• Steven Marsh

Connecting–Repentance, Healing, and Inclusion: a Reflection on John 15:1-8 and Acts 8:26-40

Evidence is important, particularly when it comes to the claims we make about Jesus and his importance in our lives. Dr. Jerry Root, Professor of Evangelism andDirector of the Wheaton Evangelism Initiative, Billy Graham Center, relates the following story:

While my flight was delayed I met a woman in the Vienna airport. She was wearing a lanyard with a name tag and carrying a clipboard and obviously taking a survey for the airport. When she came to me I asked what her name was. “Allegra,” she replied. “Allegra, are you from Vienna?” She answered, “No, I grew up in southern Austria.” With that answer came the permission to ask, “What brought you to Vienna?” She said she was a student. This opened the door to more questions. Where did she go to school? What was she studying? After 20 minutes or so I knew [Allegra’s] mother abandoned the family to go to Canada with her lover, her father’s bitterness was toxic, and her brother also attended the University of Vienna, but that they were estranged. When I expressed my sadness for what seemed to be a good deal of estrangement from the people closest to her, she said it was far worse than she confided. She told me she had a boyfriend who went to study art in Florence for six months. He asked her to wait for him, and she did so. Her boyfriend returned the very day before I met Allegra only to inform her he met somebody better in Florence. I knew where God was wooing her…and the deep felt need where Allegra was likely to hear the gospel. [To this point] she had not asked me one question. I said to her that I knew she had a survey to fill out but that I had been sent to tell her something. She wondered if I was a plant, put there by the airport, to see if she was doing her job. I assured her it was nothing like that, but I had something to say to her once she finished her survey questions. She rushed through the airport’s survey, looked me in the eye, and eagerly asked, “What were you supposed to tell me?” Knowing that Allegra felt abandoned and betrayed, I said to her, “Allegra, the God of the universe knows you and loves you; He would never abandon you or forsake you.” I said it to her again: “Allegra, he loves you!” Sometimes, it takes three times before the words sink in, so I said it again: “Allegra, he loves you!” After the third time she burst into loud sobs…Through her tears, Allegra blurted out, “But I’ve done so many bad things in my life!” I responded, “Allegra, God knows all about it and that’s why he sent Jesus to die on the Cross for all of your sins and to bring you forgiveness and hope.” I was explaining the gospel to ears willing to hear and a heart willing to receive.[1]

Do we live our lives with the confidence that God is already at work in every person’s life?

The Spirit “moved” Philip to act and teach the good news. Philip stopped what he was doing and went down from Jerusalem to Gaza. On arrival, Philip sees the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading, aloud, a passage in Isaiah 53. Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch if he understands it. Philip resists the temptation to avoid being involved. Eunuchs were neutered male human beings. They were castrated at a young age to perform social functions for royalty and not ever be compromised with female members of the royal house. Eunuchs were given lower sociological status, because they were “…seen as scarred, defective men, unable to be fruitful and multiply. Israelites who held strictly to Deuteronomic and Levitical law permitted eunuchs only marginal participation.”[2]Philip engaged the Ethiopian eunuch and led him to the good news. He told the Ethiopian eunuch that the prophecies in Isaiah are true. The Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptized. He saw water, stopped the chariot, went into the water and Philip baptized him. The Spirit “snatched Philip away” and deposited him in Azotus. The Ethiopian eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Philip preached good news everywhere he could.

God, as the master gardener, has a better plan for our lives than we do. Growing up in the central valley of California and working in the grape fields one summer, I learned the ins and outs of tending a vineyard. The best grapes were always on branches closest to the vine. Distant branches were cut away. The same principle applies to gardening. Take pansies for example. Pansies grow better and are more beautiful when a plant is “deadheaded.” Pinching the first flowers produced by pansies will produce fuller plants. More blossoms will occur. I watched my mom do this practice every season. The point of this lesson in horticulture is that Jesus wants disciples to stay close to him. We will only bear fruit when we abide in, that is stay close to, Jesus.[3]

As we repent, that is prune sin from our lives, experience God’s healing, and know that we are included in God’s family. We are to encourage others by affirming that the good news of God in Jesus Christ is real. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

Of course, in our human condition we aren’t always able to put our minds and hearts on the path of Christ. But we know that these ripples on the surface of our souls cannot become tidal waves when we descend into the inner sanctum of our graced selves and enter into the prayer of listening to our God, who reminds us, “Quiet your heart and be still. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I hold you in the palm of my hand. All is well.”[4]

The power to love God and others is our birthright, having been reborn in the Spirit of Jesus. Let’s move out into God’s world, bearing the image of God. As we are being the best neighbors, evidence of God at work overflows. Citing William Blake, “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”[5]Jesus is alive and at work. Are we listening to God and those around us? Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Adapted from Dr. Jerry Root, “When Evangelism Really Isn’t That Hard” as found in Christianity Today(2-17-17). This story can be found at preachingtoday.com.

[2]Karen Baker-Fletcher in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 458.

[3]Some ideas in this paragraph were gleaned from Nancy R. Blakely in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 472, 474, 476.

[4]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 94.

[5]As seen in Forbes, March 31, 2018.

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