Thought for Evensong – Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 5th July 2020

Psalms 23 and 25; Joshua 24: 26 – 33 and Acts 8: 26 – 40

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Psalm 25: 4 and 5

Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. Joshua 24: 31

Philip asked (the eunuch), ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ Acts 8: 30b – 31a

We have come to the end of our brief visit to the book of Joshua, telling the story of the Children of Israel from the death of Moses to the invasion and settlement of the Promised land. Now Joshua is about to die at the age of 110, and in a final act sets up a stone to testify to the fact that the words of the Lord had been heard in its presence, and it would be a reproach to them if they failed to remain faithful to God. Joshua 24: 31 tells us that, for as long as the elders who had served alongside Joshua and witnessed the works of God for Israel remained alive, Israel had continued to serve the Lord. The inference is that in succeeding generations this was not the case, and the Old Testament is full of accounts of rebellion and neglect of faith, leading to times of military defeat and harsh words from judges and prophets sent by God to restore them to their previous relationship.

Memories are short and historical perspectives become distorted. We have seen recent evidence for this where the statue of Sir Winston Churchill was daubed with slogans condemning him as a racist. Accepting that he was born in 1875 when colonial attitudes were shared by the vast majority, modern protesters forget that he stood against the most pernicious form of racism the world has seen, in the systematic extermination of Jews, gipsies and others considered unfit for life by the Nazis. We need historians and teachers to educate and remind us of past events, accepting that past views might differ from twenty first century mindsets, with their own prejudices and intolerances. 

The same applies in matters of faith. Just as the Children of Israel periodically forgot their heritage and special relationship with God, our Christian faith can wane for a number of reasons. The first reason is complacency, because we can take faith for granted or assume life will always be tolerably easy. There is nothing to challenge or threaten us, until religious freedom is curtailed or our accustomed way of life is challenged. By and large we do not have to worry about where the next meal will come from or how we will be clothed or housed; we are thankful for our health service. But when anything breaks down, we can sometimes think God is distant or not interested and our faith leeches away. Some may have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and blame God. Others, through lack of Christian contact with churches closed may fall by the wayside.

A second factor is that we may not be receiving adequate spiritual sustenance. The absence of church services at the present time is somewhat exceptional, but some feel irregular attendance at church a couple of times a year is doing their duty. It is not surprising if their faith is weak or they fail to understand that the Christian faith is all about a personal relationship with God, and this relationship needs nurturing. Thinking of the Ethiopian government official in our reading from Acts 8, he had access to the scriptures, was clearly interested in their content, but needed someone to explain them. This was precisely the point when the Holy Spirit directed Philip to the desert road to intercept the chariot and provide just that extra instruction to apply the text of the scripture into a form the traveller could understand. Once the Ethiopian realised the verses quoted from Isaiah 53 applied to Jesus, Philip explained the gospel message of the need for repentance and to place his trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, he felt compelled to be baptised.

The miraculous arrival of Philip on the scene at just the right moment changed the eternal destiny of the Ethiopian official. We need to challenge ourselves about our own faith. Do we truly understand the truths of the Bible? Perhaps Bible reading notes would be helpful, or to join a Bible study group. We certainly need Christian ministers to teach the word of God in a clear and systematic way, so that we all move beyond Bible illiteracy (a growing problem in society today) to a fuller understanding of God’s love and eternal provision for us. We need to follow the example of the psalmist in Psalm 25: 5 in waiting on God, eager to pray, listen and learn.

Kevin Boak, Lay Reader

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