Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 6, 2012 - Reflection by Jayne Slawson Licenced Lay Worship Leader (LLWL)



Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
            Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Let us pray:
God always present, help us at this time to return to you with all our heart and soul. Help us to know that your word is not beyond our reach. That your word is not in heaven, so that we need wonder, "Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we can hear and practice it?" Nor is your word beyond the seas, so that we need wonder, "Who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we can hear and practice it?" No your word is very near to us: it is in our mouth and in our heart for us to perceive and share in the way we live our stories of love as you have lived and loved us. Amen (Deuteronomy 30: 10B, 11-14)

I think that questions like: Where were you... or Who were you with... when you heard that man walked for the first time on the moon?... when the Berlin wall came down?... when the tragedy of 9/11 occured?... when the first black American President was elected?... can lead to some very momentous discussions and life moving stories. I would like to add to these "where were you" questions with this one: "Where were you, or who where you with when your eyes and heart was opened to a new way of looking at faith or an aspect of faith you hadn't considered before?"

I was baptised and involved in the United Church from birth to today. I went to Sunday School, Messengers, Explorers and CGIT. I sang in the youth choir went to Youth Group and Church Camp. I was confirmed at the age of 16 and later married and had my children and not long ago my first grandchild baptised in the United Church. I knew alot about my church and could recite many stories about God and Jesus in the Bible, but the day I walked into my first adult Bible study group at the age of 32 was the first day that I can say that my eyes and heart were truly opened to a new way of looking at faith — a new way of speaking by the heart.

I remember being told that my first year as a nurse I was called a novice, a beginner. The second year I would be considered anapprentice, and the third year I would be considered an expertin my area. In swimming lessons, we started as yellow then progressed on to green, then blue and then silver, then gold... There was always a starting place and you worked your way up the ladder-becoming better, stronger or more knowledgeable.
When it came to my spiritual growth my first step was learning to get along with fellow youngsters in the nursery, things like learning to share toys and books, learning little prayers before cookie time, learning patience as we waited for our parents to come and retrieve us after church. Then came primary class where you learned simple bible stories and songs and verses,like,"BIBLE, yes that's the book for me. I stand alone on the word of God. The BIBLE!" And Oh those many crafts. Then you moved into theIntermediate class where you learned more bible stories, parables, psalms, and about important events like Easter, Lent, Christmas, Penticost, Advent. We had a ciriculum and a book to follow that talked about how to be a good neighbour or person. Then came Senior class where you got to discuss topics like what it meant to be a Good Samaratin, or Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? What does Easter Ressurection mean? This was my spiritual foundation and it seemed very complete and easy to be a Christian...
I remember reading this quote in the ObserverWe may think we heard it all in Sunday School. But at that age, all we could handle was the headlines. Only as adults are we finally ready to appreciate the articles and the editorials, unfortunately, by then, many of us have stopped getting the paper.
The 50's and 60's, and into the 70's, Churches were experiencing a major revival. I remember Sunday School classes of at least 20 kids in each class and there being 20 or more age groups. Many of my age group have stopped going. Like me, they probably thought they knew all they needed to learn about religion, about church. But what about faith, what about grace and mystery and mercy. What about discussions that broaden our vision about a God that is so awsome, incompassing and compassionate. What about the heart and passion of God? What about "the way", the "path", forgiveness, justice. So many questions about "what abouts..." Those were the discussions that I happened to walk into that one morning — those discussions that invite your heart to the passion of God.
It was simply a group of fellow journeyers talking about their faith in relation to a particular bible passage or event that may have happened that week. People who had no theological backgrounds, no special credentials. Just a group of seekers who included me in their discussions and opened my heart and eyes to a faith that was budding inside and they helped guide me into a spiritual experience that continues to grow today. They didn't have or claim to have all the answers and, no matter our ages we helped each other dig deeper, think more openly and often reconsider past beliefs and practices. My prayer life changed, my capacity to forgive and my openness to inclusiveness of people grew. There were some very wise people in this group and while they would be the last to think so, they certainly moved me with their stories. Stories about an ever mystifying God and the Good News of Jesus.
I told you that so I could tell you this:
The Eunuch was a man who we heard read scripture and had come to Jerusulem to worship. He had the basics, he was a beginner. But it wasn't until Philip asked the question: "Do you understand what you are reading", that the real discussion of faith, heart and soul started. Philip a deacon, someone appointed to take care of widows and the poor of the church, would be the guide that the eunuch needed to more fully start his spiritual education.
Like many of the early prophets and Christian leaders Philip was hesitant to answer God's call and go out to a desert, a wilderness and guide anothers way. Philip was not a great leader like Peter or John or a missionary like Paul. We are told he was hesitant to talk to an Ethiopian eunich—a non Jew. God needed to ask three times. There were probably many reasons not to go but he went with God's encouragement and he made a big difference in the Ethiopians life and possibly the life of those Ethiopian eunichs went on and touched.
A man went to see a minister. A voice inside him had been saying to him, "Go to the church and talk to the minister. Go to the church and talk to the minister. Go to the church and talk to the minister. About this drinking problem you don't think you have." And he kept on saying to himself, "I don't want to go. I don't want to go. I don't want to go." The inner voice said to him again, "Go to the church and talk to the minister." So he finally did. He drove through the church parking lot and gave a sigh of relief. The ministers car wasn't there. "Good," he thought. "I'll just drop in and see the secretary." He did. And while he was walking to the office he came upon a group of people in deep discussion. It happened to be an AA group that met in the church that day and so began one of those important life changing conversations. (Edward F. Markquart)
But, it comes down to more than just a conversation. I think one of the things we do well as a church at Nelson United is we tell our stories. Our culture today seems to suffer from what Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, calls "story starvation." There are so many books, movies, reality shows, soap operas, comedies on TV that do nothing to "feed the soul." Today many clergy say they have trouble reaching people with the gospel, and yet we are stewards of "the greatest story ever told." We have a wonderful story to tell to the world, a story of peace and light...A story about a Triune God who lives and breathes in us and a story about a man named Jesus who cares and loves us.
What the story of Philip helps us realize is that each one of us here is a guide, a leader. A guide to having or starting that important conversation, starting with a question, being open to reaching out to a new comer, to a fellow journeyer, to a child or youth. Looking past barriers of prejudices, fear of speaking ones questions, fear of not having all the answers. Philip told the Eunich the good news about Jesus. He seemed to do it so spontaneously. He didn't have time to prepare a well-crafted sermon, he didn't speak from prepared notes, he jumped right in dispite the fact that he was on a dusty road in the middle of a wasteland. In other words Philip just told the story of Jesus!
He told his own personal story- not just his personal history of Jesus, but the values and motivations, the knowledge and experiences that shaped Jesus way of life, and identity. Philip told a story of one's people. Those well-worn, well repeated stories that a people know by heart, often fragmentary and forgotten peices of stories that nonetheless still help make up the identity of a people. He blended them into a new story to which the eunich could see himself belonging, that he could be a part of, and like a true guide, Philip gave shape and cohesiveness where the eunich previously knew fuzziness and incoherence. Philip brought himself into the story and practiced what he preached, practiced what Jesus preached and the eunich was able to find himself in Jesus's story and eventually asked to be baptised.
Philip told the story of Jesus. The story of Jesus is our story. And the story of our truest selves is the story about how we have been engrafted into the story of God through Christ. We belong—we live and move and have our being in God's Great Story. The scriptures, the great "Song of Faith", the psalms and the great hymns of our faith, the story of our faith through the ages, the marvelous spiritual writings and stories of faithful saints carefully passed along to us over the centuries. These are all the ways in which our story and the formless longings and hopes of our people are gathered up into the Story of God that calls us by the Spirit to be the church. Philip simply opened his mouth, beginning with scripture and told the story of Jesus at the point where the eunich was ready to hear it and accommodated the story to the need of his hearer. The story teller/guide and the hearer met as one. Philip and the eunich start with scripture, something both were familiar with and from there they digest and chew on the words until both their hearts are open and they can tell the story of Jesus by heart, they can see God's story of life and love as their story and they can then truly tell the story of heart to others so that they too want to hear it over and over.
Our role is to have our eyes open to the places where we can help a person to hear and respond to the voice that is already calling them from within. The Ethiopian eunich was already worshipping and reading scripture, but Philip's openness to the situation meant that the man recieved the needed instruction that led to his baptism. I think that that is part of why we come to church. To be in conversation with like minded people who struggle and are challenged by a voice that calls from within. To be or to be given a guide along this path we travel called faith or heart. Jesus is our guide and through his teachings and good news, we too are encouraged to share these stories with others. Just ask a question, just tell the story—our Jesus story. Tell them over and over again to anyone who will listen. Chew on them, digest them in your heart. See where you go...
I believe you too will truly tell the story by heart for as Diana Butler Bass said in this past March Observer, "We in the United Church are poised to become a form of Christianity that can be inclusive and yet grounded in the Christian story, and we can be prophetic and transformative in the good that we do in the world. I think all the pieces are there for a genuine spiritual awakening. That's the prediction of my heart..." and that is the greatest story that still needs to be told over and over again, and it awaits to be told by the likes of spirit-filled Philip and each one of us here today.
May it be so...
Amen.

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