“Humility and Boldness” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with our worship video for the weekend of April 25, 2021 — the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The upon which it is based is Acts 8:26-39, the story of Philip and the nameless Ethiopian eunuch.
“Humility and Boldness”
I wonder what it must have been like for Philip and the other apostles in those early days after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. First the church in Jerusalem is small; then it’s growing, sometimes by thousands a day. Sometimes the Romans seem to leave them alone; other times, believers are jailed, even killed. At first, it seems as if the apostles can handle it all; then it is decided that they could use some help, and a group of seven (essentially the first deacons) is commissioned to serve the growing group’s daily needs, freeing up the apostles for preaching and spreading the Word. It must have seemed that one could barely get used to the way things were going to be before it would all change again.
We are going through some changes in our worship life in these days. Far from sudden, this change seems to have taken its sweet time coming. Most of us are weary of our time of worshiping alone in our homes in front of our computers, no matter how grateful we are for the technology that made it possible, for the faithful worship leaders, and especially for the dedication of Pastor John in spending hours and hours editing each video, week after week. Yes, we are grateful that we have been able to worship our God in this strange, new way. And we are ready for this change, and for the chance to be together again in our sanctuary next Sunday. Change can be good. And it can also be scary. We are ready to be together, and we are a bit apprehensive about what it will feel like, especially with the necessary restrictions. Our Congregation Council prayed for and felt God’s leading in taking this step. And we know that God walks into this new future with us and will provide us with all that we need.
Although the change last spring from in-person to online worship was somewhat sudden, we are most accustomed to change that is not so sudden. Since we are not used to sudden changes in our Christian life together and in our walk with God, it can feel strange to read about Philip being told by an angel of the Lord to get up and go toward the south, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. And it may feel especially strange that, at the end of the encounter, Philip is “snatched up” by the Spirit of the Lord and finds himself in an entirely different location. We can’t know whether this felt strange to Philip. But we can tell that he was open to what God was calling him to be and to do in this encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was willing to engage in conversation, and to open the scriptures to him, and even to baptize. The eunuch, in turn, was willing to acknowledge that he needed help understanding what he was reading.
Both Philip and the eunuch were humble. Philip was open to being led by the angel – he was willing to go where he was being led. The eunuch, a learned man from Ethiopia, traveling home from a time of worship in Jerusalem, was reading from the prophet Isaiah and humbly admitted that he needed someone to help him interpret it. Clearly, God arranged this encounter, this meeting; and God gave each of them the humility to be able to learn and grow from it.
I wonder: how many God-arranged encounters have I missed because I was wrapped in my own thoughts, in my own understanding of God’s plan for me? How might a lack of humility have kept me from noticing an opportunity to be of service to someone and to share God’s love?
Humility can be defined as being right-sized: not thinking too much of ourselves or too little of ourselves. To be more humble, I don’t need to think less of myself (as if I am nothing); but I do need to think of myself less (and think of others more). Another good measure of humility is how teachable one is: am I willing to say that I don’t know or that I need help? Can I admit I don’t have all the answers?
Humility is a spiritual practice. It’s a bit hard to talk about because as soon as we say we have some humility, we immediately wonder whether just saying that means we haven’t got it. Being humble means being open to learning and growing, and to doing things that may feel uncomfortable at first.
Philip and the eunuch were humble. The eunuch was also bold: “Here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?” So, Philip baptizes him. Philip is snatched away by the Spirit, and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.
This story is placed right before the story of Saul’s conversion, which in turn is the beginning of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Luke’s placement of this story is not accidental. It is the end of the beginning of the story of the Followers of the Way; it is the end of the short moment in time when the Gospel story was only for the Jewish people (except, of course, that Jesus shared it with Gentiles all the time…). While we suspect that the eunuch could have been a Jew, we don’t know for sure. He was in Jerusalem to worship, and the Jews had been in exile in Babylon and Ethiopia. Still, whether he was a Jew or not, he was a foreigner in Jerusalem, and God called Philip to talk with him on the road. Having listened to Philip, the eunuch boldly requested and received baptism.
This story reminds us that whatever we need will be provided: God provided Philip to the eunuch to help him understand the scripture; Philip was given the willingness to go; both of them experienced a strengthening of their faith, as a gift of the Spirit; and, when it was needed, water was provided. God provided them with everything they needed, including the gifts of humility and of boldness.
Humility is a gift offered to us, too. When we are not so full of our own plans and ideas, but are open to God’s plan, our hands are free to serve others. When we have open hands and hearts, we are ready to go where God is calling us.
People of God, in these uncertain times, be assured that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We will be given what we need, everything that we need. We will be emboldened to speak of and to share God’s love with humility, loving and serving our neighbors as we have been loved.