First Congregational Church
May 2, 2021
Fifth Sunday in Easter
Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:16b-21
“This Is How We Know”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Toward the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons.
“Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!” The pastor was thrilled. “No-one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why.”
“Well,” the parishioner began, “it reminded me of the Peace of God because it passed all understanding and the Love of God because it endured forever!”
Jesus and Moses are golfing. Jesus says, “Watch this drive. It’ll be just like Tiger Woods.” He hits the ball and it lands in the lake.
Moses says, “I’ll get it.” He goes down to the lake, parts the water and retrieves the ball.
“Okay,” Jesus says, “This time, it WILL be just like Tiger Woods.” He hits the ball and again, it lands in the lake. Moses goes down, parts the lake and retrieves the ball again.
“Third time’s a charm,” Jesus says. “Watch, just like Tiger Woods.” And for the third time he hits the ball into the lake. Moses says, “This time, you can get it yourself!”
As Jesus is down walking on the water looking for the ball, a crowd forms. One guy says, “Who does he think he is, Jesus Christ?” “No,” Moses says. “He thinks he’s Tiger Woods.”
The first of this morning’s scripture passages comes from the book of Acts, about a third of the way into the book. Some have pressed for specifying that it should be called the Acts of the Apostles, while others push for the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Most of us probably remember hearing about the beginning of Acts, describing the gathering of the disciples, the speaking in tongues and the flames of the Holy Spirit appearing on each one’s head. We are perhaps less familiar with the healing that Jesus’ disciples did, the persecutions some of them suffered, and how seven of them were chosen to overlook the distribution of food to the widows, because some of them weren’t receiving enough. These seven, known as deacons, were chosen so that the others were able to devote their time to prayer and preaching.
After that, almost two chapters in Acts is given to Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, known to have performed great wonders and signs among the people. And naturally, such a man, regardless of era, is one who would make some folks uncomfortable, and sure enough, he ended up by being stoned to death. Acts continues with a description of the church in Jerusalem splitting and a young man named Saul who began to persecute the remaining Christians. Then Philip comes on the scene, preaching and teaching in Samaria. When God tells Philip to go from Jerusalem to Gaza, it’s a 46 mile trip, just so you know.
The second passage this morning comes from the same little book of 1 John that was part of last week’s worship, the one written to address leadership issues within the church, the one that mentions the word love so many times. For those interested in such things, while there is no documented author, it it generally attributed to the same John that wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelations.
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both 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 suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
1 John 4:16b-21
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Thank you, Molly and Judy. It would be an interesting endeavor, to read these two passages again, and perhaps even a third time in one worship service. However, I don’t know if it would be a good thing, to be known for “the peace and love of God enduring forever” - from the introduction to this message.
Seriously, there is such richness in both passages - from “hearing” the voice of God and doing as asked, to the simple complexity of “God is love.” It was verse 13 of the 1 John passage that caught my brain for today’s sermon title. “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”
I wonder how many people struggle with God living in us. We certainly have a history of human beings trying to get a corner on that market of belonging to God - keep these Ten Commandments and you are good. Say these particular words and you are good. Be baptized and you are good. Not that those things aren’t good, but they have been used too often as notches on the bedpost of working one’s way into God’s good graces.
How easy it is to forget that we have been born in God’s image - through no work of our own. The writer of 1 John tells us that in this world we are like Jesus and God lives in us and we live in God - to the point that sometimes those “hunches” or gut feelings we get are really moments of that the Holy Spirit knocking on the door of our hearts - with a message or a mission.
That’s part of what happened when Philip got his simple message and mission from God: The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” It doesn’t tell us if there was a rumbling of the earth or if it was accompanied with a special breeze or set of clouds. It just happened and he knew it. And Philip went. Sometimes we think that following Christ is so hard or such a holy venture that surely God means someone other that little ol’ me.
Robert R. Kopp, over there at ministrymatters.com, pointed out surprises in the Acts passage. It’s rather quick action that dazzles and functions as a reminder that in God’s new community - the church - old boundaries are not only smudged, they are erased.
Ministering to the Ethiopian, God’s Word has reached the marginalized, the foreigners, beyond the reaches of the African desert. The meeting happened in the middle of the day, as when Jesus met the Samaritan woman, and who would be out and about in temperatures that could be over 130 degrees Fahrenheit? Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit continues to minister not to the popular and pretty, but the neglected and non-persons - so to speak.
Mr. Kopp said, “God, of course, created all people and created them to be in fellowship with one another. Sometimes, though, humans put limits on who is welcome and who is not in particular communities.” And yet, God sent God’s “one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” And “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Sometimes “it’s not that easy being green”, as famous Muppet, Kermit D. Frog sings. “Having to spend each day the color of leaves when I think it could be nicer being’ red or yellow or gold or something much more colorful like that.” Somedays, it might seem less taxing, less frustrating to just be who we are meant to be - followers of Christ - loving those who seem to relish making themselves difficult to love. “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
“It’s not easy being Christian, having to spend each day loving and forgiving and welcoming and including, when I think it would be nicer bein’ closed off, grudge-feeding or selfish or something much more indulging like that.” And yet, if “God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us, not living out of that reality is like trying to keep the cork in the champagne bottle. Besides, a bottle of champagne may be expensive and rare, but it’s not really anything until it’s opened and taken in. So shall we pray?
Great and loving God, how we really miss the mark sometimes, when we miss the mark. We really snub your work in and with this world when we fail to live as you would have us - fully loving and fully living that way. We know that you have given us of your Spirit, and you know that we sometimes run from that knowledge. So forgive us when we shirk such fullness, and continue to inspire us to live bigger than any of us imagine on any given day. May those who see our joie de viv be inspired to live so fully, too. Thank you, for your self, your son and your Spirit and the joy and largesse that can come from living fully in all aspects of life. Thank you, too, that you don’t leave us in doubt or unknowing, but that you give us ways to know that we are truly your people. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.