The Situation We Are In
Bible Text: Acts 8:26-40 | Preacher: Rev. Dennis Howard | Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
Isaiah 38:17 echoes this idea saying, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish.”
When Philip found himself in Samaria.
Running for his life.
Fleeing from the threat of incarceration and maybe even death that was the lot of those who attached themselves to the new the church in his beloved Jerusalem.
Hiding out in Samaria of all places.
Taking refuge in the midst of a people and culture that he had been raised to despise.
In these circumstances it would be easy to excuse Philip if he was having a hard time seeing God working for his good.
He could be forgiven for questioning the benefit he was receiving from the anguish this flight from his home was causing him.
“Wait a minute”, you might say, if you remember the last sermon we heard from the book of Acts, “what about the signs and wonders that followed Philip as he preached the gospel while fleeing for his life?”
“Wouldn’t those powerful acts of God have sustained Philip through the anguish of fleeing for his life?”
That is a fair question and it raises a good point.
Scripture, the story we read today, tells us that Philip was led of the Spirit. Spoken to by angels.
Surely these mountain top experiences of Philip’s, as related in the book of Acts, would have relieved him of any anguish he may have felt as a result of his fleeing for his life.
I am not so sure of this.
I believe that even in the midst of God working through Philip using mighty signs and wonders to spread the gospel, Philip was still a human being.
I would bet that even in the midst of performing signs and wonders, he was wondering what would happen next.
God pulled me out of that situation with a miraculous healing.
God spared me from being stoned by the locals by driving a demon out of that child.
But what is next?
Will God keep up the signs and wonders?
Or will the miracle well run dry?
Leaving me high and dry, holding the bag.
Forgive me for asking these questions about one of our Bible heroes.
The book of Acts doesn’t address Philip’s state of mind during the events it relates to us.
The Bible says nothing about what might have been going through Philip’s mind as he ran for his life.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about Philip wondering where his next meal would come from, where he would lay his head at day’s end, what he would do if he got accosted by robbers on the road.
The Bible is silent on all of these questions about the day to day cares and concerns that surely must have occupied at least some of Philip’s waking hours.
As I said, Philip is, Philip was, a human being just like you and me.
So, it is fair to say that he shares, shared our human needs and concerns.
When things go well for us, we are happy.
But if we are being honest, even in the good times, the mountain top times, we are still wondering when the tide will turn?
When will the next hit come out of left field, sending us spiralling down from the mountain top into a state of anguish and anxiety?
Who would have imagined the effect that a virus could have on our lives?
On the life of the whole world?
How are we to react to this new threat to our life, to our way of life, to our economy?
We could, out of habit, hunker down and repeat to our selves the old saw, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
Thinking all the while, “It is difficult, nigh on impossible, to see the good for us in this current situation, God.”
What is the good of being cooped up in our homes, unable to see our children and grandkids?
What is the good of losing my livelihood?
What is the good of watching friends and family suffer and die from this terrible disease?
As far as I can see.
As far as I can tell.
There is no good to be had in any of this, in any of the current things we are going through.
And yet I know that scripture is true.
I know that what our Bible says about God, about life in God is absolutely true.
This being the case there is good to be seen for us, even in this dreadful situation.
Might the good be a coming together of people as we struggle together to maintain community, even in the face of forced separation?
Might the good be the expressions of human kindness we are seeing even between strangers as people seek to respond positively to the fear and anxiety this disease is tempting us to enter into?
Might the good seen in this situation be a slowing down of our lives?
A reordering of our priorities.
A recognition of what is really important in our lives and relationships with others.
A new understanding of our relationship with God’s creation and the damage our consumer-oriented culture inflicts upon it?
Our culture tells us above all to value our freedom, our freedom as individuals, our freedom and our right to be and to do that which pleases us.
This pandemic is showing us that in fact God did not create us to be free of one another.
This pandemic has given us time to reflect on the truth that God created each one of us to be fully in relationship with, completely dependant upon, the other.
From this scourge we learn that we are in fact dependent upon and in relationship with even those who we grew up learning to fear and despise.
As Philip fled for his life, fleeing the scourge of religious persecution, he saw God working mightily to save a nation and a people, Philip would have learned from his youth to fear and despise.
Philip learned that even while running for his life, God could and did use him and his dire situation to bring life, goodness and salvation to others.
I believe God is using our circumstances today to do likewise.
Since becoming the pastor at Langley Presbyterian, I have sought God, seeking to know how to take the Gospel of Christ out beyond the walls of our church, out past the bounds of our traditional way of worshipping and witnessing to the reality of God.
Seeking to know from God how to relay to others God’s loving desire not to judge the world but to save the world.
Not until today’s circumstances, today’s very adverse circumstances, drove us from our comfort zone.
Drove us from our comfortable pews.
Drove out of our building to embrace a strange new world.
Not until now, has the way God wants us to be in this world become apparent.
I pray for the day when we will once again meet in our much-loved church building to worship our God in spirit and truth.
But I know that we will never again be limited to blessing with God and Gospel only those able to join us there in person.
Now that we have been forced to reach out to the world with the Good News of the Gospel, through the use of today’s video technology, our life together will never be the same.
Thanks be to the God who uses even times of adversity to spread the good of his love over the world he created and called good.