PRACTICE RESURRECTION…IN YOUR WITNESSING
April 26, 2015
Last Sunday I posed this question- could it be that Easter is not just a day nor even a season…but rather a lifestyle? Could it be that resurrection is more than just a belief we voice in a creed? Could it be that resurrection is, as the famed Kentucky author, poet and farmer Wendell Berry puts it, something to be practiced?
If we would meet the risen Christ, then we must learn to practice his resurrected presence on a daily basis—in our thinking, in our relating, in our giving, in our dying and, yes, in our witnessing.
As a child, I can vividly recall having my Bugs Bunny cartoon show interrupted on a Saturday morning by a phone call. It was from our neighbor Alice Boyd. And when my mother hung up the phone she flew into a 5-alarm frantic panic. Without any explanation, she began screaming, “Quick-turn that TV off! Pull the shades down! Go to your room!”
I ran to my room thinking it was nuclear Armageddon. I curled up underneath my desk, put my head between my knees–just like they taught us in school, and waited for the Big One to drop.
In actuality, like Paul Revere, Alice Boyd had called to warn my mother and the rest of the folks in the neighborhood that representatives from the new Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses were making their way door-to-door down our street.
Over the years I’ve always had secret grudging respect for members of groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. I have huge differences with their beliefs, but I have always admired their zeal. It takes a lot of courage to do what they do, especially when people slam doors in your face.
And I have often wondered why we mainstream Christians, who have been touched not by binding legalism but liberating grace, do not desire to share this grace we have found in Jesus Christ. There are folks all around us who are adrift and drowning in a sea of hopelessness, and we can help them find a safe and secure harbor in Christ.
Perhaps we are reticent because we simply are unsure how to go about sharing Christ with others. This morning we are going to explore the witnessing adventure of one of Jesus’ disciples and see what we can glean from his exploits.
And we are going to ponder what our lives and our faith would be like if we learned to practice resurrection in our witnessing.
Let’s check out Acts 8:26-40:
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So 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 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now 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.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As 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?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 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. 40 But 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.
PHILIP TEACHES US TO BE PERCEPTIVE…
Certainly Philip has much to teach us about being perceptive. Being an effective witness for our Lord begins with perception.
Philip is very much in tune with the promptings of God’s Spirit. He has met the resurrected Christ, and now each day he awakens with the purpose of sharing the joy he has found. He believes fervently that God can use him to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Long before Sonny Randle was a household name around here with his radio sports minute, he was the longsuffering, short-tenured football coach of the UVA Cavaliers. He was fired after only 2 years, having lost nearly every game…after having a very successful couple of years at East Carolina.
When asked about what the difference was between East Carolina and UVA, Randle quipped, “At East Carolina, when I told players to run through a brick wall, they would do it. At UVA, they would always ask ‘why’.”
Philip would have been well-suited to play football for Sonny Randle at East Carolina. He is the disciple most characterized by a deep daily perception of God’s presence. And when God’s Spirit prompts him to act, he obeys. He goes into overdrive and doesn’t look back.
Philip doesn’t ask WWJD– What Would Jesus Do? But rather, judging from his itinerary, he inquires WWJG – Where Would Jesus Go? We see him all over the place—from Samaria to Gaza to Caesarea. You don’t just go hopscotching like that unless you have some sense of divine directive.
Are we perceptive of our Lord’s living presence in our lives? Do we awaken each day proclaiming, “Good morning, Lord!” or do we pound the alarm clock muttering, “Good Lord, it’s morning!”
Philip teaches us to be perceptive of our Lord’s presence, and also to be perceptive…
OF THOSE WHO ARE RECEPTIVE…
Philip asks the Lord to lead him to persons who will be receptive to the sharing of the Good News of Christ…and as a result, Philip finds himself on a wilderness road down in the Gaza Strip. It is blistering hot under the noonday sun. And it is there that he encounters the Secretary of the Treasury for the Queen of Ethiopia–a person of very prominent stature.
This gentleman is a religious seeker. He has been to Jerusalem to worship. It’s been a worthwhile experience. But now as he heads back home he finds he has a ton of deep-seated questions about his faith. He needs a guide, a coach, a mentor to help him understand the scripture he is wrestling with.
It is no coincidence, no chance happening, that Philip appears on the scene. God wants this Ethiopian official to meet his Son Jesus Christ, and Philip is the one through whom this meeting will take place.
Centuries later a fellow named John Wesley would call this prevenient grace – the grace of God that goes before us, preparing us, compelling us, to turn toward Christ.
Whenever you or I would seek to share something of our faith with others, we can be certain that God has already been there first, knocking at the door of their hearts. It’s God’s idea, first and foremost.
Indeed Philip is led by God’s Spirit to come alongside this Ethiopian official. The gentleman is of a much different culture than Philip. They don’t have much in common. But nevertheless, Philip is bold enough to strike up a conversation. Philip intuitively inquires, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And when the Ethiopian voices frustration over understanding the book of Isaiah, Philip, with great patience and sensitivity, uses this as a segway to witness of his faith.
Philip teaches us to be perceptive of those who are receptive…and yet, it is vital that we do so
WITHOUT OUR BEING DECEPTIVE
There’s an old saying that “people will not care what we know until they know we care.”
Last fall I was at a stoplight on Court Square, fiddling with the radio, when all of the sudden I was startled by this young guy knocking on my window. He had moussed-up hair, some sort of religious t-shirt, a 10 lb. Bible in his right hand, and when I opened the window, I discovered he had bad breath. He screamed at me, “Do you know where you’ll go if you die tonight?”
I wanted to punch his lights out because he had left fingerprints on my window and side-view mirror, but I just replied, “God bless you, buddy” and took off.
You cannot share your faith without first having a genuine stake in the spiritual, emotional and physical struggles of another individual. You long to help that person find a place of grace, a haven of wholeness, a serenity of salvation.
You must be willing to make the effort to form relationships, to get involved. And it’s not about being holier-than-thou–it’s about being real, taking off the mask, letting others see that you are honest in your faith doubts as well as your faith certainties.
The Ethiopian official senses Philip’s concern. Philip is authentic—there is no phoniness about him. He meets this foreigner on his own turf, and takes an interest getting to know him. And a bridge is built between two cultures that allows faith to be questioned and shared.
With great patience, Philip walks alongside the Ethiopian, seeing him through baptism, helping him to find clarity in his faith as he encounters Christ. And it is said that this Ethiopian official was the missionary through which the Christian faith became established on the continent of Africa.
This first quarter of the 21st century is the most skeptical, cynical age in history. We can Facebook and Tweet about our faith all we want, but no one is ever going to take it seriously until they experience our influence first hand in an ongoing, face-to-face relationship. They must see how we deal with the day-to-day crud of living from a faith perspective. We plant the seeds of faith in their lives and then water those seeds with our encouragement and support over the long haul.
Yes, Philip teaches us how to practice resurrection in our witnessing. It’s all about being perceptive of those who are receptive without our being deceptive.
My older brother John and I could never have a discussion about faith. At age 19 he had decided he wanted nothing to do with God and the church, and that was that.
John was certainly not a bad person. He was a highly-dedicated football and basketball coach, and had positively impacted the lives of hundreds of kids at William Monroe HS in Greene County. But whenever I would approach the subject of faith, John would quickly change that subject in no uncertain terms. And so we went through decades together as brothers with my respecting his wishes.
By the time John had approached 30 years of teaching and impending retirement, he had become a burned-out, self-absorbed, embittered, cynical man. At age 50 he suffered a massive heart attack that required quadruple bypasses.
When he finally hung up the coaching whistle at age 58, he was a misery to himself and anyone else around him. I certainly wanted nothing to do with him.
And that was why it was such a shocking surprise about six months later when he called me one Sunday evening to tell me about the great time he had had at church that morning. I nearly fell over dead with a heart attack!
It seems that this young man named Scottie, who had played basketball for John back in the mid-90’s, had been stopping by to visit with John. They relived the old glory days of state championships. John always respected Scottie’s over-achieving attitude and great work ethic.
The kid had grown up to be a good husband and father. And Scottie made it a point to always invite John to come to church with him, to which my brother would make a hundred excuses. Scottie would talk about how much faith and the church had meant to him, but John would remind him that his standing tee time was 10:30 am on Sunday mornings.
Well, there was some kind of Christmas children’s program Scottie’s kids were in, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a cold December morning–golf was not a valid excuse. So John finally relented and went to Aldersgate UMC.
Everything in that service spoke to him–the music, the prayers, even the sermon by Rev. Bill Jones–someone my brother resonated with because Bill was an old Hokie also. And John never stopped going to church after that. Every Sunday John was at worship.
Now I know my brother didn’t make any public professions of faith. And he retained a colorful vocabulary that served him well whenever the Redskins were playing. But I saw a pronounced change in his attitude and his life. There was a certain joy that had not been there before. He laughed often, and he served others often. He was a lifeline to a neighbor fighting cancer–taking that gentleman to treatments, making sure he and his wife had groceries.
On our many trips to see my sister Sandra in southern Va. he would inquire about Vision of Hope. On the occasion of her passing in September, 2007, we were able to talk about our faith and our doubts.
Little did I know that John would die suddenly the following April of a massive stroke. Last week marked 7 years. I really miss him. I’ll never forget many good and meaningful times together in those two final years of his life.
And I am so very grateful that a young man named Scottie knew how to genuinely witness of his faith—being perceptive of those who are receptive without being deceptive. He gave my brother John a new lease on life, and eternity!