The Inner Guiding Light
Easter 5B Acts 8:26-40
The basis on the sermon for today is from Acts 8 and the story of Philip. It is the story of God and the way God works with us; it is the story of the indwelling, guiding Spirit who guides us in our daily decisions for living.
The setting for the story is Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. There were about 600,000 people living in the city of Jerusalem at that time. Would you imagine a city of 600,000 people? That would be about the number of people living in Seattle.
So the setting was Jerusalem but it was also springtime. It was April, May, June. The flowers were blooming. The azaleas and rhododendrons.
And it was the feast of Pentecost had just occurred. Pentecost when the Holy Spirit had come down and was living inside of the people. There was an incredible amount of inner power and guidance. The experience of the Holy Spirit was fresh and new.
The story for today is the story of what happened when God came down and filled Philip. Now, Philip was a layperson. He wasn’t a famous preacher like Peter who went and preached a grand sermon and three thousand people were converted in one day. He wasn’t like the famous missionary, the Apostle Paul, who went with the Gospel of Jesus from nation to nation throughout his world. Today is the story of Philip and how God’s indwelling power came down on Philip, the layman, the lay evangelist. Philip was empowered to talk to people one on one about Jesus Christ and his love for all people.
Philip was appointed a deacon in the church. A deacon was appointed to take care of widows and poor people in the church. So if you were really down and out, you would go and talk with Philip to see if the church could help. Philip was a deacon.
At that moment in time, the Christians wanted to remain in Jerusalem with all the other Jewish Christians. The Christians didn’t want to out into the countryside or out into other villages or out into other nations with the Gospel; these first Christians wanted to remain just in Jerusalem where they could huddle together in numbers and safety. So what did God do? God sent a persecution on the church, and this forced them out into the countryside
The inner voice of God said to Philip: “Get up and go, Philip. Get up and go to Samaria.” “Samaria?” he asks? “Why would I go to Samaria? The Jews and Samaritans hate each other. The Jews and Samaritans don’t like each other. There is prejudice between us. We don’t talk with each other; we don’t walk with each other; we don’t eat with each other; we don’t meet with each other; we don’t intermarry. Get real God.” It is like the Jews and the Palestinians today. So God whispered to Philip again with the same message, “Get up and go Philip. Get up and go to Samaria and preach the Gospel of Jesus’ love to the Samaritans, that God loves the Samaritans as much as the Jews.”
For his whole lifetime, from the time he was a little baby, Philip had been taught to be prejudiced against Samaritans. You don’t walk with them; you don’t talk with them; you don’t eat with them; you don’t eat with them; you don’t intermarry. He was “carefully taught”, as the old song says, to be prejudiced against Samaritans. He was carefully taught by his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. He was carefully taught by his friends and classmates. He was carefully taught by his rabbis and synagogue. He was taught that it was ordained by God to be prejudiced against Samaritans. His rabbis had taught him by quoting selected Bible verses that it was God’s will to be prejudiced against Samaritans. And God said to Philip, “Get up and go Philip. Go to the Samaritans and preach the Gospel of Jesus’ love for all people.”
And so he got up and left. God then whispered into his ear a second time, and the voice said: “Get up and go to Gaza.” Philip got up and went to Gaza, and Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch. God said to Philip, “Go and talk to that Ethiopian eunuch.” And Philip responded, “God, don’t you know he is black. He is from the Sudan. We don’t have anything to do with blacks. I am a converted Jew to Christianity, but to talk to a black man about becoming a Christian, that has never happened before in the history of the human race. My whole life I have been taught to be prejudiced against blacks. I have been carefully taught not to walk with blacks, not to talk with blacks, not to eat with blacks, not to meet with blacks, not to intermarry with blacks. My parents and synagogue have taught me to be well prejudiced against blacks.”
And the inner voice of God said to him again, “Get up and go Philip and talk to the Ethiopian who is a eunuch.” Philip responded, “God don’t you read your Old Testament? Deuteronomy 23:1 clearly says that eunuchs are forbidden to be part of the Jewish nation. A eunuch is a castrated person. They have been made sexually impotent. The eunuchs work with kings and queens, and they are sexually impotent so nobody has to worry about them. You have read your Old Testament; eunuchs are not allowed to be part of the Kingdom of God. I have nothing to do with eunuchs. I have been carefully taught: I am not to talk with them, walk with them, eat with them, meeting with them, intermarry with them. Get real.”
And the inner voice again spoke: “Get up and go Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch and talk to the black man in the chariot.” Philip listened to the voice and went over to the black man in the chariot and asked him, “What are you reading?” The black man said he was reading from the Jewish Old Testament, Isaiah 53, that said the lamb was to be led to the slaughter. Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “No.” “Let me explain. The lamb is Jesus who was led to be slaughtered on the cross that all sins might be forgiven. He was raised from the dead on the third day.” Philip explained his beliefs and faith more fully to this stranger and finally the black man asked, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And so he was baptized into Jesus Christ by Philip who from his childhood was carefully taught, who from his childhood has been taught to be well prejudiced against blacks and eunuchs. So that is the story about Philip from Acts 8. At the end of the story, the Bible says Philip went to Caesarea.
Now, in the Bible reading for today, you don’t hear the next story. You don’t hear the end of the story. In the next Biblical story, you discover that Philip had four daughters. Who of you has four daughters? In our congregation, the Gerkes and the Jones, each have four daughters. The O’Neals have three daughters and that is coming awfully close. Can you imagine Philip had four daughters, and in the next story, you discover that all four daughters were prophets. Four preachers. Philip had been carefully taught that women were property, that they were like his farm animals that were to be obedient; that he could simply divorce them and be rid of them; that they should know their position in life and accept it. Philip was taught that women weren’t even supposed to talk in church. But his daughters, all four of them, became prophets for Jesus Christ, preachers for Jesus Christ. Can you imagine being in a family where you had four daughters and they were all preachers? Philip was carefully taught when the role and position of women was to be.
The question is asked in the text: Do you understand the story in Isaiah 53 about the lamb being led to the slaughter? The question is asked today: Do you understand the meaning of the story about Philip being sent to Samaria, the meaning of the story about the black person, the meaning of the story about the eunuch, the meaning of the story about the four daughters who became prophets? Do you understand the meaning of these stories? Just as Philip explained the meaning of Isaiah 53 and the lamb being led to the slaughter as being Jesus, so that is my privilege today to explain to you the meanings behind the stories of Philip.
The first meaning of the story is this: it is about the indwelling guiding Spirit of God. The story in the book of Acts is the story about the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit gets inside of us to guide us in our daily decisions. The Holy Spirit comes through our ears and into our hearts and we hear what God wants us to do.
In the Book of Acts, you find stories about men and women who are filled with the Holy Spirit. They don’t have just a little bit of the Holy Spirit that you may get in one hour on Sunday morning. No, these people are filled with the Holy Spirit. Thereby their hearts listen. Their hearts listen to the indwelling Spirit of God inside of them. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, he was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice inside of him: “Get up and go Philip. Philip, go to Samaria. Philip, go to Gaza. Philip, go to the black man. Philip, go to the eunuch. Philip, go to your four daughters who are prophets.” Philip was being given specific directions from God.
It is interesting to me that in Acts 8:26, the Bible says “an angel spoke to me” and in the verse 29 of the same chapter, the Bible says, “the Spirit spoke to me.” Was it an angel or the Spirit? An angel is not some strange creature with wings; an angel isn’t made of gold; an angel isn’t a mediaeval shape from Michelangelo. The word, angel, means messenger; it is a spiritual messenger. An angel is this a mental messenger inside of you from God. An angel is the inner guiding Spirit of Jesus inside of you who is a messenger from God.
I would like to give you three contemporary examples of this inner guiding Spirit, this mental messenger living inside of us, this inner angel working inside of us, helping us to make our daily decisions. This happens all the time. These examples are so common.
The first example is from a man, a dear friend from the past, an older quieter gentleman with big gray eyes. As I left his house, he would come out to me and lean gently against the car. His wife wasn’t there, and therefore, like many men, was freer to say some things on his heart and mind. And he would say to me, “Pastor, I have this inner voice that lives inside of me. But you have to have inner heart to listen to the inner voice, you know.” … You have to have the inner heart to hear the inner voice.” I knew this person knew what Philip experienced. This elderly friend didn’t talk about an angel or seeing angels with wings. He didn’t talk about some audible voice. He did talk about this inner guiding Spirit, this inner heart.
A second example. A person came by to see me. A voice inside of him had been saying to him. “Go to the church and talk to the pastor. Go to the church and talk to the pastor. Go to the church and talk to the pastor. 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 pastor.” So he finally did. He drove through our parking lot and gave a sigh of relief. “His car isn’t here. Good. I’’ just drop in and see the secretaries.” He did. And sure enough, I was there, standing at their door. He asked me, “Where is your car?” I said, “My car is being repaired at a car repair place.” There was no car but I was there. And we had one of those important, life changing conversations. Why? Because he listened to an inner angel working in his mind. He listened to a mental messenger from God. He listened to this inner guiding Spirit working inside of his heart and head.
A third example. This inner voice works in my all the time, this mental messenger, this inner angel. This inner voice often says to me, “Call so and so.” So I call that person once, then twice, then three times, trying to get through, and finally on the fourth call, we connect. We have this significant conversation, and at the end of this conversation, she said to me and I quote verbatim, “I think that God told you to call me today.” I responded to her, “I know God told me to call you today.”
This past week, my wife was walking on the beach, her mind and heart totally saturated by the national calamity that happened on September 11th, and suddenly or slowly, she was keenly aware of this mental message, this mental messenger, this inner voice that she heard, “Good will triumph over evil.” She came home. She insisted that I stop all that I was doing and focus on her and she said to me, “In that precious moment on the beach, I heard a word from God.”
The first lesson to be learned from Philip is that he was the kind of Christian who listened to the inner guiding voice of God inside of him. It wasn’t merely his conscience. It wasn’t an angel with wings; it wasn’t an auditory voice; it was not a dream or a nightmare. It was the inner guiding voice of God, the Spirit of Jesus. And so we like Philip listen to the inner guiding voice as God talks with us about our marriage, our kids, our buying a car, our finding a house, changing jobs, or being on the track team. What do we want to learn from this story? Listen. Listen to the voice of God inside you as you approach your daily decisions.
What else? What else do we learn from this story about Philip today? What else is this stuff about the black eunuch? What is this stuff about going to Samaria? What is this stuff about his four daughters becoming prophets and preachers in the church? That meaning of the text is very clear. When the power of God gets inside of you, it eliminates all prejudice.
There are many kinds of prejudices that mess up the world. There is nationalist prejudice. There are prejudices against nations. On this earth today, there are children that are taught to hate Israelis, to hate the Palestinians, to hate the Arabs, to hate the Irish, to hate the English, to hate the Iraqis, to hate the Iranians, to hate the Russians, to hate the Japanese, to hate the Chinese. These children are carefully taught from childhood to hate these people who grow up in other nations.
There is racial prejudice. For a whole lifetime, people have been taught that blacks are inferior to whites, that Indians are lazy, that Mexicans are dirty, that Asians are taking our jobs. One spends a whole lifetime being taught by one’s family and culture against people of other races. And these prejudices are so deep that some scientific scholars claim that differences of races are genetic rather than learned.
There are sexual prejudices as well. People have been taught for centuries that women were inferior to men, can’t become a doctor, can’t become a dentist, can’t become a president, can’t become a pastor. Also, people have been carefully taught that castrated males cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; that gays and lesbians cannot be Christian.
There are religious prejudices. Against the Jews for being so rich. Against the Muslims for being warlike. Against the Hindus for accepting poverty and starvation. Against the Catholics for worshipping the Virgin Mary. Against the Protestants for loving their doctrines more than God’s gracious love. And for centuries, people have been carefully taught not to walk, not to talk, not to eat, not to meet, and not to marry with people of other religions.
And so for years, we have been programmed to be prejudiced nationally, racially, sexually, religiously. God’s gospel for today is that people of all races, and people of all nations, and people of all sexualities, and people of all religions are all loved by God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is absolutely inclusive in his love.
Now, if you have a little bit of the Holy Spirit; if you have a little bit of the Holy Spirit that gets you here on Sunday morning; if you have a little bit of the Holy Spirit so you are just a little bit Christian; then go ahead and hold your prejudices. Go ahead and be prejudiced against blacks or whites. Go ahead and be prejudiced against those people from other nations. Go ahead and be prejudiced against people who are not of the same sexual orientation as you are. Go head and be prejudiced against people of other religions. Go ahead and be prejudiced if you have a little bit of the Holy Spirit of the Jesus’ love. But, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, if you are filled with the Spirit of Jesus’ love, no longer is there any room in your heart for any prejudice, for people of all races, people of all nations, people of all religions, people of all sexualities are loved by God. When the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus’ love fills your heart, there is no longer room for any prejudice.
(In case some of you think that I have changed by thinking and speaking about these matters, I want you to know that the previous paragraph was copied verbatim from a sermon given seven years ago.)
But there is more from this lesson about Philip. We find in this story that we are led into relationships with people who don’t know Jesus Christ. This story in the book of Acts is about a lay person who shared his faith with a stranger. This story is not about Peter, the gifted preacher, who preached and three thousand people were converted in one day. This story is not about the Apostle Paul who courageously traveled through the whole world as the greatest missionary for Jesus Christ who ever lived. This story is not about Peter or Paul but about Philip, the deacon who cares for poor people in his church. Philip goes and has a one on one relationship with someone, the Ethiopian eunuch. God’s word to Philip was “get up and go. Get up and go to that person and share with that person what you know about Jesus. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus’ love, we get up and go to others and share our faith in Christ, what we know and have experienced with Jesus, one on one . But…But, if you are one of those who have a little bit of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and you feel a little bit religious for one hour on Sunday and a few minutes each day. If you have a little bit of the Spirit, don’t worry about talking to other people about Jesus Christ. Just come to church. Serve on a church committee. Hang out with other Christians, and never talk to anyone about Jesus Christ, especially some who doesn’t know Christ. But if the Holy Spirit fills your heart, you get up and go and share your faith in Jesus Christ with others.
What this congregation needs is all the people here to be like Philip. None of us will be a preacher like Peter and none of us will be a missionary like Paul, but we can all share our faith like Philip. That is what we need: for us all to be like Philip. We need people who understand that God wants you to share your faith in Christ one on one with others. We need you and me to be like Philip and thereby we would change the spiritual life of our cities.
O God, make us all to be like Philip. Amen.
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