Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Services

Sunday Worship - 9:00 am

Sunday School - 10:30 am

 

Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

Recent Sermons

The Weird Way God Works With Us

April 29, 2018

THE WEIRD WAY GOD WORKS WITH US

April 29, 2018 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Acts 8:26-40

 

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south* to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside 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 silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth. 
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’ 
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’* 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip* baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

 

We worship today affected by news that Dr. James H. Cone moved from life in God among us to life in God beyond us yesterday.  See, https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2018/04/28/james-h-cone-dies-at-81.  Dr. Cone’s writings and ministry have deep meaning for New Millennium Church.  He was a native of south Arkansas (born in Fordyce and reared in Bearden).  He was a student at Shorter College in North Little Rock and Philander Smith College in Little Rock.  He taught at Philander Smith College.  His soul-searching thinking produced what is known now as “black liberation theology,” and helped open new insights to liberation theology, womanist theology, theology by persons who are LGBTQ, and theology by persons who are not captives of Eurocentric notions of faith and reality.  Please join me in a moment of reflective and thankful silence for Dr. Cone’s life and ministry.

 

God of love and justice, we thank you for the life, devotion, and liberating ministry of your servant and our brother and native son, Dr. James H. Cone.  Thank you for his holy frustration with Eurocentric notions of religion.  Thank you for his holy anger.  Thank you for his determination to study, ponder, prod, and probe so that we could come to know you better.  We pray for his loved ones, colleagues, and dearest friends in this time of transition, and ask that you impart in us a reverent respect for what you have given us through Dr. Cone.  Amen.  

 

  This sermon is titled The Weird Way God Works With Us.  It is drawn from the passage from Acts 8 in which Luke recounts the encounter between Philip and an un-named man.  Here is what we know about that man from Luke’s account of the encounter.  

 

  • The man was an Ethiopian.
  • The man belonged to a sexual minority.  He was a eunuch, meaning that he had physically neutered so that he was unable to father children.
  • He was an official in the court of the Candace – the title given the queen of Ethiopia.
  • He was trusted – verse 27 indicates that he was in charge of the royal treasury.
  • He was a follower of God, having traveled to Jerusalem from Ethiopia to worship, and was returning to his homeland.
  • He was affluent, as shown by the fact that he traveled by chariot with someone else as his driver.
  • He was literate, as shown by the fact that he was reading when Philip met him.
  • He was gracious and hospitable, as shown by the fact that he invited Philip to join him in the chariot.
  • He was humble, as shown by his willingness to ask Philip to interpret the passage from Isaiah 53:7-8. 
  • He knew what it meant to be marginalized.  As a neutered man, the Ethiopian was socially marginalized.  As an Ethiopian, he was an ethnic minority, outside the dominant ethnic group of Judaism.   As a neutered Ethiopian who desired to follow God, his devotion was dictated by religious and social traditions that placed him on the margins of life despite his intellect, despite his political title, and despite his material affluence.  

 

Here is what we know about Philip based on what we read in Acts.

 

  • Philip was one of seven men with Greek names who were selected by the Jerusalem community of Jesus followers to oversee food distribution to needy widows (Acts 6:1-6).  He was among the first deacons.
  • After Stephen was stoned to death – the victim of a lynching - for his testimony and belief about Jesus (Acts 7:51-60), Philip fled Jerusalem and went to Samaria, the region between Galilee and Judea, where he was an evangelist (Acts 8:1-8).
  • From Samaria, the Spirit led Philip farther southward toward the Mediterranean coastline and Gaza.  His encounter with the Ethiopian official occurred on that road.  

 

The encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian official sheds good light on how the Holy Spirit works with us.  We see the Spirit moving Philip into areas of service he probably had not foreseen.  Philip was not only moved into service as a deacon.  He was moved out of Jerusalem into service as an evangelist in Samaria.  Then he was moved out of Samaria to a roadway leading to Gaza where he, afoot and not wealthy, encountered an affluent stranger from another country (Ethiopia).  

 

Philip was moved by the Spirit of God into positions of ministry that had not been planned by church elders.  We have no information about how Philip’s movements were financed.  Philip didn’t have a letter of introduction or calling card to give the Ethiopian.  The Holy Spirit was doing things in Philip and with Philip that none of the church elders planned or approved before Philip did them.  

 

The Spirit was moving the Ethiopian also.  Somehow, this man held onto faith in God despite being socially marginalized.  He traveled to Jerusalem to worship despite being unable to go beyond the Court of the Gentiles because of his ethnicity and sexuality.  He had traveled a great distance out of devotion to God.  He had obtained prophetic writings about God’s way with people.  Now he was traveling back home trying to make sense of the words he read aloud – as was the custom during that era – while riding along a deserted road that was taking him away from the center of the religion he tried so hard to follow.  

 

The Holy Spirit brought these men from together despite their different ethnic, national, and economic backgrounds.  The Holy Spirit put Philip and the Ethiopian together away from any religious structure and agency.  The Holy Spirit put them together!  

 

This is the weird way God works.  God often bypasses the stuff we set up.  God often chooses people we haven’t chosen.  God often opens doors into areas of ministry we aren’t considering.  God breaks down barriers we consider permanent.  God embraces people we often exclude.  

 

The Holy Spirit is free, not domesticated!  God is not limited by our notions of tradition, by our systems of power and control, by our reliance on numbers, or by our ideas about who should be included or excluded.  What is interesting about the never-ending debate about the authority of Scripture and religious systems is that the Holy Spirit moves people despite our debates.  The Holy Spirit calls people despite our notions of eligibility.  The Holy Spirit establishes outposts of faith in places and among people that aren’t on our strategic plans.  The Holy Spirit opens avenues for ministry that aren’t part of our church growth plans.  

 

The Holy Spirit led Philip to a desert roadway to interpret the writings of Isaiah to an Ethiopian whose sexual status disqualified the man from entering the Jerusalem temple.  The Holy Spirit led the Ethiopian man to ask if he could be baptized before Philip mentioned doing so.   And for his part, Philip didn’t ask the man to become circumcised and didn’t ask the man to renounce his sexuality, ethnicity, or his nationality before being baptized.  

 

This lesson teaches us to follow where the Holy Spirit leads and do what the Holy Spirit makes possible.  We are called to serve God as followers of Jesus in the power of the undomesticated Holy Spirit.  We are called to do the unthinkable because God’s Spirit has thought it.  We are called to do the undone because God knows how to make a way out of no way.  We are called to do weird stuff because God works great changes in us, in others, and in the world by doing stuff we call weird, and by doing it in ways we call weird.  

 

God is still doing it!  The Holy Spirit is still moving on people and in people to do what others have not imagined.  Weird is our word what Acts reveals to have been God’s will!  

 

Obeying God’s weird way works!  The gospel of Jesus did not enter Africa because the apostles had a great plan for it.  The gospel of Jesus did not enter Africa because Peter and John or Paul led a missionary crusade.  The gospel of Jesus did not enter Africa because folks in Jerusalem, Rome, or somewhere else sent an army to conquer Ethiopia.  

 

No!  The good news about God’s unapologetic and extravagant love and inclusive justice entered Africa because a sexually different African took it with him after an encounter with a fellow who was not an apostle.  That encounter – not anything else – was the first effect of the Great Commission leaving Palestine.  That encounter – not the teaching and preaching of Paul – took the gospel of Jesus where the apostles hadn’t thought of going because Philip obeyed the Holy Spirit.  

 

Obeying God’s weird way works!  It works no matter what others think about it.  It works no matter how odd it seems or feels.  It works because it is of God.  It works!  

 

Our challenge is to trust the Holy Spirit to work rather than trust our notions about how the Holy Spirit ought to work.  Our temptation is to think the Holy Spirit must work the way we’re accustomed to doing things, seeing things, and learning things.  But the Holy Spirit is not restricted to our ways.  If this passage shows us anything, it shows us that the Holy Spirit works by expanding our vision beyond the boundaries we are accustomed to following.  The Holy Spirit works by using us in ways we did not plan.  The Holy Spirit works in us, through us, and with us to accomplish amazing things.

 

Beloved, the radical, undomesticated, and liberating Spirit is calling us, leading us, nudging us, and drawing us into new dimensions of love, new dimensions of fellowship, and new dimensions of hope.  It may look and feel weird, but it works.  It may not be what we planned, but it works.  It may not capture much attention from others, but it works.  

 

Hallelujah!  Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018