PASTOR’S CORNER, Brad Bennett, First United Methodist Church, Liberal

 

One of my professors of preaching shared the story of his first opportunity to preach. His pastor had already seen God’s gifts in him as a young boy and asked him if he would bring the message in worship. He said ‘yes’ and then met with the pastor to get some direction about how he might prepare for this. He was nervous with excitement as he selected a Scripture verse that was familiar and worked a little bit every day to think about what God would have him say to the congregation.

He felt prepared when the day came for him to preach, although he was so nervous that he could barely walk up the steps to the platform. The choir had finished an anthem and the time came for him to preach.

He stood up from his chair, with shaking knees and his Bible clutched tight in his hand ... the choir began to softly hum a tune ... the church’s pastor prayed from his seat a passionate prayer asking for the Spirit to inspire and unleash this young preacher’s word from the Lord ... the choir got a bit louder ...

But he could not open his mouth and could not utter a word. He stood utterly silent with his knees shaking as he was on the verge of tears. Just then the choir, ready for service in a moment’s notice, burst into a rousing anthem they knew very well. The congregation was moved to tears of joy and praised God as the service ended with shouts of adoration and thanksgiving to God for preparing this young boy to preach!

That was the first of what would be thousands of messages for Jesus Christ, guided by God’s Spirit, which my preaching professor would preach in future decades.

In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, verse 26 through 40, the writer, whose name is Luke, records a truly amazing encounter with a preacher of the earliest Christian church, named Philip, who is guided by God’s Spirit to meet a castrated slave (a eunuch) who was an official responsible for the entire treasury of the Ethiopian Queen.

This Ethiopian is an outcast from the religious establishment in Jerusalem, where he had come to festival worship near the temple. The eunuch was forbidden to fully participate religious life among the Israelites due to the eunuch’s sexuality and being a mixed race slave in a foreign land. Today, similar concerns continue to make life miserable for people on society’s margins who seek after God and His guidance today.

Philip met this eunuch on a deserted road between Jerusalem and Gaza. This eunuch was earnestly seeking to understand the Scripture’s prophecies of God’s way to wholeness of life. Philip heard the eunuch read from the prophet Isaiah and asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”  The eunuch’s reply is a good question for any person to ask from time to time, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?”

Why do you suppose the eunuch was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage? Here’s a convincing evidence from Isaiah 56. According to this inspired word, God promises to gather the eunuchs and foreigners who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it” and “come to my holy mountain (my house of prayer), and God promises “to grant them a future with God.”

The eunuch was searching for what the Christian church calls ‘salvation’ - we are saved, we are provided wholeness of life only by God’s unmerited favor through our living faith in Jesus Christ. God’s word through the prophecy of Isaiah gave this eunuch hope for God’s gift that leads to wholeness of life.

Praise the Lord! That’ll preach! Who would not want to hear and see some that lived out — especially an outcast Ethopian eunuch?!

The eunuch’s hope was being fulfilled that day with the guidance of God’s Spirit as Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus. The joyful conclusion of their encounter came when the eunich exclaimed, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?” Evidently, Philip had shared about Jesus’ baptism by John at the beginnings of Christ’s work on earth.

The eunuch ordered that the carriage halt and they both went down to the water where Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away and he found himself in Azotus, where he continue to lead people to living faith; following and learning from Jesus.

The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.

Guided by God’s Spirit, we are all messengers of Jesus the Christ: Isaiah, Luke, Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Jesus’ student-followers today. Through all of us working together, doing what Jesus did and saying what Jesus said, God loves an entire world of people who experience the only love that matters - in Jesus’ name through Jesus’ love. Amen and Amen!

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