Following Instructions

This is the message I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 21 May 2000.  The Scriptures are Acts 8: 26 – 40, 1 John 4: 7 – 21, and John 15: 1 – 8.


This part of the sermon could be called “Tales of the Internet.” When I worked at Federal Express several years ago, I was the lead analyst for one section of the technology support division. Because our work was primarily help in nature, we got some pretty interesting phone calls, ranging from the mundane to the very interesting. But not as interesting as other help desks though.

In the Wall Street Journal a number of years ago there was an article about the nature of help desk calls and technology in this country. It was reported that

  1. Compaq is considering changing the command “Press any key” to “Press return key” because of the flood of calls asking where the any key is.
  2. AST Technical Support had a caller complaining that her mouse was hard to control with the dust cover on. The cover turned out to be the plastic bag the mouse was packaged in.
  3. Another caller to Compaq complained that the system wouldn’t read word-processing files from his old diskettes. After trouble shooting for magnets and heat failed to diagnose the problem, it was would that the customer put the labels on the diskettes and then rolled them into a typewriter to type the labels.
  4. A Dell technician advised the customer to put his trouble floppy back in the disk drive and close the door (to the drive). The customer asked the tech to hold on and was heard putting the phone down and crossing the room to close the door to his room.
  5. Another Dell customer called to say he couldn’t get his computer to fax anything. After 40 minutes of trouble-shooting, the tech discovered that the man was trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen and hitting the “send” key.
  6. Another customer called tech support to say that her brand new computer wouldn’t work. She said she unpacked the unit, plugged it in, and sat there for 20 minutes waiting for something to happen. When asked what happened when she pressed the power switch, she asked “What power switch?”
  7. And finally my favorite help desk call —

Caller — “Hello, is this Tech Support?”

Tech — “Yes, it is. How may I help you?”

Caller — “The cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty period. How do I go about getting that fixed?”

Tech — “I’m sorry, but did you say ‘cup holder’?”

Caller — “Yes, it’s attached to the front of my computer.”

Tech — “Please excuse me if I seem a bit stumped. It’s because I am. Did you receive this as part of a promotional, at a trade show? How did you get this cup holder? Does it have any trademark on it?”

Caller — “It came with my computer, I don’t know anything about a promotional. It just has ‘4x’ on it.”

At this point, the tech had to mute the call because he couldn’t help from laughing. The caller had been using the load drawer for the CD-ROM drive as a cup holder and it had snapped off. There is no record as to whether it was repaired or not.

Now, I cannot speak for the validity of any these stories other than to say that my own experiences suggest that they are true. I do have one of my own from my Federal Express days. One person called in to report that there was a constant beeping on her telephone. So we wrote up a repair ticket and had Bell South send out a technician to check the phone. It turned out that the phone was okay and that the beeping sound was that of a bulldozer working on the construction site outside the office window backing up.

The problem with technology today is that it easily intimidates us. Many times we simply want someone else to fix the problem. When faced with a problem related to computers, VCRs, answering machines (I had to constantly remind my manager at Federal Express to change the message on his answering machine), we find it easier to just leave like it is rather than fixed it or set it correctly. How many of you (and you don’t have to really answer this question) know someone who has a VCR with a flashing time signal?

And to complicate matters, when we do try to read the instruction book, we find that it may be so complicated as to be impossible to follow.

That was the dilemma facing the Ethiopian in the first reading today. As was read this morning, the Ethiopian was reading from the book of Isaiah but not understanding what he read. This individual, a high official in the court of the Ethiopian government, had traveled to Jerusalem to worship. It was noted in my study commentary that many Gentiles had grown weary of the multiple gods and loose morals of their own countries. They were searching Judaism for the truth.

At the time of the writing of Acts, Jews did not speak of a suffering Messiah, as described in the passage from Isaiah. Faced with the yoke of Roman tyranny, the Jews believed in a Messiah that would come as the Lion of Judah, a delivering king, and not a weak lamb. They believed and taught that the suffering One spoken of by Isaiah was the suffering nation of Israel.

But Philip, prompted by the Spirit, explained that these words of prophecy were about Christ and that Christ had to die on the cross for the sins of all humanity.

There are two things to consider about this particular passage from Acts and what it means to us this day. First, understanding what we read in the Bible can be very difficult. Diligence is required for the study of scripture; the Spirit of God does not eliminate the need for human teachers or diligent study. Nor is the Spirit given to make study needless but rather to make study effective. For those who have never heard the Word of God, it is necessary to take the word to them. An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and told to go to a place where he would meet this Ethiopian (verse 26). If Philip had not gone, then the Ethiopian would not have learned what the message of the prophecy was about.

But I think that this passage also speaks to us about the presence of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. As I noted in the calendar insert for today, this coming Wednesday, May 24th, is perhaps the most important day in Methodism. For it was on May 24, 1738, that John Wesley went to the meeting on Aldersgate Street.

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-street, where one was reading Luther’s preference to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (John Wesley)

For all the study and hard work that John Wesley and the other early members of the Methodist movement, the movement was not successful until the Spirit came into their hearts. Shortly after John Wesley reported to his brother Charles and the others in their group what had happened, Charles himself had a similar experience.

Now, I do not think that we all have to be scholars of the Bible in order to explain what Christ means to us. Rather, it is as John wrote in his first letter and as we spoke in our opening words today, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4: 12)

In verse 8, John points out that knowing God is a intimate and experiential knowledge of God, not just knowing about God. The point that is being made throughout this letter is that it is impossible to know God intimately, to make God a part on one’s life, without loving others. If God dwells in you, it is reflected in your life and character. As John points out, to claim that you know God while not loving others is a false claim.

There is a simple enough challenge for us this day. If God is to be a part of this world, then He must be a part of our lives. As you go back and read the closing verses of this second lesson (verses 12 – 16), know that John is explaining how one can know that the Spirit is working in one’s own life.

And if others are to come to know Christ as their own personal Savior, it will be because they see how His presence in our lives has changed us.

Jesus spoke of the true vine, the one that would bear much fruit. If Christ abides in us, then our efforts will bear much fruit; if not, then the vine will wither and die.

The challenge that we have comes from something that Dennis Winkleblack wrote to churches of the Delaware Hudson District last week. He reported that he was watching a recent broadcast of the television show “Jeopardy” and that “The Bible” was one of the categories.

The three contestants had left this category to last and it became very clear why. Each of the questions was asked and unanswered. The $1000 question was “Whoever does not love does not know God, for _____ is love.”

And I would ask each of you today what that answer to this is, remembering of course to phrase your answer in the form of a question.

As Reverend Winkleblack noted, none of the contestants got this question correct and it made him wonder. Are there no churches near them where “God is love” is proclaimed each week? Haven’t they been intrigued by a church sometime in their lives that would have caused them to find out what goes on there? Haven’t they been impressed by Christian love in their neighborhoods, in their offices, in their schools? Has not someone done something so incredibly loving that caused them to inquire as to motive and then been told, “because I am a Christian.”

It is apparent that Christians and churches failed these three contestants. How many people in the audience, both in the studio and at home, also didn’t know the answer?

It may be that the instructions for programming a VCR are so complicated as to challenge even the best of us but the instructions for a good life are very simple.

Wesley noted that he could trust in Christ as his own personal savior. And when that happened, his life changed. The same is true today. If we trust in the Lord, if we allow Christ into our hearts, our efforts will bear much fruit. Through our actions, others will come to know that God is love and that it is a love that extends to all.

One thought on “Following Instructions

  1. Pingback: Notes for the 5th Sunday of Easter « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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