ďBible Learners, Gospel TeachersĒ
May 18, 2003
††††††††††† On Friday night, at the Church campout, Hollie and I sat in our tent under the glow of our two flashlights.† As I sat on my sleeping bag, I watched Hollie as she read a ďchapter bookĒ she had found in her closet.† I watched Hollie with both a sense of pride and excitement, as I watched her eyes move across the words on the page.† I watched her as she would smile after reading something funny, or as her eyes got bigger as she read something interesting.†
As a parent, I was so proud that she could read and comprehend, and I remembered back to the days when I would lie on her bed with her, as she snuggled against me, and I would read to her.† What a long way she has come since those days.† I still read to her even today, but to see her reading to herself, silently in her head, not moving her lips, was a wonderful moment for me knowing that I played a significant role in teaching her to read.
††††††††† For Hollie, as for all of us, reading opens up a whole new world for us.† It opens up so many new avenues of discovery and knowledge for us; all of which has an enormous impact on our lives.† This is the first step for Hollie into a larger world, and as she reads more and more, she will learn new things, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world, and new ways of being in the world.†
††††††††† One of the things the Presbyterian Church values a great deal is education.† Some of the earliest missionaries were preachers and teachers, who established schools for children of all ages across this great country, including one of the first universities for higher education in New England called Princeton University.† For the Presbyterian Church, there is no substitute for education, for the ability to read and write and to think and understand, particularly when it comes to the Scriptures, is of enormous importance for us in our lives of faith.† It is Scripture alone, which is Godís word to us, and the only rule of our faith and life.
††††††††† But, as all of us know, Scripture isnít always easy to read and understand.† There are a great many things in Scripture, which are confusing, problematic, and even down right questionable.† And yet, it is Scripture that helps us understand who God is and what God is doing in the world.† The ability to read and understand Scripture is enormously important for us, for it is through Scripture that we learn new things about God, new ideas about how we understand God, new ways of seeing the world through the eyes of faith, and new ways of being in the world as Christians.†
For the Christian life, there is no substitute for Scriptural literacy, knowledge, and understanding, but the value of Scriptural education comes, not just from our ability to read Scripture and understand it, but from the people who have helped us along the way, who have taken the time to share with us their own insights, their own ideas, and their own faith in order to help us discern Godís word for us in our own lives.† In our text today, we read a story of one such encounter of Scriptural education, and more importantly, about the impact that one can have on anotherís faith and life.
††††††††† Our story of Philip and the Ethiopian is a story about a Bible learner and a Gospel teacher, about one who sought an understanding of Scripture, and one who through Scripture taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ.† In some sense, we find ourselves as both people, because Bible learning is a life-long pursuit, and Gospel teaching is a life-long calling, because God calls us both ways, both as a learner and as a teacher.
††††††††† On many levels, the Ethiopian is not a normal, run of the mill, average person, like us.† He was a wealthy man, elevated from the status of a slave to the head treasurer for the Ethiopian Queen, Candace, and he was a foreigner, from an exotic land, part of an exotic people on his way to worship in Jerusalem.† But even though he was a man of faith, the Jews did not accept him because he was a eunuch, because he had been physically maimed and marked by society.† Because of this, he was unable to worship within a faith in which he believed, but in spite of all of this, this man still went to worship God in Jerusalem, which was a long way from Ethiopia, still read the Scriptures on his own, and still practiced the faith in which he believed.
In many ways, it is hard for us to identify with the Ethiopian eunuch.† We certainly have it much easier than he did.† We donít have to travel nearly as far as he did to come to worship.† We certainly donít have the status and wealth that he did to distract us from our worship and faith, and we certainly are welcome within our faith, no matter what our physical condition might be.† And yet, there is something about the Ethiopian in which we should identify with: the call to read and explore scripture on our own.†
Each of us, regardless of societal status, wealth, or gender is called to study the scriptures.† Certainly all of us would agree that Bible learning is never a completed task.† We can always learn more, and we need to learn more.† Just because we have gotten older, and graduated from high school or college, doesnít mean that our Biblical learning is now over.† While it is now up to us to make that decision for ourselves rather than for someone else to make it for us, it is still our calling as Godís people.† Since we cannot follow a physical Jesus, we must follow Godís written Word in order to understand what it means to be disciple of Jesus Christ.†
This is why it is imperative for us to continue our Biblical education no matter how young or old we are, because without Biblical education how can we truly know who God is, what God has done for us, and how God thinks and feels about us?† But most importantly, how can we teach the Gospel to others, if we donít know the Gospel ourselves?† And with that we turn to Philip.
It is much easier for us to identify with Philip, a man who was called by God to follow Jesus, as all of us are.† Like us, Philip was faithful as well as spiritual, and he gives us a good example of what it means to be willing to be led by the Spirit.† Also, like us, he was a person, who came from a regular trade, a common person who worked with his hands to make a living.† But even though he was a fisherman to begin with, he was called to do something much greater.† Through the experience of the living Christ and through the presence of the Spirit, he was now more than a fisherman, he was now a Gospel teacher, a teacher of the Lord.
Like Philip, we too have been called to do something much greater with our lives.† In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives to us our great commission, our new vocation as his disciples, which is to ďgo and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.Ē†
It is this new vocation that Philip was living out when he met the Ethiopian that day on the road to Jerusalem.† He not only helped the Ethiopian understand the scriptures, but he did something far more important, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.† In the end, Philip became for the Ethiopian the means by which the Ethiopian found a faith in which he could be accepted, a faith in which he could find true freedom, a faith in which we could find everlasting joy.†
My friends, we can read and read and read the Bible, but unless someone takes time to help us through it, to explain what it is we are studying, to help us understand, we will always be stuck in the same place.† Without those Gospel teachers throughout my life, I donít know where I would be today.† Without those Gospel teachers in my life today, I canít say for certain where I will be tomorrow.† It is Gospel teachers, who help us see in a new way, who help us live in the new life in Christ, who lead us through our journey of faith, and who nurture our growth as Jesusí disciples.† This is way it is so important for us to hear Godís calling to us to be teachers.† Not just in Sunday school, but in our own homes, with our own spouses and children, and with everyone we meet in our daily lives, both at work and at play.†
Without Gospel teachers to open up the scriptures to others, without Gospel teachers to be the means by which the Holy Spirit works in peopleís lives, the church will not grow, and maybe that is why it is in such decline today.† Maybe we have forgotten our calling to be a teacher of the Gospel, to be a proclaimer of the good news about Jesus, to maybe be the one person in someoneís life who can make a difference in their life, who can gave them something that will effect their life forever, who can give them a joy like they have never known before.†
This church needs Bible learners and Gospel teachers, not just for our own Christian education, but most importantly for the relationships that Christian education builds in a church.† Itís not about being afraid that you might ask a silly question or say the wrong thing, and its not about even having to know all the answers, its about spending time together as Godís people, building each other up as the body of Christ, and establishing relationships that will not only change each of our lives, but will have an enormous impact on our lives of faith here at Finley.
Brothers and sisters, never underestimate the significant role you have in the education of others, for it is the Spirit of God that will be at work in you, and when the Spirit of God is at work, nothing is impossible.† Amen.