5th Sunday of Easter (B)
May 3, 2015
“Disciples Make Disciples”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson that was read this morning from Acts chapter 8.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
What a week it had been for Arlie! On Monday his nephew called to say that he had his “3rd strike” and would now be facing jail time. On Wednesday while he stood in line at the DMV he overheard 2 strangers holding a conversation about how organized religion was ruining America. Then on Thursday someone from a county organization called his small business to ask about a donation to help those in need within the community. As if! On Saturday a shabby looking bum had approached him about a handout. With the way his business was going and the economy with the way it is, HE should be the one getting the handout, Arlie thought! Then on Sunday the preacher stood there and talked about following the example of Jesus and being a disciple by making disciples and reaching out to people with the Gospel. Well, when was Arlie going to find time to do that? Yes…when indeed?
In today’s first lesson, the disciple Philip is urged to go to an area south of where he had been doing ministry. We don’t know a ton about Phillip; only in John’s Gospel is there any narrative about him beyond a simple listing of his name (John 1, 6, 12, 14). However, because of this event told in Acts 8, Phillip is often given the title “Apostle and Evangelist.” Regardless of title, Phillip is given the directive to go speak to this man from Ethiopia. Ethiopia, known as “Cush” in the Old Testament, corresponds to what is known today as southern Egypt and northern Nubia. This man is an official in the queen’s court; “Candace” was the title given to the Ethiopian queen and not her personal name. Regardless, what is MORE important is that this area was about as far south as anyone knew at that time – literally the “ends of the earth” as the people knew it in that day.
Oddly enough, this Ethiopian has his own copy of the book, or at least a portion, of Isaiah. Phillip then overhears him reading – in NT times reading was frequently done out loud – and asks a key question: “do you understand what you are reading?” And then the pieces fall into place: the passage is explained, the convert asks key questions, the topic of Jesus is discussed, the convert is baptized into the faith, and they go their separate ways. Amen…let’s pass the offering plates then go home. Seriously, Phillip is called to go speak to this man because disciples make disciples.
And so now the question arises – how do we make this passage pertinent to us in 21st century America? Most – if not all of us – are not trained evangelists, so what does this passage have to say? Granted, most of the people we meet on the street aren’t reading a Bible and asking faith-seeking questions. In fact, today it is just the opposite. But that doesn’t discount the fact that making disciples is fundamental for the life of the church. True, not everyone we meet is going to have a Bible in their hands, but all people – all people – have some questions about life and its meaning and their future. All people are beset by questions about personal identity, safety, security in life, the meaning and significance of who we are and what we do in terms of the grand scheme of things in our families and workplaces. People today are concerned…people today are afraid and they need answers.
To answer those hard-hitting questions in today’s world of pluralism and political correctness is getting harder and harder. In an age of a perceived lack of absolute truth, it is more difficult to proclaim the truth of God’s Word when it is no longer accepted as the norm and guide of life. The Ethiopian begged for answers; in our day and age, people are begging you to NOT give them your answers…they’ll come up with an answer on their own using their own definitions of right and wrong.
In the quest for us disciples making disciples out of lost sinners, we would do well to recognize that people need guides in life. Self-reliant Americans cannot admit that readily, but we know that they are lost – damned to hell – and without a clue apart from someone to guide them into the revelation of God’s love in Scripture. Not every “Ethiopian” we encounter on a daily basis is going to open up and ask us to explain God’s grace and love and peace. However, if they did approach you, what would you say? Disciples make disciples, but HOW do we make disciples?
There is no question about the value of people like yourselves witnessing as a means of church growth in our world. As stated earlier, making disciples is fundamental for the life of the church. So HOW do we make disciples? It is my contention that if disciples are going to make disciples, we have a perfect model displayed for us today: involvement of the Spirit, establish a relationship, turn to the topic of Jesus.
First of all, we need the involvement of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not going to pick you up and drop you into a disciple-making situation, but every day we do run across people with whom we can witness. No matter what, in our efforts to reach out it should start with prayer. Jesus said in Luke 12, “…do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (v. 12). At times when we are called to speak the Gospel, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is there leading and guiding and encouraging all the way. Our evangelism efforts should always begin with prayer.
Secondly, making disciples involves establishing relationships. In making disciples we have to get to know them: their needs, their wants, their struggles, their joys, their passions. Being an effective witness involves getting to know the other person and showing them your faith by word AND deed.
Third, and most important, the topic is to be about Jesus Christ. Disciples are made by hearing the Good News of the Gospel – a message as critical to the Ethiopian in his chariot as it is to us today. All people need to hear of how in love God sent Jesus into our world to live and die and rise again to bring to us the gifts of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. What a glorious message we have to share with a hurting, dying world! With the Spirit’s help and the relationships that we have or establish, we share the love of God in Christ in order to make disciples…because that’s what we as disciples do. Disciples make disciples.
In Africa right now missionaries are reaching people through human care ministries. In Asia they utilize education ministries. In Europe missionaries are helping people reconnect to their Christian heritage. LCMS World Mission efforts are going on in 88 countries involving over 400 people. Mission opportunities abound; from career missionaries to short term mission teams to long term and short term missionaries. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt. 9:37). Disciples make disciples, and what better gift could you give mom this year than eternal life to another person because you prayed, because you established a relationship, and because you shared Christ with them.
When do we have time to make disciples? How about every minute of every day? May God richly bless our efforts as disciples to make other disciples.