Friday, 21 August 2015

You have the words of eternal life!

“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

Life is such a perplexing thing. 

If you are anything like me there will have been times in your life and maybe even constantly when you have asked:

“What is it all about?”
“What is the meaning of life?”
“What is the purpose of my existence?”

These are not new questions; these are age old philosophical and religious conundrums.  They are also incredibly personal and perplexing questions.  They are about validating who we are and what we are doing – justifying our existence.

As Jesus conversed with the people of his day in the synagogue at Capernaum about issues of the meaning of life he makes the claim that those who eat of his flesh will live.

He claims that through his connection with God, the one whom he called his Father, he offers spirit and life. It is spirit and it is life that comes to us as a gift.

From the beginning of John’s gospel John has sought to help his audience to understand that Jesus is the eternal Word of God through whom all things came into being and who, in sharing in our existence, affirms the life that we have received as a gift.  We do not have to validate or justify ourselves we are simply invited to live as we were created to live.

It might seem strange then to think that though Jesus offers this spirit and this life many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.  They stopped trusting in what Jesus was saying.

Ironically, it also makes sense that people turn away from Jesus’ message – for when it comes to these fundamental questions about life and its meaning Jesus shifts the ownership of the question from our control into God’s hands.

It is God who offers spirit and life. 

It is God who offers us meaning in our existence.

This is a difficult teaching precisely because it locates the origins and the destination of our existence and the meaning of life beyond you or me. 

It is also a difficult teaching because following Jesus and trusting his teaching does not automatically mean that we have all the answers and complete understanding. In fact far from it!

Many turned away because of the difficulty of Jesus words and there no doubt the obscurity of them.  When Jesus asked his closest followers whether they too wanted to go Peter responds with great words of hope:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“You have the words of eternal life.”

Not all the answers, not just a promise of pie in the sky when we die, but the words of spirit and life are the words of eternal life – life lived knowing the Father and the one whom he sent.

It heartens me to know that even though Peter makes this grand claim he too denied Jesus when confronted by Jesus suffering and death, he turned aside.

Yet Jesus’ resurrection overcomes Peter’s doubts and inspires his faith.  Jesus’ resurrection says to us that though we may not understand, though we may turn aside, though we might struggle to follow: God is offering to us hope.

Hope in the face a complex and perplexing world.

Hope that might just allow us to say with Peter:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

It is indeed a perplexing world and I want to share some random reflections about the world in which we live.

During the week 7 Australians were arrested suspected of going to join the group ISIS.  The war in the Middle East is a disturbing one.  The violence is horrific.  This last week a scholar of the ancient world was beheaded and hung from the ruins he had spent his life studying and restoring.  Millions of people have fled across the borders.

This year 124 000 refugees have made the shores of Greece.  Refugees like this man and his family.  People trying to escape the horrors of war!  Millions are still on the borders in refugee camps.  Meanwhile in Australia we continue to promote a policy of offshore detention which incarcerates refugees indefinitely whilst our Government hides what is occurring in those camps from us.

As distant as we might feel from such inhumanity of war and suffering our knowledge of these events and the complex issues that lie behind them can be debilitating.

And so confronted by these issues we ask:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

During my time away I listened to the news and watched the debate around marriage continue to unfold in our parliament.  The issue of allowing people of the same gender to have rights around marriage for some people is clear cut – for some it is simply wrong, for others its is imply the right thing to do. Yet, for many it is a more complex issue – an issue of compassion and justice sitting alongside a commitment to traditional values.  There certainly a great deal of vitriol around the debate.

Yet for me one of the perplexing issues is that one of the reasons it has been opposed is because of the value of the institution of marriage.  The description of marriage in the Uniting Church wedding service speaks of marriage helping to shape society.  Despite this ideal there is a certain naivety about how we value marriage as a society. Fewer people are marrying and the divorce rate in Australia is still significant. Last week there was a leak of information from a website called Ashley Maddison which is website with the invitation “Life is short have an affair”.  Around 80% of people who marry live together before marriage.

The state of relationships and how we value and respect each other as human beings is at issue in all of this. All of us understand that intimate relationships can be rocky and difficult.

So we well we might ask as we contemplate these difficult moral and ethical issues:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Being sick gives you a lot of time to think, probably too much time!  As I reflected about my life and where I am think I am heading it also made me think about your lives as well. 

Each one of us here has issues that perplex us and confront us as we struggle to make sense of things.  Some of us are unwell, some are beset by loneliness, some feel and are a long way from home, many of us wonder what the future will bring – we all have our personal hopes and fears and dreams and nightmares.  The complexity of our lives can weigh heavily upon us.

So whether it is the global issues, the moral issues of our time or even our personal struggles that swamp us the message of our faith is ‘spirit and life’.

We may now know all the answers but we stand with Peter and say:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

You know one of the things I most value about this congregation is our diversity and the constancy of change that we experience.  These things both challenge and enrich us.

In the years I have been here we have had people ranging in age from the very young, from infancy, through to people who have lived for almost a century.  Some of us have more conservative beliefs whilst others might be considered more liberal or progressive in their views. Some of us grew up in the Uniting Church, or its forebears, whilst others have come from different traditions.  In the 4 years since I came here we have probably had people from over 20 countries visit with us and become members with us, if only for a short time. We are a diverse bunch and sometimes we don’t always see eye to eye but we come together because I think in the face of our diversity and the complexity of how we live we trust in God.

We come together and we say to one another:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

We listen. We look. We hope. We pray.

And Jesus reminds us to live for he says:

“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

Friday, 12 June 2015

A Sower went out to Sow

A sower went out to sow!
What an amazing act of faith!

A sower went out to sow scattering his seed.
Flinging it here and there.

A sower went out to sow!
Even though he did not understand how it would or whether even it would spring forth in to life.

A sower went out to sow!
We should not be distracted by our modern knowledge of agriculture but listen to what God is saying – the sower sows in faith.

Jesus says to us that this parable is a parable that describes the kingdom of God.

The mystery of the process does not stop the sower stepping out into the field and trowing the seed.

If we contemplate for a moment that God is that sower we get a sense of God’s deep love for us and willingness to share the seed of faith with us so liberally.

God sows the seed into the world.

God sows the seed of his son Jesus to walk among us.

God’s faith is God’s faithfulness not a feeling or a belief or an idea but an action.

God sows Jesus into the world and here we are 2000 years later contemplating the same parable he told his disciples.

The disciples heard that the sower went out to sow and when we follow Mark’s gospel we know they struggled to understand what Jesus was getting at.

Jesus had to explain it to them.  As Jesus followers in this day and age we are still listening and we pray, ‘Jesus’ help us understand your word to each of us as well as we contemplate your parables. Jesus’ open our hearts and minds so that we might burst forth in new life like that dormant seed.’

The sower sowed Jesus into our midst and we still listen to his stories and we are still confronted by the mystery of how God’s love works in the world.

But it does.

The seeds spring forth into life.  You are here on this day because somehow you have seen that growth, you have been touched by a sense of the kingdom of God coming close, you have heard Jesus speaking, you have been transformed by faith.

Seeds which lay dormant in our lives broke forth and broke through the topsoil reaching up for the sunlight and we have basked in the divine presence of God.

We do not know how!

The sower sowed the Holy spirit into the world, the Spirit which works where it wills, the s Spirit which join us to God and each other and the Spirit which continues to open our eyes and draw us close to God.

The sower sowed in faith scattering the seed and the harvest continues to grow.

The fruit of the harvest is God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s desire for fullness on our lives.  The harvest is our encounter with God and our faith which leads us not simply to be followers by to celebrate the harvest and to become sowers ourselves.

The gift of faith that the sower gives is a gift of sharing in the work.  Sharing in the celebration of the harvest but yes sharing in the wild abandon of the sower as God continues to scatter the seeds.

Watching night and day and night and day with hope that the seeds will spring forth into new life and marvelling at God’s love and work in the world when we see signs of it growing around us.

On this day as we hear the good news of God’s love and faith in the scattering of the divine seed we are the disciples and we are also apostles sent into the world to become fishers of men and women – sowing the seeds on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday and all through week until we return next Sunday.

Sowing the seed that God is for us not against us, that God loves us, that God desires the best for our lives, that God wants us to see beyond our fears and to live more fully.

The sower went out to sow
What an amazing gift of faith and life in which we share!


Saturday, 30 May 2015

Hope in things not seen.

Reflections on Romans 8, Isaiah 6 & John 3


As you read that word ‘hope’ what image builds in your mind?

Say it out loud.

As you hear that word ‘hope’ what feelings well up inside you?

Just sit for a moment with that word ‘hope’: see and feel what it means for you.

Paul wrote to the people in Rome and he reassured them of their faith in the midst of their ambiguous experience of life.  Some had doubts, some experienced persecution, some disagreed about God and their faith, some just worried about how to get by every day, and some worried about their families and their futures.  In this they were not that much different to us.

Paul wanted them to have hope and through the inclusion of his letter to the Romans in the Scriptures we might also then say God wants us to have hope.

Paul wrote:

For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
We wait for it with patience.

Earlier in the service I challenged us all about how we perceive and understand the world.  

Do we see the glory of God in all things? Do we know and experience the fullness of God’s presence in our lives?  Can we see the promised salvation for which we long?

What is our perception of the world? Is it filled with hope?

Paul later wrote to the Corinthians that none of us see clearly: we all see God as through a dark glass or as in a dim mirror.

We do not fully comprehend or experience what God offers but we hope for it.

This is what faith is all about.  The realisation of the distance between life as we experience it and the life God longs for us – in Jesus language it was the coming kingdom.

Yet this coming kingdom of God has not arrived in all its fullness and as people of faith we should hold closely to this truth.

At the beginning of Paul’s letter he reminded the Romans that all people were sinners, all fall short of the glory of God. Like Isaiah and his vision any who come into God’s presence realise this.

None of us have a perfect faith.
None of us has a perfect understanding of life and of God.
None of us respond to the needs of each other perfectly.
None of us loves God or others as we should.

But the good news is that although we do not see or experience it in all its fullness God’s will for us is not judgement but new life. 

This is hope: hope not seen.

The story of Isaiah’s vision and the burning coal which represents his release from the power of sin pre-empts the fullness of what God’s intention for the creation and for each one of us is.  In John’s gospel we read “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This is hope: hope not seen.

We long for the salvation of the world

We long for a perfect faith.
We long for a perfect understanding of life and of God.
We long for people to respond to each other’s needs perfectly.
We long for a time when all people would love God and others as we should.

In other words:
We long for the peace of God
We long for the coming kingdom

This is hope: hope not seen.

In Romans Paul wrote “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord”

For it is in Jesus our hope is found, it is in Jesus that the past, present and future collide and are made new.  It is he who lived and died and was raised again that transforms and remakes us.

This is such a difficult thing for us who live in this world of enlightened understanding to accept.  We are people who like to think that we are in control, that we know where we are headed and that we can make our destiny.

Yet just as Jesus challenged the lawyer Nicodemus so long ago so Jesus words hurtle through time and space and confront us.

The only way to glimpse God’s kingdom is to be born from above.  It is God alone who shows us what is in store for the creation and for each one of us.  It is God alone who remakes our lives.  It is God alone who came and lived and walked among us as Jesus, who died and yes who rose again, that saves you and I.

Christians, as people of faith tie themselves to hope that they, and that we, believe in but cannot see.   Jesus presence in world means salvation – God saves what God has made.

It is through the Holy Spirit, which works where it will, that we can be drawn into this hope as we receive the gift of faith.

Hope in what we do not see but can only glimpse as God reveals it to us: the kingdom is coming!

We live in a world beset by problems.  We are accustomed to hiding our problems and trials from each other.  We deceive and delude ourselves and each other with the idea that we are in control. Our perception is skewed.

Yet we hope in things not seen.

God made us, God loves us and God is saving us.

Close your eyes, take a moment, dwell on the hope that we have as Christians – a hope in things not seen.

What does this mean for you?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Day of Pentecost

Today is the day of the Pentecost.  It is the day when we celebrate the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on the infant church, but not only the infant church that had gathered in Jerusalem but the whole church in all times and places.  Today we celebrate that the Spirit of God is poured out on us.  Or do we? 

Do you have a sense of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?  Do you have sense of being a charismatic person?  By which I mean do you recognise the gifts of the Spirit in your life that you have been given for the building up of the whole body?  Are we as a congregation listening for the wind of the Spirit blowing through our congregation?  Or are we possibly too staid, too set in our ways, too tied to being proper to be moved by the work of the Spirit, with its rushing wind and tongues of fire?

This morning as we explore together God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the meaning of that day of Pentecost so long ago we will also explore what it means to be filled with the Spirit now.  In exploring these things together I will be focussing us on three aspects of the passages and then bringing them together under the question of the mission of the church.

The first aspect of the passage that is important to reflect on is the meaning of the feast of Pentecost for the Israelites.  The feast of Pentecost, also commonly know as the feast of weeks or of the harvest, took place fifty days after the Passover and was one of the 3 pilgrimage feasts – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.  There can be little doubt that the presence of Jesus followers in Jerusalem was for this feast.  They had come together to worship God.

The feast focussed the Israelites first and foremost on God’s activity in creation.  It was a springtime feast when people brought offerings of their crops before God.  In Leviticus 23:17 we are told that two loaves were elevated and waved before the people to remind them of God’s goodness in giving them all things.  God gave abundantly and the response of the people was to give to God and celebrate together.  In a crude sense they came together to worship God and to party.

But whilst worship and thanksgiving to God were at the centre, the celebration also contained a heart for all people.  In Leviticus 23:22 we hear that when the harvest was to be gathered in people were instructed not to reap the edges of the field.  The edges were to be left for the poor and alien.  How could God’s people celebrate God’s abundant giving when other’s suffered from deprivation?  To do so would have been a denial of God’s abundance, a denial of the covenant!  In the feast we see enacted the two fold commandment love of God and love of neighbour.

It is in this context that God pours out his Spirit on the early church.  In the context of a festival that focussed on God’s abundant giving in this life.  In the context of a festival that focussed people on worship of God and provision for and care of others.

This brings me to the second aspect of the readings for our consideration, the way in which the Spirit is poured out.  The Spirit manifests itself in a wind and in divided tongues of fire which come upon the disciples who were gathered together.  It is a miraculous sight and sound display of God’s power and presence.  We do not know how many followers of Jesus were there but we get a sense that it was quite a crowd for it drew the attention of others.

The Spirit that is poured out is the Spirit promised by Christ in John 14.  It is the Spirit of truth that cannot be received by the world because it opposes God.  It is the Spirit sent to bring comfort and to bring peace.  It is the Spirit of Christ sent to be an Advocate to teach and remind the disciples of Jesus and the good news for all humankind.

The miracle that takes place after the Spirit is received is often referred to as speaking in tongues, although one might better describe it as hearing in tongues.  The disciples spoke among themselves but the crowd that had been drawn together heard the disciples speaking in their own languages.  The gift of tongues in this instance is focussed on those who our outside.  It is gift that allows the listeners to hear what was being said in their own language.  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia and so and so forth!

The gift is given not so that the disciples can understand one another.  It is not given so that Jesus followers might simply get a spiritual rush or high.  It is not given so that those who were gathered could be confirmed in their faith as the saved ones as opposed to those outside.  The gift is given so that others might hear the proclamation.  What were the followers sharing?  The disciples were speaking about God’s great deeds of power and God gives the crowd who had gathered the opportunity to hear this in their own language.  I wonder when it was that someone who was not a Christian last overheard you discussing the great deeds of God.

The pouring out of the Spirit fulfilled Jesus promise to send a helper, a comforter and a guide to Jesus followers.  But more than that in the manifestation of the Spirit others were drawn to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and through the power of God they were empowered to hear the message.

This brings me to the third aspect that I would like us to consider this morning which is what Peter had to say.  Peter draws from the prophecy of Joel which spoke of God pouring out his Spirit on all flesh.  ‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit.’

Young and old, male and female, slave and free.  All shall receive God’s Spirit.  The people of God gathered together to be God’s people with one another and God working in their midst by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit is given to help people remember God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  It is given to comfort and guide them.  This is the promise of God.  If we were to read on we would hear that Peter goes on to speak of Jesus and what he has done.  He speaks of the mystery of the faith Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again.  He speaks of the grace and mercy of God established through Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  Peter calls people to repent and to be baptised.

The Spirit is poured out to inaugurate and establish the body of Christ as a representative beginning of the new creation.  It is poured out to establish a community of faith, in relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It is poured out for the sake of the gospel message.  Peter proclaims the Spirit’s coming on all flesh and the coming together of people under the gracious sovereignty of Christ.

Today these three aspects Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit, and the establishment of the church are tied together to give to us a sense of who we are and what we are called to be as the Spirit is poured out on us.

Firstly we are called to be a worshipping people.  The Spirit is not poured out on individuals so that they can be a Christian wandering aimlessly out there disconnected from God and the people of God.  When we come together we embody what we are, we become the body of Christ.  Being a Christian is not simply a moral lifestyle choice, being a Christian involves worshipping God, celebrating with God’s people and giving thanks and praise to God for his abundant grace.  This is not done so that we can be saved but so that we might remember and so that the world might know of God’s love.

Second, we are called to be a generous people.  We bring our free will offering to God and we leave the edges of our harvest for the poor.  As Christians ours is not to judge the poor and alienated for their predicament, ours is to declare God’s generosity to us through our generosity to others.  It is so easy to bury our heads in the sand of our own lives and forget that there are those in great need around us.  Since I have been here in I have learned of the need for affordable housing in the area, I have learned of the need of those who live in community housing around us.  We do not have to run next door to the next suburb to find the needy, but we should be challenged to see the great need that is out there.  Not just next door, but in the wider community of this world in which we live.  If we celebrate together without consideration for those who do not have enough to even survive, let alone celebrate, have we really understood the call to be the people of God?  God has bee so generous to us let us celebrate God’s generosity through our own.

Third, we are called to be a Spirit filled people.  I have said before today that I do not believe I have so called miraculous gifts of the Spirit like tongues or healing.  But this does not mean that you or I are any less Spirit filled.  We are charismatic because God has given to us gifts of the Spirit so that we might be reminded about Jesus Christ and his love for us and so that we might share the good news with others.

Fourth, we are called to be the people of God together.  Young and old, slave and free, male and female and might I suggest of all races and languages.  We live in difficult times in this area.  The church has already been rent asunder by denominational loyalties.  The church is becoming more segregated into age groups and idiosyncratic worship styles.  Far too often I hear of another Church where there is a traditional service at 8 a.m. for the oldies, a family service at 10 and a youth service in the evening at 7.  The body is broken - the dreams and the visions aren’t shared but held closely and jealously almost against one another.  As people of the Spirit we need to open our hearts and minds to the unity of the body given to us in Christ Jesus.  At Synod during the Norman and Mary Miller lecture it was stated that Christians often mistake cliques for community.  We need to ask difficult questions about our own traditions and expectations as a congregation, myself included.  We need to continually be challenged to make space for others to belong in our midst and nurture them in the faith.

Fifth, we are called to be evangelists proclaiming the good news.  On that day of Pentecost so long ago of the crowd that had gathered some three thousand were baptised.  When did you last share the faith with someone who does not believe?  When did you last speak with one another of the great deeds of power done by our God?  When did you last bring another person into the family of God?  When did you examine what God is calling you to be as you respond in thanks and praise?  It is well and truly past the time when we should have realised that this country in which we live is not a Christian nation.  We have never had a state religion.  Less than 1 in ten attend a Christian church regularly.  The scope for evangelism is huge.  We have good news to share.  It is not the minister’s job.   It is all of our jobs as people to whom the Spirit has spoken. 

Today is the day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit was poured out so that we might be reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit continues to guide and inspire the people God.  Are we ready to respond?  Are we willing to listen to the dreams and visions?  Are we willing to speak to one another and to the world of God’s grace?  Are we ready for the unexpected and the exciting things which God might do in our midst?

After a few moments of silence I am going to give you the opportunity to share the work of the Spirit and of God’s great deeds with the person beside.  Share what you think God may be calling you or us as a church to do?  If you are not sure where God is leading you tell the other person and ask that whoever it is that you are speaking to, to pray for you this week as you seek to understand God’s will for your life.  Let us to take a few moments to think about what you might say to one another and then we will share.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Of Eunuch's and hope.

I love the question that Philip asks the Ethiopian Eunuch,

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

It’s a great question.  It is a confronting question. 

“Do you get it? Can you make a connection between what you are reading and your own life?”

I think it is the kind of question that is constantly before us; not simply when we read the Bible but when we engage with any reading or have experience from which we can learn.  For so often we read or experience something and we don’t learn, we don’t listen, we just keep on doing things the same old way.

So the question for us today is “Do we get it?”

I mean do we understand why this story is in the Bible at all. 

And even if we do, how does that relate to who we are and where we are going?

If we travelled back into those first early years of the Church there must have been hundreds, even thousands, of stories about people coming to faith.  What’s so important about this one?  Why is it included and why at this point of Luke’s recounting of the Acts of the Apostles? What was Luke trying to tell the early Christians? And of course even more importantly “What’s in it for me and for you?”

Hopefully by the time you leave today you will have at least some insight as to how this particular story fits with the good news of Jesus Christ and also with your own life’s story.

So let’s set the scene.  Jesus has ascended into heaven.  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples. The apostles had begun their ministry in Jerusalem; sharing the story of Jesus with anyone who would listen and performing many miracles.  

Despite their enthusiasm the reception they received was mixed to say the least.  In the previous Chapter of Acts we hear of the stoning of Stephen by the Jewish leaders, whilst the beginning of Chapter 8 speaks of the persecution of the first Christians in Jerusalem.

They scattered and Philip went proclaiming the good news in the city of Samaria, with great success.  From here an angel of the Lord directs Philip to head out on the road, the road that ran between Gaza and Jerusalem and it is here our story takes place.

As Philip travels along the road along comes a carriage containing an Ethiopian Eunuch returning from worshipping at the Temple.  Now in terms of why this story is included at this point I suspect some of it has to do with the witness to God’s faithfulness. 

The path had been a rocky one for the apostles in Jerusalem but God had promised to build the Church to the ends of the earth and whilst Philip had some success in Samaria the character of the Eunuch adds another dimension.  God reaches out through Philip and, as we shall see, the Eunuch responds and is baptised.

Now eunuchs did have a place within the people of God, despite being mutilated and having restricted access to the Temple

As well as being a Eunuch this guy was a Diaspora Jew, which basically means a Jew who had been living outside of Israel.  The Jews had been dispersed in the 6th century BC after the Babylonians had conquered the Israelites.  As a Jew this Eunuch must have been quite faithful as well, not only visiting the Temple but reading the scroll of Isaiah on his journey home.

He was also a man of power and of wealth. He was a court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, in charge of her entire treasury.  The fact that he could read and that he had a scroll are clear indicators of his position.

So Philip gets a prompt to approach the carriage and the scene becomes somewhat comical as he runs along beside the carriage and strikes up the conversation.

What is interesting here is that the Ethiopian recognises Philip has something to offer in terms of bring some light to the scriptures and invites him into the carriage alongside him.

After some discussion around the Isaiah passage and Philip’s explanation of whom Jesus was the Eunuch sees some water and exclaims, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?”

I have little doubt that Luke records this question especially because this is a loaded question.   What is to prevent anyone from being baptised?  Can wealth, race, sexual status, piety, understanding and so on and so forth?  The good news is for all and all are invited to share in the fullness of life with God and each other!

This is part of the essence of the good news in Jesus God breaks down barriers to include all people in God’s family.  The response of the eunuch to the message is automatic – baptise me!  God is at work!

The story was recorded because it was meant to inspire hope that the message of Jesus was going forth into the world as promised, even in the face of persecution and difficulties.

And we can find hope from this as well for our story connects with the same God who spoke in the desert to Philip and through him to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

It is hope that we experience in our story as a community of faith in the face of our own adversities.  Let me give you a concrete example of this hope. It would be easy for us as a congregation to look around Sunday by Sunday and be despondent – too many empty pews, too many elderly faces, not enough energy.  Yet to focus on these things is to forget God’s faithfulness to us as God’s people – new members who have joined and come to commitment in recent years; new opportunities in ministry opening up; new relationships emerging through our university relationships.  God’s faithfulness is ever present to us.

It is a hope we can see that unfolds in the compassion of the world around us.  Last week we heard the news of the terrible earthquake in Nepal.  And once again this week we have seen the capacity of people to respond: communities countries and individuals donating money, sending people and supplies.  Not wearied by the constancy of need after storms in NSW, cyclones in the Pacific, Ebola in Africa and refugees on the borders of Syria - once again people respond when the need is great.

It is hope that we can see in our own lives and our own encounters with God in others. Take a few moments to reflect on the last few days and consider where have you seen acts of kindness, where have you come to understanding or seen others being enlightened, where have you see reconciliation achieved.  How do you make sense of these things in light of your faith?  How have you been able to help others to see those connections?

“Do you understand what you are reading?” It’s a great question for all of us because sometimes we fail to make the connections that we should be.  We need Philip to come trotting alongside our chariots to help us to understand. 

Yet I believe more importantly for many of us who already follow Jesus we are called to be the Philips of this world, opening up people’s eyes to God’s faithfulness and work among us.  Joining the dots of what people read and experience and their own lives – in other words sharing our faith - being fishers of people!  

Take a few moments to consider when have been the times a person like Philip has helped open your eyes and also to consider whether or not you are taking the opportunity to be like Philip and help others know God by sharing your faith.