Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Mike Turgeon “5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations:
Intentional Faith Development” 8-22-10
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). 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 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 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.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.‘
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 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?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:26-38
5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Intentional Faith Development
In 1982, a young woman I had recently met invited me to go to the neighborhood Methodist church that she had been attending for a couple of months with her friend.
Both this young woman and her friend had two little kids and, as Moms do, they were attending this church for a number of reasons: seeking support for themselves, playmates for their kids, and a deeper life experience than you find in the everyday grind the world normally offers.
Now, I may never have found myself inside a church had it not been because of this woman. But her invitation piqued my interest, and before you know it, I was enrolled in a class called
“Getting To Know Jesus,” taught by Joseph Waters, one of the church’s members.
The remarkable thing here is that I really had no interest in Jesus, you might even say I was ‘anti-Jesus.’ Looking back though, I realize it wasn’t that I didn’t like Jesus, it was a number of his followers that I couldn’t stand. You know what I’m saying?
While I had grown up with Jesus, somehow those parents, teachers and others entrusted with my faith development, had given me the impression that Jesus was out to get me.
Now, I had a hand in it, too. Perhaps I was lumping Jesus in with other issues particular to an adolescent, but nevertheless, in the Fall of 1966, I had gotten up in the middle of a Catholic Mass at University and walked out, never to darken the door of a church again, until this woman asked me to come listen to this preacher-guy who seemed to make sense of a lot of things. The preacher’s name was Bob Olmstead, a man who served this very congregation in 1971.
Can I say right now, the spirit moves in mysterious ways?
But really, my serious Faith Development didn’t begin until this man, Joseph Waters, came up to me after the church service one Sunday and asked if I’d like to join this class he was going to teach about Jesus. He was going to teach it at 9:15am. for 6 Sundays, just before the service started.
Completely out of the question for me, since the class would be happening as I was playing the last three holes at Bennett Valley Golf Course. But there was something about Joseph, a man I hardly knew, that made me think twice. He and his wife, Marilyn, would occasionally stand up in church and make mention of a soup kitchen they were going to serve at, would anyone like to join them? Or they would be asking for prayers for a particular ministry that needed support. Joseph seemed authentic, approachable, and genuinely interested in learning about who I was.
So I decided to play 9 holes instead of 18 for 6 weeks, a major concession in a life that felt like it was going somewhere, but it was really a mile wide and only an inch deep.
Well, the rest is history, as they say. I remember virtually nothing about that class, “Getting To Know Jesus.” But what I do remember is Joseph and his patient manner in offering possible answers to some of my hostile questions about Jesus and those obnoxious followers of his. I remember the four other people in the class, not so much their names but their curiosity, about Jesus, and about me. Looking back, I realize that very little of that experience was about what I learned; it was about who I was with.
Faith Development is a life-long journey. Those people went on to become the ones I traveled the Jesus road with. My faith development would not have happened were they not there for me. Their guidance allowed me to forge a new spirituality, based on a relationship with Christ.
What I was looking for, folks, was God’s love. I used to think that had to be hurled at you by a thunder bolt from heaven, and I somehow hadn’t quite been walking in the right places yet. Where I found God’s love was in the gentle encouragement of the people of that neighborhood Methodist Church. Imagine that!
I found God’s love not as a thunderbolt, but in the welcoming invitation of a guy named Joseph. Not a saint, but someone who was authentic, just exactly the kind of thing I was looking for at the time, and I didn’t even know I was looking.
I traveled the Jesus road with those folks for 15 years, as I travel the Jesus road with you today. They were not people without doubts about faith, and they were not people who claimed to know all the answers about religion, faith and spiritual matters. But they did approach questions about the nature and character of God and the nature and character of the human condition without fear.
Do you think things have changed over the last 28 years? No doubt things have changed over that time, but people still yearn for the unconditional love of God.
Yes, we are a bit more anxious than we used to be. Today, most of us here have two or three messengers in our house 24/7--the television, the computer, and the Bible.
Not one of these three messengers opens itself or turns itself on. We choose. And depending on which messenger we choose each day, we still have to sort out the message that is being delivered to us. But that’s pretty much what we do as human beings. Most of our lives are spent assessing the meaning of what is happening to us.
Like in our text this morning.
“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...”
Philip is one of the original Apostles. This scene takes place in the weeks and months following Jesus’ death and resurrection. This passage comes from the 8th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, commonly assumed to have been written by Luke, the writer of the Gospel of the same name.
In the first seven chapters of Acts, there has been this explosion of what has commonly been referred to as the ‘way of Jesus,’ if you will, fueled by the coming of the Holy Spirit. Philip has received a call from the spirit to be a missionary, but a missionary in a very specific direction. Philip is traveling among the ‘outcasts of Israel.’ The ones whom the Jewish religious authorities deemed ‘untouchable.’
Just before this passage, we found him in Samaria, the place where no self-respecting person of the synagogue would even be caught dead if they could help it. And now we find Philip way south of Jerusalem on the road to Gaza,
the wilderness road. We’ll just assume there weren’t any 4 or 5 star accommodations on this trip.
Now, you talk about Faith Development. My guess is that the faith of Philip himself is the faith that is mostly being developed. It’s probably safe to say that on that journey, that’s all he had to go on was faith.
Folks, from everything I’ve learned, we find our best opportunities for spiritual growth when we are called to travel in our own Samarias and on our own Wilderness Roads.
So you got this fully amped up apostle setting out with the love of Jesus Christ on his heart and who does he stumble into? An Ethiopian eunuch who is need of some Biblical interpretation. Wow! Even though this man is working in service to the Queen, the fact that he is a eunuch, has been castrated, renders him the lowest of the low.
But for Philip, the golden opportunity. “Here, hop up into the Queen’s carriage and help me understand about this ‘sheep who is being led to the slaughter.’”
I’d like to tell you that what we’re reading here is a typical day for me as a pastor. And maybe it will be some day. I’ve only been in the business 9 years, perhaps I haven’t got the right mojo yet.
Mostly my invitations to biblical interpretation and Faith Development have been somewhat less dramatic than this. Of course, we have the regular Wednesday morning Bible Study, always informative, a staple of Christianity for hundreds of years. And here, at Windsor, it never fails to be an adventure in how to apply the wisdom of the Bible; I highly recommend it.
Let me tell you what does qualify for Intentional Faith Development in the life of a pastor in a post-modern world. Helping people come to grips with the awful questions: Why did God do this to me? Why doesn’t God do something? Why me? Why her, and not me? Why do bad things happen to good people. All questions that reveal how badly we have misjudged God. How terribly far from the path of Jesus Christ we stray, or are misled.
Let me state my favorite definition of the Gospel. The Gospel is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. That is so elegant. Like Philip telling the Ethiopian some Good News to an ‘outcast.’
Like you and me, listening with compassion to our neighbor, to the homeless, to the immigrant, the homosexual, the Muslim, any of the ‘easy targets’ out there that we attack when we let the fear in our hearts overtake the love of Christ in our hearts.
I like the adjectives in this series on the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical, Passionate, Risk-taking, Extravagant, Intentional.
Like opening that computer, like turning on the TV, like opening the Bible, before you do these things, you must intend them. That’s how we work. If that is so, then what is our best intention? Our best intention is to surrender, not to our own desires, not to our many fears, but to the will of God’s Holy Spirit, calling you, calling me, as surely as Philip was called, as surely as we gather here.