It's Not For Sale
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It’s Not For Sale – 10.31.2021
Sometimes I look at the cost of Christianity, and I wonder, “why does anybody believe in this stuff?” More and more, as the years go by – it is more difficult to be a Christian than to just not. I mean – we are taught to be generous and give away 10% or more of our income. We have all these rules about lying and stealing, sexual ethics, getting drunk. We are taught to serve others, even people we don’t like! Like, specifically Jesus taught us – love your enemies, and I just, I don’t know why anybody buys into this stuff. It’s so much easier to be not-a-Christian. It used to be that there was all this societal pressure. You have to be a Christian to be a good person. But our society has largely let go of all that. Lots of people are realizing, you can still be a good person even if you’re not in church every Sunday. So why are people Christians? Sleep in on Sunday, keep your money, do what you want – when you want it? I don’t know, seems a lot easier. And over the years, there’s been a lot of self-help Christianity – like popular preachers who say, “if you’re a Christian, it will help you live your best life now!” All your dreams will come true, you’ll be successful and wealthy and blessings will rain from the sky. They say Christianity will benefit you the most in this life, right now. Some people actually view Christianity as a method for achieving their dreams. For getting what they want. The problem is that self-help Christianity dissolves at the first sign of struggle. If there is any obstacle, any pain, any difficulty, the whole thing is ruined. And so I look at all these Christians in the third world – where Christianity is actually exploding in size, and I think – what are they doing? I mean - in a world where being a Christian may not benefit you in this life, being a Christian – following Jesus – might actually make your life harder – so why would anybody do that?
There’s an old story from a guy named Jamie Buckingham. He was an author, and he once visited a dam on the Columbia River. Now before he visited the dam, he had always thought that it was the water spilling over the top of the damn that provided the power. But when he toured the dam he realized that that was just froth, the power of the dam was deep within it, with the turbines and generators that transformed the power of tons and tons of water into electricity. And this was done quietly, without any notice, nothing like the flashy, frothy top of the dam. Today is the final sermon in part two of our series in Acts. We’re finishing up part two this week, and then we’ll start something new next week, and in a couple months we will be back to the book of Acts. Today we are going to follow this guy Philip and discover a little something about the unsung hero of the trinity – the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a look.
The chapter opens up with a bit of context, [read v.1-3]. If you remember at the end of chapter 7, our buddy Stephen gets put on trial, and they don’t like what he says – so they drag him out of the city and stone him. Then that death – the first Christian to die for his faith – that death sparks a wave of persecution in Jerusalem. And all the people who believe in Jesus and try to follow him with their lives – they get scattered all over the ancient world. This is the backdrop to the story we’re about to read. Persecution and danger and death for any who call themselves Christians.
[read v.4-5]. So even though their lives are ruined, and there is danger all around them – they just have to tell everyone about Jesus, the messiah. And honestly, you read that and I can’t help but wonder – what are they doing? I mean, this whole following Jesus thing is messing up their life. People don’t like them, people want to hurt them – they’re running away, and yet they won’t stop telling everyone about Jesus. It doesn’t make any sense – practically. So then we follow this guy Philip, and it actually goes really well at first. Verse 6 it says, [read v.6-8].
And then we introduce this fella named Simon. [read v.9-11]. Now the story
of Simon is a strange little tale. Apparently he is a sorcerer, and he’s used to being very famous. People literally call him “the great one” – which, oookay. But he can kind of see what’s going on all around him. People are starting to believe in Philip’s message, and people are starting to get baptized – so he jumps on board the wagon. [read v.13]. Now, I don’t know if Simon’s belief was genuine, but that’s what it said – he believed. There’s just something amazing going on here, and he really wants to know more. Now the guys in Jerusalem, heard about Philip and the fact that people were accepting God’s message in Samaria – so a couple Apostle’s decide to come visit. Peter and John come to hang out, [read v.15-17]. They started with belief in Jesus, but then they are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. And Simon’s paying attention, it says [read v.18-19]. [rub eyes exasperatedly]. No Simon, that’s not how this works – that’s not how any of this works. And Peter has NO time for this foolishness. [read v.20-23]. The gift of the Holy Spirit is NOT for sale. The gift of the Holy Spirit is NOT for sale. Religious leadership should not be a method of making money or fame. Peter rebukes Simon – I can see your jealousy and you’re are captive to your sin. Peter shuts him down hard. Now, to his credit this story finishes up and it looks like Simon repents. [read v.24].
So the chapter finishes with one more story. We leave Simon the sorcerer behind in Samaria, and follow Philip south down the road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. [read v.27]. So you’ve got to picture this guy – the eunich is a very important official, a treasurer for the queen – so probably fairly famous and wealthy. And then [read v.29]. Now I want to ask you a question about this story. What do you think it sounded like when the Holy Spirit said that to Philip? Like, maybe there was a bush nearby that burst into flames? Or maybe the skies opened up and the spirit like a dove came down for a quick chat? “Go over and walk besides that carriage.” Put yourself near this person. Maybe the Holy Spirit in that moment wasn’t speaking out loud at all. Maybe it was just an internal nudge on Philip’s heart. You see, I think in our lives we often look for God to speak to us in crazy, impossible, miraculous ways. But way more often the voice of the Holy Spirit is just a small, simple stirring in here [touch heart]. A slight nudge in our heart somewhere in our life that puts us where we need to be to do God’s work. If you’re waiting for a burning bush or a dove to fall out of heaven, there’s a good chance you’re going to miss what the Holy Spirit is nudging you to do.
Anyways, Philip obeys the Holy Spirit and walks over to the carriage, and he can overhear the Eunuch is reading the old testament prophet Isaiah out loud. And so in verse 30 it says, [read v.30-31]. And so they read together for a little bit, and the Eunuch asks some questions, [read v.34-35]. I love this picture so much. I don’t know why, but I picture them sitting on the carriage, like the doors open, and they’re sitting next to each other in the entry, their legs dangling over the side, but not touching the ground. The eunuch is holding the scroll and looking closely, and Philip is pointing over his shoulder, helping him to find Jesus in the text. This is an incredible picture of discipleship. To be able to sit with someone, to answer questions and help them find Jesus. It’s amazing.
But there’s another level I want to show you today. The man in the carriage, the treasurer to the queen of Ethiopia, he was a Eunuch. If you don’t know a eunuch was a man who had been castrated, which means that his private parts had been cut off. It was actually very common for servants and officials to become Eunuchs to remove any temptation or danger for the Queen. But, because he was a Eunuch, he would not have been treated as an equal. An important official, sure – but not equal. You might even call him a sexual minority. It’s actually really common for LGBTQ folks to look to the story of Philip and the Eunuch with hope. Because if Philip can reach out to the Eunuch, maybe Jesus will reach out to LGBTQ people as well. And I should mention – there’s no maybe. If Jesus can reach out to a sinner like me – he can reach anyone and everyone. And I think that’s really beautiful. The good news of Jesus the messiah is good news for everyone. And that fact only deepens this picture of discipleship. One person coming alongside another, searching the scriptures, asking questions and seeking answers – trying to find and understand Jesus together. Trying to figure out how to live the way Jesus taught. This is like a chef kiss moment, *muah*.
The good news today is that God gifts the Holy Spirit to us. When Jesus died and rose from the dead, before he ascended into heaven he promised, “I will send you my Spirit.” And that Spirit is the key to living the Christian life. I’ve talked about this before – but I’ve always kind of looked at the Holy Spirit as the little brother of the Trinity. Right? Like, everybody knows Jesus – the son of God. And everybody knows God – the creator, the judge, the all powerful. But the Holy Spirit? Oh yeah, I guess that’s in there too. We kind of shove the spirit to the side. Francis Chan once wrote a book about the Holy Spirit and he called it “forgotten God.” Truth is – we don’t take the Holy Spirit seriously. But what I want you to see – coming out of the book of Acts – is that the Holy Spirit is actually, probably the most relevant and vital part of God’s presence in your daily walk. And we just sort of shrug at the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the TV show Friends, there’s this part where one of the friends is running around trying really hard to raise money for a ski trip with her family. She wants to go so bad, and she gets home at the end of a long day and she failed miserably – didn’t get enough money for her plane ticket. But then, her friend walks in with the mail and says “hey, here’s the mail.” And in the mail is a gift, all the friends got together and bought her the ticket. But she’s so tired from her day, she says, “thanks, just put it on the counter.” And her friend says, “No… here’s the mail” “Thanks…put it on the counter” And so she just whacks her friend on the head with the letter and says, “open this.” And I feel like that how God feels with the Holy Spirit. He gifts us the Holy Spirit, the exact thing that we need in our spiritual lives, and we say, “thanks, put it over there.” And God says, “no… here’s the mail. Here’s the Holy Spirit. Here’s the answer you are searching for.” And in church we’re just sitting here like, “thank.. put it on the shelf next to the acolyte robes” And I think the modern church is getting really close to the moment when God whacks us on the head and say “open this.” The Holy Spirit might be the little brother of the Trinity, and we have neglected it for decades – but chapter 8 shows us, it is the key to our spiritual growth. To that revival that our heart is searching for. Here’s why this matters for us today. I believe that the Holy Spirit – that forgotten little brother of the Trinity – is actually the key to revival in the modern church. People look at the church, they look at the Christian life, and more and more they’re wondering, “why would I do this? Why would I bother with all that Christian stuff?” And the only reason that I could ever give them – is that there is something authentic in this place. There is something real going on here. There is something divine that we are pursuing in this place. Church is not a building where you come to go through the religious motions. It is a community seeking God together. Like Philip and the Eunuch, just a couple of broken people, searching the scriptures for the face of Jesus. This is our present reality, and this is our legacy.
John Wesley, three hundred years ago (or whatever it was), he was looking around his Anglican church and he said, “I don’t know about all this.” He was searching for something real. He wanted an actual connection with the God who created him. He wanted to stand in the presence of the Almighty God, to witness something so incredible that all the troubles of this life wouldn’t even matter. And there’s this old story – when John Wesley, I mean, he was born and raised in a churchy-family. He became a priest, and jumped through every hoop. But for the longest time he never felt anything. He was just going through the motions and he started to despair. He reached out to a friend and said, “I’m not sure if I can preach any more, I’m not sure if I even believe it.” And one day he was reading in his bible, and he read this bit about how the Kingdom of God was near, and it freaked him out because he didn’t FEEL like the kingdom of God was anywhere near. And that night, maybe you’ve heard this story before. That night, according to his journal, and I’m going to read a quick excerpt, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart.” You see, what’s going on there is that John Wesley had a moment when he felt the movement of the Holy Spirit – and you can have access to that same Spirit. The good news today is that God gifts the Holy Spirit to each of us.
So coming out of that are two challenges for us. First, if your faith feels stale. If your connection to God is built on rituals and religious hoops and you have never experienced the presence of the Almighty God, and you want more – seek the Holy Spirit. If you want to bring a new energy to your relationship with God, if you want to see a revival of authenticity in your faith – seek the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that was with Jesus when he was going through temptation, the same Spirit that was with Stephen when he was dying, the Spirit that was poured out on the believers in Samaria and on the Eunuch sitting by the side of the road. That same Spirit is there for you too. Call on the Holy Spirit to come and transform your life. Before the Aldersgate experience, John Wesley reached out to a friend and said, “I’m not sure if I can do this.” But his friend advised, “preach faith until you have it, and then because you have it – you will preach faith.” And so eventually Wesley came up with this list of things to do – he called it the “means of grace.” Basically, it was a list of stuff to do that help you invite the Holy Spirit you’re your life. They are the means by which you can experience grace. It’s a familiar list – read the bible, pray, go to church, visit the sick, feed the hungry – all that stuff. We don’t do all that stuff because we need to jump through religious hoops of obligation. We do it because that’s the way that we invite the Holy Spirit to come close. That’s how we seek the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the last challenge I have for you comes from that moment when Philip walks over to the Eunuch’s carriage. In all of our lives, there are little moments when the Holy Spirit is nudging us, pulling us towards where God wants us to be, and what God wants us to be doing – and so my challenge for you is LISTEN to the Holy Spirit. SEEK the Holy Spirit, and then when you find him – LISTEN to him. Listen for the nudging of God on your heart – you might just change somebodies life.
Jamie Buckingham once visited the dam on down on the Columbia River. He thought all the power came from that frothy foamy water on top – but the truth was that the true power came from deep within, further down than he had ever guessed. The same is true in our faith. Simon say the disciples give people the Holy Spirit and he thought he could buy it. But the Holy Spirit is not the flashy, fancy stuff on the surface of religion. It’s in the heart. It’s sitting next to someone and helping them find Jesus in the middle of their questions – like Philip and the Eunuch, like you and your neighbor. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you accept the gift of the Holy Spirit that God is just waiting to pour out into your life. May you move beyond ritual into an authentic connection with the Holy Spirit. And then may you listen for that small voice, speaking into your life – nudging you out into the world. Amen.