1 John 4:7-21
God, help us tell your story, in the language and the life that you have given us to tell it in.
There is a story in the book of Acts, which we read this morning, that is about a Christian man, Philip, walking on a desert road. These were the years of the early church: a very dangerous time to be a Christian. Christianity was an unpopular faith and it was the Empire’s practice to persecute all Christians. They were a widely ridiculed and abused group. So Philip, being out on a public road alone, was dangerous in and of itself. As he’s walking, he sees a caravan coming on the road. Most in Philip’s position would have hidden themselves. Instead, he runs towards the caravan, moved as he was by God! As he approaches he hears a foreigner inside one of the wagons, reading from Isaiah.
Now Philip was a simple man. He was not well educated and was of no high standing in the church. He didn’t know a lot, but he loved God enough to know that Jesus is everything the world had been waiting for. So he asks the foreigner, an Ethiopian, do you understand what you are reading? And the man replies, no, who is Isa prophesying about? Is it himself or someone else? Now there Philip had a choice. He could say “I don’t know,” and protect himself from ridicule or punishment and let the Ethiopian go on his way none the wiser and none the more enlightened. Or he could literally risk his life and tell the truth. He can share what little he knows. Thanks to the book of Acts we know what Philip did.
Philip is precious in our church’s memory because he told the story of Jesus to that man, who was so moved by its beauty, its truth is love that he asked to be baptized then and there. Not only that, but the Ethiopian carried this unknown story, this good news of Jesus, home with him and told his people. And the church soon spread through Africa. Even today, 2000 years later that continent holds the fastest growing Christian faith community in the world.
So this scripture begs the question of us, what would you have done? Would you take such a risk in order to tell someone about Jesus? Most of us, thankfully, are not at risk of death for talking about Jesus so what is holding us back?
You are shy because you aren’t sure what to say.
You are afraid because you don’t want to sound like a weirdo.
You are not convinced that it would make a difference to tell someone.
Why risk it, the scorn the ridicule, the follow up questions you might not know the answers to? For some reason, for many reasons, you’re hesitant to talk about Jesus.
I have to tell you with all faith in my heart that you are absolutely able to talk about Jesus right now. Don’t hold your tongue; don’t keep this precious gift to yourself. Share it with your children, your siblings, your neighbors and perfect strangers. Tell them what you know (knowing full well that there is a lot that you still don’t know). Don’t wait any longer, because reading more, studying more, working in service of the church is not going to help you talk about Jesus. You just have to do it.
Tell them that Jesus is love itself. Jesus is not just a story about a great man. Jesus is a gift from God. Jesus is healing, he is joy, he is life itself. The Apostle Paul, who incidentally was once a hateful man who not only did not know Jesus but killed countless men and women who talked about him, finally heard the good news about Jesus. This incredible gift from God softened his heart and gave his life such profound meaning that he penned a majority of the books in our New Testament. In one of these books he offers us a great description of who Jesus is. Feel free to use it when you talk to others about Jesus. It’s from Corinthians and you’ll probably know it from hearing it read at weddings. Paul writes about Jesus as he is known in Love. “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13) Jesus never ends.
Wherever, whomever people are, they need to hear about Jesus. Tell people about Jesus, in the way that they need to hear it. I know, it is hard. It is hard to talk about Jesus. But think about the first time a child tries to walk. It’s a mess, right? They stumble they fall, it hurts. But each time a child tries, each step they take, it gets easier, they get better at it. And before you know it, they run like they were born running. So shall you be in your telling!
A few weeks ago a group of us were in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on a mission trip. And something happened that is a good illustration of what I am talking about. It’s a difficult story, but stick with me. So, have you ever seen a filthy dog pound? One packed with sick, diseased dogs who have been so abused that they wander about exhausted and listless, not bothering to whimper or cry because they know that noone will hear them? Well, we went to such a place, our group. But this place wasn’t a dog pound it was a state run orphanage. A concrete compound not fit for any living creature and it was filled with children. As we filed into that place, which is worse than any prison I’ve seen, we looked into the faces of real suffering We knew that that place needed Jesus. We told the children in that place about Jesus. And we told them in language they could understand. We told them in our touch, in stroking their heads. In giving them toys to play with and gentle pushes on a tire swing. We told them that there is such love in the world outside of those walls, and it was meant for them. We told them in a week’s worth of labor and play with their sisters at Our Little Roses. And we tell them in our continued prayers for them.
Last night I had dinner with that group of missionaries and they all talked about how meeting those orphans in Honduras has changed them. How telling them about Jesus has brought them to pray more sincerely, more pointedly, more urgently. They said that experiencing how much suffering there is in this world has made them love Jesus more.
Jesus came into the world not so that we would feel hopeless, or inferior or sinful. He did not come into the world to divide us in disagreement and petty differences. He did not come so that we would turn away from the needs of our neighbors and fool ourselves into thinking would could not help. Jesus came so that we would know the true source of any and all love. He came so that we could be God to one and other. John tells us in his letter this morning that noone has ever seen God. But if we love one and other, then God will come to be known in us. God lives in those who confess that Jesus is love. This is both our burden and our blessing. By the choices we make, the way we live our lives, others will either meet God or they won’t. You might be the only gospel they ever read.
On that fateful day that Philip walked the wilderness road in Palestine, he had no idea that his simple story about Jesus would cause Christianity to spread into Africa. No way could he have known. None of us know the ripple effects of our words and actions in the name of God. But Philip took a risk, believing that Jesus was worth talking about. He knew that there is a love which is so powerful that it has the strength to overcome injustice, to heal sickness to bring life where there was once only death. So follow in the humble example of Philip and tell that story, in the language and the life that God has given you to tell it in.