Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sermon for May 10, 2009

May 10, 2009
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
Sermon Title: “Waters of Life”
Rev. George N. Miller

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters...” Ahh, waters.

It’s a special day: not only are we celebrating the marvelous women in our life, but it’s also the fourth anniversary of when I first preached here. There’s been much learning and much sharing.

One lesson people have seemed to absorb is the biblical symbolism of water representing chaos. But, I’ve failed to teach the ways in which water also symbolize new life and rebirth.

The Bible, being magnificently complex, balances water’s different symbolisms. For example, when the Hebrews are being chased and come across the Red Sea, water represents assured death. But when the Sea is parted and they cross over, water represents new life and God’s deliverance.

Therefor, the biblical use of water is all about context. So when the disciples are in a boat being tossed too and fro, water is chaos. When Jesus talks to a woman at a well, then water is life.

Mothers certainly know about the role of water in the act of new life. Every one of us began inside our mother’s womb, an amniotic ocean that aided in our development, nourishing and protecting us.

This mini-ocean cushioned us, promoted growth, and it was the breaking of our mother’s water that introduced us to the world.

In some ways our mother’s womb was our Eden, an oasis of oneness. Perhaps that’s why some feel a natural connection with water. Watch the glee children have in a kiddie pool as they splash and smile. Or an adult relaxing in a warm bath, saying those four magic words: “Calgon, take me away!”

Water not only represents chaos, but new life, as today’s reading shows. I love the Book of Acts: its inspiring images of how the Spirit moves, gets our feet wet by doing things we never thought we’d do, and the ways it which God makes possible that which seems impossible.

In Acts, the resurrected Christ has ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit has been poured out among the people. It’s a time of fresh, exciting beginnings with the Spirit moving in new, unusual ways. And Acts 8: 26-40 is an unusual story, involving an unusual person in an unusual place and time.

Philip is preaching in Samaria when the Lord calls him to travel at noon down a desert road. The calling seems crazy. First, a desert road is not the safest place to be, danger can be anywhere and the next gas station isn’t for another 150 miles!

Second, no one traveled at noon: that was the hottest time of the day. Sane people stayed inside, ate lunch, took a nap.

But Philip obeys God’s unusual call, and what does his eyes and ears behold? An Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot reading Isaiah. How strange.

First, Ethiopia was far away, another continent away. Ethiopians were said to be the blackest, tallest, most beautiful people on earth. And yet, here one is.

Second, the Ethiopian was a eunuch, meaning he had been neutered like a cat or a dog. Eunuchs were a part of life back then, some were used to protect the king’s harem, others to hit the high notes in choir. At best they were seen as different.

Jewish Law had specific rules about eunuchs. They were not allowed into the inner courts of the Temple or to become full-fledged Jews.

Can you hear how irony upon irony abounds? Philip, lead by the Spirit, travels down a desert road during the hottest time of the day, meeting an exotic, castrated male returning from a place of worship he can not technically be a part of.

The Ethiopian had a thirst: he was so thirsty to know God that he willingly traveled from Africa to Asia to just be in the presence of the Temple.

He was so thirsty to know God that instead of resting from the hot sun he read scripture.

Could you imagine thirsting for something so great you’d travel hundred of miles to worship? Could you image thirsting for something so great you’d forsake the comfort of a nap to study it?

Yes, the Ethiopian eunuch may have been from far away, yes his body may have been incomplete, but he had a spiritual thirst that sought closeness and completion in God.

No wonder the Lord lead Philip down that road.

And note how Philip goes above and beyond a simple Bible Study by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. As he does this, they come across water and the Ethiopian eunuch says “Hey! Here’s water, what’s to stop me from being baptized?” And he and Philip go down to the water, and after they emerge from the water...

Wait a minute...What just happened here...? Did you hear it?...If the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip were on a desert road, where did the water come from? And why is the word water used 4 times?

It’s easy for Michiganders to take water for granted, after all, we’re surrounded by it; anyone with a shovel and time can dig themselves a lake. But this story takes place on a desert road.

The author is trying to tell us something if we carefully listen. Where does the water come from? Why does it appear here, why now? Hear the subtle workings of a gifted writer.

There are two people. One has learned how to listen to the voice of God, the other is different, broken, and thirsty for God. And in a deserted place, in the heat of the day, guided by the Spirit, through the study of God’s Word and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, they experience their own Calgon moment.

It reminds me of Genesis 21 when Hagar cries out in the wilderness and God opens her eyes to a well full of water. Or 2 Kings 3 when God fills a wadi with water. Or John 4 when Jesus offers a woman the gift of living water.

Here, the author of Acts uses water to symbolize rebirth and new beginnings, not just for the Ethiopian, but for all the peoples of the world.

The old, dried ways that excluded the Ethiopian eunuch from being part of God’s family are now new, lush ways that include him into the sensuous Body of Christ.

I wonder how many people here today can relate to this story, can relate to the Ethiopian eunuch?

How many know what its like to be different?
Different because of your marital status, religious beliefs, or political views. Different because of the way you live, how you look, how you dress, the shape of your body or because of your age.

Different because you don’t think or act like everyone else in your family. Different because you feel deep down in your gut that God is calling you for something more.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

How many can relate to the Ethiopian eunuch? To be broken, incomplete, have a piece missing?

Perhaps its physical. Your body’s no longer working the way it used to, parts are breaking down, bits have been extracted. You’re battling an illness, the affects of an accident or the reality of getting older.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

Perhaps its emotional. Someone has broken your heart or betrayed you, stealing from you the spark that makes you unique, messing up your ability to enjoy life.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

Or maybe the brokeness is spiritual. You don’t know what you believe anymore, you wonder if God has deserted you or if there even is a God.
Maybe issues of sin or feelings of guilt have such a hold that they’ve dried you up.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

How many of us can relate to the Ethiopian eunuch? To be busy even when it seems the whole world is on a break? To have so much to tend to, to carry on your shoulders, that you have to keep moving even though it is hot outside?

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

We can all relate to the Ethiopian eunuch because we all know what it’s likes to be different, to feel incomplete, to feel constantly on the move.

We all have our hot-afternoon-in-the-desert moments. But we also have our wade-in-the-water moments. Because God knows who we are.

God is not blind, God is not deaf. God sees our situations, God hears our questions. God knows when we feel lost and confused. God knows when we have hit a dry spell, a desert moment.

And God works, God moves, God sends the Spirit to speak to us in ways we would never expect, through people we may not even know.

God works, God moves. God uses words and poetry. In the desert of our life, sometimes simply reading scripture will present pools of water for us to find comfort and refreshment in.

God works, God moves. God finds ways to escort our broken, incomplete selves into cool pools of water in which we can be nourished, given a chance of new life and grow stronger in Christ.

Although at times it may seem as if we’re traveling by ourselves down a desert road, confused by what’s around us, God is finding wonderful ways to bring refreshing water into our life.

We were blessed when we began life in the waters of our mother’s womb. We are blessed by the waters of baptism. And we are blessed whenever God creates an oasis in our lives.

In the spiritual waters of God we experience gifts of wholeness, the promise of fellowship and the wonder of new life. May we all find ways this week to get our bodies, souls and minds wet.

And may we give thanks that there’s no road we can travel in which God is not present, no thirst that Jesus can’t quench, and no imperfection that will prevent the Spirit from moving in our lives.


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