Acts – A Discipling Community

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Collect Prayer

Risen Christ,
your wounds declare your love for the world
and the wonder of your risen life:
give us compassion and courage
to risk ourselves for those we serve,
to the glory of God the Father.
Amen.

Readings

Acts 8:26-end (NLT)

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
    And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they 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 never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

Homily by Colin Udall Lay Reader

Many centuries ago, long before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the suffering of “the Servant of the LORD” in dramatic language which hid nothing of the horror and the power of the vision which was disclosed to him. This same prophecy has been quoted many times in the New Testament, and one such occasion was the story we’ve just heard when the Evangelist Philip was enabled to explain the words to the Ethiopian Ambassador, who was returning from a pilgrimage in Jerusalem.

As was customary, the Ethiopian was reading out loud on the long chariot journey which would take him back to Africa. The Scripture which he read was Isaiah 53:7-8. “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer was silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

Drawing near to the chariot, Philip asked if the reader understood what he was reading. But how could he, without an interpreter? So the traveller asked Philip to join him on the chariot, making the most of the opportunity to tap into the preacher’s expertise. This encounter changed the life of the Ethiopian forever – he heard of Christ, His mission, His sacrifice, the gift of salvation to all nations, not just Israel.

Jesus is to be found in all the Scriptures – the Old Testament and the New Testament. It was from the Old Testament that Jesus taught two disciples on a journey on the road to Emmaus: “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

A disciple is a follower.  The disciples went from being followers to evangelists – apostles. What is the sign of a disciple of Jesus? They go to church. They may go to church every time the door is open. They get involved. They give. They serve, pray, witness, evangelize. All these and perhaps more indicate you are disciple of Jesus.

Someone said: “I go to church, so I am a Christian.” But that’s like saying if you go to McDonald’s that makes you a Quarter Pounder.

If someone were to ask, “Are you a Christian?” and you responded “Yes, I am!” they might say, “Funny, you don’t look like a Christian.”

Sometimes we don’t resemble a disciple of Jesus, BUT WE SHOULD! There should be a difference in us from other people because we are Christians. We are His disciples and we should be interested in making more disciples

HOW DO WE MAKE DISCIPLES? We invite them in or else go out to get them. However, to invite them in we must have something to draw them.

What makes us a discipling church, a discipling community?  I think it is about being noticed for who we are and what we stand for.  Our banners outside and our noticeboards tell passers-by something of this.  Because of the pandemic, we have substantially increased our online activities and this has increased people’s awareness of what we do and what we stand for.  We have involved the community in our various activities such as the Advent windows, the Easter Egg trails.  We have continued our Messy Church activities and people have put time and a great deal of effort into making this an attractive family event online, with a discipling message for those who take part.  We have our services online and I for one hope this continues, even after the pandemic and the lockdowns have finished.  We have online audiences for our services and prayers that include people who may never come to church, but they are hearing about Jesus, the Bible stories that found our faith and those things that we do that say we are fulfilling Jesus’ call on us to love our neighbours wherever they may be – local, national or international.  Foodbank, Christian Aid, Job Club and so on.

The pandemic has meant that we are not the hub of community in this church that we were before the lockdowns.  You may describe us as more scattered, through the online presence we now have.  But that’s ok, Acts 8:4 tells us that “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Wherever we scatter, we must preach. They scattered because of persecution. We scatter for other reasons, however.

People say to me that they can’t talk about their faith because they don’t know what to say. Paul charged young Timothy to charge the people in his preaching of the Word. Be strong. Be straight. Be sincere.  In other words, just be yourself and tell the truth.  Keep it simple.  Where I now work, a couple of people who knew me from when I worked there before call me “The Vicar”.  That just came out of a conversation where I said that I didn’t mind working on Sundays when I was rostered to, but I would never volunteer for overtime on a Sunday because I wanted to go to church whenever I could.  These people don’t make fun of me, they understand what I want to do, even if it’s not what they want to do, but it has led to other conversations about what I believe and where I stand on certain subjects.  And I am not the only Christian person at work.  I have met others who have shared with me their beliefs and also I have got into a van where the previous driver had been listening to a Christian radio station.

The early Christians were a discipling community.  They must have been, otherwise the Christian faith would not have grown in the way it did.  Studies have shown that this was not just through preaching and teaching, but practical action – helping one another, treating people as equals (remember Paul admonishes a church where they did not wait for the slaves before they started the services) sharing with each other and with those outside of their church community.

We need to be a discipling community too, continuing to serve Jesus by sharing his good news and continuing to share His love with one another and those in the communities around us.

Amen

Prayers

Living God,
long ago, faithful women
proclaimed the good news
of Jesus’ resurrection,
and the world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them,
that our witness may be as bold,
our love as deep,
and our faith as true. Amen.

Closing Worship

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