The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Back a couple of weeks ago, the Wednesday of Spring Break week to be exact; I locked myself out of our house. As you will recall, we didn’t have Wednesday night activities that week and so Caleb and I had decided to go fishing – that’s right, skipping church to go fishing!?!
Well, I left the church office that afternoon later than planned, came into our driveway on two wheels and into the house in a blur. I was trying to change clothes, gather up our fishing supplies and grab snacks for the two of us all in the same motion. As I hurriedly packed the car and while trying to think about numerous items all at the same time, I never thought to check my pocket and make sure I had the keys. When the door slammed behind me, however, I had one of those sinking feelings that you always have when you realize that you have just made a huge mistake. The even bigger problem was the fact that Ann Marie and Callie had already left for an evening of dinner and shopping in Greenville. Oh, how I hated to call Ann Marie and admit what I had done. When she answered her cell phone the first thing I asked was where they were. As I recall they were just passing through Gray Court. The next words I said were these, “you are going to have to stop, turn around and come back.”
“You are going to have to stop!” Often times in life, we don’t like to hear those words. To stop means to cease what we are doing. To stop means to quit what we are focused on in the moment. To stop means that our energies, our time and our attention are needed elsewhere. Even if it is the very thing we need to do, it is often times the last thing we want to do.
In our text for today, we meet an unnamed Ethiopian official. According to Acts, he has been to Jerusalem to worship which likely means that he was a convert to Judaism. While traveling back to Ethiopia in his chariot, he was reading a section of the prophet Isaiah which speaks of the promised Messiah. Yet, the Ethiopian official apparently has no idea who Isaiah is talking about.
While reading, the same official meets Philip, a leader in the early church, who actually hops on board the chariot and explains to him about Jesus who was, of course, the mysterious figure of whom Isaiah spoke. In a matter of moments, Philip helped the Ethiopian gentleman to understand Jesus as the long awaited Messiah and as God’s son. Even though the text doesn’t mention it, evidently Philip also helped him to appreciate the fact that baptism was a public way of exhibiting and solidifying one’s faith in Christ.
As they continue to hurry down the road, again headed toward Ethiopia, they pass a body of water, which prompts the Ethiopian to ask a question. Since they had arrived at water and since he was ready to proclaim faith in Christ, what was to prevent him from doing that very instant? This all leads, to a wonderfully rich statement in verse 38. And so, “he commanded the chariot to stop!”
As a court official of the queen of Ethiopia surely this man had much to do. Certainly he had a lot of work awaiting him in the moment. Almost without doubt, he had a lot on his schedule and yet when the opportunity arose – he refused to let it pass him by. With great wisdom – he was willing to say stop.
Let me say it very simply this morning. On a regular basis, we all need to be willing to say stop. At times, everything else needs to come to a halt so that we can address what is most important and so we dare not miss opportunities that may never be ours to take advantage of again. Sometimes in life the most important and most courageous thing we can say is – Stop!
Ann Marie and I have enjoyed seeing a number of Broadway plays over the years and have particularly enjoyed the ones we have seen since living here at the Peace Center in Greenville. I still remember the very first Broadway play we saw together. It was the King and I and we saw it in Greensboro, NC when I was in seminary. I was serving a small church there at the time and one of our older members was an usher for plays and performances at the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Greensboro. On the particular Saturday that we saw the King and I, we had been working in the yard all day. It was late afternoon and we were tired, dirty and had several other things that we still needed to finish before the day was over. Out of the blue, the phone rang and Joe, who was the older church member and usher said two tickets to that evening’s performance had just been turned in and were available. In a split second we had to decide if we were willing to stop everything else and take advantage of that unexpected opportunity. Still today, we remember that night fondly. We do so, I think, not only because we enjoyed the play but also because of the circumstances and the decisions that had to be made in order to enjoy the play to begin with.
Again I say, sometimes in life the most important and most courageous thing we can say is – Stop!
I say this on one hand about life in general. It may be as simple as stopping our busy lives to spend an afternoon with our children or grandchildren. It may involve putting the breaks on other activities to deal with an issue related to our health or our well being that we have been putting off because we simply don’t have time to deal with it right now. Or, it may be a need to stop everything else so that we can fix a broken relationship. It could also be nothing more than having the courage to recognize a once in a lifetime opportunity that may never come our way again but that will require our putting other things on hold for a day or two or for a season. I can’t tell you what it is in your life, but I can point out that sometimes the best word we can say is stop.
On the other hand, I say this about the life of faith. One of the basic reasons that many of us are not doing what God wants us to do or becoming who God wants us to be is that we are not willing to stop everything else to focus on what God is calling us to do. If God is calling us to make a critical decision in our own lives or if God is calling us to do something meaningful or special for someone else, chances are that we can’t wait until we have the time or until it fits into our schedule. Because if we take that approach it will never happen. More times than not, the ability to give a green light to the things of God will only happen when we obey a red light in other areas.
Back in 2010, you may remember a film starring Denzel Washington called Unstoppable. The action/suspense movie focused on a unmanned train that was traveling toward a populated area. The train was carrying an explosive cargo and the great fear was that if not stopped, it would crash in the town where it was headed causing mass destruction and the loss of many lives. As you may recall, most of the railway industry officials were not convinced that the train could be stopped. It was Denzel Washington’s character in the film who was saved the day by finding a way to stop the runaway train.
In many ways, Unstoppable is a predictable action movie where the impossible is accomplished by the little guy in the midst of overwhelming odds. Yet, it underlines a basic life principle that we have been throwing darts all around this morning. In many ways, our lives become like a runaway train. And, time after time, the difference between peace and destruction, between life and the loss of life, is the ability to Stop. Amen.