Rev. Rosemary Webb
29th April 2018
God Wants Us To Be Like Philip

What is it that drew you into the Christian church? Perhaps you have always come to church, perhaps someone said something, did something, perhaps it was just curiosity. But I am sure that as well as the churchmanship, the welcome afforded you by the other members played a major role. In fact, when I was in training, we were told that more people start attending church for a variety of reasons but often for friendship, rather than their faith.

God has chosen to work through each one of us, by being welcoming, by talking to people of all ages and indeed in a diverse church like ours from many countries. We must never forget that it is through sharing our beliefs and our faith that we so often find our own faith grows. And in the Gospel reading we have just heard Jesus comparing the growth of faith with growing vines, how to grow abundantly they have to be pruned.

They have to be nurtured and fed, just as children and those new to faith have to be nurtured and fed, so they understand God’s love. I am lucky I was taught of God’s love for me at an early age, I always felt that I knew Jesus as a friend. And when I felt lonely or unhappy I knew I could talk to him.

Talking to people we do not know can be difficult at the best of times, getting into conversation about God, faith, can be even harder. But God understands that – just as God wanted to give Philip a lesson, he wants to give us a lesson.

The angel had told Philip to go to the desert road where he would meet an influential Ethiopian on his way home from Jerusalem, Philip knew that was why he had been sent there but he had one great problem. This man was not a Jew, he was someone of a different religion, different race and different class. They were not alike, Philip wasn’t accustomed to meeting people like this man, in fact as a Jew he was not supposed to talk with a non-Jew. He was probably wondering what on earth God was asking of him.

When Philip reached the man, he could see he was reading the bible, reading a passage from Isaiah As we heard, Philip asked the man if he understood the meaning of the passage, – it didn’t – how could it if no one explained it to him, so Philip grabbed the opportunity of explaining it was a prediction about Christ’s life which had come true and then telling him the good news about Jesus.

The Ethiopian saw the truth in what Philip told him – he had found God not in the church but in the desert. And at a lake in that same desert he was baptised as a child of Christ. And it is still true today that many people come to God not in church but through casual, perhaps unexpected ways.

God works in wondrous ways, where he sees an opportunity he will take it. He will point us in the direction he wants us to go. But are we ready to hear him? (you are probably really fed up with me saying this) but do we give enough time to listening to God. Do we leave time to hear God’s voice? When we arrive in church is a good time, we don’t need to talk to anyone we can just sit still and welcome God into our life. We can move into a closer bond with him.

Now let us look at the vine. Now let me say I am not the world’s best gardener, but I do like planting things in the garden and waiting to see how they turn out. But I don’t give enough care to the plants. I like to say it is because I don’t have enough time, but I think it is because I don’t like pruning and weeding.

But this year, and I have been growing roses for over 50 years, I listened to someone long enough to learn that I should prune them back each winter to about five inches above the soil. I was muttering to myself this will never work – but it has. I can already see that the branches are close to the stem so they get all the goodness they can from the roots. I can also see there are no dead branches left over from last year, they all look healthy, ready to produce the buds which will be the new growth.

Last year one of the bushes had grown taller than me. It had many roses, but not all were really healthy looking, they were weak and frail, as if any thing challenged them they would crumble and break, which is how faith can be.

Yes, we must never forget Jesus is the true vine, and we are his branches. But we have to allow ourselves to be nurtured by him, we cannot be true branches if we do not understand our faith, understand the meaning of the Gospels, and if we are not prepared to reach out to produce good fruit.

Faith like my rose bush has to be cultivated so that it produces flourishing flowers. Faith, church, has to be made up of strong branches, not dead branches which have to be pruned and thrown away. Church cannot be run by people who are not true followers of God, not ready to listen to his voice, and obey his commands, for they are the dead branches. Church must teach the scriptures as Jesus intended, we must remember that Christ came to overturn the old, help people to understand the scriptures that the anger and violence in many Old Testament passages is not the will of God, but is there to show us what life is like when we do not show God’s love, and most importantly the wonder of the prophesies.

Let us look at the passage from Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading who but God could have known what was going to happen to Jesus, only God could have told this to Isaiah. And not just that. let us think who but God could have told Abraham that one of his sons Isaac would have been an ancestor of Jesus, and the other son Ishmael an ancestor of Mohammed. No one could.

We, who trust in God, who have discovered the wonderful reassurance of knowing God, need to ask ourselves why so many find faith so difficult. Why people become disheartened with it. Do we put too much emphasis on sin, on failure, instead of forgiveness?

We all know we have got many things wrong, but do we stress that God’s forgiveness is never ending. Do we help children to understand the love of God, do we teach them all about Jesus’ life, how he showed love to all, reaching out to comfort the lonely, heal the sick whoever they were? We need to be able to open our hearts to God, accept his never ending love, and grow stronger on our journey of faith.

Of course, you may have to be near perfect at a sport to make the first team, to play in the band, but you don’t have to be perfect to make God’s team, for he wants the whole world in his team, which is why Christ died on the Cross. Jesus wants us all to love him and love each other. This is what we must teach and show by example.

As I said in the school worship last week Jesus wants each of us to be his best friend, he loves us, and he died for us, this must be our message for the world.

JOHN 15: 1-8
ACTS 8:26