29 April 2018

"New Beginnings" (sermon)

Chetwynd Shared Ministry
April 29, 2018
Scripture:  Acts 8:26-40

I’ve spent some time thinking back this week, on my first Sunday here at Chetwynd Shared Ministry 8 months ago.  I remember standing right here on the first Sunday in September, only knowing a handful of your names, and only knowing a few bits and pieces of the story of Chetwynd Shared Ministry.  I think that I confessed to you how nervous I was – nervous that you might not like my style of preaching; nervous about whether the Holy Spirit would give me words to preach week after week; nervous because what an awesome responsibility it to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

And here we are, 8 months later.  Fortunately the Holy Spirit showed up most weeks to give me the words to string together into a sermon.  We have shared countless cups and pots of tea and coffee in the hall here at the church, in your homes, and in various restaurants around town.  I have felt honoured to be invited into your lives for this short period of time; and it has been a privilege to be entrusted with your stories.  We have laughed together, cried together, encouraged one another, learned from each other, and helped one another out.  We have broken bread together as companions on this journey; and now we have come to the end of this stage of the journey.

I was glad when I saw the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that is assigned to this Sunday – the story of Philip and the nameless Ethiopian eunuch.  This is the story about two people who are brought together for a specific purpose, for a specific period of time.  Both of them were changed by the encounter; and after journeying together for a certain period, they parted ways, each to continue in their assigned ministry in their own location.

Now Philip is an interesting character.  His primary calling was as a Deacon – a ministry of service – of feeding the poor and serving the community of disciples.  But God knew that he was the one who was needed to preach to the Ethiopian eunuch.  And so God sent a messenger, an angel, to Philip, telling him where to go.  Now fortunately Philip listened to the message he was given, and he headed south from Jerusalem.  He got up and went, as the reading tells us.

Now when Philip arrived at the appointed place, there was a carriage traveling along – a carriage from the Ethiopian court, carrying the official who was in charge of the entire Ethiopian treasury.  In modern terms, here is one of the top cabinet ministers in the Ethiopian government.  And what does Philip do?  He runs up along side the carriage, and starts up a conversation.

When I try to imagine the scene, I usually end up somewhere close to laughter.  Here is the fancy carriage, with the high-up official; and alongside it, Philip is running – the street preacher from the back country.

And yet, despite the obvious difference in status, the Ethiopian court official invites Philip to join him in the carriage.  Then as they travel along, Philip tells the Ethiopian about the good news of Jesus Christ, who was crucified and then rose from the dead.  The Ethiopian comes to believe in, to put his trust in Jesus Christ; and he asks to be baptized.  And there, in a small pool of water in the middle of the desert wilderness, Philip baptizes the Ethiopian, and he is reborn in Jesus Christ.

And if you were to look closely, you would see that both of them were changed by the encounter.  The Ethiopian’s conversion experience is maybe more obvious.  He comes to find new life in Jesus Christ through his baptism.  But you might need to look deeper to see how Philip is changed.  In the world in which Philip lived, a eunuch was someone who would normally be excluded from worshipping God.  Because of the genital mutilation, a eunuch couldn’t be a part of the covenant that was marked by circumcision; and a eunuch was not allowed to worship with the others.

And yet Philip was able to see this man’s faith.  Philip was able to see how this man, who, in Philip’s world view should have been excluded from faith, was actually in possession of a very deep faith.  And so when the eunuch asked Philip to baptize him, they both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.  Philip’s understanding of God’s love, and who was included in God’s love was expanded that day there in the wilderness.

Now I see a very strong connection between this story, and our time journeying together here at Chetwynd Shared Ministry.  I do believe that the Holy Spirit acts through our denominations and meetings and committees; and so I believe that the Holy Spirit was acting at the meeting last June when I was matched up with Chetwynd Shared Ministry for this 8-month internship.  God knew that we needed to be brought together for this specific period of time, and for a specific purpose – namely for me to learn about how to be a Minister, and to provide leadership for the ministry of Chetwynd Shared Ministry.

Now I can’t speak for all of you, but I know that I have been changed by this encounter.  I have learned what it means for a church to really BE the church – holding each other up, and making Christ present here in Chetwynd.  I have learned what it is, not just to do ministry but to BE a Minister.  I have been changed and transformed by all of the worship services, celebrations, and study sessions that we have shared together; and I have been changed by conversations with the Lay Supervision Team, and with Marilyn, my supervisor.  And I hope and I pray that some of you might have experienced some sort of transformation too, in our time together.

But then we come to the end of the story from Acts that we read this morning.  We read that “when 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.  But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing trough the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

Even though it had been a very powerful and transformative interaction, these two didn’t stay together.  They each went their own way, and continued their ministry where they found themselves.

Now I don’t think that the Spirit of the Lord is going to snatch me away on Tuesday, the day after my internship here is over.  I fully expect to have to drive all the way across Canada again, over many days.  But our time together here has come to an end.  I am going to be leaving, and I will be continuing my ministry with the people of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge in New Brunswick; but I will take comfort in knowing that you all will be continuing your ministry as Chetwynd Shared Ministry.  You will continue to be a part of the Body of Christ, continuing with God’s mission right here.

And we can all take comfort in knowing that wherever we are, and whatever our ministry looks like, God is with us.  God is always guiding us, and always transforming us, through the Holy Spirit, into the image and likeness of Christ.  And so let us, like the Ethiopian Eunuch, go on our way rejoicing!

“God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.”[1]

Let us pray:
God of all times and all places,
            and of this time and this place;
We know that you are present in our beginnings,
            and in our endings,
            and in our new beginnings.
Help us to celebrate this period of time that we have shared
            as we have journeyed together;
and comfort us by knowing that you are present,
            and that we can continue to be your people
                        in this moment of new beginnings.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ,
            in whose resurrection we find our hope
for all new beginnings.

[1] “A New Creed,” The United Church of Canada, http://www.united-church.ca/community-faith/welcome-united-church-canada/new-creed.

(The Stained Glass door in the church building - a witness to the
mission of Chetwynd Shared Ministry in this community.)

No comments:

Post a Comment