read tougher books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Revelation. Also, invite that individual to join us for corporate worship and group Bible Study. Scripture never talks about a living, active Christian apart from community with other Christians and the Lord.
The Graduation Syndrome of our young people is best prevented when they’re even younger. Be careful when presenting Church as something that’s a “have to.” This is a law approach. The Bible tells us that human beings, because of their sinful nature, rebel against the requirements of law. There are times when a parent will bring a child against the child’s will out of the best interests of the child, but we must never forget to use the invitation of the Gospel.
God has good gifts for us in the Divine Service. You like Christmas and its gifts, right? Each Sunday is like that, even if we can’t see the colorful wrapping paper and glittering bows. God serves us! God forgives us for the bad things we do, gives us encouragement, and strength, and the certain promise that He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever in Heaven. Not only is this Gospel approach more attractive, but it is most certainly true. God wants to give you His gifts. It is to our detriment if we stay away.

Confirmation classes, both for adults and our youth should be comprehensive. Consider all the catechesis that went into the short verse 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus.
Listen to what comes next: 36And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
The Good News About Jesus includes baptism. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off. The Good News About Jesus includes Holy Baptism and much, much, more.
This isn’t one of those 2 a.m. infomercials, but there’s still more! Sometimes people think of Christianity and try to devise some plan, some system to get all the thousands of denominations together. The mistake is that they start looking for the lowest common denominator. Let’s leave that technique to the young people in math class working with fractions.
Instead, the better way is to look at what the eunuch was reading, the Holy Scriptures. Therein, only in God’s revelation to us do we hear what Christianity is to believe, teach, and confess. Instead of looking for the lowest common denominator, why not instead look for the richness of the Gospel in all its articles?
We are not told specifically how long Philip’s adult confirmation class with the Ethiopian lasted. We are not told about every topic, every question, every concern. We do know it was comprehensive. We do know it included Isaiah’s famous passage about the suffering servant. We do know it included baptism. And it had to cover everything in between, too.
The Holy Gospel, all that Jesus has given us, is not made up of unrelated topics that can be believed or rejected without compromising the whole. Christianity is like a big domino display—remove the teaching on justification, close communion, only qualified men in the office of the holy ministry, baptizing babies, church discipline, etc., remove one domino in a strategic position, and part of the display doesn’t work.
Christianity is a lot like a wheel, too. All the teachings of Christianity, of our Lord and His apostles and prophets, are all connected. There’s the layers of the tire, the specialized treads, the steel belts, the wheel rim, the valve stem, even the white ring and imprinted writing on the rubber. Lose any part and something goes wrong with the tire. Deny or rewrite any doctrine of Christianity, and you’ll immediately or eventually have serious problems. At the center of the wheel is justification. Luther called justification the article of faith by which the church stands or falls. We are declared right by God because of Jesus’ work for us, a gift we receive by faith. This is the central cog of Christianity. If something went wrong with it, the whole wheel would fall off.
There’s a lot to Christianity. It takes a lifetime for the baptized to be taught all that Jesus has given—and yet there’s still more.

I encourage you to pray for opportunities to ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?” and for openings to share the good news about Jesus with hurting people.
Pray for those that have some connection to this congregation to consider a confirmation class. Summer is a great time since all our schedules seem to be a little more flexible. Please talk to me if you or someone you know are interested.
I especially encourage you to also pray for the prodigals of this congregation. At this point in my ministry here, You know who they are better than I do. They were baptized, even raised going to Sunday School, were confirmed, and then never seen again, except maybe on Easter or Christmas.
Pray that their hearts would not be hardened to the message of Christ. Pray that they would again eagerly receive the good news about Jesus. Pray for opportunities to present that good news. Pray that it would bring about abundant fruit through the work of the Holy Spirit. And invite them to Church to again receive the Lord’s good Gifts.
Pray also for those who have never heard of the Biblical Jesus and His Biblical good news, which is actually Good News. Pray that they will accept invitations to join us for the Divine Service, Bible Classes, and adult information class. Pray that the Word and the Spirit would create faith in their hearts that says, “What prevents me from being baptized?”
Finally, pray that as a Christian congregation and school, pastor and people, we will have opportunity and the strength to guide people to Holy Baptism and into God’s truth and the good news about Jesus. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.